Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Bona 44 years later (Lino Brocka, 1980)

Bona, 44 years later

There's a lovely symmetry to having the restored print of Lino Brocka's Bona (1980) screened in the 2024 Cannes Classics section, in the same city where the film had its world premiere (at the parallel Director's Fortnight) decades ago. Feels like a combination homecoming, resurrection, revelation all at the same time.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Condemned (Mario O'Hara, 1984)

The perfect noir

Mario O'Hara's Condemned (1984) is Aunor at her most baroque and noirish. O'Hara populates the streets of Ermita (the heart of Manila's sordid night life) with pimps, prostitutes, transvestites, with cruising straight and gay men and women; with couriers, snitches, corrupt cops, gang lords, bodyguards, killers. As in Lino Brocka's Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975) it's a vision of Manila as one of the lower circles of hell. But not a depressed hell, nor a hell where the inhabitants accept their fate with sad resignation-- this inferno crackles with the energy of the damned dancing their way from one torment to another, stabbing and shrieking and fornicating and, well, not giving a damn.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Bona (Lino Brocka, 1980

Bona: martyr or monster?

(Plot discussed in explicit detail)

Lino Brocka's Bona is possibly the least-seen of his major works, partly because the two remaining good prints of the picture had been squirreled away abroad (to the Cinematheque Francais and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) while Filipinos back home had to content themselves with fading recollections and equally faded Betamax tapes. Everyone remembers how powerful the film was; no one can rightly say they've actually seen it, at least in recent years.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Manananggal in Manila (Monster in Manila, Mario O'Hara, 1997)

Melancholy In Manila

What's the definition of ambivalence? Your brand-new Mercedes Benz driving off a cliff's edge with your mother-in-law inside, screaming. Or, in this case, starting 1997 with a horror film by Mario O'Hara in which all but the last ten minutes of the movie are terrific--the catch being that those ten or so minutes are awful beyond words.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? (Why is the Sky Blue?, Mario O'Hara, 1981)

The court of public opinion

Mario O'Hara's Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? (Why is the Sky Blue? 1981) opens with panoramic views of Manila. We see Babette Gomez (Nora Aunor) and her family arrive at an apartment complex; movers unload furniture carry it into their new home. O'Hara's camera watches as the family settles in and we come to know each member-- imperious Sofia (Anita Linda) presiding over the operation; sullen Nardo (Mario Escudero) carrying out his wife's orders; beautiful Lorie who barks like her mother, but at a lesser volume; quiet Babette-- their other daughter-- skittering about doing as much of the heavy lifting as the movers.

We meet the neighbors: Marta (Melly Mallari), owner of the "sari-sari" (grocery) store at the complex entrance; Cora (Alicia Alonzo) and her unemployed husband Domeng (Rene Hawkins); Luring (Metring David) with a sideline selling clothes and her son Bobby (Dennis Roldan). Only courtly old Mang Jesus (Carpi Asturias) seems to notice Babette; they talk of the tiny cacti she's raising, and she notes (without any irony) that succulents flourish on very little care and water. Luring offers Sofia clothes and her life's story-- she's raising Bobby on her own and needs to watch him all the time because he can't care for or defend himself (he's a young adult with the mind of a child) so she can't go out to earn a living. Sofia makes a proposal: instead of paying for the clothes, maybe Babette can come feed Bobby while Luring is gone.

And so Babette finds herself with a plate of food at Luring's door looking in (you think of little girls in fairy tales peering into dark dens, wondering at the silence). She finds Bobby upstairs, chained, sets the food before him; he hunches over the plate, eating with his fingers. Later, Babette asks Bobby for his basketball-- to clean it, she explains; Bobby hands the ball over after some hesitation. For the first time O'Hara cuts to a closeup-- of Babette's face then of Bobby's (before this the picture has been all long and medium shots). They have somehow connected.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Civil War (Alex Garland, 2024)

This means war

Alex Garland's Civil War is set in the near future (from Max Headroom: "20 minutes into the future") but traces its roots to the recent past, particularly films on journalists or photojournalists wading into war zones trying to catch the story: Under Fire, The Year of Living DangerouslyThe Killing FieldsSalvador.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, 2023)

House & garden

Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest begins with a band of solid black held for an interminable time-- Mica Levi's sound collages growling from the big screen-- then cut to a German family picnicking on a lakeside meadow. They pack up, go home, arrive after sunset, fall asleep (mother and father in separate beds). Next morning father is hurriedly dressing but the children play a little game, blindfolding him and leading him to the front courtyard where they surprise him with a new canoe, and of course if you know anything about the film's premise you're waiting-- but even if you don't know anything you can't help but tense up as you wonder: why is the camera so claustrophobically locked in the direction of the house, why are we seeing the canoe only from one side and not the other? Finally father must leave, steps away from the canoe; cut to that long-anticipated reverse shot-- father climbs onto his horse, a guard tower looming over him as his animal walks him leisurely into work.