Archive | March, 2011
28 Mar

Summer, we’re thisclose.

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Tanaw na Kawalan: Isang sesyon sa Batasan sa mga mata ng isang Moro

25 Mar

Sa unang tingin sa Session Hall ng Batasang Pambansa, madali itong maihahalintulad sa isang arena. Ang bulwagan ay pabilog, malawak at may mataas na kisame.

Kinabubuuan ito ng apat na baitang. Ang unang palapag ay para sa mga kongresista at ang kanilang mga panauhin. Ang pangalawa naman ay para sa mga mamamahayag, at ang pangatlo at pang-apat ay para sa iba pang manonood.

Para kay Kim Matsura, isang seaman tubong Cotabato, makatuwiran lang na ipagpalagay na ang 286 na kongresistang naihalal sa arenang ito ay nakikilahok sa labanang intelektwal. Umasa siyang kahit papaano ay aktibo silang nakikipagtalastasan tungkol sa pampublikong patakaran.

Kaya naman ganoon na lamang ang gulat niya at ng kanyang mga kasamang aktibista mula sa iba’t-ibang pulo ng Mindanao sa una nilang pagtapak sa Session Hall noong ika-22 ng Marso.

Namataan nila ang ilang kongresista na palibut-libot sa bulwagan at nakikipag-usap sa telepono o sa iba nilang mga kasama.

Ang iba naman tulad nila Congresswoman Imelda Marcos ng Ilocos ay nanatili sa kanila-kanilang mga lamesa na pinalamutian ng maka-ilang talampakan ng hindi naasikasong papeles.

Halos kalahati lamang sa mga kongresista ang dumalo sa sesyon, at iilan sa kanila ay nahuli pa nang dating. Kapansin-pansin din ang mga designer handbag ng mga babaeng kongresista at ang mga nagmamahalang sasakyan sa garahe ng kongreso.

Tinitutulan nila Matsura ang pagpasa ng House Bill 4146, na naglayong ipagsabay ang eleksyon sa Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) sa pangkalahatang lokal na eleksyon sa Mayo ng 2013. Ang orihinal na petsa ng botohan sa ARMM ay sa ika-11 ng Agosto ngayong taon.

Dalawang oras na nagdaos ng rally ang kanilang grupo ng mga Bangsamoro sa bungad ng Batasan. Pumasok sila sa Session Hall bandang alas singko ng hapon upang obserbahan ang pagtalakay ng HB 4146 sa plenaryo.

Isa sa mga probisyon ng resolusyon na mariing tinututulan ng mga Bangsamoro ay ang pagtalaga ng mga “transitionary leaders” ni Pangulong Benigno Aguino III sakaling mapasa ito. Pansamantalang mamumuno ang mga ito sa lahat ng elektibong posisyon sa local na pamahalaan hanggang sa eleksyon sa Mayo 2013.

Miyembro ng Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) si Matsura. Aniya, sumapi siya sa naturang militanteng grupo nang matunghayan niya mismo ang pagkamatay ng kanyang mga magulang at iba pang sibilyan sa isang crossfire.

Ang presidente bilang diktador?

“Idolo namin ang kanyang ina na si dating pangulong Cory Aquino. Sana lang matularan niya ang halimbawa nito,” ani Matsura tungkol sa kasalukuyang presidente.

Ang HB 4146 ay tinalakay sa plenaryo ng sponsor nitong si Congressman Elpidio Barzaga ng Cavite. Uminit ang usapan nang binusisi ni Congressman Antonio Tinio ng ACT Teacher party-list ang naturang panukala.

Kinuwestiyon ni Tinio ang kapangyarihan ng presidente na magtalaga ng mga opisyal gayong dapat raw ang mamamayan ang naghahahalal sa kanila. Dinagdag pa niya na ang ganyang klase ng sapilitang pamamahala ay gawain ng isang diktador.

Taimtim na pinakinggan ni Matsura ang interpellation ng dalawang kongresista. Hindi daw siya gaanong matatas sa Ingles, ngunit nasusundan naman daw niya ang daloy ng kanilang debate.

Ayon kay Matsura, simple lang naman daw ang mithiin nilang mga Moro – ang maibalik ang kapayapaan at maiwasto ang namamayaning sistema ng palakasan at dahas sa pulitika.

Wala man silang armas pagpasok ng Session Hall, umaasa silang ang kanilang presensya ay sapat na paalala sa mga kongresista na handa silang ipaglaban at ipagtanggol sa anumang arena ang kanilang karapatan sa mapayapa at matiwasay na pamumuhay.

