The Fear That Echoes Kisapmata in Jeffrey Jeturian’s Tuhog (2001) March 11, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi, UP Screening.
English Title: Larger Than Life
Directed by Jeffrey Jeturian
Written by Armando Lao
Cast: Ina Raymundo, Irma Adlawan, Dante Rivero, Jaclyn Jose, Klaudia Koronel
During the forum, Jeffrey Jeturian recounts how he felt bad about the way Burlesk Queen Ngayon ends. The character of Ina Raymundo, a stripper in a nightclub, dances with only her robe on. While doing her signature wobbles, she flashes her naked body in an instant. The camera freezes, then the film rolls its closing credits. All throughout. What a way to end a movie.
I haven’t seen the film nor I have any intention of seeing it, but definitely in just a shot description Jeturian is able to narrate the sad plight of Philippine cinema towards the turn of the millennium, slowly taking its toll after years of inactivity. Raymundo’s breakthrough film not only showcases her lack of skill but also exploits her body (and in a way it gravely abuses her because of its intentions) — which is quite given to some of the movies produced that time. Offensive, ghastly, abhorrent, obnoxious, insulting — it is just a waste of time describing them.
Two years later, Jeturian directs Raymundo in the role that rescued her from the filthy shores of bad bold movies — the film that saves her tainted reputation, and the work that gives her every right to be called an actress. Tuhog is a disturbingly ambitious film whose merits are worthy enough to consider it a shocking masterpiece, an intelligent commentary on multi-level incestual relations, and a harsh portrait of patriarchy that still prevails up to now. It undoubtedly nails Jeturian’s reputation, the same way Lav Diaz did after the release of Batang Westside, as the most important filmmaker of his generation. While some filmmakers content themselves in shooting rabbits, Jeturian hunts big time — boars, deers, bears, razorbacks, pterodactyls, beasts, unicorns, blobels — and proves how a stunning vision can define the line between two opposite doctrines of art and pornography, whose distinction blurs in every argument. Tuhog is able to distinguish the difference between social relevance and exploitation without forcing its heavy material into our stomach. In fact, despite its heaviness, we feel compelled to see it and face the predicament of its molested characters.
Incest is already a difficult theme to begin with. It is challenging but it is also very susceptible to be exploited. And in this case, there can only be two directions: the pure and the filth. Hayok sa Laman (Lust for Flesh) is the very definition of filth — badly-written script, flagrant score, horrible actors, and people whose only intention is to appeal to the prurient interest — exactly everything that is impermissible in sensible filmmaking. The deviation from the real life events where the film is supposed to be based is not only offensive — it is hideous, horrific, and horrendous; these filmmakers are not far from pedophiles and rapists who never confessed to their crimes. One thing is clear though: to people who understand Jeturian’s noble intentions, the entire Hayok sa Laman segment demands to be scorned and the best way to do it is to laugh up to the very end. Funny how it ends like Stanley Kubrick’s Shining, filled with suspense and tension and absurdly futile turn of events — the evil character, who refuses to die despite getting stabbed a lot of times, thrown from the window and a deep well, still manages to get on his feet and run after his daughter with a gun; the incredulity is priceless, a gem of brilliant parody it is. The audience is roaring with laughter, as emphatic as the collective gasp after seeing Tuhog‘s translation into Larger than Life (why didn’t anyone ask that during the forum?), and it’s all because Jeturian knows how to place his criticism on the perfect spot, on the most vulnerable corner, without any single speck of bitter aftertaste.
The sequences that followed anchor the film into a higher steep of eloquence. Self-aware that domestic incest is already a sensitive topic, Jeturian makes sure that he doesn’t stop there. Using a larger, macroscopic scale of incest, he affirms in perhaps the most inexorable statement made about local cinema the ability of films to influence and to instill ideologies. The relationship between the filmmaker and his subject is always prone to be abused. Once the subject willingly gives everything he needs to attain his vision — his evil vision unknown to his subject — it trusts him its life. The subject is the most vulnerable — and there are filmmakers who rape their subjects — subjecting them to various planes of irresponsible filmmaking. Perla and Floring’s company assumes the film to be real — not just real but honest — interpreting what they see as exact depiction of Perla and Floring’s life with their father. They are even reluctant to discuss it in front of them, repressing their disgust and repugnance, hushing each other while watching the film. It is already etched in their minds that the images and innuendos seen in Hayok sa Laman adequately represents what happened to Perla and Floring. Not only they have lost their dignity to evil, they have also lost it to humanity. There is no collateral damage here. The damage is already done — and it is irreversible. To every moron who underestimates the importance of the celluloid, I tell you, don’t spread yourself.
