Month: April 2017

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (Nestor Abrogena, 2016)

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Kwento

“What’s the plan?” That was the immediate question Sam (Nicco Manalo) got from his close friend after he learned late that Sam had entangled himself  in a complicated relationship.
The question was stressful, insistent, urgent, and had a little exasperated ring to it, probably due to the friend’s surprise. But even the simplest of romantic loves couldn’t be that easy to explain, isn’t structured the same way we compose formal essays to pull up easily an answer to such similar questions as if there was an outline, as if the processing were as accessible as plucking a strand from an abundance of body hairs. This type of love’s the one wired to multiple brain neurons and dependent on those unpredictable surges of hormones and complex appetites, that to control oneself of its after-effects could be crazily difficult. But Sam looked ‘composed’ and reacted ‘well’ that time when his friend gave him some bromantic spanking, asking where had his crazy head gone to to get into such a stupid situation. Sam retorted with a fuck you in jest. He must have subconsciously meant it: who the hell are you man you fucking don’t know what I’m feeling!

But that was just my thought. There was not a single scene where you’d hear and see any character burst out and break down like in a lot of the romance dramas in the past. In Nestor Abrogena’s Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa, hysterical moments were absent. There were seesaws of what looked like petty disagreements–in one long take, and we would’ve been lucky to hear screaks. Silences occupied voluminous spaces here. As the plot was lean, it couldn’t be just that without pulling out something big in the end, that secret which was an editing success, and was our worthy reward for staying patient.

Things unfolded slowly so it took time to understand why the couple Isa and Sam acted with limitations, Isa (Emmanuele Vera) using more tact, a little apathetic and insensitive to Sam in school–because her boyfriend Frank (gasp) also studies there.

But when Isa and Sam were outside the college walls, they shared a cup of gulaman and a small tray of siomai. She slept resting on his shoulders inside the LRT train. They held hands. Flirted. And they got me more interested in them after they shared a journal-book by Kurt Cobain. Isa mentioned about borrowing a guitar, and seeing her hold and play it I thought damn that might be a Hole song she’d do a cover of. To my dismay it was some ballad which she sang instead.

It initially felt like the girl was just using the guy, Sam who was presented as intellectually superior, having been admitted to some film-related seminar or scholarship in Berlin. But as soon as we learned that Isa had prepared a gift for him, a John  Mayer vinyl record, and when they were finally both in Isa’s room, she was sparse in speech but the warmth and sorrow in her littlest body movements were loaded with tenderness, we became convinced that she had some deep feelings for him too.

The milieu they moved around was an unfamiliar place for me, somewhere I’m not so excited to be a part of because it smacked of elitism. Wow for a school in a highrise building with those curtain glass walls with a majestic view of the skyline. It was a privileged world, a little too modern and American for my third world country taste, it somehow put me off. The blues and grays, the concrete, the steel and the glass materials in different combinations and design schemes in schools, in trains, and in waiting stations, despite the signages of popular avenues like Katipunan or that shot with Isetann Recto in the background, they made me feel displaced. My eyes longed for the bright bright sunlight, for some Pinoy religious icons on some wall, for some rusty roofing with an old limp tire lying on it. My instinct to affiliate myself with an impoverished location grew more intense in time as the movie played. Not the film’s fault though. It must be trying hard to be different, saying goodbye to the visual template of poverty porn. (That silhouette of the two lovers seated opposite each other in the school cafeteria symbolized their ‘clandestine’ relationship. It could be a frame-homage to Transit by Hannah Espiah.) In fact, the director’s skill, the nuanced performances, and the polished cinematography made this romance drama look authentic, I think. That it made me imagine and ask myself how lovers from the poorest of the poor handle such a similar situation, on top of the nagging aches of the different parts of their bodies which are symptomatic of their struggles to live. Do they have the time to wallow for these types of pains or even realize how complicated it is they’re in when there is so much chaos and cries of hunger inside their heads and in their midst?

