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News Feats and Heart Beats: ‘Deadline’ in review

4 Jul

Lamangan and Ilagan incorporated real life elements and personalities into the screenplay of "Deadline", the last in a trilogy of films depicting grisly social realities in the Philippines.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

What happens when the pursuers of truth are themselves pursued by the very individuals whose wrongdoings they are committed to expose? Such is the question raised by “Deadline” (2011), the last in a trilogy of advocacy films helmed by Joel Lamangan and penned by Bonifacio Ilagan. In a bid to project social realities on the silver screen, the duo also produced “Dukot” (2009) and “Sigwa” (2010), films on extrajudicial killings and the First Quarter Storm of 1970. With “Deadline”, the filmmaker and scriptwriter paint a grisly picture of the situation of local press freedom and reels audiences into the lives – and in certain scenes, even the gruesome deaths – of journalists in the Philippines.

The Committee to Protect Journalists ranked thePhilippinesthird in their 2011 Impunity Index, a globally-recognized litmus test for press freedom that quantifies the number of journalist killings in various countries vis-à-vis the number of unresolved cases. The country’s high-ranking but dismal performance in the Impunity Index was caused by the dearth of justice for victims of the Maguindanao massacre, where 58 (previous reports counted 57; the body of one victim has yet to be recovered) people were murdered in a horrific display of election-related violence on November 23, 2009.

Lamangan and Ilagan incorporated real life elements and personalities into the screenplay, thereby making a significant chunk of “Deadline” a cinematic allegory to the Maguindanao massacre. The most discernable similarity to real life is the film’s antagonist, long-time governor Muntazir Ghazi of the fictionalMindanaoprovince Abdul Rabb, whose position, political and military influence and ruthlessness is patterned after former Maguindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, believed to be among the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre.

In the film’s most gruesome tragedy, a press conference with close to a hundred attendees was bombed by Ghazi’s goons – leaving 57 dead, 32 of whom were media practitioners. Although her lines are brief and her face is never revealed to the audience, the nasal intonations and word choices of the unnamed Philippine president in “Deadline” is reminiscent of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, under whose term 79 journalists were killed in the line of duty, according to data from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

The journalist-characters portrayed in “Deadline” and the circumstances surrounding their practice introduce viewers to ethical dilemmas that media practitioners often find themselves in.  One prime example of this is the columnist Ross Rivera (TJ Trinidad), whose role as a “government apologist” earns him and his publication Metro Times Manila not only hefty bonuses from “clients” in politics, but also the disdain of their more critical colleagues.

Another ethical dilemma depicted in the film is plagiarism. When Henry Rosales (Luis Alandy) of the Philippine League of Journalists published groundbreaking articles on warlordism in the Philippine Sentinel, he failed to give credit to his main sources, reporters Azad Sinan (Allen Dizon) and Claire Pasinan (Ina Feleo) of the Mindanao Weekly Herald. When Claire expressed some regret over relinquishing the byline, her editor pointed out that the very exclusion of her name was the best defense against Ghazi, the unidentified but heavily-implied subject of the exposes.

The film concluded with Ghazi gunned down in his verbose mansion; the lone soldier who fired the fatal shot made like an armed David against a political Goliath. The casualties of the bombing were laid to their final resting place, but one is left to ponder about the quality of the “justice” they received. While the image of Ghazi being felled by bullets registers a sense of poetic justice, it is interesting to note that by letting justice be dealt by the hands of a man (in this case, the soldier), the film – intentionally or otherwise – discredited the due process of law. Perhaps this disregard could be interpreted as a metaphor for the disillusionment, or even distrust, towards the slow-moving judicial process that the loved ones and colleagues of slain journalists are left to contend with.

The practice of journalism is rooted in the thorough pursuit of information. Resourceful reporters do not only gather facts but rather hunt them down, especially when there are deliberate efforts to hide or distort them. At that point, the work is far from over – the conscientious journalist knows the importance of separating the grain from the chaff and enriching content by providing context.

It is no secret, however, that the fulfillment of professional and ethical standards comes at a price. All over the Philippines and indeed, all over the world, there will be powerful parties with close minds, deaf ears, iron fists and stone hearts who will attempt to hammer the last nail in the coffin of press freedom. But for as long as there are journalists who commit and continue to fight when they write and speak what is true, the watchdogs of society will not cower away amid the threats to their ranks and lives, and will never be rendered toothless.

