Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oros (Paul Sta. Ana, Cinemalaya 2012 New Breed Finalist)

It is with amusement that I read articles and comments about the Manila scenes from the disappointing film Bourne Legacy. Several people harped over the impoverished, ‘stinky’ images of the city. However, I didn’t find anything ugly and demeaning at all. Well, the foreign movie is quite talky, but noisy and busy Manila is just like what locals (and tourists) see everyday. The horrendous traffic is replicated throughout the day in various parts of Metro Manila. What surprised me were the gorgeous nighttime aerial shots of Manila. There’s still nothing as seductive and alluring as the city after dark.

Meanwhile, Paul Sta. Ana’s Oros treads the darker, gritty side of Manila. In the claws of the funeral lights, a group of gamblers play the sakla, an illegal cards game. Compassionate local officials turn a blind eye if the sakla is done during wakes. The huge amount of money earned from the players can be of big help to the surviving family members. The lure of big bucks naturally attracts shady characters.

Makoy (Kristofer King) is having a hard time convincing his younger brother Abet (Kristoffer Martin) to help him manage his sakla operations. Business is booming and he needs all the hands he can find to man the games. He just ignores the entry of a saklaan competitor by reasoning that there are lots of dead people to be shared by two groups.

Indeed, Makoy easily buys an unclaimed corpse from a funeral parlor and uses it for his fake wakes. He then cooks up a background story that the ‘surviving family’ can tell to nosey neighbors and authorities. The film is a handy blueprint for those planning to enter the lucrative sakla business. All the things you need to know are there. Vivid details like the need to apply formalin to the corpse and the collection of protection money are shown.

Paul Sta. Ana did wonders with a well-researched story on the world of sakla. He is so confident with his material that he didn’t flinch from using clichéd poverty porn images. His first scene mockingly apes the beginning of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, a successful film that pilloried makers of ‘poverty porn’ movies. He then goes on to pay homage or simply refers to other notable films and directors. There’s humor as a man fails miserably in doing a Gloc 9 rap song. The off-key singing segues to Abel doing a passable rap like the young gangsta rappers of Tribu. A stinky turd scene recalls scenes from the films of Jeffrey Jeturian. There’s just a slight misstep in the Kubrador/Tirador scene. Abel outruns a man without experiencing any trouble with his pair of slippers. Maybe, the slippers get to be a perfect fit when the user is running scared instead of walking leisurely.

Kristofer King won the Best Actor award for his convincing role as a small-time hands-on businessman. The way he delivers his lines especially the throwaway lines is so natural. His Makoy is hard on irresponsible employees but has a soft spot for family members. King and Kristoffer Martin came up with memorable characters that are a perfect fit for the movie’s version of Manila. They seem to be real-life denizens of the city’s edgier side. In the end, the strong performances and the nitty-gritty details of the saklaan business stays with you and not the so-called poverty porn images. 

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