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How Shameful is Elwood Perez’s Shame (1983) April 19, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi, UP Screening.
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Directed by Elwood Perez
Written by Iskho Lopez
Cast: Claudia Zobel, Patrick dela Rosa, Robert Arevalo

Even critics lie. I hope by now people will get used to the idea that there is no such thing as honest criticism, because the most humane characteristic that a critic could have is humility, and even humble critics compromise their honesty too. Otherwise, everything that a film critic writes dramatically loses its ability to promote readership. This is not to say that dishonest critics are good and honest critics are not half as good – – apparently, it is not a question of truth, it is about harnessing one’s creative resources to craft a well-made, persuasive review. In fact, the greatest critics in cinema are rude and deceitful. They tweak truths and flower their ideas with beautiful and provoking words; and in such magnificent stroke of logic, they deliver insights that leave unmistakable marks and footprints on the contoured landscape of cinema. Reading Kael and Truffaut’s writings makes me realise that the best way to express an idea is to lie; that is, if one gives in to the idea that not telling the truth is not necessarily telling fiction.

So it depends on you if you will believe me when I say that Elwood Perez’s Shame is a priceless gift from god to the entire ‘hood of male species. [That snake and bird that Claudia Zobel (Charley) fancies before meeting his nincompoop lover, played listlessly by Patrick dela Rosa’s muscles, included.] Assuming that it’s not really meant to be good, somehow Mother Lily is able to reach more than half of her objectives: first, she has created a star out of Claudia Zobel in bikini, and second, and this is actually the last, just the sight of its poster is enough to send thousands of men flocking to the nearest theaters. Well Mother Lily must be really lucky. Almost every newspaper that time featured Zobel and her so-called acting revelation; she eventually got more movies to expose herself; and although “she probably holds the record for having the shortest film career in the history of Philippine cinema,” she remained one of the most memorable figures in our entertainment scene. Having made only four films, not to mention a short stint as a prostitute in Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim, Zobel has proved that despite her short-lived career, she is indeed timeless.

The film, however, is otherwise. It is alienating if one tries to think about it semantically. The first sequence is very good – – Charley wears her tights and looks at herself in the mirror, a close-up of her face follows when she accidentally pricks her finger and sucks its blood; then the upside down mirror image of the title rolls in, in neon red and blue like those lights you see in strip clubs – – and Perez’s decision to use background noise in the opening credits is smart enough to bring the film into a brilliant direction, but sadly this is the best that we could get. The narrative exudes too much machismo; it even resorts to portray Dexter Doria’s obsessive character into a lesbian. Her pathetic telling of Charley’s story, from being blamed by her own mother for getting raped to her decision to prostitute herself in a circus show, recklessly aims to justify her pitiful life, her grave actions that lead to her self-destruction, and her overboard senility to save her life from waste. Its cynicism tends to dehumanize her; it morphs her into a cockroach – – flying, flailing around, unmindful of other people’s abjection to her. Furthermore, Shame‘s twisted notion of female abuse that leads to hopelessness fails to gain sympathy when Charley decides to kill herself after being lambasted by her stupid admirer. In that absurdly hilarious scene in the bathtub, it alludes to Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl, except that it achieves the opposite. The effect is utterly stupendous – – it puts a fitting semicolon to a film that merely exploits the woman as an object of lust and subject of evil, and trifles her existence into numerical values.

Now it doesn’t surprise me that despite being set during Lenten Season, Shame is never shown during Holy Week. Contrary to the chilling quietness of Mike de Leon’s Itim, it screams without any virtue of significance, blindly parading doltish caricatures of prehistoric individuality. Perhaps the only saving grace of this film is Robert Arevalo; otherwise, it is a regal mistake. *

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