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Devotion and Assertion in Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980)

5 Jun

On the day that you were born

The angels got together

And decided to create a dream come true…

 Why do birds suddenly appear

Everytime you are near?

Just like me

They long to be

Close to you

 

How much of your life will you put on hold for someone who takes you for granted? Such is the question explored by Lino Brocka in his film Bona, starring Nora Aunor in the titular role and Philip Salvador.

The film opens with footage of devotees crowding around the statue of the Black Nazarene. The camera pans across the throng and zooms to a nonchalant bystander, a young woman named Bona. The next frame shows Bona at a film shoot, within arms’ reach of her real object of devotion – Gardo Villa (Salvador), a lower-tier actor with an ego heftier than his salary.

As Gardo’s not-so-secret admirer, Bona feels no remorse over cutting class and neglecting her household duties just to bring him refreshments at his shoots. This obsession puts Bona at odds with her domineering father, who sees no point in her reckless abandon.

A family scorned.

One night, the dazed fan girl stays over at Gardo’s place, tending to him after he was mauled by a group of thugs led by the brother of one of his lovers. She goes so far as to fetch water, cook breakfast and bathe him. As Bona sets out doing all these tasks, Gardo is reminded of his late mother, a tough but caring femme fatale under whose shadow he lived most of his life.

Later in the day, Bona returns home only to be beaten and disowned by her father. She then goes back to Gardo, offering to keep house and serve him in exchange for a place to stay. Despite having grown up in a middle-class household, Bona adjusts to life in the slums and assimilates well with the neighbors. She becomes a valuable part of the community, even more helpful and well-liked than Gardo ever was.

Gardo having a one-night stand with a coworker as Bona looks on

Her devotion to the actor, however, is unrequited and for the most part, underappreciated. And yet she draws a false sense of authority from her self-inflicted servitude. This is most evident when Gardo brings home another woman and makes love to her within Bona’s sight and earshot. When Gardo leaves in the morning, the woman bosses around an unyielding Bona.

Bona being bossed around by Gardo's paramour.

Gardo’s new paramour slaps Bona hard, a move that awakens the fighter in the latter. She slaps her right back, chasing her around the house and eventually beating her with a broomstick. Bona’s uncharacteristic violence is her way of marking her territory and asserting her place not only in Gardo’s house, but also in his life.

Gardo lets Bona know her place.

“Ikaw lang ang gusto kong pagsilbihan, Gardo, at hindi ibang tao. Ayokong dalhin mo sila rito sa pamamahay ko,” she told him.

Gardo responded by smacking her in the face. “Sira ka ba? At sinong nagsabi sayong pamamahay mo ‘to, ha? Sampid ka lang dito, at wala kang pakialam kung sino mang babae o ilan mang babae ang dalhin ko dito. Baka gusto mo ikaw ang palayasin ko dito?”

Bona, now in tears, answers, “Huwag! ‘di ko na uulitin.”

Bona bathes Gardo.

Bona is willful submission personified. The limits of what she can and cannot do are always in relation and in response to the men in her life: the father who controls her, Gardo who stunts her personal growth but whose every whim she yearns to satisfy, and the elder brother who becomes hostile to Bona after their father’s death, effectively severing her ties with the family.

Annie tells Gardo that she is bearing his child, and that she intends to have an abortion lest her parents find out.

In the same way, Gardo’s relationships with women also define him. The women in his life stand for different stages and repercussions of his maturity or lack thereof: his mother, a tough cookie who doted on her son to the point of spoiling him; Bona, whose devotion reminds Gardo of his own mother, a familiarity that would jinx any reciprocation of romance on his part; the prostitute and the actress in whose company he could feel “like a man”; Annie the seeming goody-two-shoes who bore his child, and whose abortion (organized by Bona upon Gardo’s plea) becomes a wake-up call for him and Katrina, an older woman besotted with Gardo who provides an opportunity for him to clean up his act and find his fortune elsewhere, albeit by spoonfeeding him still.

Bona, smitten and swooning.

