Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (2011, Alvin Yapan)

Kinukumutan ka ng aking titig – R M

This impressive film could have been titled the Dance of the Flitting Eyes and it would have been just right. The eyes, more than the feet, do most of the important actions (and talking) in this scintillating, visually-appealing movie.

A lovestruck rich kid named Marlon Dionisio (Paulo Avelino) is stalking someone outside the Far Eastern University (FEU) campus. When he spots his love object, a middle-aged svelte lady (Jean Garcia), he homes in on her until she reaches her next working place, a dancing studio.

We soon learn that the sexy dancing instructor, Karen Pantoja, is also the literature class teacher of Marlon at FEU. She, with the wistful eyes, asks him about a poem of Ruth Mabanglo (R M). The student clams up and later rues his chance to make a strong impression on his dearly beloved teacher. He seeks the help of classmate Dennis Acejo (Rocco Nacino), who happens to be an assistant of Karen in the dancing studio.

Marlon enrolls in the dance class of Karen. He also secretly hires Dennis as a dance tutor. Marlon perseveres because he wants to shine and perform well in the eyes of Karen. Unknown to him, a different pair of eyes is showering him with love and affection.

Mahal, ako ay napapapikit – R M

With Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, I’ve finally found an Alvin Yapan film to adore. His first two Cinemalaya films Huling Pasada and Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe left me bewildered and unsatisfied. The screenplays of the two films seem better off being a nice read than being adapted for the screen.  

Third time’s the charm for Yapan. He has finally learned how to transpose his literary musings into chunks of engaging film language. A ballsy magnificent cotillion scene in Sayaw shows the two boys having an argument. Karen steps in to defuse the heated exchange. It sounds simple enough, but the amazing thing is the characters are ‘conversing’ using only their eyes! Bravo!

The Dance of Two Left Feet also utilized brilliant Filipino poems in a variety of approaches. A poem-song was used as accompanying music during a dance scene. Another poem about heartbreak was dissected by the two male leads. If you loved the poems so much, then I advise you to purchase the Original Sound Track. Included are the poems Kinukumutan Ka Ng Aking Titig (R M), Kontrapunto (Ophelia Dimalanta/Translated in Filipino by Rebecca Añonuevo), Litanya (Merlinda Bobis), Paglisan (Joi Barrios), Ang Sabi Ko Sa Iyo (Benilda Santos), and Nais Kong Madarang (Rebecca Añonuevo). It's a convenient and probably less expensive way of getting all the poems in one go.

The ending of Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa leaves the viewers with a mystery. But by then, we no longer need to unmask the secret in the wet eye of Marlon (and also the pensive eyes of the inexplicably single Karen). Prying more is akin to knifing brutally a ripe star apple. The gentle, graceful, and passionate poems/steps/gazes they shared with us have nourished and refreshed us like a bunch of delicious tropical fruits. Saktong-sakto lang ang pagkahinog. Mapapapikit ka sa sarap sa bawat kataga....

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kamada (1997, Raymond Red | TV movie)

Jaclyn Jose & Francis Magalona
Have you seen a good suspense/mystery local film lately? Hmmmm… There are few films to begin with for both genres, so finding a good one may take some effort unless you’re an avid follower of special screenings by the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA).

The group SOFIA has screened/slated two films that may fit the bill of a good thriller. Danny Zialcita’s Masquerade is structured like a detective film complete with a ‘guess whodunit’ segment in the end. A mysterious benefactor offers money to people attending a special masquerade. Then, a killer strikes and the number of guests dwindles. The second film, Raymond Red’s Kamada, starts with several killings. A young male music student is soon caught up in a web of kidnappings, treachery, and more killings.

Kamada is a rare noteworthy film project of GMA 7. A made for television movie, Kamada benefits from the sure hand of Red, a splendid production design, a gripping story, and fine performances by a cast led by Francis Magalona and Jaclyn Jose. Red adapted his movie from a short film he earlier made with a Super 8 mm camera.

