Aurora (Adolfo Alix Jr., 2009) January 21, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi, UP Screening.
Written and directed by Adolfo Alix Jr.
Cast: Rosanna Roces, Sid Lucero, Kristoffer King, Angeli Bayani
The thing I hate most every time MTRCB announces another X-rating is that it makes the film inferior to the controversy itself, that after watching the work that is supposedly “too explicit” and “unfit for public viewing,” the only possible response I can give is a dirty finger to shove their dirty arses. It is quite alright to see Marco Morales’ penis for a few seconds or Ran Domingo nude from afar or Harry Laurel getting a blowjob but not a sight of Rosanna Roces’ breasts? I am sure they have women among the panel so how’s that for sexism? I am also sure that everyone who is now in their thirties has seen Curacha or Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya so what’s the big deal in seeing her areola and nipples in a rape scene? And how about the last-minute pullout of Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos or the stir in Cinemanila entries of Raya Martin and Sherad Anthony Sanchez last year? So is MTRCB gay and just not admitting it? Not that there is anything wrong with the idea, in fact Philippine cinema is almost being saved by these films, but clearly there is either malice or mental incapacity involved (I’m guessing it is the latter) on the Board’s basis in considering nudity and explicitness and how their presence in the film is deemed unfit, even for viewers who already have more than ten children or probably had the most number of sexual intercourse possible in their entire life. No, this is not cultural; this is politicking. Just imagine how I was able to watch Liberated 2 when I was 16 and felt lucky after seeing four breasts juggling in one screen; Francine Prieto and Diana Zubiri being fucked in splitscreen. I am not anymore concerned with integrity; it is the least this censorship board has, but fairness – – no matter how trite the term is, yes, and the world is never fair and it will never be, but freedom of expression – – since when have we lost that? The partiality is execrable; on why some films are favored is beyond me. Bear in mind that this is the same board that allows torrid kissing scenes and cleavage galore in primetime, without cuts.
For all we know, Aurora is a wistful retelling of Ces Drilon’s capture by the Abu Sayyaf last June, except that this is not her story. Somewhere in the middle of the film I am also reminded of the comfort women during the Japanese occupation, forced to receive the sperms of their violent kin. Alix builds an atmosphere of fear effortlessly; the forest is insuperable, there is no end to it, trees, trees, and more trees, it feels like being trapped without seeing the fences. The story unfolds slowly, the slowest one can get with eyes wide open, but not torturous, it is even tolerable. Aurora, after being held captive in the woods, escapes only to be nabbed again by two rebels, her former captors who always speak of her luckiness to have them. We soon find out that she is a social worker who came from the city to bring medicine to the poor communities in the province; I believe it is Alix’s intention to leave some things unexplained, for when Aurora or the two captors speak or talk to each other, it comes out uneasily, like having a conversation is a forced business, but it needs the dialogue for direction, a grip to the reality, something that can console our tired eyes. There are no tears in Aurora’s eyes when she is being raped, somewhat a suggestion of acceptance and indifference, and it is shot responsibly with mature sensitivity; definitely the ire of the producers is well founded. Roces delivers; she has not put herself in the ranks of our finest actors but certainly her performance here is a step forward; she is rightfully placed, and even the way her breasts disturbingly moves when she runs, the smallest of her gestures, provides depth. I am not particularly happy with how the film closes, for it seems to put an end to a subject that can never be gauged, and by seeing her life end I feel betrayed by the aggressive premise it has managed to pull off in the start, that if only it prefers imagination and heart to truth and relevance, it would truly be a huge “fuck you” letter to the MTRCB, worthy to be displayed in EDSA for all the stupid world to see.
With most of the films I have seen locally in recent years, I may have been used to seeing works shot in digital format a lot that sometimes when I watch a Hollywood movie my eyes are straining in the first few minutes. I am not used to such clarity and depth anymore. The downside of digital proves to be resounding in Aurora, not that I am hoping Alix and his producers did shoot it in 35mm and his upcoming films (Manila and Karera) would never push through, but the film suffers from that expectation; the visuals can work magic. Seeing it visually inferior, however, feels like watching an old film in video, in murky print, a work that is a sin to watch according to the gods, something that adds to the obscure thrill in experiencing it.
Alix is a hybrid of mainstream and independent cinema, a trait he never loses in his films. That sense of typical familiarity in his visuals, emphasized by his delicate framing and angles, and the attempt to break free from the usual is a unique addition to today’s crop of young filmmakers. There is certainly an improvement from Donsol to Aurora, but as much as I want to avoid comparisons, I can feel a striking sense of similarity between Aurora and Autohystoria, Martin’s exemplary recreation of Bonifacio’s death, particularly in Alix’s style which seems to borrow from Martin, the steady shots, the long takes, the eerie silence, the pacing. Granted the forest scenes in Autohystoria are relatively short compared with the entirety of Aurora, the way Albert Banzon shoots both, it feels like they are happening at the same time, at the same place, with characters who do not meet but share a common fate. Alix’s growth as a storyteller entails losing his own voice, stealing from others, and eventually I hope he will be able to find and make good use in his films, in Kidlat Tahimik’s ever-appropriate words, his “sariling duwende.” In the slew of films yet to come, I am definitely looking forward to Adolfo Alix’s first masterwork.