Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon (2011, Dennis Marasigan)

Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon is notable for its incorruptible character, Attorney Cely Martinez. The film starts with a Bing Lao-styled establishing shot of the main character’s house and inner disposition. We see lots of diplomas plastered on a wall of this derelict house. The beauteous young lady prepares breakfast on what is her first day of work. Her mother is disappointed to learn that she will work for the government. The elder mutters that she’ll end up just like her father, who was not rich enough to make his family live the sweet life. The smiling young girl says nothing and eats heartily her simple breakfast of pandesal. However, the smile, somewhat awkward and mocking, seems not to be what the director ordered. Maricar Reyes as Cely Martinez started on the wrong foot but showed brilliance in most latter scenes.

Reyes gets into the groove of things as she portrays a dedicated, maverick hearing officer. Martinez’s diligence and promptness in dealing with her cases cause annoyance amongst her colleagues and co-workers. Fellow lawyers prefer a delay in their cases because more hearing appearances translate into more fees. Stenographers and regular clerks also benefit from prolonged cases. Her colleagues subtly, and later on directly, show her illicit ways of earning quick bucks.

Attorney Martinez remains steadfast in shunning grease money. Even when hospital and medical care bills start to pile up, she manages to elude the menacing tentacles of a corrupt government office. She even makes a hasty exit from a Christmas party because she cannot fathom to mingle with corrupt people. As she ambles out, we notice her sweet smile, a smile that could only emanate from a pure heart. It is a smile that seems to say “Dad, I’ve kept your name clean.” The movie should have ended with that smile but it goes on for a few more minutes.

A fine blend of Dennis Marasigan’s reliable deft direction and Bing Lao’s creative inputs, Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon is an almost solid Cinema One Originals entry. I adored it so much right up to Cely Martinez’s victory walk. But when she steps into the elevator and darkness engulfs her, the film goes down a few notches for me.

The movie has made a strong case against corruption so I was bewildered with the elevator scene and subsequently, the Jun Lozada footage. Cely Martinez is no ordinary office employee that cannot afford to lose her job. She can easily get another job. Her father’s legacy seems to be her bedrock of courage. She is not supposed to be helpless against the dark forces.

Meanwhile, the Jun Lozada footage shows the whistleblower at a 2008 Senate hearing narrating how his boss Romulo Neri instructed him to ‘moderate their greed.’ As it is, the footage is not clear enough on what message it wants to impart. Yes, it does suggest that not much has changed since the Marcos years. But is it a call to accept moderate corruption or is it a call for more courageous whistleblowers to come forward to eradicate wrongdoing in government? If it is the latter, then help and hope is indeed on the way for those people doing the right thing in public offices.

The last two or three minutes of this film will likely elicit conflicting extreme reactions from moviegoers. I didn’t like the elevator scene and the Jun Lozada footage but the scenes that came before them and the character Cely Martinez are good enough to make me rate the film highly among the Cinema One Originals entries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay (2011, Antoinette Jadaone)

Four women directors upstaged their male counterparts at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2011. Sari Lluch Dalena won the best director award for her brilliant Martial Law film Ka Oryang. Ivy Baldoza’s sensuous and sultry film Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat nabbed the jury prize. Shireen Seno’s ambitious film Big Boy got rave reviews from prominent film bloggers. However, those three films have their fair share of detractors.

The hilarious mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (SDOSFLC) is the runaway popular and critical hit of the fest. The fourth female filmmaker, Antoinette Jadaone, deservedly won the best screenplay award. With ample support from Raymond Lee and Joyce Bernal, the charming filmmaker/scriptwriter crafted an engaging, incisive, and rollicking look at the travails of a bit-player in a cult horror movie series.

