Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Coming of age films

I've been tagged by Andy Horbal (on his birthday no less) for this Coming of Age movie meme (along with bloggers Matt Riviera and Teresa).

1. What are 3 movies that exemplify the Coming-of-Age movie genre?

I'm not a big fan of the genre, and I doubt if I'd know what would constitute an "exemplary" coming-of-age film, but if it's youths growing up you want…

Nathan Lopez, Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005) probably comes closest to being "typical" of the genre in this short list of examples, but even then, how many 'blossoming' films do you know feature a gay boy, and how many films show said gay boy living with such a nurturing family, in such an unfussy film? Maximo (Nathan Lopez, in a wonderful performance) acts as surrogate mother to a testosterone-stuffed family of sneak thieves, made up of a widowed father and Maxie's two straight older brothers. The film presents his situation (not as unusual in the Philippine where, despite its fervent Catholicism, homosexuals are accepted to a startling degree--we even have an openly gay senator) as being the most natural thing in the world, and that's the beauty of it. Despite being about a youth, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is a delightfully adult film, in the sense that it assumes the fairly best, and procceds to demonstrate that even this fairly happy condition isn't enough to guarantee perfect happpiness. There's more to gay life, the film seems to say, than having to contend with homophobia--first love, for one; the anguish of choosing between family and friend; and the pain of brute disillusionment.

Lolita Rodriguez (Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang)

Lino Brocka's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed But Found Wanting, 1974) seems inspired by several sources: Federico Fellini's 1953 I Vitelloni, for one (the sensitive youth who leaves town to come back a celebrated artist), and Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 The Last Picture Show (the mysterious older man who turns out to be the catalyst and mentor for the youth's transformation into manhood). Two other sources I should cite: Jose Rizal's social-reform novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), which is the source for the the mother (driven insane by the loss of her child) and her leprous husband, and Brocka's own life--the town where he shot the film was the same one he lived in as a bastard child; he seems to feel no regret in leaving the town nor, apparently, does he feel any coming back to paint such a witheringly satiric portrait of its people.

Actually, I never thought the coming-of-age storyline or the Brocka surrogate at the middle of it (the sensitive youth self-rightously poised to judge the entire community) was very interesting; more memorable is the story of the crazed homeless mother and her disfigured husband--the two lowest figures in the town's heirarchy, presuming to teach (via the example of their humble lives) one of the town's crown princes (the aforementioned youth) a lesson in love and tolerance.
Hilda Koronel, Insiang

Filmmaker Tikoy Aguiluz noted that almost all of Philippine cinema has chosen for its theme the self-sacrificing mother and the importance of the family; Lino Brocka's masterpice Insiang is the rare exception. The eponymous character lives in the slums of Tondo, and what her mother, her mother's lover, and the slum itself has to teach her would not be found in any self-respecting parenting textbook: hate, cynicism, the art of betrayal, and the even subtler art of manipulating people's desires to get what you want from them.

The irony of it is that Insiang learns her lesson too well; she turns into a young, beautiful monster, and sets out to destroy all around her. Brocka presents a world upside down where mothers abuse their children, children respond with bloody revenge, and the audience is left feeling sorrier for the rapist than for the rape victim. It's a great film, but for the sake of our sense of self-worth and relative peace of mind I, for one, am happy it's the only one of its kind.

2. What is your favorite coming of age movie and why?

Lilia Cuntapay, Pangarap ng Puso

Easy--Mario O'Hara's Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, 2000). About a pair of children who grow up near the Negros' enchanted rain forests, fall in love, and are pulled into the tumultuous currents of history. Their growth can be seen in the evolving ways in which the two lovers view the magical creatures that dance about them--as a child's metaphor for the wide, unknown world; as a pubescent's metaphor for emerging sexuality; as a young adult's metaphor for the demonic impulses that drive terrorists and military fascists alike, locked in a never ending cycle of violence and revenge.

And it's more, so much more; the girl's mother (Hilda Koronel) recites Florentino Collantes' "The Gift," part of which I translated (very roughly):

Our love is like the heaven and earth
like the union of mountain and sea.
Too close together to be clearly seen
drinking bitter tears.
I remember my lifelong love
and how he lay ailing
and how I said that if he ever died
I would quickly follow

The daughter would inherit this love of poetry as she grows up. But the times being as troubled as they are, she is drawn to darker, more unsettling fare, such as Amado Hernandez's fiery lines about political prisoners (again, very roughly translated): 

Bright as lightning the guardian’s eye 
on this locked and forbidding gate; 
the convict in the next cell howls 
an animal trapped in a cave. 

Each day passes like a chain dragged 
along the floor by bloody feet 
each night is a mourning shroud draped 
on my place of entombment. 

Sometimes someone's furtive feet pass, 
clink of shackles marking passage; 
the sallow sun blinks, reveals 
countless wraiths spewing from the dark. 

Sometimes the night's peace is shattered 
by alarm--an escape!--gunfire; 
sometimes the old church bell tolls 
and in the courtyard someone dies--

The girl grows up, faces her demons, conquers them (but not entirely; as we shall see in the film, not entirely); she becomes involved in the region's violent politics, though not as deeply as her childhood sweetheart, who has a bounty worth thousands of pesos on his head. Her speeches are admirably progressive, but--in what I find to be a curious reaction to the young man's rebellion, her poetry is more personal than radical (these lines written not by a famous Filipino poet, but by O'Hara's niece--again, a rough and probably incompetent translation):

At the graveside of childhood
in this tract of red-stained and fetid soil
the dying is done.
The final breath was deep
filled with purpose
because the heavens do not mourn a man
and begrudge tears to a garden reserved
for standing, stagnating saints.
Orphans begging by the tombstones of cemeteries.
But the dead understand.
Beneath their burial and putrefaction
is mourning and begging.

Remarkable coming from a young woman--but not her best; her best are recited towards the end of the film, and they are heartbreaking: the story of two lives, captured in a handful of words.

I was asked once, after a screening of this film (by the late Nika Bohinc, if I remember right!), why would children be frightened of the spirits of the forest when all they have known is innocence and joy? I had an answer then, a fairly good one I thought, but having mulled it over, I feel this is how I should have answered: that what children know is so very little compared to what they can see going on about them, and that even with their handful of knowledge (or, rather, because of it--what was Socrates' definition of a truly wise man?) they can sense danger and darkness beyond their small, secure circle. Children can sense, and see, and in this way know (even if they are not sure of the particulars); thus equipped, and not incapable of imagination, they can fear. When they grow up into flawed adults (a budding poetess and crusader, a feared rebel killer), their knowledge increases and the width of their circle widens; but the darkness is never completely dispelled, and the fear never really goes away.

(I suppose I have to do this: I tag girish, The Little Round-Headed Boy, and, uh, Nathaniel R. in The Film Experience)


Anonymous said...

Almost Famous and The Virgin Suicides. :)

Noel Vera said...

That's two films. Are they exemplary or your favorite?

andyhorbal said...

I knew that you'd list films I wasn't familiar with!

Noel Vera said...

It's one way of bringing attention to em...

sanriel said...

The one that really got me was that whole final act.

Isang sumpa
itong mga aparisyon,
mga bulong,
ng dating anghel.
Satanas ng Simbahan,
Kapre ng nga bata,
Jose ng isang dalaga.

Noel Vera said...

Ach, I agree, I agree, but I can't talk about it too much--it's the film's heartbreakingly powerful ending.

Noel Vera said...

Translating that final poem:

by these apparitions
by the whispers
of a former angel
Satan to Churches
Ogre to Children
Jose to a certain young girl