The bedrock upon which Bona’s devotion is founded, however, remains largely untapped. Besides a brief sequence showing her hugging a signed photo of Gardo to her chest (with the strains of “Sayang” by Claire dela Fuente in the background nonetheless), the audience is left curious – perhaps to the point of exasperation – to know just how or why she fell so hard for him in the first place. After all, it’s no mean feat to sustain sympathy for a character who renders herself none.

A simple explanation is offered. Nilo (Nanding Josef), a young man from the squatters who initially showed interest in Bona, asks of her: “Bona, bakit? Bakit ka pumayag na magpaganyan? Inaallila, pinapagad. Ginugutom.”

Unflinchingly, she replies, “Gusto ko eh. At hindi naman ako inaalila. Hindi naman ako napapagod.”

At the end of the film, one realizes even more the relevance of the opening scene with the Black Nazarene. It sets the tone for the premise of the film – adulation, devotion and its consequent sacrifices – and juxtaposes it with Bona’s experiece. Unlike the Nazarene, Bona, despite having sacrificed her whole life, does not get adulation in return. She is powerless, and this powerlessness is what defines her existence. But in her moments of assertion and empowerment, as with her maltreatment of Gardo’s other woman and again in the movie’s heated conclusion, Bona proves that underdogs are not always toothless, and that not even servitude can bear the grunt of silence.

5 Reasons to Enjoy Joey Gosiengfiao’s “Temptation Island”

15 May

Smile, ladies! You won't be doing that for very long.

When news of a Temptation Island remake helmed by Chris Martinez came out last April, I made a mental note to watch the Regal-produced Joey Gosiengfiao original before its latest reincarnation hit the theaters.

Gosiengfiao’s film featured newcomers Bambi Arambulo (Miss Maja Pilipinas 1977), Dina Bonnevie (1st Runner-up, Miss Magnolia 1979), Azenith Briones (Miss Photogenic, Mutya ng Pilipinas 1975) and Jennifer Cortez (Binibining Pilipinas-Universe 1978) as reel beauty queens vying for the Miss Manila Sunshine crown.

A great deal has changed since the original was released — hairstyles! outfits! gadgets! — but its self-deprecating humor, takes on beauty and society and unabashed candor remains just as saucy as it was in 1980. Here are some of the reasons why:

Now substitute the first "e'' in "betch" and "betches" with "i"

1. BFs. Boyfriends? Not quite. If you’ve watched White Chicks, you’d know what I mean by BF — and boy, are there plenty of them in this movie. We’re talking four girls from different backgrounds, all fueled by their own desires and motives, pitted against the elements and each other under highly combustible circumstances. And when I say combustible, I don’t just mean the summer heat.


2. CATFIGHTS (no caps, no passion)

Nuff said.

3.  Alfredo “falls” in love (this be cheesy — you have been warned)


4. Communism 

5. Economics and God’s supposed punishment


What I like most about the film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither does it compel you to. But more than being just a beach flick,  viewers are able to draw insights on the nature of civilization and society. Despite maintaining a front of comedy and shallowness, Gosiengfiao’s material dips into the best and worst aspects of human nature, probing what makes people savage and what makes them human.

Lastly, in the context of an accident that would prove life-changing for all those involved, Temptation Island immortalizes the tempests and travails the characters rise above, as individuals and as a unit. But while some revel in the triumph of the human spirit, others are left to contend with  things that leave a mark but eventually fade away – like discrimination, sunstroke, and summer love snuffed out by a change of heart nary a season after.

Might in Fright: Trends in horror films worldwide and in the Philippines

14 Sep

Claimer: My Comm 100 (Introduction to Communication and Media) prof divided the class into groups, each with the task of reporting on one facet of media — film, broadcast communication, journalism, development communication and advertising. After every report, we were required to submit a reflection paper on an issue involving the media aspect discussed. The text below was a reflection paper on film, and step one in my endeavor to eradicate my aversion to the horror genre.

***

Horror has clawed its way into becoming one of the most recognizable film genres. Despite the varying states of distress it causes, audiences from Tel Aviv to Reykjavik revel in horror films as a response to their fear of and desire to characterize the unknown. Besides the familiar plotlines of humans confronting or coming to terms with supernatural forces, horror has come to encompass thrillers and slasher films, thereby rendering spectacles of crime, blood and gore cinematic.

