Thursday, October 27, 2016

Damortis (Briccio Santos, 1986)

The film Damortis begins with a footage of bloodied penitents during the Lenten season. A dozen of prostrated penitents mirror the passion and sufferings of Jesus Christ. At various points of the film, the different personas and interpretations of Jesus are shown or discussed. A radio program suggests Jesus as mere human. Foremost image that emerge though is that of a healing Christ.

Miguel, an ex-seminarian, returns to his hometown of Damortis in La Union because his father recently died. During his stay in that place, he reconnects with his healing power and assumes the title of local faith healer. He rekindles his relationship with his childhood friend, Anna (Madeleine Nicolas). The two friends later married after a whirlwind courtship.

Anna assists Miguel in his healing sessions. She initiates the idea of putting up donation boxes. The windfall from clients became so big they were able to buy and transfer to a bigger house. Alas, the couple’s love for more money led to their downfall. 

Long-haired and bearded Lando, another childhood friend of Miguel, becomes his protégé. He usurps the role of foremost healer in their town after Miguel’s healing power wanes. Not content with getting Miguel’s exalted position, Lando starts to covet his long-time crush, Anna.

The personas of the major characters can be gauged by the way they use their hands. The healing hands of Miguel become accustomed to holding alcohol bottles and gamecocks. The lustful Lando mashes the breasts of his patient. An affluent Anna becomes stingy with her money when relatives ask for help. When confronted by Miguel on her tendency to spend money on material things, her initial reaction was to raise her hands and hide her earrings. She tries her best to hold on to her possessions.

Lando entices Anna to leave Damortis and live with him. He promises to shower her with wealth coming from his healing sessions. With her husband imprisoned, Anna decides to meet up with Lando.

The last image of a hand we see is that of a killing hand. The climactic scene serves as a bookend along with the initial scenes of bloodied Christ-like figures.

I always associate Briccio Santos with the film Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising. He portrayed the husband of Hilda Koronel. But he is more than an actor.

Santos did well with his stewardship of the Film Development Council of the Philippines. The annual holding of international film festivals and the creation of videotheques in major cities are just some of his accomplishments. But he is more than an administrator.

Santos is also an exceptional filmmaker and the hypnotic Damortis is proof of that. The restored film highlights the vibrancy of the color red. The scarlet color prefigures the bloody faith healing rites and the cathartic ending.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Baboy Halas: Wailings in the Forest (Bagane Fiola, QCinema 2016)

Lumads (non-Muslim indigenous peoples from Mindanao) have been on the news lately. An allegedly panicky police officer rammed a police van into a throng of indigenous peoples holding a peaceful protest at the US Embassy. He maneuvered the van in a helter skelter way and even ran over a few persons. UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan condemned the savage dispersal of the rallyists, who were hosted by UP Diliman.

Violence seems to follow lumads everywhere they go. In the hinterlands, they experience harassment from mining groups and logging companies intent on exploiting their lands. Sadly, some companies use the military to scare off lumads. Several lumad groups keep their communities off-limits to members of NPA. Still, they suffer from the war between the NPA and the military.

Lumads though are a tough breed. Their resilience and spirituality will help them survive all these ordeals.

The serenely beautiful Baboy Halas takes a glimpse into the lumads of Maharlika, Dawag, and Tabontabon, Marilog District, Davao City. The film, done in a documentary style, eschews straight-forward narrative. Even without a compelling story, I’m mesmerized with the things happening onscreen.

The award-winning lush cinematography captures the soothing verdant surroundings. There is something calming with the featured forest. It is not a foreboding one like the forest of Apocalypse Now and the jungle of Platoon. There are no man-eating carnivores or blood-sucking insects preying on humans.

The forest is a bountiful place offering sustenance and shelter for the lumads. The river flows with clean water. The sounds of birds chirping are music to the ears. A wild boar occasionally wanders into the paths of hunters. An excellent scene shows a family working together to cook a meat-based meal. All the things they need for the feast are provided by the generous forest. They just need to pray for them.