Init (Lino Brocka, 1979)

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Photo from Video 48

A sunset bookends the opening montage of Lino Brocka’s Init, with the shadows of mother and daughter Osa and Bayang (Charito Solis and Rio Locsin) who paddle their raft to the beach. Its warm-tangy color, with fluffs of gray and white against the gradations of orange, is pleasant to see. It’s like a backdrop of a painting, prettier than those ‘commercial’ landscapes which adorned the walls of many middle-class residences in the ’80’s.

Osa and Bayang gather firewood, fish, and tend goats, in the opening clips, like amazon women focused on their tasks, on chopping and splitting the branches into carriable pieces, skilled in jumping into the water and returning with a wriggling tilapia in one hand. 

Because of her stylishness, Charito Solis playing an islander, needs some effortful convincing though . She has that Sophia Loren vibe. What she wore at the first fishing scene could be your washerwoman’s uniform. Despite the attire being loosely fit, however, it looks on Ms. Solis so well that if you ask her to wear heels and to put some choker or jewelry around her neck and on her peeking royalty’s breasts, she’s all set right there and then to attend an awards show, or ready to party at Faces or Copacabana. 

What secrets does Osa keep that they live in a hut away from the many inhabitants of the island? Osa reveals to us later her versions of her past—thrice, in fact. Twice to her ‘houseguest’ Emil (Phillip Salvador), and then once to her daughter Bayang where she ‘sanitizes’ it. The barrio folks are partly aware of that story too: They know that she left her parents for a man from the city and then returned pregnant without a husband. Perhaps unforgiving of persons who attempt to separate themselves from their class or who turn rebellious to fight for their crazy love, the people must have been scandalized by such boldness of this woman to go against her parent’s commands. Perhaps they’re also envious of what wisdom and experience the trees of knowledge of the metropolis have bestowed upon Osa that that envy has shrunk to nada what little genuine care they have left to spare for her when she returned. They must have clearly made known their distaste with Osa’s existence that they successfully made her live like an outcast in their already remote place.

Except Juan (Leroy Salvador), Osa’s ex-boyfriend. He waits for that chinky-eyed mestiza to love him again despite having married Idad (Laurice Guillen), she who had given him no child in their ten years of union. One night Idad feels the sexual urge and she begins kissing him on the neck and shoulder. She frisks his sides and attempts to touch his private part. But Juan shoos her away like a fly, like a nuisance. Deepseated yet not unknown to his wife, he’s also began to get madly jealous of Emil, the man Bayang found gasping for life on the shore, now living in Ora’s hut, with the youthfulness, looks, and charm of a city dweller capable of stitching ‘magical’ stories which could turn his house companions under his spell. He could convince Osa to leave the island again, Juan fears.

True enough, Emil makes his moves. He seduces Osa. He deflowers Bayang. The set up would’ve been initially fine for the trio, until Emil and Bayang decide to leave Osa and make known their plan to leave the island.

It is at that moment that the hidden surfaces appear, that some essential truths about the lives of Emil and Osa are revealed. Suddenly, Osa realizes that it was like the past happening before her very eyes. The memories bring the pains back, and based on her pronouncements, we are invited to speculate how such a beauty slavered to ‘receive’ men nightly, probably feeling like being nailed on a crucifix, helpless in a room lit by the blinking neon lights outside through the room’s small high window.

It looks like a simple yet interesting story, isn’t it? But the movie doesn’t burn to climax the sure old-fashioned way. The indiscriminately scattered  dialogues slow down the movie’s pace. For a film with a lot of sex scenes, not much excites. Those copulations in the forest, beach, and hut feel highly stylized, the compositions angular, that the human fluids oil not warm bodies but ‘mannequins’ or at worst ‘machines,’  and those sexual acts underscore those who are in control and in power more than the burning of libidinal lard. 

