Death is beautiful in Chris Martinez’s 100 (2008) July 22, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Written and directed by Chris Martinez
Cast: Mylene Dizon, Eugene Domingo, Tessie Tomas
In Competition, 2008 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival
The reason I watch art-house films is that I yearn for artificial intelligence; the reason I watch horror and suspense is that I want to get thrilled; the reason I watch love teams on big screen is that, at some point, I find it comforting to realize that we haven’t moved on in ages; and the reason I watch comedies is to forget the pain of living. Those manufactured feelings I get when I pick the right ones – – cathartic art-house films that no one watches, engaging thrillers, zany romantic stories, and stupendous comedies; otherwise it only proves the fact that time has killed me rather than the other way around.
Good comedy has been rare in Philippine mass media nowadays because the stand-up acts of our own politicians (we don’t call them statesmen for some reason) and cabinet secretaries are already serving us in hilarious agony. Time has robbed our writers the talent to create satires – – in television before there were aplenty: Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata, Palibhasa Lalake, Home Along da Riles, Tropang Trumpo, Ang TV among others, but now the idiot box stands true to its name. The type that would let us roll in our seats in jest is nowhere to be found. Gone were the days when Cynthia Patag scolds her Mommy Minerva for getting drunk again, or when Barbara Tengco bites her trembling hand as she goes hysterical, or when Steve and Nonie visit the Cosmes in their shaking house as the train passes by – – yeah, that describes a lost golden age. Now Philippine TV is not only boring – – it is hideous – – and it makes you wonder whatever happened to the goal of serving the Filipinos. Or is time really a-changin’?
There has not been enough fun in cinema as well. Foreign festivals love the grit of Manila – – the helplessness, the filth, the gruesome struggle of urban living, the art that arises from poverty – – it’s a selling point among local filmmakers. But judging the turn-out of Cinemalaya, it must be true that the best entries this year are comedies – – the comedies that exceed their boundaries, the comedies that never attempt to be funny, the comedies that turn out to be more serious than metaphysics and dualism, and the comedies that kill – – Chris Martinez’s 100, definitely, is in this elite pair.
The simplest stories are the most difficult to pull off because they are not given the benefit of first-rate ingenuity. 100 succeeds not only because of Martinez’s sharp-witted writing, which he has remarkably honed for years in stage plays and mainstream movies, but also the way he directs his actors in such heavenly artifice – – I never thought overreacting could be that graceful. Mylene Dizon, hands down, commands admiration for sustaining our interest for two jampacked hours; she controls the film beautifully – – for the script looks like numbered sequences and she provides the transition, the layers, and the energy to move it forward – – with some help from her marvelous supporting cast. I solemnly swear that Eugene Domingo ranks among the greatest actors in the industry today – – her simple gestures and puns turn everything into a circus of ravaging delight, her timing is perfect, her delivery incites the seven colors of the rainbow to rearrange – – glorious, impeccable, and one-of-a-kind; it is said that an actor is only as good as her final work, and with 100, Domingo flies high in the clouds of perfection. Likewise, audacity is still in Tessie Tomas’s blood – – the line between her drama and farce is invisible – – the casualness of Joyce’s attitude toward death is emphasized by her maternal guilt, the notion that children should be the one burying their parents, not otherwise, speaks of deep traditional background. Tomas proves that her talent hasn’t aged even a bit. Apparently, Martinez has the gift of word at his gain – – he knows how to talk with his actors and get from them what he wants. It shows how the basic premise of cinema works well if done with passion and sincerity.
The fun doesn’t make you feel guilty; it only makes you feel better because you realize that suffering is relative and death equalizes everything – – living is another form of death, and death is another form of living – – the spiritual nature of man will tell you that afterlife is what we are living right now, and another afterlife is possible. Why should we harbor on terms while we can go on living without them? The one hundred things that Joyce wants to do before dying are all human – – if you want to kiss a stranger, will it always be Sid Lucero? if you want to eat ice cream, will it always be Haagen-Dazs? if you want to patch things up with your ex-boyfriend, will he always be a priest? – – but the closure she achieves is spiritual, like a paradise of lost souls where the white light marks its deadend. Death is beautiful; and perhaps that’s the most difficult thing in this world to accept.
Like a cocktail mixed by a pro, the taste eludes description – – it only leaves an impression of going back for more. When Joyce and Ruby revisit their old classroom in high school, their memories become ours; the feeling becomes collective. Conversely, the conversation about full moon turns kooky as Joyce gets pulled by gravity – – four barenaked lunatics off the shore – – fantastic. The uproar is deafening; we are barely laughing. By the time when Eugene Domingo takes off her undies, we are already screaming.
That parting shot of Joyce near the end, when she peers at her family as every one of them makes up for lost time with each other, as it sneaks from a distance and pans away, like a dead’s eye view of happiness, is the most perfect shot in this film. As she walks back, she finds herself in a more comforting bliss, alone in paradise.
Upon seeing 100, there are interesting arguments that come up. Is there really a defining line between mainstream and independent? Does it rely solely on how much the filmmaker can spend for his production? Is it a question of actors, of big-named stars and unknown finds? Does the choice of subject affect the qualifications of a film to be called independent? Are independent films really free? Are they done without constraint and daunting limitations like mainstream movies do? Or do they also have deadlines and budget red marks? These questions may seem unnecessary for people who are in the industry right now, but for those who plan to break in – – I’m sure there are many of you – – these can help you assess why you really want to do it in the first place. It is an arena of contradictions and those high hopes can burst any time. If you want to succeed, you have to earn it, and you have to earn it right.
But first, eat the terms and move on.
The existence of what we call independent cinema owes a lot to the mainstream – – without Star Cinema, Viva, and Regal, there will be no Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, Cinema One, and Indie Sine; the growing need to provide an alternative or countercinema gave way to a number of talented filmmakers in the field – – Khavn dela Cruz, Aureaus Solito, Raya Martin, Brillante Mendoza, Ron Bryant – – they were all in the industry before, doing small films that only their friends and families could appreciate, but with the popularity of their works in the indie circuit, their names have become quite familiar. The roads are not without hurdles but see, the difficulties are all consumable; the end is all that matters.
Being tagged as mainstream isn’t really bad to begin with – – the “principal,” “dominant,” and “trendy” aspects of cinema can help in educating its audience the significant cultural side of Filipinos that our scholars are all yearning for. Old films are important in history; contemporary ones in depicting the change. After all mass media isn’t called the fourth estate for nothing – – it is all-powerful. What’s wrong with independent cinema becoming the mainstream? Don’t we need more audience, more breeds of neophytes to appreciate these works? If we lose the “cool,” does it make our independent cinema less inviting, less interesting, and less open to criticism? Should the critics be banished to death now that their advocacy for viewership has already paid off? Does this qualify as success to Philippine cinema?
Whatever happens we shall continue – – and at least hope for development, less alligators in the business, and more eyes and ears to watch and listen. Castro believes that what we need is humility; I say all we need is courage – – courage to win and courage to fail – – nothing in between. * * * * *