Brillante Mendoza’s Foster Child proves that a standing ovation is locally impossible (2007) October 20, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Written by Ralston Jover
Cast: Cherry Pie Picache, Jiro Manio, Dan Alvaro, Alwyn Uytingco, Eugene Domingo
It is difficult to let this film down. After all a standing ovation is still a grand recognition, especially if it’s from the world’s most prestigious film festival, and though I restrain myself from being overly sentimental, I still believe there is still enough reason to watch this film, if not out of mercy, because it exemplifies a mortal sickness — a nauseous symptom that most digital filmmakers are likely to follow in the future.
Its much-needed publicity — redundant press releases about Foster Child‘s international accolades, Cherry Pie Picache’s so-called career-defining “non-performance,” and Mendoza’s neorealism, all obviously blown-up to at least summon local viewers not only to look at its poignant poster but also to pay a hundred peso-ticket, see the film, and nevermind if you finish it or not just buy a ticket — didn’t help at all. On its third day, despite the eye-catching oak leaves, Robbie Tan decided to pull out the film in SM and Ayala mall theatres because of revenue loss. Every local film strives to understand the nature of our industry and after a period of coma, Enteng Kabisote already won a Best Picture, and we’re still clueless. “This is the sad plight of every independent film. Theater owners don’t care about how hard a production team worked on a film. If it doesn’t perform well, it gets replaced,” the Seiko magnate told the Inquirer. Sadly, he speaks of reality not in general, but a local phenomenon, a cultural attitude that worsens through the years, in spite of efforts exerted. Trying to wipe my glasses to look on the brighter side of a crumpled reality, I believe, at least in the recent years, it has improved.
Enough of bland advertising, Picache does not deliver a career-defining performance — come on, it’s just different. Apart from that breakdown finale, how could someone insist on defining her more than twenty years of moviemaking by her back, legs, waist, or nape, except her face, seen for almost the whole time? Given that a performance need not be tour-de-force to be considered great, for instance Tsai Ming Liang’s films are beautiful because his actors are void of cinematic emotions, but with all due respect to our great actors and actresses, from Lillian Gish to Naomi Watts, it is for a certain extent. A performance must be seen in its entirety — from start to finish, from her fall to victory, from nothing to nothing. Specific scenes may affect our preference, “she’s great in that scene so I must believe I consider her effective,” but the silver screen has its own honesty that only its humble viewers could see and define. Known for her antagonistic off-center roles in television, Picache had a stunning, brow-raising role in Bridal Shower, and after winning an Urian, her horizons widened and her talent recognized. Like in Jeturian’s film, she turns out to be impressive in different roles — a compliment she rightfully deserves.
As for the film, it feels like Mendoza is trying to hit multiple birds on different trees with one stone. Familiarity is a factor here: we see these things every day, every waking day of our lives, not the foster care idea but poverty itself, which embraces us with all its might, its lack of mercy that we learn to ignore but to no avail, the suffering of urban settlers, the smell of burnt leaves and a sip of cough syrup, the paranoia of people who go to church every Sunday, praying, praying, praying, hoping to be healed, asking to be relieved from their misery, arms raised, knees bruised from all those kneeling, and two meters away a young man is stabbed, a case of mistaken identity, a nine-year old kid is raped by his uncle, a teenager having an abortion, speaking her prayers with a rosary in hand. International audience is lauding Foster Child for its Third World-liness and pathos, mistaking Mendoza’s overconfidence for talent. Two months later, on the other side of a seemingly beautiful world, where it is a sin to see a film that rakes suffering, a one-and-a-half hour rush of helplessness, a stained repercussion of neorealism, flies swarm inside each theater that they can devour, wary of cold seats and warm eyes, and leaves an antennae-written note, Independence is not an excuse for being sloppy.
To end positively, the hotel sequence resonates the anxiety and madness in Crimson Gold — an ensuing nightmare, a breath of poison so engulfing one magnifies his own sense of detachment. A friend asks, if you experience poverty every hungry day, then why watch it? Why does it have to invade our solemn hours of entertainment, when we must laugh and feel good because we paid for it? Or is this just a mistake in judgment? * *