While the belief in the existence of elementals is universal, the range and number of paranormal creatures – as well as their depictions on the silver screen — vary across cultures. The first horror films utilized Gothic and supernatural elements that have since been associated with the genre (i.e., the setting of the grand haunted abode enveloped by fog, the appearance of “sinister” animals like bats, the existence vampires and werewolves, or other such grotesque monsters).

Filmmakers of late are challenged to redefine genre conventions in keeping with the artistry of their craft. This gave rise to subgenres like the psychological horror, which aims to understate the shock value by focusing instead on story techniques that build up to terror in the psyche (as in The Sixth Sense). The Hollywood remaking of Asian fright flicks like Ringu and Sigaw by Filipino director Yam Laranas is representative of the acclimatization of Asian horror to Western sensibilities. As viewers reached their point of saturation and the genre cycle inched towards denouement, industry movers responded by making horror something to laugh about. Spoofs like Scream and the films in the Scary Movie franchise succeeded in turning fright into something blithe, and angling the diabolical to appear comical, a welcome breath of fresh air for fear-ridden audiences.

In its online write-up about Philippine cinema, the Expedia travel agency touted the local horror film circuit as “initially influenced by the ongoing trend of Asian horror movies.” I find this statement erroneous and unfair, because it downplays and downright disregards the early contributions of Filipino filmmakers to the genre. After all, the Philippines is no newbie in the scream screen scene. As early as 1949, the multi-talented Richard Abelardo helmed El Diablo, an adaptation of a comic book story with satanic overtones. Similarly, a number of films during that period were cinematic reworkings of komiks plots and chapters of radio serials, as was the case with Satur starring Manuel Conde and the anthological Gabi ng Lagim.

Endemic folkloric creatures like the tiyanak, aswang and manananggal are the Filipino counterparts for generic vampires, witches and ghouls of the West. As director Peque Gallaga puts it: “Filipinos have a far richer and scarier culture than what the Americans are selling us through Halloween. We grow up with scary stories in our homes, and they are part of our culture. That’s why Pinoys love horror films; they’re so real to us.”

By the time the credits roll, malignant unnatural forces would have been vanquished – such a conclusion is a recurring theme in Filipino horror. The messianic functions of holy water or the well-timed brandishing of a crucifix betray our collective brand of Folk Catholicism. Gallaga muses, “Scratch a Filipino Catholic and you will find an animist who still believes in diwatas underneath. Altars are still populated with magic charms – amulets and dried palm stalks to keep the aswang away.”

The onslaught of heinous crimes during the 1990s spurred the production of semi-biographical massacre films. Among the most popular directors in this field is National Artist for Film and Visual Arts Carlo J. Caparas, whose works include The Vizconde Massacre Story (God Help Us!), The Maggie dela Riva Story (God…Why Me?), and The Marita Gonzaga Rape-Slay: In God We Trust!, among others. Such movies cash in on the morbidity of the felonies, and the “based on a true story” peg takes advantage of the viewers’ curiosity about atrocities that hit close to home. In 2009, the artfulness of Caparas’ “massacre” films came under fire in line with his proclamation as National Artist. It is worth noting that then Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chief Dante Jimenez came to the films’ defense, pointing out that the latter were not mere displays of sensationalism, but effective means to augment public awareness on the prevalence of crime.

Recent years have seen an increase in films that engage in genre bending. Horror comedies like Ispiritista and Cinco provide lighter alternatives for Filipinos who might better fancy the sight of blood in dinuguan than on the big screen. Although horror films have temporarily taken a backseat to the more marketable romantic comedies, no coffin is as of yet in sight for the industry. For as long as they draw from Filipino roots and fears and magnify the monstrosity of real-life events, fearsome flicks will ensure a firm grip on the audience, drawing them in like aswang victims to garlic.

***

 

References:

De Ramos, Tante. “Pinoy Horror Films.” Film Academy of the Philippines.

16 Aug. 2010 <http://filmacademyphil.org/?p=449&gt;.

Dirks, Tim. “Horror Films.” 16 Aug. 2010 <http://www.filmsite.org/horrorfilms.html&gt;.

Gomez, Carla. “Growing Up with the Forces from Beyond”.  Sunday Inquirer

Magazine 26 Oct. 2008: 8.

“Watching a Philippine Movie.” Expedia, Inc. 16 Aug. 2010.

<http://www.phil-ip-pines.com/philippine-movie.html&gt;