In my search for the English meaning of the word kamada, the most appropriate one I saw was ‘arrange.’ Maybe kamada refers to musical arrangement as the main protagonist is a composer named Julian (FrancisM/Francis Magalona). He rents a room in the hope of getting the solitude and silence he needs to churn out a musical piece. The silence is short-lived as he gets to hear the intermittent coughing from across the hall. His curiosity about the sick person leads to his meeting a fellow tenant, Amanda (Jaclyn Jose).

Amanda, a kidnapped victim, seems to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome as she inexplicably takes care of her wounded, coughing captor. Julian asks her to escape but she refuses. He then learns that a sister is also in the hands of the kidnapping syndicate and she doesn’t want any harm to befall her.

Julian finds a muse in Amanda and begins to finish several musical pieces. He soon aspires to be a hero who will save the damsel in distress. The young man is not unlike a Hitchcockian protagonist obsessed with a femme fatale and slowly being engulfed by a torrent of lies. Magalona imbues his character with the right amount of naivety and innocence.  

Kamada’s influence is seen in the films Sigaw by Yam Laranas and Ilusyon by Paolo Villaluna. Sigaw features a young man getting curious with a turbulent couple across the hall and befriending a little girl. The empty, silent corridors are soon permeated with a creeping sense of dread and deafening shadows of violence. Ilusyon highlights the different shades of red and evokes the zeitgeist of the 1950s through a standard song. It is interesting to note that the two directors and Red are all products of Mowelfund workshops. During a heavy sampling of Mowelfund film shorts (including Jon Red’s Tiempo) I noticed several filmmakers’ fondness for the 1950s feel. I don’t think it must have been due to their age. The workshops must have emphasized more the aspects of cinematography and production design. The 1950s era has a strong character that makes it visually and aurally appealing. Antique items are put to good use in the dream sequence of Julian. Incidentally, the film utilized Doris Day's 1957 version of the song titled 'Dream a Little Dream of Me.'

Kamada is up there with Anino and A Study for the Skies as my favorite Red films. It is like a rare, story-filled photograph that ought to be archived and definitely saved in case of a fire. I hope Red pushes through with his plan to remaster the film. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Buenas noches, España (2011, Raya Martin)

Instead of awareness-expanding drugs, Raya Martin uses cinema to take viewers to places they have not gone before and to eras they have not lived in. His films, although steeped in stories about Filipinos' struggle for independence, are notorious for triggering intense reactions from casual viewers. Major reason for this is he does not spoon feed his audience. As a result those out-of-the-box historical lessons breeze by the inattentive viewer. His Independencia was wrongly criticized for using obvious sets. A complaining viewer didn’t know that the sets were part of the historical framing of the film.

During the Asian premiere of Buenas noches, España, a nervous Martin advised newbies to enjoy the film’s images with a warning that the aural accompaniment may unnerve several of them. But despite the advice, nearly a fourth of the audience walked out. One of them even blurted out loud that the film 'is crap.'

“Voyage to the Luna”

That title card, with allusions to the 1902 silent film Le voyage dans la lune and the revolutionary painter Juan Luna, is the key to understanding and appreciating the enigmatic, challenging film. The latest Martin film is a noisy, psychedelic, no-dialogue, paranormal incursion and meditation into the illuminating effect of Luna’s paintings on Filipinos during the Propaganda years of 19th century Philippines.

Buenas noches, España is also a trip to the twilight zone. Imagine that you’re a soldier, assigned in 16th century Manila, who gets mysteriously teleported to another Spanish colony, Mexico. You’ll probably end up dazed and confused. The mind-boggling teleportation story, which is said to be true, occurred on the 24th or 25th of October in 1593.

The film starts with what seems to be two people manning a spaceship. As the frame becomes bigger, we see and learn that they are a Spanish couple watching a television program at night. But, instead of black skies outside the window, we see red skies and the whole place seems surreal. This confusion over what is exactly going on is magnified as the minutes go by. Meanwhile, a perplexed viewer seems to trek out of the movie house every minute thereafter.

A title card clears away all confusion as it states that a teleportation occurred. The whole road trip of the couple is the result of something they have imbibed. A synopsis accompanying the Youtube trailer states that they took drugs although it was not shown in the film.

