The difference between telling lies and keeping truths in Dennis Marasigan’s Tukso (2007) October 15, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi.
English Title: Temptation
Directed by Dennis Marasigan
Cast: Soliman Cruz, Ping Medina, Diane Malahay, Sid Lucero, Shamaine Buencamino, Irma Adlawan
Cinemalaya 2007 Winner for Best Screenplay
Dennis Marasigan’s Tukso is a good film. I am tempted to call it great, with the director’s subdued precision and maturity, but his preference to form and not to his characters, plus the fairly disappointing closure, is an impervious handshake of luminous disparity. I would like to express this early how much I enjoyed watching it, as I believe a film need not be profound to be beautiful, and so this film is.
Too bad it suffers from comparison — everyone’s eyes are expecting a flow of rashomonic elements: the dead woman and the people around her before she dies, the trees, the truth, the lies, the overlapping of testimonies, and the emotion. Except that there is no rain, or even a drizzle. The truth is, Tukso is not Rashomon. The question of originality is quite absurd because to state the obvious, Rashomon is not an original work — it is based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short stories In A Grove and Rashomon — and somehow, most of us are indebted to it for opening the doors of Asian Cinema to the West (aren’t the doors wide open way back then?) after winning the Golden Lion in Venice. It may be the first film to popularise truth subjectivity, but we never know, as films are considered commercial ventures in general, if somewhere else around the globe a work like Rashomon has already been made then. Furthermore, the resolution in Tukso, that someone is accountable for the crime and we know who, feels like Marasigan is trying to steer his work away from its supposed clone — why use special effects for that scene?, I wonder — which in my opinion is successful. It is inevitable that remake films, even song revivals for that matter, are questioned for their motivation, or the lack of it, in redoing a work either through adapting and revising parts of it to make it look modern, perhaps fitting its story to its chosen mileu (Laurice Guillen’s Salome or Paul McGuigan’s Wicker Park), or an exact copy, frame by frame, shot by shot, of the original (Gus Van Sant’s Psycho). Countless, different ways of making a film, countless, different ways of singing a tune: interesting world.
Tukso is a satisying thriller, if a thriller is supposed to thrill then it is, and fares even better than some of Claude Chabrol’s boring murder tales. The Capiz windows, women taking their baths and washing their clothes in a brook — the stream of water itself — echo those glints of cinematic gems in Oro, Plata, Mata. Silently beautiful. Also, it is the powerhouse performance of the cast that exemplifies the moving force of this film — Soliman Cruz, Ping Medina, Sid Lucero, Ricky Davao, the great Shamaine Buencamino, the inconsistency of Diane Malahay which turns out to be helpful, and needless to mention, the Irma Adlawan. Watching Michael Haneke’s Piano Teacher, a work that defines cardiovascular death, I thought only Vilma Santos, among local actresses, can pull off a difficult role similar to Isabelle Huppert’s. (Interestingly, Tukso is shot in Lipa, Batangas, where Santos served three consecutive terms as town mayor before getting elected as Governor). Apparently not because Irma Adlawan, who can reveal a universe of emotion by doing less, that stare at Ping Medina while he takes off his sando, her uneven and meaningful gaze, is already a goddess not only in theatre but also in the silver screen.
A scene likely to be remembered because it mentions the nature of temptation itself remains the singlemost shot in Tukso I adore: the character of Bing Pimentel talks about their daughter’s boyfriend away from her, a wavering sin she can already smell. In the foreground a fish comfortably swims, while Ricky Davao looks at the aquarium (or is he?), his eyes, those moving eyes peer contemptuously. Overreading that scene wouldn’t help.
Other details also invite critique: modernising a town through malls and commercial projects, Orocan politicians, the stupidity of coño brats, and conflicting shades of urban anthropology. These sociological insights are for us to unravel; they are never mentioned explicitly. But instead of rambling on “how a cliché film can be saved by a great acting ensemble,” I believe more important things are worthy of discussion, a totality to look beyond in this film. * * * *