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The Immeasurable in Dante Nico Garcia’s Ploning (2008) May 12, 2008

Posted 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. * * * * *



1. Oggs Cruz - May 13, 2008

Beautiful review, Chard. I’m glad your threat from the previous post remains a threat. You should keep on writing.

2. Richard Bolisay - May 14, 2008

Thanks, Oggs. I wish I could really keep on writing as often as I could but some priorities start to pile up and rearranging my life seems a lot harder than I expected. (cue Live’s selling the drama) I had a great time here – – and I hope other people too – – and of course I’m not really leaving, it’s just that I can’t write about films the same way I did before. Pity. Well, Juday is enough to bring me back to my senses and come up with a decent one. Hehe. By the way, I wasn’t really aware of Ploning’s rather foul PR. Have you come across it? I just heard it from some people, and they said when they watched the film they were a bit disappointed (that is, because of the hype.)

3. el pistolero - May 14, 2008

a friend of mine who also saw the film did quite like also. “boring” daw. i’m just assuming that she had already typecasted judy ann into most of her usual roles. well.

4. el pistolero - May 14, 2008

i mean “didn’t quite like the film.” sorry.

5. Richard Bolisay - May 14, 2008

well, that’s the drawback. but as one filmmaker says, “boring” films are often the “richer” films, which I can’t help but agree. perhaps the best way to watch a film is to see it with the least expectations. maybe you should see it too. hehe. kung di ka na busy. :D

6. el pistolero - May 14, 2008

haha. alam mong busy talaga ako ha. hahaha. :)

7. straycat260 - May 14, 2008

I agree maganda nga ang Ploning. Tuloy-tuloy lang Chard. Hope to see more review coming from you.

8. Richard Bolisay - May 15, 2008

thanks, straycat. i hope so too. :)

9. dohnalicious - May 18, 2008

umi-emo ka pala dito. kala ko pang-digital buryong lang yun. ehe. ploning! way better than when love begins. rolling bomber special! woo hoo. :D

10. dodo dayao - May 26, 2008

Kumusta,Chard? Ganda ng review. Too bad pareho tayo ng sitwasyon at naguumpisa nang magpatong-patyong ng mga ika nga e “priorities” kaya mukhang mapapalambas ko tong Ploning. (Napalampas ko na ang Speed Racer at Indiana Jones ata, although hindi naman kawalan pakiramdam ko) Sayang maganda pa naman ang feedback. Pero ang pagsusulat . . .sana nga ay ituloy mo. Heh. Nagsalita ang masipag mag-update. :)

11. dodo dayao - May 26, 2008

Pasensya sa typos. Di ko suot salamin ko. Hehehe.

12. Richard Bolisay - May 27, 2008

uy do, ayus naman. eto nilalamon ng sariling kagagawan. ang maganda sa Ploning, iba-iba yung feedback, may mga kakilala ako na ayaw siya dahil sa PR, dahil kinukumpara kay Bernal at Brocka. well yun nga, kanya-kanya naman ng pananaw. hehe. sa pagsusulat dito, ayun, sana nga maisingit ko pag may oras. namimis ko rin ang mga pelikula at ang mga mapagpanggap nating pagbasa sa kanila. hehe. huli kong bisita, may dalawang update ka nga e!

kitakits. (naantig ako dun sa squatterpunk’d entry mo) :D

13. rita jean mendoza sarmiento - July 26, 2008

the article is indeed great!
i love every bit of it…
actually, i’ll b writing a feature story about ploning’s director-Sir Dante Garcia.

your aricle inspires me to write.. **.

14. Richard Bolisay - July 28, 2008

Thanks rita. Do visit more often. Good luck on your article!

15. ken - January 8, 2009

I love ploning… A bit boring at first dahil sa language but as the movie goes on you’ll realize it is full of sense… It’l shake your heart.. Kakatuwa.. ANg galing ng setting nila.. Maganda talga.. Ung may mga sense na tao mas makakaapreciate nyang movie na yan..hehe..In the end you’ll love to go at Cuyog, and mamahalin mo na din pati yung language nila. Eh kaso lang ako mejo type ko sa movies ung buo ung ending, kaya im just wondering lang kung ano ikinamatay ni Ploning at ano na nagyari sa ibang characters after, bukod kay Celeste esp kay Meryll Soriano pati sa anak niya na naawa ako dahil napipi… What do you think Chard??? (“,)

16. Richard Bolisay - January 10, 2009

Mmm, sometimes it’s really a matter of taste. Some films work when they are ambiguous, and I guess most art and pa-art films abuse the idea of vagueness a lot. In Ploning, however, I think it works; it adds to the sweep when Digo came back. Leaving things unsaid (or unseen) is one of cinema’s way of getting back at our own life’s fragility.

17. Kerwin Macopia - February 23, 2009

“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”

I like that part of that review….I definitely agree with your review….

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