Ghoulish looking Lilia Cuntapay (played by Lilia Cuntapay) has been in the movie industry for thirty years. She endured countless hours waiting for her turn during shoots. She has disrobed for the camera in the film Babae sa Breakwater. All those dedication and commitment have finally paid off as the septuagenarian bit player nabs an acting nomination from AFTAP. The film shows how Cuntapay responds to this bit of great news. She prepares a speech in case she wins the best supporting actress award.

The big night arrives and the camera captures a nervous Cuntapay resplendent in a silver dress. Angel Aquino then reads out the winner of the best actress award… Lilia Cuntapay!

Wait a minute… Silver dress? Angel Aquino? Best actress? In a scene that could have been made specifically for this movie, Cuntapay really did win an acting award, albeit shared with Maricar Reyes. She took a deep breath and acknowledged that she didn’t expect to win the Best Actress award at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2011. Proof of that is she didn’t prepare a speech. As a result, she had a mental block and failed to thank directors Peque Gallaga, Lore Reyes, and Jadaone. The combination of spotlights, cameras, and the presence of Nora Aunor might have unnerved her during her speech, which is not unlike those fictitious speeches in the movie. Initially, I thought the movie’s speech segments were weak as they show Cuntapay’s limited acting ability. But, having seen the acceptance speech of Cuntapay, I realized that she is not acting in those speech segments. That is the true Cuntapay we are seeing. If she seems uneasy and uncomfortable it is because she just doesn’t buy the idea that she’ll be nominated for an acting award much less wins an award. Savor the speech segments for a glimpse of the true Lilia Cuntapay.

Jadaone’s film is a stunning meta-movie mind-fuck. It blurs the line between fiction and reality. All throughout the movie, one is left wondering what the truth is. Is Myra a real relative of Cuntapay? The actress who portrayed Myra won the best supporting actress award and acknowledged Cuntapay as her aunt in her speech, which shows her good sense of humor. Again, she is what she seems to play in the movie. I loved the part in which she helps Cuntapay practice her lines. Their rapport seems to suggest some blood affinity. Is that the place Cuntapay really lives in? Only the cast and crew know. How I wish I could attend a post-screening forum someday so I could unravel amazing details about the film.

I liked this film better than the Cinemalaya blockbuster film Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank (ABSST) for one major reason. ABSST seems to spring out of envy. That film comes across as being made to spite successful filmmakers such as Pepe Diokno and Jim Libiran. On the other hand, SDOSFLC was made out of deep love for an underdog, a film underdog at that. I love stories of ordinary people making it big. And with this film, a bit player morphs into an award-winning actress. A few more sold-out screenings and the name Lilia Cuntapay will be on most moviegoers’ lips.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bisperas (2011, Jeffrey Jeturian)

T’was the night before Christmas, and… all hell breaks loose for the Aguinaldos, members of a middle-class Filipino family. Grudges, hurts, sins, and even turds spill out in the open. The next day we find the family members lining up for communion during the Christmas Day mass as if nothing happened. They are mere Christians in name. They have a perverted sense of right and wrong. They regard themselves as being always right while others are in the wrong.

Bisperas is a nice comeback for Jeturian after a disastrous foray in short feature filmmaking. His X-rated AmBisyon 2010 project is off-putting for its brusque depiction of disapproval for the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I agree with the message but not the way it was conveyed. I preferred Jon Red’s PSG, which is a subtler and beautifully-lensed take on the matter.

Jeturian scoops up the dirt once more and smears it this time on hypocrite Catholics. Ouch! That really hurts… Bisperas is a film that will make lots of viewers uneasy and smelly.

The film starts with a well-staged Panunuluyan, a Christmas tradition commemorating the travails of St. Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary. Among the participants is a young man eager to communicate with his brother. His smile is met with rude indifference. As the procession is in progress, a gang of robbers strikes at the home of the Aguinaldos. This crime unleashes past conflicts and trespasses among family members. Despite the season, love and peace don’t seem to reign in the hearts of the village residents. Even the children who are supposed to spread good tidings with their carols and hymns yell out cusses to residents who don’t give out offerings.