Tuhog is a resounding slap to Seiko — to Robbie Tan’s face specifically — and to all its excrements whose finances should have been given to Gawad Kalinga and who knows the Philippines might have been a First World country after providing sufficient homes to its millions of homeless people and consequently empowering its labor-intensive industries. Not only to Seiko, Tuhog is also a huge fuck you to Star Cinema manure, whose budget to its glossy features should have been given to foster care and educational reforms so that our youth can help this country on its way to a true economic recovery. It seems that the real, evasive problem here in the Philippines is that people don’t know how to allocate their money properly; most of the time, they just go to waste.
It is no surprise that Tuhog is an acting coup. Irma Adlawan, in her first major role, uses her theatre eminence to achieve a performance that delivers her from anonymity to greatness. Contrary to Jaclyn Jose’s apparent theatricality, hers is a sublimity of a victim, physically-raped and emotionally-abused, her soul almost lost in finding solace in humankind. On the other hand, Jose’s insistence to favor herself in front of the camera works very well. It takes talent from a very good actress to play an extremely bad one. Likewise, turning Raymundo into an actress is already a feat in Jeturian’s part; perhaps the least he can do is to make her less irritating or more tolerable but in Tuhog, Raymundo is able to redeem herself from the awful roles she played in the past. Same goes with Klaudia Koronel. We know this woman will do nothing serious; but in just three films (Ilarde’s Babaeng Putik, Jeturian’s Tuhog, and Reyes’ Live Show), she has proved to be the indomitable icon of the bold movies — and yes, that’s a compliment. She completely knows how to use her acting (in)abilities to an extent that no other actors in her league can do. Seriously, I find her even more cunning than Bardot.
In almost every film he makes, Jeturian succeeds in capturing the socio-political background of its mileu. Sana Pag-Ibig Na (I Wish It Were Love) is a subdued melodrama which had its share of affecting moments, especially with the climactic scene with the late Nida Blanca. Pila-Balde (Fetch A Pail of Water) is his first masterpiece, a box-office success that skyrocketed Ana Capri’s name into the festival circuit as an actress to watch out for. Minsan Pa (One Moment More) is a personal favorite, an indulgent piece of cinematic refinement, an astral projection of beauty, so dreamlike, so calm and gentle, so lovely I wanted to grab anyone out in the street to see it. Jeturian is humble enough to owe it to Armando Lao (thus in the poster it says Armando Lao’s Minsan Pa), his career-long scriptwriter who penned four of his greatest works and script-supervised Kubrador (The Bet Collector), arguably the most successful local independent film to date. No one can deny how it changed the landscape of our independent cinema — from digital (a film shot using a digital camera) to independent (a film that despite its technical deficiency, it creates a vision that honestly and critically depicts the life of Filipinos) — and how it stood as a basis of comparison to every local film that made it abroad. Suffice to say that comparisons are healthy if taken into proper consideration, Jeturian and Lao are shedding some light to our burgeoning national cinema, the same way Lino Brocka and Mario O’Hara did in the 70’s, with such talent and passion I think I am having a blissful déjà vu. * * * * *
[Side note: The titles of Jeffrey Jeturian’s films are the most difficult to translate. They either sound pale (One Moment More, I Wish It Were Love) or insufficient (Fetch A Pail Of Water, Larger than Life) compared to the original — enough for some people to pass them off as unworthy. But hey, I already told you they are not so act fairly.]
*Tuhog is one of the films screened in the Director’s Cut: A festival of critically-acclaimed and controversial films by the country’s finest directors held at UP Film Institute, Cine Adarna from March 5-7, 2008.