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Tambolista (Adolfo Alix Jr., 2007) January 24, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Indie Sine, Noypi, UP Screening.


English Title: Drumbeat
Directed by Adolfo Alix Jr.
Cast: Sid Lucero, Jiro Manio, Coco Martin, Anita Linda

That the two films are often compared out of obvious similarities in theme and treatment proves to be mutually helpful. Tambolista and Tirador are worthy companions of each other; both have a remarkable pulse of the city’s fat-surrounded heart and filthy lungs, beating and breathing with all their remaining strength, capturing not only the stink of Manila we live with everyday but also the balance of compromise we often take for granted, a requiem that never ends. I know I went overboard in my review of Tirador, exaggerating descriptions and punctuating them excessively, but that was only because a film like that makes you want to drag anyone you meet into the theater, to see it, to experience it like you did, a frustration I had after leaving an empty cinema. While Mendoza’s film asphyxiates to the point of agreement, Tambolista lets its mild details drift until they find the right puzzle to connect. As a viewer it feels like being given a fabric to sew your own dress, complete with all the materials needed to mend, and whatever the outcome is reflects your understanding of the film.

Two brothers both need money; one for his dreams, the other for his sins. While the dream to buy a drum set can wait, abortion is an urgent case for the elder; he even considers selling his flesh to earn. What an irony to plan an abortion when your mother is in the hospital delivering your youngest sibling. And then a friend barges into their home to seek shelter, an escape after stealing cash and sleeping with his landlady, caught by her own husband who eventually kills his six-year old daughter. This friend is a mischief-maker; he leads the brothers into a crime they have never meant to commit, that of stealing their old neighbor’s cash that can save them from their financial troubles, and, out of diabolic reflex, killing her as well, which in turn provokes the old neighbor’s brother to commit suicide. Everyone thinks that he killed his sister because they always fight. But then the younger brother finds out. The friend tricks his accomplice, the elder brother, to meet him and his death; he knows he will tell the police. After knifing him several times inside a bathroom of an old moviehouse, he bumps into the younger brother who runs after him, cornering him, hitting him hard with his drumstick, screaming, weeping. That’s how the dress I have finished looks like.

The best thing about Alix is that he takes risks. By allowing Ave Regina Tayag’s tense narrative to build like dominoes about to fall down in a sudden tap, he follows Godard’s idea of requiring a story of a beginning, middle, and end but not necessarily in that order to echo the restlessness of his characters and the swallowing mouths of the city, so subtly delivered Tirador almost loses face in comparison. It coheres, but you will not see the edges despite the haphazardness on the surface, for there seems to be hidden hands at work, smudging the dirt until the blur belongs to the story itself, helping it out, reinforcing it. It is a triumph in every field – – Jiro Manio, Coco Martin, Sid Lucero, and all the supporting players, Anita Linda, Fonz Desa, Ricky Davao, Susan Africa, Simon Ibarra, and Mosang are powders of a firecracker reserved for a pyrotechnic display that once lit will explode marvelously in the dark sky; Albert Banzon, again, lends his eye for mystic visual magic to another great work; and Khavn dela Cruz seems to have his own show on the side, enriching the film with music of varying texture, the mix of ambient sound and impatient rhythm creates another character, apart from the multiple characters of its numerous narratives.

The convenience of the digital has made it possible to photograph the city with a style that corresponds to its intoxicating grimness; it has allowed filmmakers to shoot the dark alleys of Manila, the ubiquitous traffic, the old moviehouses that slowly fade in oblivion, the bookshops and convenience stores that disappear without our knowing, the moral poorness of the common Filipino and his predicament, the droplets of happiness that satisfy his little hopes. The digital is the salvation of our pipe dreams. In all its battering disorder and confusing hysteria, Tambolista is a daring experiment that succeeds.



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