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.

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