Ang Pinaka-Masayang Finals sa Balat ng Lupa: Art Studies 177 in a nutshell

24 Mar

When I grabbed the last slot for Art Studies 177: Cinema in Philippine Culture through e-Prerog last November, I was certain of only two things: 1) that I love watching films, and 2) I was tired of being a Brocka and Bernal virgin. My exposure to and appreciation for Philippine productions was only at its nascent stage, and I felt I could certainly use a little prodding. And I must admit, it was literally cool attending class at one of the few classrooms in AS with a functioning (bordering on overfunctioning) airconditioner.

Now, I am bound by virtue of academic requirement to reminisce over what in me has changed and what has not in the past four months (this entry is my final examination, after all). But as with anything that has to do with Art Stud, I gladly embark on it because it doesn’t feel like work at all.

As a viewer. In this class, I learned to adapt a sense of surrender when watching films. The best way to not have dashed expectations is to establish none in the first place. Keep an open mind throughout and refrain from judging a film by its commercial returns or critical reviews before even watching it. Film-viewing is a highly personal experience — one chooses and commits to spend x number of hours of his/her life when he/she decides to watch a movie. Kahit sabihin nating class requirement ang pelikula, pwede namang gumawa ng ibang bagay imbes na umupo nang tahimik at mag-focus sa pinapanood (hal. pagpikit, pagtulog, pagkain, pakikipag-usap sa katabi, atbp.).

I came to realize that happy endings are not necessarily good, and good endings are not necessarily happy. Some movies are better off with open-ended or bittersweet endings that viewers can fill the blanks in. Sometimes such endings are more powerful because they act like punches to the gut — they intensify our suspension of disbelief and remind us of how fucked up the world really is (a fact we tried to forget upon entering the cinema/classroom, but oh well papel, such is life and we might as well come to terms with it).

As a critic. There is no such thing as a “realistic” film. Film is, by its very nature, an avenue for its producers’ expression and its viewers’ escape. Notice that I refrain from using the term “entertainment”, because amusement is not what cinema is all about.  Films are not visual playthings that aim to force smiles out of our faces for a fee (not the best ones, anyway). I believe a film can truly say it achieved its purpose if we become its plaything – if we toy around with it in our minds for days, as the film itself grows with and grows on us.

In the world of a film, nothing happens by accident. What the director does not show is just as important as what he does show — and this is not lost in the proactive viewer. I learned to find meaning in such technical things as the interplay of lights and shadows, carefully studying patterns and recurring motifs not just in individual movies but in directors’ entire bodies of work.

As a student. One of the advantages of a non-sectarian education is the wider range of liberal and liberating learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. I came to appreciate the overlaps and interaction of the different fields of mass comm in any production. In my communication theory class, for example, we discussed Film Language and Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure. In order to better understand the concept, I applied the concept of the “male gaze” in cinema to Scorpio Nights and asked for the professor’s input. She agreed that the voyeurism in the film was indeed patriarchal and recommended Macho Dancer as another noteworthy embodiment of Mulvey’s theory.

As a Filipino. Ma’am Eloi said it best when she said, “Ang hindi nanunuod ng pelikulang Pilipino ay walang ‘k’ magsabi na pangit ito.” I enjoyed watching all the films in class (yes, even Tunay na Ina and Bagets, haha) because they showed our nation at its different stages of development. Films are like visual history books — echoing and unraveling the behaviors, perceptions, sentiments, socio-political realities and fashions of different generations. Watching all the films and hearing about pioneers and achievers through my classmates reports, I grew even prouder of the glorious past, resilient present and unparalleled potential of our local film industry.

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This is the part where I choose my favorite/s among the eleven films we watched in class. Over the Christmas break, Ma’am Eloi posted this message on our facebook group, “Survey: what Filipino film do you want to watch on our first day of class?” The overwhelming choice was Scorpio Nights, and the rationale was to start the New Year with a bang.

Pop, crack, sizzle.

And quite a bang it was.

At first I felt discomfort as we watched the film. It was something that would have surely scandalized the nuns at the all-girls Catholic high school I graduated from and make their veils stand on end. But I chose this as my favorite because of the insights on life and love that I gleaned from it. Scorpio Nights opened with shots of poverty-stricken Manila and its squatters. It’s set in the summer – it’s hot, it’s humid and it sets the stage for wayward thoughts and hands.

The film’s protagonist is Danny, a college student who looks through a hole on the floor of his rented apartment space ever night and watches the couple living in the unit below as they perfunctorily make love.  One night, he succeeds in seducing the wife (or perhaps it’s the other way around) and sparks a dangerous affair. This film challenged my notions of love and the necessity of physical intimacy. It made me question the existence of a loveless lust, like what the Wife felt for Danny and a lustless love like that of the Husband’s for his wife. Danny and the Wife shared the same astrological sign — scorpio, where the title of the film is derived. But though they may have been a match made in kama sutra heaven, the conclusion of the film and their affair epitomizes a person’s propensity to love to the point of death, as well as the many-pronged dangers of playing with fire and razing out of control.