The highlight of the couple’s trip shows them experiencing the splendor of Juan Luna’s paintings at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. The young man, who looks like Jose Rizal in silhouette, gets teary-eyed and filled with much joy. This seems to have been the same experience Martin had when he first discovered the three stunning paintings: the silver medal winner La Muerte de Cleopatra; Los Ferrones; and the Mercado de Portugalete. The bittersweet relationship of Spain and the Philippines is alluded to via the constant focusing of a painting that recalls Luna’s masterpiece Spoliarium, which is an allegory of the oppressive conditions of the Philippines under Spanish rule. A proud and joyful Rizal in his toast to a victorious Luna in 1884 says 'Luna and Hidalgo are as much Spanish glories as they are Filipino' and indirectly suggests that Filipinos should have identical rights as the Spanish. Rizal went on to complete his incendiary novel Noli Me Tangere, an excerpt of which starts the film.

As per experience of mine with most Martin films, there are probably layers of meanings and allusions hiding in some nook and cranny of the film. The silhouette of Rizal appears a couple of times in the movie. Then, there are those references to silent film comedians and films such as The 400 Blows. All these things that I have uncovered, along with the soldier's teleportation story and the unorthodox creative touches, are enough to make me respect the film and artistic vision of the consistently innovative filmmaker, Raya Martin.

Buenas noches, España, just like Tree of Life, should be seen and experienced at least once in a cinema with a good sound system. The buzzing sound design is simply amazing. It is so disturbing that it makes the viewer to focus on the visuals. The viewer gets through the phases of being teleported, confused, irritated, and eventually, enlightened. The minimal title cards are important elements in this one-of-a-kind film. As such, the film is definitely not the starting point for those people interested in the works of Martin. Come to think of it, what film of his is the right starting point?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Nonoy Marcelo’s Tisoy (1977, Ishmael Bernal)

Viewing tip: 

Before watching this delightful film, make sure to watch the following excellent films:
a) Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag
b) Ishmael Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig
c) Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon
d) Lino Brocka’s Insiang
e) Lupita Kashiwahara’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo

Thanks to cable channel Cinema One and those unofficial not-to-be-named archivists, I’m slowly getting exposed to the obscure gems of Ishmael Bernal. Among the surprisingly good ones I’ve seen lately is the comedy film Tisoy.

Straight from the comic strip series by Nonoy Marcelo, Tisoy (Christopher de Leon) is a bohemian balikbayan searching for his father. He gets help from his friends as they scour the immaculately clean Metro Manila. The magnificent opening scenes show the beauty and splendor of the metropolis as Tisoy rides his chopper.

Among the characters he encounters are the iconic Aling Otik (Moody Diaz), a street sweeper who blissfully dances with colleagues along Roxas Boulevard; Maribubut (Charo Santos), a smart, jealous Kabataang Barangay member cleaning up the monumental Rajah Sulayman statue in Malate; Clip, son of Aling Otik; and Tikyo (Bert Tawa Jr.), a well-received balikbayan who’ve seen Americans slowly lose their fruits, oil, and food resources. Tisoy’s casual remarks unveil Tikyo as a former apple picker, gas attendant, and waiter. Tikyo’s interactions with his mysterious boss are truly hilarious.

There is a scene that was probably pilfered from Bernal’s earliest work Ah Ewan, Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako! Nestor Torre writes in his column that producer Eddie Rodriguez was the one who completed the film. A traffic jam scene in the film was, in Torre’s own words, ‘outrageously funny stuff.’ A reboot of the scene done for Tisoy is still stupendously funny. The bumper-to-bumper gridlock took so long to unravel that a potted plant grew into an enormous tree. It was a blast seeing the beauteous plant owner entangled among the branches.

Scriptwriter Nonoy Marcelo is an obvious cinephile. Almost all the films he allude to in Tisoy are titles you regularly see in ‘Top Pinoy Films’ lists.  If you haven’t seen them all, then try to catch the titles listed above. Those films, including Tisoy, were made during the mid-1970s, the so-called Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Maybe I’m missing a couple of film references. Is there a Mike de Leon- or a Celso Ad. Castillo-directed film in there? I need a re-watch. Join the hunt and get a barrel of laughs along the way.