Friday, April 28, 2017

Toto (John Paul Su, Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave 2015)

The dark comedy film Toto tackles two major preoccupations of middle-class Filipinos. The first one is love of movies and celebrities. Toto (Sid Lucero) is a hotel room service attendant who idolizes Tom Cruise. He dons sunglasses although not the pricey Ray-Ban Wayfarer ones. He engages in a side job peddling bootleg DVD copies of movies. Alas, his knowledge of movies is limited to the Hollywood blockbusters and star-studded films he sees from these pirated DVDs. He fails to identify the movie source of the dialogue, 'We're no longer in Kansas' or the dog character Toto.

The second and major topic of the film is Filipinos' obsession and lingering dream to work abroad, specifically the United States of America (US). Countless Filipinos still cling to the notion of earning big bucks in the US. Toto concocts different ways of getting the elusive visa. For every denied visa application, he waits for months before employing his latest ploy.

A hysterically funny scene shows Toto raising hackles over the people hired to serve as his family for a visa application appearance. He rues the pedestrian, tacky looks of his alleged mother and sister. Worse he even compares them to prostitutes from Ermita. His remark about prostitutes came back to haunt him later in the film as he gets outed as a prostitute catering to gays.

Toto may be an impostor but he has huge compassion for his cancer-stricken mother (Bibeth Orteza). He buys a wig for his bald-headed mother. Toto's big heart and gritty determination causes the merciful universe to bring him one last hope of nabbing a US visa.

The film Toto assembles a fine cast of actors. Even the foreign actors gave notable performances. Sid Lucero is a versatile actor able to handle dramatic and comedic roles. He channels his father, Mark Gil, in the bedroom scene showing him in briefs. Mara Lopez continues to sizzle in every role she dabbles in. Rafael Roco Jr. does a first in this film with his head full of long hair. The novelty is not merely being long haired of Roco but having a fuller, hairier head than his lady partner (Bibeth Orteza). Liza Dino portrays a chameleon-like femme fatale giving Toto a dose of his own medicine.

There are several wonderful detours from the main topic. They add dramatic contrast to the mostly comedic visa forays of Toto. The bromance twist is a major surprise. It answers my major lingering question at that point of the movie: Why is someone getting out of his way to help Toto get his visa?

Another emotional side trip is Toto's visit to his mother. I can't recall any of her lines but I still vividly remember her receding hairline. Bibeth Orteza evokes sympathy as a bald-headed cancer victim.

Enough with sad memories. Let's go out with a laugh.

Here's a joke for Toto and other avid Filipino moviegoers:

Q: What Tom Cruise movie best describes Roco?
A: Top Gun. (Top Gone).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tu Pug Imatuy (Arbi Barbarona, Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2017 Best Picture)

Mere months after the lumad film Baboy Halas won a major award at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival, another film on peaceful lumads, Tu Pug Imatuy, won the top prize at the 2017 Sinag Maynila Film Festival.

Tu Pug Imatuy (Right to Kill) benefits from Arnel Mardoquio's story of a lumad couple abducted and used by the military to serve as trackers. The husband is gentle and mild. He stands helplessly in the middle of a river as the soldiers leeringly strip off the blouse of his wife. The shivering husband meekly accepts the situation as his naked wife resolutely clamps down her emotions.

After a humiliating parade through the jungle, the wife grabs a rare opportunity to escape. Assigned to cook dinner, she puts in some sleep-inducing herbs in the meals that she is preparing. The soldiers order the unknowing husband to take a bite size portion of the meal as a precaution against poisoning. The meal isn't poisoned but mixed with a potion. Soon, the soldiers are dozing off along with the husband.

The wife silently motions the other abductees to escape. She then drags her mildly-sedated husband away from the camp. The heavy load puts a dent on the wife's escape plan. It didn't take long before the enraged soldiers, roused from stupor, caught up with the couple. The husband is killed while the wife continues to elude the soldiers.

The two films, Baboy Halas and Tu Pug Imatuy, highlight the peaceful and pacifist nature of lumads. The wife in Tu Pug Imatuy didn't kill the soldiers even when she has the chance to do it at the camp. Not a single one of the fleeing abductees took hold of a firearm. They could have at least disarm the unconscious soldiers but even holding such weapons seems to be a big No-No for them. It is as if lumads are averse to weapons of violence and destruction.

Now that she is being pursued, the wife has no choice but to use her guile and lures the soldiers to their deaths inside a large camouflaged animal trap. The lumads' jungle skills and ability to use herbal potions help them survive natural or man-made hazards. In Baboy Halas, lumads implore the help of spirits in their endeavors. Maybe the spirit of the trap helped the wife eradicate evil persons in her midst.

