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.

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