An admirable trait of lumads is their tendency to implore the help of spirits or dwellers residing in the resource they need. They may be skilled hunters but if a deer won’t pass by they will go home empty-handed. They may be adept in survival skills but if they do not have patience they will die of hypothermia.

The highlight of Baboy Halas, no, make that of the entire set of QCinema Circle Competition films, is the amazing ‘slow burn’ scene in a cave. This is something that should be seen in a darkened movie house and not described verbally. Suffice to say, it involves a hunter imploring the help of the fire dweller. He is wet from the rains and needs the warmth of a fire to help him get through the cold evening.

I have personally seen an Aeta demonstrate friction fire lighting with the use of wild bamboo sticks but this is the first time I’ve seen fire emerge from sparking rocks. No amount of CGI effects can convincingly replicate small sparks emanating from clashing rocks.

The excitement and thrill of seeing the sparks grow into a fire is palpable. Just as the hunter was humbly praying, I was also wishing for the fire to burst forth. I was feeling the shivering temperature of the movie house and was empathizing deeply with the rain-soaked hunter. When the fire did appear it was a heartwarming magical moment.

Director Fiola says the main protagonist in the film is the hunter. There is a more important character in my opinion.

The main character of the film is the old-growth forest. Forest silhouettes tell stories of their own. A zoom out shot of the forest shows how frail and vulnerable a lumad is amidst his vast surroundings.

I was elated with scenes wherein I see figures embedded in the forest. A creek scene shows a lumad standing over a rock that looks like a giant tortoise. When it didn’t move, I realized it was really just a rock. Another scene involves a lumad deep in the heart of the forest. Across the lumad is a trunk that seems to encase a human being clad in orange attire.

The forest is a visually and aurally strong character. Images can unexpectedly form from every nook and cranny. The cacophony of sounds reveals a multi-faceted character but mostly suggest a peaceful, calm personality.

The gentle forest and the lumads are basically peaceful in nature. Violence arises when outsiders push through with their racist, lustful, and greedy ways.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Patay na si Hesus (Victor Villanueva, QCinema 2016)

The rise in number of regional filmmakers has done wonders to the diversification of ideas and genres in the indie film scene. However, grant-giving bodies have mostly supported drama films. Cinemalaya’s slate for this year shows a pair of full-length film comedies. Cinema One Originals have consistently supported horror/science fiction/fantasy filmmakers but majority of the film finalists is still of the dramatic or romantic mold. Metro Manila Film Festival offers the widest selection of film genres. But, the quality of the films leaves much to be desired.

The deliciously hilarious Patay na si Hesus is a rare find.  It is a Cebuano film with tongue firmly on cheek. The icing on the cake is that it even passed the Bechtel test. I was flummoxed with this part of the citation handed out to the film. An online search on Bechtel test says that in order for a film to be a passer it must hurdle three components:  1) there must be two named female characters, 2) who talked with one another, 3) on any issue except men.

Male characters involved with females in the film are basically losers. That must be the main reason why they don’t get to be main topics of discussions. They are worthless nincompoops. The recently departed Hesus left his family for a woman. He eventually left her for another woman. Jay, second son of Hesus, refuses to attend his father's wake but eventually relents due to maternal pressure. The son, though, is also a loser.  He flunked the Engineering board exams twice and was found out to have called off his third board exam attempt.

On the other hand, the major female characters are strong, resilient, and a bit crazy.

A middle-aged mother, Iyay (Jaclyn Jose), hauls her Cebu-based family onto a multicab for an inter-island trip back to their ancestral house in Dumaguete City. Years of estrangement from her husband Hesus had deadened her emotions. Even her children are reluctant to see their late father. But, the tears eventually broke through for the dead. Tough luck for Hesus, the tears shed are not for him but for their dog named Hudas.