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My wishlist for Philippine cinema

  • Well-maintained national film archives. Lino Brocka found a copy of the pre-war film Zamboanga in Europe, outside our own shores. How many more masterpieces must we lose to other countries or to oblivion before we learn to preserve them for future generations?
  • Less squabbles within the industry. Yes, there are factions even in our own film industry. And while their arguments have not reached the level of chaos seen in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film Network, let’s not hope for such chaos to transpire. Cinema is both a discipline and an art form, and everyone has varying degrees of skill or development in both. It would do the movie scene much good if filmmakers let go of condescending, hoity-toity tendencies and give fellow filmmakers the kind of respect they want and deserve for their own works.
  • More exposure in international film festivals.
  • More frequent and accessible screenings, especially of independent films.
  • Legislation to prevent the abuse and undercompensation of film workers both in front of and behind the camera.
  • Material to continually challenge the Filipino audience and develop open-mindedness. Films that should go on to make a difference in the lives of viewers are not the feel-good, mainstream flicks made of cheese and fluff, banking only on star power, a been-there-done-that plot and marketing backed by a studio. Rather, I hope audiences come to understand that the best films are those that make people squirm in their seats. Films like Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay and Lino Brocka’s Insiang made waves abroad because it gorged the viewers’ minds and senses with inconvenient truths reflective of Philippine society, and compelled audiences to cull a sense of glaring discomfort for their own level of comfort in life.
  • More writings about local films. Through this class, I realized that I could engage my love for films with my other defining passion – writing. Writing about films  is not merely an exercise in ranting and raving. Rather, it is an outlet for analysis, and a way to draw public attention to good and bad movies — of both the past and present — that most people may have never seen or heard of. It is also beneficial for filmmakers because they receive feedback on their works, and constructive criticism goes a long way in helping them improve themselves and their craft.
  • Integration of film classes or film viewings of high-caliber works for elementary and high school students. If we want to get Filipinos to start patronizing our local film industry, then we better develop their  cinematic know-how at an early age. Guide them on how to approach, analyze and appreciate films from both the past and present. In so doing, we inculcate in them a sense of pride for Filipino achievers and culture, and hopefully plant the seeds for the last item in this wishlist.
  • More passionate film students. The industry is wanting of young blood for more eye candy eye-opening and stimulating insights on life and ways of expressing it onscreen. Each film is after all a collaborative rendition of reality, so it does not just become light projected on a lifeless screen, but rather a projection of life to be screened from commercialism and decay.

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If I had to relive college life, my Art Stud experience is something I would never splice out. Though I would not go so far as to say that this is a subject I would take again and again (I do intend to graduate on time, after all), I can honestly say that this course was a seminal experience in many facets. The Philippines is a diamond in the rough, both in real and reel terms. The plot to restore the glory of our nation and cinema may not be clear-cut and the journey may be a long take. There will be outtakes and delays along the way, but the resolution to render oneself to the country and the cause stays on long after the credits roll and the background music fades away.

Out of the Ashes and into the Light*

2 Mar

Ashes of Time (Dung che sai duk), 1994

Contentment, hope and good intentions – the personas in Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time are filled with anything else but. Their lives converge in drought-ridden ancient China, with “problem-solver” Oeyung Feng as the anchoring character. Feng, himself a skilled warrior, is in the business of contract killing and hires traveling swordsmen to execute his bloody tasks. Owing to its reflective theme and extensive presentation of martial arts, the film has been classified under both the drama and wuxia or Chinese martial arts genre.

Most of the plot is set in a desert, a fitting locale for people with motives and varying degrees of desperation to meet or compete for survival. By situating action in a place bereft of resources, the director makes it easier for viewers to make sense of the responsibilities that characters take on, as well as those they choose to leave behind. Though a desert is typically arid and scathing, the color palette is vibrant and inviting, making the background look almost like it was painted on.

The manipulation of narrative elements is well played out in the film. Its opening sequence features a desert, an eclipse, a turbulent ocean and close-up shots of Oeyung Feng and his friend Huang Yaoshi battling it out in their younger years. Wong incites the viewer to juxtapose the two men from the very start, because their approaches to the film’s theme will turn out to be radically different. Each of the plot’s four chapters is attributed to a particular season, but the warped temporal order is made manifest by flashbacks and disrupted chronology.