Scriptwriter Paul Sta. Ana crafts his best screenplay yet. The theme of Christian hypocrisy is slowly unveiled before our eyes. The amazing thing, and somewhat unfortunate at that, is the viewers see themselves in the despicable characters. The tight story benefits from superb acting. As the characters drown in a cesspool of lies, the mother (Raquel Villavicencio) remains calm and acts as a buoyant lifesaver. There's a scene showing her grabbing a knife. How we react to that scene speaks much of our disposition. The mother is not angry. She never gets angry despite all the trespasses inflicted on her. Villavicencio won a well-deserved award for her gentle performance. The ending shows the thief doling out aguinaldo (gift) to his inaanak. But, is he really the thief? What are the evidences that he is the one? Sta. Ana caught me empty-handed. It was unChristian of me to judge the man wearing the Ateneo jacket. 

There is a thing, or two, that bothers me though. The Aguinaldo family is lucky to have a fast-responding police force to their home on Christmas day! The team even has someone in charge of taking fingerprints. I was wondering whether it was really set in the Philippines. I sure hope that it is the case with most responding police teams in the country. I also hope that the taking of fingerprints is standard operating procedure during robbery investigation.

Films like Bisperas should be the ones shown during the Christmas season instead of inane Metro Manila Film Festival sequels. The family drama may not bring in long box-office lines, but it may send repentant viewers to line up for the confessional booth.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bahay Bata (2011, Eduardo Roy Jr)

Baby Factory, the English title of the film, gives us a better description of what to expect. Dozens of babies are delivered every day at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital (DJFMH) in Manila. The hospital staff is more than ready to meet the deluge of babies, though. It is no surprise then that the country’s symbolic ‘seven billionth person in the world’ was born at DJFMH.

An early important scene from the film shows us how a doctor and nurses handle one such birth. With the mechanical precision of a Formula One racing crew, the staff members do their respective jobs and in less than a minute or so, the baby comes out. Then, they completely dry up the newborn to stimulate breathing and lay him/her down upon the breast of the mother for uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. Breastfeeding is highly encouraged within the first hour of life. Cord clamping and cutting is delayed. These are all done in complete adherence to a program introduced by the Department of Health and the World Health Organization in 2010. The Essential Newborn Care protocol is projected to drastically cut down newborn deaths in the Philippines.

I’m not sure though if an advice the mother received from a staff member is part of the hospital protocol or government policies. During the childbirth, a staff member is clearly heard reminding the mother to get a ligation. The mother had probably given birth countless times hence the admonition.

The ease at which the mother gave birth reminded me of a highlight scene in the continuing documentary Tundong Magiliw. With only an elder midwife at hand, the Tondo-based mother also gave birth easily. Both mothers have given births more than the national average of 2.5 births per mother. The poorest of these mothers average a staggering 6 births. It is no wonder then that they took to giving birth so easily just like Allan Caidic drilling down 3 pointers or Cinemalaya films winning awards abroad.

But, before Bahay Bata gets embroiled in the Reproductive Health bill debate, it should be noted that the film is the best Bing Lao-influenced Cinemalaya finalist of 2011. Director Roy made great use of his opportunity to film at the hospital premises. Just like Amok’s Law Fajardo, the director overcame the odds despite working in a place teeming with people. His film had an almost documentary feel to it. Vivid, realistic details such as the childbirth and the 1:6 bed-patient ratio give the film heft and panache. The Christmas setting adds poignancy to the drama.

It is when the film veers away from hospital realities and nursing tasks that it bogs down. Mailes Kanapi can’t seem to shake her theatre background as she comes on too strong as a tightwad doctor hated by her subordinates. On the other hand, Diana Zubiri gives out a lackluster performance. She was not able to convince me as a nurse. It is a good thing that she is not the lead. The lead character is the DJFM hospital and boy, it truly is a baby factory with at least 630 mothers/patients at the time of shooting.