Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hamog (Haze, Ralston Jover, 2015)

Children of the mist

Ralston Jover's Hamog (Haze, 2015) starts appropriately enough with just that: a thick cloud hovering low over humid Manila canals. The camera (presumably mounted on a drone) glides towards and rises over a huge sewer pipe lined with cardboard, on which the homeless young lie sleeping.

This is Jover straying into a genre (the urban underaged poor) that has produced a number of powerful films: Hector Babenco's Pixote, Vittorio de Sica's Shoeshine, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows, and above all Luis Bunuel's savagely great Los Olvidados.

The Philippines has struggled to produce an equivalent has not quite succeeded in my opinion, though Jover's debut feature Bakal Boys (still to my mind his best work to date) is a fine attempt.

This film isn't as good--doesn't have that first feature's directness or simplicity or plainspoken poetry--but that may partly be because this is more inordinately ambitious is hence doomed to experience failure; its courage should be recognized.

The plot proper starts out with the aforementioned boys' attempt to steal from taxi driver Danny (OJ Mariano) then splits into two separate threads: the first follows Rashid (Zaijan Jaranilla) as he mourns one of their own: Moy (Bon Andrew Lentejas) who was hit by a speeding minivan while evading pursuit. Rashid feels he has to give his 'brod' a proper burial, and finds out (much as the eponymous character did in Laszlo Nemes' Son of Saul) that a burial is no easy feat to accomplish, not by a member of the Sonderkommando in a concentration camp not by a homeless kid in the streets of Manila. 

Rashid hustles begs steals. At one point you have to ask: why is he doing this? Jover doesn't provide easy answers but three come to mind: Moy was a friend and a friend on streets where people turn on you more often than help you is gold; Moy's death weighs hevily on Rashid as he never thought the boy would be in danger nor did he think to watch the boy more closely; Moy's death is also an opportunity for Rashid to throw himself into a quest and this too is gold--better a goal no matter how impossible than endless days of sniffing glue hustling for money to buy glue dreaming up ways to hustle for money to buy glue. 

The second story is both more interesting and more problematic. Jinky (Therese Malvar) is caught by Danny; he drags her to the police to social services then to her home where he discovers a loud slatternly woman with a half dozen kids and zero interest in getting her daughter back. Eventually (slight implausible turn of events here) he with great reluctance volunteers to take her home as a housemaid.

For every detail that appears outlandish (his wife enjoys an open relationship with another man) Jover adds one that lands surprisingly right (the wife's boyfriend openly and continually prepositions Jinky, who turns him down because he wants it for free); for every narrative development that feels ill-prepared (the wife does a sudden about-turn, offers Jinky a home) we see one that strikes us as eerily honest (Danny refuses sex with Jinky and his wife; thanks to his odd domestic situation he seems to have given up sex altogether).  

Perhaps Jover needed to do a few more drafts of the script, perhaps he needed a longer format to introduce each twist properly, perhaps he needed to work on his tone (A black comedy?). All that said Hamog is not vaporous; there's enough ideas here for two and a half films maybe three--not a bad problem to have (I've seen a Hollywood superproduction or two that could barely handle one). A handful of those ideas stay with you bother you haunt you, like a troublesome girl who refuses to fit anywhere you put her no matter how hard you try. 

Films are showing for the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Fiesta of the Filipino Film) in theaters till Aug. 22

First published in Businessworld 8.18.17

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