Month: July 2016

Dukot (Paul Soriano, 2016)

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Dukot opens too disjointed too long, with an obvious intention to perplex. When it finally allows us to connect images and to make sense of things, it poses to tackle a parallel story development: that of a well-off family and that of a family of crooks. Most of the time, related acts from the then unfamiliar individuals serve as transition scenes between the two different worlds, like two people from different locations holding a glass of alcoholic drink. So a birthday celebration in a mansion happens here, a preparation for a crime where gin bottles lie at the table’s center, there.

Soon things become clear that those are set to contrast millieus and provide the background drama before the central incident happens: The kidnapping of Carlo Sandoval (Enrique Gil). The robbers will demand ransom from the Sandoval family whose father has stolen money  too from the government agency he works for. The movie will provide details of the negotiations, how the family of the victim try to cope up with the ordeal, and in passing, to what extent are the kidnapper’s family complicit to the crime.

A thriller, the movie boasts of suspense-inducing ambient sounds, quick cuts to speed up the action, sometimes dizzying but functional use and stringing of different shots for shifts in visual distance, familial and group tensions, and a decent cast to give life and make the movie more heart-wrenching. Bing Pimentel, Ricky Davao, and Enrique Gil particularly stand out.

Aerial view shots of the getaway cars traversing the highways, through the forested areas, until they stop beside a small bungalow in a faraway town, and the frequency of cuts and the many cameras used, impress and speak of the movie being well-financed.

The cinematography is sleek. The criminals also look cool, like from Now You See Me, looking presentable even in plain shorts, shirts, and sando. That’s why deglamorizing Christopher de Leon is an overkill. He sticks out, out of place in the gang of goodlooking criminals, his star power initially unnaturally neutered. I believe he’s capable of restraint  and he could tone down his performance like what he has proven here, without the unneccesary ‘transmogrification.’ We get used to him looking like that. He ‘disappears’ for a while. But we sense he holds a special, pivotal role. As the movie proceeds, our suspicion on his importance is confirmed.

I’ve not finished Paul Soriano’s Kid Kulafu and have seen only the trailer of Thelma. With what I’ve seen, he seems to be competent enough. Dukot, making me recall Honor Thy Father in many ways, is well-made. The action escalates to its right places until we are all tears from mixed feelings of pity, shock, and fear, probably for fear that the story might not end quietly celebratory as how it has turned out.

But then after the emotional impact, when our tenseness ebb down or stabilize, a few hours later, we realize and sense a lack in it, a missed opportunity for the  film to be great.

It must be the scene showing the tattoo design and its explicit connection with a prayer in a scene that has preceded it, which looks contrived and preachy appearing in the crucial frame. Also the one where Christopher de Leon washes his face or body in the water from a lake in the middle of the forest, is another choice that weakens the movie. It doesn’t perfectly fit, hinting or symbolizing a quasi-religious experience that in retrospect feels like it came from nowhere, unearned. Most importantly, the movie lacks a naturalness, a solid mise en scene, a singular spirit to transcend the assessment of the movie of being a mere respectable directorial exercise.

I think it was a perfect decision to cast Enrique Gil as victim. His European features, the monochrome color of most of the close-ups of his face, and him subjected to mental and physical torture, makes me suspect that Soriano might have tried to do an ambitious homage to Renee Falconetti’s performance in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. To find that connection makes the director’s effort praiseworthy enough. But his frames are too clean and slick, too structured and composed, that sometimes they call attention to themselves and compete with the essence of images, that the transference of the victim’s suffering to us doesn’t go too deep beyond the initial surface hurt.


Ma’ Rosa (Brilliante Ma Mendoza, 2016)

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Ma’Rosa is a slice of life movie of a family caught victim in a chain of corruption. Mud-brown is the film’s dominant color. We see its various gradations everywhere: clothes, dirtied shoes, hair dye. We rarely notice the glorious sunlight. No character is seen awaiting the sunrise and sunsets. There is no space or opportunity to do it in the alleyways, where shabbily constructed houses cover the horizon, or to do it on streets where a mongrel might be defecating at a corner, where sacks of wastes and little mountains of plastics and empty soy sauce bottles, scraps of instant noodle pillow packs pile up under lampposts, ready to be swept to clog the shallow drainage, when they’re present, when a heavy rain arrives.

