Raya Martin’s Now Showing defies unconditional cinephilia (2008) June 17, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, French Spring, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Written and directed by Raya Martin
Cast: Ness Roque, Adriana Agcaoili, Via Antonio
With all due respect to Raya Martin, I must admit, more than the film itself, and more than the screening of Serbis, which was canceled by the ever-imbecile MTRCB the last minute, what intrigues me is how the local audience will respond to Now Showing. It is a personal satisfaction – – to see those people coming in, their eyes gleaming with anticipation, some don’t even know who Martin is, some just walk up to the Cineplex after seeing that the admission is free, like who doesn’t want a free film anyway? (and you’re in Shangri-la, one of the homes of the alta sociedad, where rubbing shoulders is a must), some who are avid followers of Martin ever since Indio Nacional are already talking even before they take their seat, and perhaps some of those nameless egotists who took part in the classic staple of discourse in Oggs Cruz’s post on the film, oh how I would love to see them, are also present – – and just when Martin is starting up his engine and all set to fly to the end of the world, after almost fifteen minutes of desolate images, said people begin to feel cramps on their legs and walk their way out – – generally peaceful and diplomatic, like people who just accepted their fate without any remorse, no hurt feelings, none whatsoever, but there are a few who exited in such grave demeanor – – mouthing words of exasperation, guile, and disappointment – – I can’t help but suppress a smile. From there, what remains interesting is the sight of how many people stayed, those who signed the consent of five-hour dementia, till the end. Whether these people like the film or detest it, there is no way of knowing – – there is no ambush interview outside. But one thing I can surely attest to: the discourse remains in their heads, waiting for an outlet, lingering as they drive their way home or walk the empty streets of the night. In every way possible, I hope there is a way to listen to them – – like analog stereos in a vast desert catching all the signals of humankind’s brain circuits.
The length, if not integral, is necessary. The meandering narrative takes its shape from the audience, moving forth without any sense of direction, just mere fragments of history and memory to remind us of our lack thereof. Halfway through, when there is still enough space to occupy a random observation, I argue that the comparison of Martin to Diaz is uncalled-for, considering the fact that this is the first time that the younger filmmaker has made a film that exceeds the usual two-hour feature length, unlike his older contemporary whose name has become synonymous with epic urban maladies, epic in every sense of the word. What unites them, however, is a sincere, selfless ambition – – as if it’s the lifelong purpose they commit themselves into – – to tell the story of our land, no matter how obscure, how insufficient, how deploring, and how agonizing; and for the sake of telling it, they tell it. Talent is one thing; courage is another. Martin and Diaz – – the forerunners of Philippine contemplative cinema – – deserve to be recognized, more importantly, by their own countrymen; if only our academies would be receptive, their films should be studied in curriculum courses.
Now Showing fatally blows the fuse of commonality. Miscommunication hardly matters in Martin’s vision because despite belonging to a language that is almost as marginal as his characters, he attacks his narrative in such ease that it easily accounts for insensitivity and cruel indulgence – – partly true though – – but if cinematic experience only harbors in the present, then what’s the purpose of memory if not to look back or ahead for a change of heart or a realization that acknowledges its merit? Martin is a difficult filmmaker – – he takes difficult paths, creates difficult characters, writes difficult stories, builds difficult labyrinths – – but he is also a rewarding craftsman – – a poet who knows every line of his poems from memory; he lives ahead of his time, ahead of his own films. Appreciation of his works requires an ocean of patience and understanding, and I, myself, am not even close to fully admit it, because there is a thin line between admiration and pretension to admire it, which manifests itself as an enigma – – quite difficult to figure out if the senses are working well or just the mind doing all the foolery.
Ang Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo (The Island at the End of the World), other than being a relevant documentary, introduces the style in which Martin would be notorious of in the years to come. It is a welcoming alternative – – the pace of a turtle running for his memory in the waves. When I came out of Indio Nacional a year ago, I was perplexed from the relief that it ended because I thought only an earthquake or terrorist attack could bring this film to its closure. Autohystoria is all the same, except that its end explodes in such intensity, it crippled me for days. In this case, Now Showing proves to be the less excruciating among Martin’s feature films, its length notwithstanding, because its pang originates from his insistence to deliver; otherwise everything will just crumble and the intention will lose its grip. Interestingly, the late Jovenal Velasco shares with us in class an insight from Hermann Hesse, something I failed to forget: The source of your pleasure is also the source of your pain. It rings true if you consider Martin’s succession of works.
The first half of Now Showing is brilliant; the second tormenting. The dialogues between Rita’s mother and aunt, the drunkards in the sari-sari store, and, as if reflected by their own delusion, Rita’s friends having their small inuman – – these scenes capture both sides of the coin of the Filipino mind: the absurd and the wise. The sarcasm hits like an arrow left in our heart forever; considering the times we go through these years, it is our humor that saves us from eating our own madness. The execution also has its share of hits and misses. The “Gabi ng Lagim” is the most fully realized segment, partly because of childhood memories; it is hilarious reliving those Friday nights of priceless fear, when we were put to sleep by our mothers while listening to Ben David’s evil laughter amid the thunder and lightning, and Martin knows how badly we want to reminisce those times again so he shoots it in long take and minimal camera movements, so frail I can almost picture Albert Banzon’s veins ripping in his arms. Too bad it robs us the story’s end – – I am even anticipating what will happen to the sacrifice; a touch of cruelty I must say.
The inclusion of clips from Tunay Na Ina is deceptive – – minus the intention, it adds only to the pain, the reckless pain; but then as a cinephile, I should be grateful, for its survival speaks of volumes, volumes of lost time, lost culture, and lost memory.
In its five-hour length, there are a lot of points that I wish to raise, with regard to the film’s effective and ineffective breach of trust, but with my own memory straining to remember the speeding images, or more exactly the speeding thought of images, it is impossible to write further. When a film becomes an experience, it marks a turning point – – something that time and memory can never erase, even god. * * * * *