Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Recuerdo of Two Sundays and Two Roads that Lead to the Sea (Romy Vitug, Emmanuel Torres, & Bibsy Carballo, 1969)

Paraphrasing Forrest Gump, a Cinemalaya festival pass is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

There were lots of good treats at the recent fest. After all, it is already the eighth edition of the film competition. So, quality is quite high and cineastes had a hard time selecting a standout from a bountiful harvest of good, new films. But, sadly, there exists a Cinemalaya finalist that is so badly written that it stands out for its mediocrity. Instead of inspiring viewers, the film manages to make the audience squirm due to its heavy-handed handling of President Manuel Quezon’s legacy. If the best film I’ve seen starred Ronnie Lazaro (Ang Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro), then the worst film also featured Ronnie Lazaro (Ang Katiwala). Rare is an awful film that manages to get a foothold in the Cinemalaya competition.

Rarer is this cinematic gem that Nick Deocampo rightly described as a classic. Recuerdo of Two Sundays and Two Roads that Lead to the Sea is the film find of the last two years. Forgotten for more than four decades, the film was rediscovered in New York City. If you’ve seen Kamera Obskura, then you’ll recall the joy of film archivists who stumbled over a rare Filipino silent film. That incandescent joy is the same thing I saw in the beaming face of Deocampo. He is obviously happy to share the film to an audience who haven’t had a clue on what the film is.

Producer and editor Bibsy Carballo gave us a few tidbits on the genesis of the documentary film. Cinematographer Romy Vitug scraped up short ends of films for a side project. He spent his Sundays shooting film footages in a Navotas cemetery. Poet Emmanuel Torres came in later to write the narration, which was recorded by Ray Pedroche.

The visual virtuosity of Vitug is in full force in this black & white documentary about four funerals and a feasting. There’s an unforgettable image of moving shadows cast by jeepneys on a wall. The elegiac shadows seem to depict burning, floating coffins at sea. Then, there’s the image of crushing waves knocking on the edges of the cemetery. The sumptuous, seductive cinematography is complemented by Torres’ succinct observations.

Another poetic image is that of a poor father cuddling the coffin of his child on the way to the cemetery. Unlike Pol of Sta. Niña he is determined to decently bury the kid. The spare funeral is in stark contrast with the lavish funerals captured on the documentary. The rich families are able to hire a band and feed countless people. From birth to death, food figures prominently in these significant events.

A Filipino funeral rite depicted in the film is still being done today. Kids are being passed over the coffin to keep them from being haunted by the dead.

The documentary is one of two short films that still haunt me with great images about mortality and mourning. The other is Richard Legaspi’s moving short film Manenaya. The latter is a nice companion piece to Lav Diaz's Melancholia. Both deal with the massive cross borne by kin of desaparecidos.

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