Friday, April 24, 2015

Segurista (Dead Sure; Tikoy Aguiluz, 1996)

Some 19 years ago: an old article about a remarkably deft erotic thriller from Tikoy Aguiluz, freshly banned by the MTRCB (the Movies and Television Review and Classification Board--basically the Philippines' once and still powerful censorship authority)

The Dirtiest Movie of The Year 

It's been the year of the bold: Priscilla Almeda pulled off her top in a horse's stable (Sariwa (Fresh)); Ruffa Gutierrez strutted across the screen in a wet t-shirt (Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (The Most Beautiful Creature on the Face of the Earth)); Rosanna Roces modeled ladies' underwear in Patikim ng Pina (Taste My Pineapple) while co-stripper Natasha Ledesma mashed her breasts; Amanda Page swallowed the outflow from a phallic showerhead (Sobra-Sobra, Labis-Labis (Too Much is Just Enough) while co-star Ina Raymundo suffered rape via vibrator.

According to the MTRCB, the aforementioned titles are nothing compared to Segurista (Dead Sure). After all, those movies made it to the theaters, more or less intact; this film was given an X rating, effectively banning it from exhibition.

So--why Segurista and not Patikim ng Pina? Good question.

It's the story of Karen (Michelle Aldana): top insurance agent by day, beautiful GRO (Guest Relations Officer) by night. As GRO, Karen meets wealthy, powerful men; as insurance agent, Karen sells more than her body, she gets commission on top of her tips, and fat bonuses for every target met.

The situation is so completely reasonable, so utterly logical it's incredible no one thought of it before (As a matter of fact, someone did: the film is based on a true story). Scriptwriters Pete Lacaba and Amado Lacuesta take the basic premise and fashion a subtly savage satire on the Ortigas/Makati corporate culture: on the little ants that infest the innards of Metro Manila's bottle-green glass towers. You recognize them: dressed in collared longsleeves with power ties, drinking mineral water and discussing stock options over a goat-cheese salad. They take espresso in little tables outside coffee shops, pretending to enjoy the refrigerated breeze blowing from giant mall airconditioners.

They're the vanguard of President Fidel Ramos' burgeoning economy, his sleek corporate facade, his Great Brown Hope (light brown; many are well-groomed mestizas). They work long, hard hours, and when they leave office they want a reward: a Super Dry, perhaps, or a Blue Ice. But nothing beats the feel of a karaoke mike in one hand and a Pretty Young Thing in the other, tightly-wrapped bottom squirming in your lap while you both mangle the lyrics to "My Way."

The joke is that Karen does more than service these young urban professionals, she's one of them. She's professional, efficient, immaculately dressed; she practices the proven techniques of networking, synergy, and the soft sell (they come to her; if they want her, they have to buy what she's selling). Even funnier, she's beating them at their own game--they end up coming back, wanting more.

The film is remarkable enough as a barbed portrait of Metro Manila; its heart, however, lies further north, in the lahar wastelands of Bacolor, where Karen's husband and daughter live. When she comes home Segurista becomes another film, the wasted landscape recalling the wilderness the Israelites wandered in for forty years: here, there, rooftops and telephone poles poke through, bizarre monuments to the community that once was.

God had once chosen two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, to raze into the ground; in the case of Bacolor, Pampanga, it's the opposite--as if God had caused the ground to rise up and swallow the city whole.

In this desolation, thrown back to times so primeval even dinosaurs have yet to develop, the people of Bacolor have retained something Metro Manilans have lost, something Karen has maintains a good grip on because it keeps her going. Suddenly, the title Segurista--Dead Sure--takes on new meaning: Karen is taking no chances. She lost everything to the lahar: now she wants it back and she's using the surest, swiftest method to get it. Karen is the equivalent of an OCW (an Overseas Contract Worker), a Filipina who immigrates to a strange land--Manila--to earn a future for her family, an alienated country lass long since corrupted by the urban jungle, still pursuing her dreams. Unlike Flor in Bagong Bayani (Unsung Heroine), or Julio in Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon) however she's near the end of her exile, her dreams within reach. Then she falls in love, and it all turns into ashes.

Director Tikoy Aguiluz has assembled a cast of wonderful actors, from Eddie Rodriguez's suave elder executive to Pen Medina's sad little taxi driver. Albert Martinez shines as a hedonistic dance instructor with a streak of sadism; Julio Diaz is moving as Karen's loving, lost-looking husband. Gary Estrada as Sonny has that precise mix of arrogance and insecurity so distinctive of Generation X (I have to say that, having seen or slept through Sobra, Pinya, Sariwa, Showgirls, and Basic Instinct, none of them generated the kind of sexual heat you felt between Estrada and Aldana).

As Karen's best friend Ruby, Ruby Moreno gives the standout performance, a mix of hard-won wisdom and foolish romanticism. Unlike Karen, she has no dream waiting: life is right here right now, and she wants to enjoy it to the max. Moreno takes this silly little character and fashions something warm and oddly touching out of her; a cineaste who's seen her in All Under the Moon (for which she won thirteen different awards in Japan as Best Actress) thinks she gives the better performance here.

But as good as Moreno is this is basically Aldana's film, and she carries a difficult role with grace and dignity. Aguiluz uses her ice-queen persona to good effect, presenting her as a sexy, unreachable object of desire; when things go wrong, when her life starts falling apart, the icy facade crumbles. The loss on her face is almost unbearable to watch.

So--if the film is so good, why is it being banned? You have to remember that even with veteran journalist Jess Sison as chairman, the MTRCB is still operating under the same rules that banned Schindler's List, The Piano, and Priest. So many breasts here, so many pumping scenes there: tally the total and bingo! An "X" rating. It's still the same moronic system, and only a congressional motion is going to change things for the better (Ironically, All Under the Moon, the award-winning film for which FVR (President Fidel V. Ramos) congratulated Moreno, will be threatened by the same rules--I can see the Newsweek Asia headline: "Philippine President congratulates actress for film banned by President's censors." Nice.).

But then maybe it's more than just a formulaic law applied idiotically. Maybe the censors don't like the sarcastic things Aguiluz, Lacuesta and Lacaba have to say about our youthful businessmen, our Great Light-Brown Hopes with their cellulars and laptops, our Philippines 2000. Maybe they don't like the focus on dark, unpopular subjects, the digging up of dirt we'd rather not see. Maybe it's not the sensuality they disapprove of, but the honesty.

Maybe they're right: it IS the dirtiest film of the year. 

Manila Chronicle, 3/9/96 


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