A powerful image from Tu Pug Imatuy is that of a yellow construction vehicle abandoned in a muddy road. It is an ominous sign of violence to come. Ever since the incident of Maguindanao Massacre, yellow bulldozers or trucks of similar ilk have been associated with violence. This time, the violence is not political in nature but mining-related. Mining companies are using military soldiers to harass anti-mining lumads.

Children are the worst-hit victims of militarization in Mindanao. They are deprived of education and sometimes, their permanent homes. The children and their parents endure countless evacuations because of conflicts. Some children even lose a parent or two.

A heartbreaking scene from the film shows two children waiting overnight for their parents to fetch them. The rain failed to budge them from their position in the mountains. What future awaits them if both parents fail to come? 

Stories about lumads will have to be told as long as violent, greedy people intrude into their peaceful, serene communities in Mindanao.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kristo (HF Yambao, Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2017)

The film Kristo starts with a Brillante Mendoza-style of seamlessly embedding film actors into crowded actual event. Indie film regular Kristoffer King portrays a bet collector named Boy who joins a parade of bloodied flagellants during the season of Lent. Footage of him walking the streets of Pampanga and carrying the cross is followed by actual footage of the nailing of Ruben Enaje to the cross. Enaje is a regular fixture of Holy Week crucifixions. He strives to do a yearly Kristo (crucified Jesus Christ) as gratitude for surviving a building fall.

Boy Saging (Kristoffer King) is also called a kristo, a slang for a bet collector at cockpits. According to a University of the Philippines study by Mary Ann Alabanza,, a kristo is liken to Jesus Christ. Both take on the role of mediator. A kristo mediates between the bettors and the managers. Another possibility for the origin of the term may be the hand movements of bet collectors resemble generic hand poses of Jesus Christ statues.

The mohawked Boy works hard and does his best to grant requests of loved ones. With his windfall of bet commissions, he buys a second-hand laptop for his daughter. There is a tendency for Boy to act as a ‘one-day millionaire’ because of such huge windfalls. There is also the danger of overspending and being overly generous. But, a bigger problem is the temptation to put large amounts of money to a cockfight bet. When Boy ends up losing his budget for the celebration party of his daughter, he humbly asks for a loan from his boss. The boss (Julio Diaz) castigates him for acting like a rich bettor.

The best, meaty film segments show various activities inside the cockpit area. They may probably answer all the questions one may have about kristos and the cockfighting business. The film takes the entire gamut from setting up of matches up to the rehabilitation of winning cocks. If you've been wondering what happens to the dead chickens, the film takes the viewers to a place where losing chickens are dumped over a boiling vat and stripped of feathers. Dejected owners are consoled with the thought of having chicken for dinner.

There are scenes that may be puzzling for some viewers. These scenes show Boy eyeing an envelope full of bundled money bills. Is he planning to run away with the money? No, he is calculating new odds that will entice more bettors to part with their money.The concept of restructuring odds is a difficult one to put into film but director HF Yambao nail it.

The boss (Diaz) has great trust in his kristo, Boy. The latter is a good kristo who knows how to set up a fair fight, how to calculate odds, and memorize numerous bet transactions. If the bet is too large, he reiterates the bet with the boss as his witness. There is a wonderful segment showing what happens when a kristo becomes a Judas. A new kristo refuses to pay Boy and states that Boy is the one who owes him. The verbal confrontation escalates into a fist fight. The action scene recalls the in-your-face fisticuffs helmed by Mendoza for the film Tirador.

The boss reconciles with the devious kristo. He reminds the truant kristo that scalawags like him have no place in a cockfighting arena. Every bet collector should honor every bet transaction and should act like a saint or like Jesus Christ.

Some cockfighting aficionados take their faith and religious experience to the extreme. I've heard stories of people trying to feed their cocks with the Blessed host. Are the stories some sort of urban legends? I like to believe that is there some truth in these stories. Desperate gamblers will do dastardly things to earn money.

Kristo is one of the best films I've seen so far in this Year of the Rooster. A suggested companion film is Briccio Santos’ Damortis, which deals with a Christ-like healer who succumbed to cockfighting and alcoholism. Both films have strong, vivid images of Lenten activities. Kristo also comes close to matching Damortis’ varied, powerful images of how people use their hands. Enaje allows nails to pierce his hands, while Boy uses his hands to punch a cockpit arena swindler.