As far as the plot is concerned, Ashes of Time commences in the spring. The narration is told mostly from Feng’s point of view, but a number of scenes mark the transfer of mental subjectivity to the Blind Swordsman, Huang Yaoshi, and Murong Yin/Yang. Brigitte Lin skillfully shifts from flighty to intense throughout the chapter; her costume and makeup are essential for the viewer to differentiate her characters. When Lin dresses as Murong Yang but begins to speak from the point-of-view of Murong Yin, it becomes clear that they are two personas in one love-crazed person. The director also toys with lights, shadows and movement to produce space depth; this is best seen during the first few encounters of Feng and Murong Yin, when their faces simultaneously bathed in light and covered by the shadow of the rotating bird cage.

The summer chapter provides answers to the questions raised by the one it succeeds. It is here that the love triangle among the Blind Swordsman, his wife and Huang Yaoshi is confirmed. The Swordsman reveals to Feng that his wife is in love with his best friend, who the viewer knows to be Huang Yaoshi from a flashback in the previous chapter. The deterioration of the Swordsman’s vision is echoed in the score, where periods of noise are accented by abrupt silences. The fresh angle and cinematography of the Swordsman’s death sequence is a mark of directorial ingenuity. During his final moments, his dying scream morphs into the chirping of birds, and his mind’s eye takes him to a faraway resplendent place where Peach Blossom waits. His joy in this return, however imaginary it may be, is reinforced in the final shot, where a hole in the tent – a passage leading to the sky, far away from the forlorn desert – comes into view as darkness fades to light.

The final chapter both concludes and preludes the narrative. In terms of chronology, that particular winter ends where spring in the first chapter takes off. Here, Feng’s past and present is revisited; the viewer is introduced to the woman Feng has fantasized about throughout the film, and his brother who eventually became her husband. Wong shows off maverick editing techniques in the confrontation sequence between the woman and Feng on the eve of her wedding. The volume is turned up but the pitch is hollow and almost hushed, as the two characters’ violent whispers reverberate in the long corridor. The director tinkers with temporal duration as he cuts rapidly from shot to shot, allowing the viewer only stolen glimpses and noises of this tryst, sometimes even leaving the latter in the dark altogether (i.e. when the shots shift to situationers, or footage of static backgrounds).

Ashes of Time employs several patterns and motifs to solidify the themes and emphasize the value of characters. The way women in the film always contrast sharply with the background is an example of such.  The Swordsman’s wife is consistently styled to be unkempt but is always well illuminated. The somber clothes and washed out face of the peasant girl with a basketful of eggs distinguishes from the vivid desert. White-as-snow skin and blood red lips make Feng’s lover stand out against the gray background of White Camel Mountain.

Thematically speaking, all male characters fall prey to displacement of affection. Deprived of love by choice or consequence of duty, they channel their desires to another person or activity – the desire to forget and Murong Yin for Huang Yaoshi; Murong Yin for Feng; the peasant girl for Feng, the Swordsman and to a platonic extent, Hong Qi. The visual emphasis on the female characters highlights this tendency; usually it is the women left behind by their men – Peach Blossom and Feng’s lover – who are illumined, to further the point that they belong to the past and are now out of reach. Similarly, these two women projected their affections elsewhere– Peach Blossom to Huang Yaoshi, and Feng’s lover to his brother – as a coping mechanism, but later found that in so doing, they ultimately jeopardized their own happiness.

Additionally, water is a recurring motif in the film. One way of reading this is to see water as n foil to the parched atmosphere of the desert. But perhaps more than the simple need to quench thirst, water can also come to symbolize the characters’ longing for closure. The viewer sees this many times throughout, including Murong Yin battling her own reflection,  Hong Qi leaving Feng’s abode at the onset of a storm, the meeting of Feng and the blind Swordsman’s wife at a lake, and Feng’s lover reminiscing about her past and looking off into the horizon.

The persistence of memory is also instrumental in the narrative. All the characters are motivated or haunted by their past, but they differ in the way they deal with it. This is where the opening sequence finds its meaning – both Huang Yaoshi and Oeyung Feng struggle with the bitterness of spurned love, but the former preferred to forget, while the latter chose to live a present that could not compete with memory.

In a world where truth and trust are hard to come by, even the seemingly steadfast lose themselves in the struggle. This warranted change in the self was most evident in Hong Qi. “I never cared about the money,” he told Feng, “I thought I’d always be that way. Then that girl asked me for help. And I knew I was a changed man. I turned her down because I knew you would…I don’t want to be like you. Because I know you’d never ever risk your life for an egg.” As he speaks thus, the shadow obscuring half his face gradually turns to light, and Feng would later admit how much envied the man and his wife for being true to their hearts. Sometimes, when confronted with change in ourselves or in others, to run is the best option. To run in this light presents no cowardice, because in moving forward we learn not so much to retreat, but especially to brave running towards.

 

*This claimer: T’was a review I wrote for film class under Prof. Patrick Campos last sem.