Phillip Salvador performs like a newly discovered talent, promising but lacks the depth and mystery needed for the character. Ms. Solis’s unmistakable presence and some close ups where she conveys a mix of whorishness, wildness, and bliss, slowly ‘fades’ away. Nothing exceptional too in Leroy Salvador’s portrayal. Laurice as Idad has something going on with her. Her desire is real, but it’s not yet the Laurice Guillen who is capable of stealing the spot from a co-star who played a nun. Actually, there’s this overall impression that the cast are literally like chess pieces, turning faceless as the movie reaches its end. It must have been because there aren’t enough tics or idiosyncracies that make the characters come alive. With about five persons generally sharing screen time, and being that most of the scenes are sex scenes, the movie is anemic of shots which show a character’s face or a simply prolonged scene of a person in a specific spot which effectively give the audience the ample time to try to connect with the individual’s emotional state or psychological burden. Not even a virginal Rio Locsin, who would prove in the years to come that she is a reliable actress, could escape to look like a mere ornament. 

Init was released after Rubia Servios and before Ina, Kapatid, Anak, and Jaguar. Brocka had already directed two of his acclaimed all-time bests Insiang and Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag before it. I could only imagine the pressure Lino had on himself, in coming up consistently with masterpiece after masterpiece. With about 60 plus feature films under his belt, doing about 3 films per year on average, it would be genius and a miracle to have films of similar excellent qualities and success. He definitely knew that compromises would happen, realistic that he couldn’t do all the the time the films he wanted to make, having to face the reality that moviemaking is also business. He knew that he needed to keep on experimenting until he finds the right formula that would both lure a sizable audience in theaters and turn out as significant contributions to the artform, significant contribution in the sense that the movies become instruments in awakening the audience of the different social realities, inequalities.

The movie must’ve failed to be a critical success based on the rarity this Brocka work gets mentioned. But it’s a good transitional work, with themes to be plumbed from it. One is that it’s a woman’s film, though anti-feminist–with the three female characters punished for knowing what they want, for liberating themselves from the shy, chaste, and submissive female stereotypes. It looks like the movie is a ‘regressive’ piece for the activist Brocka, but it merely reflects the generally bad perception of strong women of the time. More interesting to note though, caused by flaws in characterization, is that we didn’t see or feel any character genuinely empathize, show love or show concern for another. For the same reason, we are not moved when somebody dies or gets punished. Are we to assume that the emotional links between characters are there? Something we do not need convincing anymore as they are givens, between mother and daughter, between lovers, between sex partners–something we do not need to see? But as a visual medium, this kind of movie should have scenes that render and dramatise the relationships especially if the creators would want to show points of departure and contrasts for maximum dramatic effect. To add, some form of selfishness (individualism) even grips each character. For a movie entitled Init, which is ‘heat’ in English, it is freaking cold in the love and care department.

Towards the end of the movie, an orange-red sunset appears again with the silhouette of a mob below it. This time the shadows are sharp. I could see clenched fists, sticks, long knives, and other frightening implements in the mix. I remember a red-orange cloth in one of the rooms in my grandmother’s house, with pentel pen-drawn figures of people, placards, slippers, and barbed wires. On the lower part of the plane, written with hardened gray acrylic paint squeezed from a tube, were the words “Justice is in our hands,” like they were piped lettering on a cake. The masses don’t completely get the essence of that line, even if I duplicate that poster and then wave them at the balcony of our second floor bahay-na-bato like flags. Many have forgotten the power that rests in them, and many of those who were once aware are now content with FB trolling and following some woman who’s giving me the Mein Kampf mistress vibe, black dress and sheen black hair and that overall diabolic-vampirish package. Why don’t we ‘ride’ with her and with where a lot of the doomsday signs are seemingly going to? Let’s make some purposeful use of the blossoming chaos, agitate the masses a bit, and then turn the elite, the landlords, and the corrupt politicians to beg and cower to be put in jail rather than they entertain the thought and horror of being guillotined by an angry crowd, as punishment for their cupidity and for the social injustices they propagate.


The film is available in Jojo Devera’s Magsine Tayo! Tumbler site.