The dysfunctional family picked up the sister of Hesus on their way to Negros. The nun (Angelina Kanapi) provided some of the more outrageous laugh-out-loud scenes. A bad case of flatulence served as catalyst for her to throw caution to the wind. She sheds off her religious life and hitches a motorcycle ride to freedom. I also loved the hysterically funny scene wherein she showed her grief over the loss of her niece.

The very-much alive niece, Judith, is a tomboy. She copes with a domestic break-up by drinking alcohol with a group of men. The best visual gag of the film shows her raising her left arm exposing an exaggeratedly hairy armpit.

If there’s a comedy film that comes closest to the gross-out jokes and visual gags of Patay na si Hesus, it is the American film There’s Something About Mary. The sperm jokes are sick but outright comical. The dead dog jokes are wickedly humorous, too.

The laugh-a-thon film Patay na si Hesus won the Audience Choice Award and the Gender Sensitivity Award at the QCinema International Film Festival 2016.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Purgatoryo (Derick Cabrido, QCinema 2016)

Cut from the same cloth as the vastly underrated Cinemalaya film Oros, Purgatoryo takes another look at the use of unclaimed corpses for illegal gambling operations. Recent news about corpses piling up at funeral homes in Quezon City left me wondering whether illegal gamblers are ecstatic over the vast supply of corpses.

The film starts with a police officer hauling a bloodied corpse over to a funeral parlor managed by Violet (Bernardo Bernardo). The corpse is given a thorough cleaning and prepped up to look presentable. It will be the object of a faux wake by gambling operators. The elaborate set-up involves hiring people to act as grieving family members.

Card games sakla and sapaw are illegal although local police turn a blind eye over games played during wakes for humanitarian reason. Financial proceeds from the card games are a huge boon to destitute surviving family members.

If Oros amazingly shares the nitty-gritty details of a sakla operation, then Purgatoryo exposes nightmarish shenanigans at a funeral home involved in illegal gambling. A worker at Funeraria Jimenez rues having to work on the day of his romantic date with his girlfriend. He convinces the girl to have their tryst at the funeral parlor. The couple eventually make out inside the morgue. The horny male, left unsatisfied by his lover, turns his lustful eye on a naked dead woman.

I'm deeply impressed with the necrophilia scene from a filmmaking viewpoint. Is that a true female human being? I'm not sure if the naked woman is really a human being. It doesn't move at all just like a true corpse. In stark contrast, the initial scene involving the male corpse shows the actor breathing.

Indie filmmakers who insist on having lengthy shots of dead bodies almost always botch their scenes because eventually the stomachs begin to rise. When they check their rushes on small monitors, they won't see such movement but when projected on mammoth screens the slightest of movement is easily seen. What filmmaker Roderick Cabrido does with the female corpse is truly amazing. I’m stunned by it.

The film Purgatoryo is the second collaboration between Cabrido and scriptwriter Denise O'Hara. Their first film was the fantastic Kinaray-a tale Tuos. This time around, they are joined by fellow Cinemalaya regular Joseph Laban, who is also an Atenean just like Oros director Paul Sta. Ana. The two Ateneans have their own inside jokes. A criminal, a person of interest, or a crazed guy dons an Ateneo get-up or jacket in their films.

I described the film Purgatoryo as some sort of sequel to Oros because of their many similarities. Both films deal with the same subject. Both films star Kristoffer King. And, I believe, both films also share some film locations (Santa Ana location?). Even the lighting looks familiar.

The film has a few aces on its own though. The necrophilia scene is a tough act to follow. I also admire the embalming scene shot from the point-of-view of the corpse. The corpse is liken to a spirit held up in purgatory. It needs to be cleaned up and purified in order to get to the next level. The spirit benefits from prayers while the corpse needs the expertise of the funeral home employees. But, with sexual perverts on the loose, corpses at funeral homes are likely to experience hell on earth.