The Immeasurable in Dante Nico Garcia’s Ploning (2008) May 12, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Directed by Dante Nico Garcia
Written by Dante Nico Garcia and Benjamin Lingan
Cast: Judy Ann Santos, Gina Pareño, Mylene Dizon, Meryll Soriano, Ces Quesada
If this counts as dismal fanaticism, then count me in. Dante Nico Garcia’s Ploning emerges like seals in an open sea clapping their flippers, distantly hovering over the waves of blissful silence, unmindful of the sailors who are passing by, and as they are about to perform the greatest dive of their lives, nature watches them in sheer anticipation, like a mother hearing his child mumble a word for the first time – – a candid moment of unshared happiness, spilling over the fields of bearded barley in a luminous night, caressed by the wind of communal despair, like an imposed glory in a brief history of time.
The amorphous narrative is quick to establish the difficulty of delivering a multi-faceted story using a straightforward approach. It appeals more on the cultural sense of love – – the ethnic differences that determine unworldly desires – – but in subdued parallax it epitomises the beauty of longing, the tingle of sadness that minimises the pain, and provides a dissipating yet stirring anatomy of love unreciprocated by time, a waiting that promises no return.
I like the idea that it has multiple subplots, with characters that live in the story, that stay there, that come and never go away, for in that sense the depth of the townspeople provides a staggering dimension to the film, and makes it connect to the audience despite the linguistic dissimilarity, unlike some directors who wish to fulfill their dream of bombarding their works with actors with big names, let’s say, ok I want to have Joel Torre or Ronnie Lazaro so let’s put them there, even for two minutes, like a homage to Raymond Red for instance, oh I love Anino, it’s so socially-relevant and I want to see it in my own film, yes, or Gina Pareño, have you seen her in Kubrador?, god she’s devastating, I want her to roll over the street as she runs to her dying son, yes yes, or, Eugene Domingo is funny whatever role she takes, and even when she’s crying I can’t help but laugh, she’s that funny, so let’s turn her into a cripple, place her somewhere there, write a story about her family and let her steal some moments, so we’ll have good use of her – – no, it’s not like that. In fact what makes Ploning very effective is that this bombardment of popular actors makes everything so familiar, so distinctly familiar, it shows that the film is done in utmost dedication, of substantial love and devotion, of meaningful sacrifice, and the fact that these actors have to learn the language and immerse themselves into the culture already amounts to the vision that Garcia wants to achieve in his first film, equipped with humble ambition and sincerity that immensely pay off.
The most impressive thing, apart from the outstanding supporting cast, is that it is able to humanise Judy Ann Santos. Here she never stands out – – nothing happens to her that’s beyond the limitations of worldly possibilities; her performance is so restrained yet so affecting it might as well be remembered as a turning point in her acting career (so much for her 2004 film Sabel where she earned her first Urian recognition, which also marked her farewell to lousy, unromantic roles to give way to meatier and wittier characters). Unlike her previous roles, Ploning is void of histrionics, her calmness reminds me of nocturnal sea, placid and remorseful but strong and profound, and just by the way she carries her dress proves how fit she is to the character, for her subtlety is one aspect of her that I miss, especially in her latter films where she plays a nagging wife, for some directors underestimate Santos’s capability to evoke emotions through silence or simple facial expressions, like that five-minute wordless encounter between Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor in Ikaw ay Akin, (sadly local filmmakers don’t buy those kinds of antics anymore), for they always see her as their childhood friend Ula or loving sister Esperanza who tells what’s on her mind and what she plans to do – – what they fail to see is that Santos is the most versatile actor of her generation, she’s like a singer who can sing different types of music from slow jazz to heavy metal, her talent honed by abominable TV roles she was forced to endure over the years, and like Judas’s kiss, the network where she served for more than half of her life committed an act of despicable contempt, an unforgivable treachery that shows the extent of selfishness that they are capable of doing. And true enough, they may be reaping millions of box-office returns right now but god knows when we can get rid of such stupid slew of moviegoers – – maybe sooner than we expect.
Santos’s humility to accept Ploning shows her willingness to develop as an actor, which despite her stature in Philippine cinema proves that she still has a lot of rooms left untouched, more mature roles where she can efficiently harness her dramatic sensibilities to memorable pieces of unspoken cinema, and her willingness to challenge herself, which I hope will continue with her succeeding projects, deserves recognition – – and if you ask how you can do that, well, if I sound sensible and persuasive enough to cost you 120 bucks, then go and see this film. You may not like it, that’s a possibility, but at least you did something that could be regarded as kindness, an act of goodwill.
There are moments that capture the utter grace of cinema. When Digo (Cedric Amit) innocently asks his ailing mother (Eugene Domingo) when she will die, the question unfortunately overheard by his brother, he gets tied to a tree for the rest of the day, a punishment that is rather common then, and his mother, wailing on his bed, begs to his other son to set him free. And when she eventually dies, Digo runs into the sea and escapes, his whereabouts unknown and his brother committed not to observe the annual feast of Cuyo in honor of him, only to return more than twenty years later, in such majestic resplendence, worthy to be called the “The Lazaro Effect” – – drowning the screen with an exceptional purge of emotions. The older Digo, who now decides to stay in Cuyo after meeting Ploning’s close friend Celeste, wonderfully played by Tessie Tomas, bids farewell to his surrogate father, a Taiwanese illegal dealer whose shipping vessel saw him when he jumped off the sea. The farewell is not only poignant – – it is electrifying – – and all credit goes to Spanky Manikan’s profuse gibber, the unspeakable sadness stays with you as he silently walks away. And who would forget that afternoon when it rains – – when the salt melts into the rain and Gina Pareño lays herself in the saltbed, then weeps and cries for God’s unfair judgment, that moment when everyone looks at her with different understanding – – then the rain, as if told by God to stop, stops.
Inside my limousine of thoughts, it feels that Ploning is not only a hymn of the Cuyonon but also a hymn to a lost culture, a lost identity eroded by global progress, of simple beauty replaced by overstated representation of first-world elegance. The Filipino subtitling makes the intention more embracing – – as we find ourselves easily drowned by modern life’s inviting pleasures – – and like Rodrigo coming back to his roots and claiming everything he has lost, Ploning speaks of achievement, a triumph that is both rare and immeasurable. * * * * *