Month: May 2016

Whistleblower (Adolf Alix, 2016)

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Filigree designed-covered sofa, tiger printed blouses, and rich, dangerous women welcome Zeny Roblado (Nora Aunor) on the first batch of many flashbacks. They're inside a mansion which we can ascribe to be symbol of a jungle, the women assessing their strengths against others, sensing which ones belong to the pack of predators, which ones belong to the prey. It's also the time that Lorna Valera (Cherry Pie Picache) gets to scan a seemingly sheepish character of Aunor. She skins her with her gaze. She must be dreaming of future conquests with that poor accountant, that woman a few class below her but definitely has worth based on the buzz. Zeny on the other hand is not a kid in the field of falsification. She has done exceptionally on small-time 'tasks' before that day. Fate would be ‘good' to her and place her a bit higher in the order of thievery. In no time she becomes an important part of a silent gargantuan monster-machine which is weaned by and which milks the nation’s udder-coffers.

But not everything runs smoothly in a scam hatched by the powerful men and labored by pawns in the movie Whistleblower. At some point, someone would become dissatisfied with how the sharing of profits is done. Or someone becomes too nerve-wracked by his personal issues that anytime he could endanger the business. Someone has to go, the bosses contemplate. It isn't easy though and things go out hand. Zeny is locked up. The NBI rescues her. She speaks to a member of media and starts a short circus that caught the whole nation by surprise, the same way Benhur Luy exposed who Janet Lim Napoles was and her role in the pork barrel controversy.

Whistleblower is a curious kind of film. A political-thriller-slash-satire. The satire is in the stylized acting of Cherry Pie and her friends, the manner the politician Laurice Guillen delivers her lines, the slow cadence of her voice and her deceitful inflections. We've heard words like 'Mabagal ang gobyernong ito" (This government is slow) which is a dig at the Aquino regime. And then, the mocking tone of Vangie Labalan when she calls Zeny a 'golden goose'–it sounds like it came from someone who relished the thought that she had stolen someone else's orgasm.

As a thriller it fails and the 'failure' feels deliberate. The backstories and flashbacks are too many and slow down the action. The choice to desaturate to a gray-violet monochrome sucked pale most of the flashback scenes blood, kind of appropriate since it's generally a story of vampires–the flashbacks, their reminiscences. These further strengthens my theory that Alix Jr. aimed to redefine or create a cross-breed of some genres. Or am I making wild justifications for him to cover the weakness and failure of his intention and design?

The exciting, unquestionably laudable element of this movie though are the performances. The actors are good, almost all of them.

Nora leads the pack and does very well again for the nth time here. She presents a 'darker shade' of a woman, deceptively easy in her execution of character. While her Mabuti is all goodness, and Mara Fabre is a prisoner of her traumatic past, this time Aunor breathes life into a creature that looks manipulated but is also scheming, a woman so subtle a social climber, unlike your most hated or most envied ________, that we also wonder what her sense of morality is. Yet when we see those slightly tilted-low-angle shots of her looking at the TV screen inside a safe house, we sense a pensiveness rarely captured by a movie frame. It’s as if the whole world then is on her shoulders, seeing her ex-boss utter another lie. Does seeing Lorna make her seethe with anger remembering how she was locked up for days? Is she afraid for her life? For her family? Or is she being bugged by her conscience having realized the magnitude of her evil deeds?

It’s this ambiguity, the contradictions that Aunor's face could easily summon from the depths of her experiences in life that amazes us. What could be torturous internalization for another actor is effortless venture for her. She claims the assigned persona with conviction. That's why she's an indelible presence on screen. We cant take our eyes away from her even if she’s just on the background, even in long shots with a crowd, we still see her. In one scene when Cherry Pie announces her bonus to her employees, check Ms. Picache's  face with her wide teethed devilish smile against Nora's. Despite the former's foreground position and size in the frame, the latter on her right side with those prideful eyes still stands out. In another scene, Nora’s pair of lovely pearl earrings, probably even if they were as big and as popular as Imelda Marcos’s Pearl in the Bow Brooch, shining against her dark skin, remains accessories, never even coming close to stealing the attention away from the actress's highly-praised globules and her as usual brilliant performance.

How Whistleblower performed at the tills also seems to be a reflection of the masses' disinterest in its real-life counterpart. Not many talk about Napoles now. We don’t feel as angry as before about the hoodlums who had plundered the big taxes that are regularly excised from our salary. This sorry truth is validation of our weak memory. Yes, it’s okay if it will take years for the wheels of justice to grind and put the criminals behind bars, that when the time comes when one is convicted, some form of humanitarian consideration could be given to him thy old evil man. Generally like some well-publicized cases involving the rich and powerful, and in the pork barrel case with much of our stolen money being used by the 'suspects' to defend themselves in court against us, with a hired high salaried lawyer donning a sharply-pointed-ended moustache, it’s not far-fetched to have another case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

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Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s ode to Hammurabi, a story that pits the historical to his fictional genocide. He has created a lovely woman who shares his interest, a cinema operator-owner who turns self-sacrificial to avenge her loved ones, most lovely in the scene where she wears red in a premiere of a German film screens in her theater.

Before that German movie opens though, the camera captures the woman viewing the Nazi members below from her cinema’s balcony. Her left cheek is softly lit but her anterior outline is prominent. Her reflection on the circular glass window is cast, a romantic it evokes. When the camera zooms in on her in slow-mo, we hear a James Bond-sounding musical score.

Another story thread, that of a group of U.S. spies and Jewish commandos who share the lady’s goal, is present. These basterds aim to exterminate the Nazi leaders and generals, to torture them first to make them ‘sing’ to know more about the other’s whereabouts and stop them. What best strategies would Tarantino’s fictional armed group employ? They will scrape the skin of victims’ heads like a salute to Salo, which must have been inspired by the practices during the Inquisition. They will beat the captives’ heads to a pulp with a baseball bat.

There’s this extreme long shot of a Jewish girl escaping a massacre. Also there’s a quick close-up clip of a man whose frame is somehow similar to one in Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence. The man’s right eye bleeds like a pinched egg yolk. Blood drips on his cheeks like chocolate syrup. These are violently staged and pregnant scenes, but beautifully executed themselves.

So much creative energy is spent on these juxtapositions of compositional beauty and gore, that in the climax, when the bullets demolish the lovely projectionist’s body, it’s not blood that splatter but strips of petals that shoot like blasted confetti which we see.

We want to celebrate with the woman’s triumph by that time. We shout, surprised with the manner the scenes were arranged to reach that high moment. Nazi members scurrying to escape like cockroaches. Rain of bullets in Hitler’s chest.

It’s given us a weird satisfying feeling because we know our history. The dialogue exchanges, the presentation, and the instances where characters act caricaturish make us laugh sometimes. But the deep realization after, similarly with other good black comedies, is, it’s not all fun watching this. The movie disturbs. It intensifies our awareness and sensitivity in dealing with people, that is, after a string of shocking scenes, despite a seemingly implicit goal with its violence to desensitize us.