Brown and mustard colored patched shirts, low yellow painted concrete fences–there is this shortage of image which you can describe as beautiful. Except that one scene, that one frame of Andi Eigenmann as Rosa’s daughter looking fresh and innocent the first time she appears to solicit money. Beyond that there’s nothing more. You hear the name of a flower Dahlia, but it’s just a moniker of a bullied young homosexual who lives in the office with the brute group of police-scalawags, as if he’s accepted his fate to be errand boy and to be embarrassed to survive.

Jaclyn Jose is Rosa Reyes. Ma’Rosa. Punk wearing that Kiss t-shirt. “Laklak”, an alcoholic’s anthem, plays in the videoke and is sung by young men, pitchy, obviously drunk. The song hovers in the background before Rosa and her son reach their house. A sari-sari store fronts it. The Reyes family sell in retail those goods they bought from a bigger house of merchandise. They also sell drugs.

It is not rock and roll you find in the chaos, dampness and the feel of a dog-eat-dog community. Sex is probably easy to be had. You could barter it with something like a shot of “ice” or you could set your price. Haggle with a customer. Because here such means to live too could be mistaken with a taste of compassion and love. Surely, it’s also a way to forget.

The same night, Rosa and her husband are apprehended in their house for selling meth. They’re questioned by operatives, locked inside a police station’s basement, with the policemen taking turns in shaming the couple and testing the efficacy of their scare tactics. The family will have to produce fifty-thousand pesos in exchange of freedom,  with this ransom, with this illegal settlement. Rosa’s three kids will have to be responsible to collect the sum from friends, relatives and ‘trade partners.’

Director Brilliante Mendoza succeeds again in letting his imprint out in this film. He makes his audience see the larger story in his lean script, in his docu-style treatment, with the use of details, in the repetitiveness of actions, like in making  regular walking-trips, captured in tracking shots look like a ritual. Hand-held cameras are again used by Oddyssey Flores to create that grit, making us a little dizzy and giving us a raw taste of a small underworld, away from our semi-perfect and peaceful enclaves. The characters are again drenched by rain at some point. The car windows are dotted by raindrops. In one scene, the vehicles’ headlights flash on a car, through that glass on to a spot in the backseat:  Jaclyn Jose’s face, alternately highlighted and hid. Her weariness and worries are displayed despite the character’s effort to stay composed. In another shot, a young lady is captured by the camera with an obvious accidental slip. Allan Paule reappears for a few scenes reprising his gay role in Masahista.

The intrusive role of the camera, its omniscience, transports us to where the action is. We become not just eavesdroppers and kibitzers, but direct yet silent participants. We smell the blood. We feel the limp and crisp peso bills. The story being no fresh news, this version of fact still suffocates, with layers of corruption and depravity of individuals, from the smallest to the bigger beneficiaries in the greedy chain–their postures and deeds are sickening.

Evil is up close. We recognize each form and shape of it. We’ve met them in our neighborhood, in our police outposts. We’ve sat close to someone inside a jeepney who flips his false teeth inside his mouth while staring at a woman passenger whom he desires to rape or steal from. A member of Dura-dura gang high on drugs at 6 a.m. One even resembles a brother or a sister, you need to move your eyes away from the violence and reality or you need to go to the theater’s restroom to breathe the smell of soap or detergent. Yes, it is respite there in this circumstance.

But you don’t leave your seat as you don’t want to miss Jaclyn Jose’s much-heralded performance. A Mendoza film ends when you least expect it, and you don’t want to take a break when that moment is soon. So you wait. Patiently. True enough, after many characters have kept their emotions in check for long despite different scenes and modes of oppression and prostitution–these victims hardened by poverty, groomed in a dark, bare, and drably colored environment–Rosa appears before the movie closes, eating fishballs. She quickly chews the street-food with all the strength her jaw could muster, against the mockery of some people who were seemingly powerless against her before. She sees a portrait of a happy family closing their ambulant store. She is shamed, tired, envious, hungry. She has bottled up all those  feelings for hours and she hears her spirit crack. Her interior is about to crumble.

Ma’ Rosa has skewered for us hers and our memories of poverty and survival that in the end, no amount of suffering and bad experiences excuses us to be apathetic. At the back of Rosa’s mind it is perhaps this impending collapse which is harder to swallow. Shedding tears must have become in the past an act, a strategy to protect and to disarm, like in Mendoza’s similarly-themed and ‘grander-scaled’ movie Tirador where we remember a couple who cried and begged not to be turned over to the police after they were caught stealing a DVD player. This time though, the pain cannot be controlled. The piled up baggage in a span of a few hours is much for Rosa to hold, to hold back her tears, that when she transfers them to us in the last flickers of the film–they are too heavy, she succeeds in breaking our hearts.