Dubai (Rory Quintos, 2005) April 11, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi.
Directed by Rory Quintos
Cast: Aga Muhlach, Claudine Barretto, John Lloyd Cruz
The Star Cinema complex is too broad a subject to discuss, not to mention too predictable, like a driver who knows he’ll be reaching a dead-end but still drives in anyway just to make sure if the dead-end sign is a doubtless piece of direction and not just a scrap of wood with letters and an arrow sign that miraculously qualify its existence to have a substantial meaning, and, if I may be allowed to say something really positive and contradict my previous statement, too challenging, like building a house of cards, and, after doing it, feeling incomparably heavy, which, due to the compulsive nature of reflection, forces me to ask, How do we distinguish the heaviness of a dismissively competent film from the weight of an equally dismissive but incompetent film? The bias is unavoidably human; the choice where to place heaviness and weight clearly indicates that. But do we realize that every film has its own weight, mass, heaviness, or whatever you call it, regardless of whether we find it good or not? Isn’t cinema like the periodic table of elements, comprised of films of different atomic numbers, mass numbers, isotopes and valence, arranged according to their groups or families, and neatly set and tabled after they are discovered? At least, seeing it that way, cinema bears closer affinity to science, to objectivity, to the absolute – – meaning all critics are liars. But that I refuse to press much further at this point.
The thing with Star Cinema writers, or I think with most of them, is that they don’t know how to end their stories, or maybe, since I am more inclined to believe in the power of interference by “higher” beings, they are forced to end their stories that way. What is more likely, I realize after seriously giving it a much deeper thought, with the number of fairly wonderful releases that they had in the last few years – – by fairly wonderful I mean, in strictly personal terms, remarkable in a Star Cinema way – – is that these writers don’t want their stories to end. For instance, since I may be accused of overly digressing and dishonoring my readers who visit here to read a decent review of films, and to at least have a “substantial” proof that I sat through the film being discussed, John Lloyd Cruz should have been killed in the ending of Dubai. I am not so sure if it is a truck that has hit him, apparently because it isn’t shown for budgetary reasons, but with the blinding lights and the non-diegetic sound of the impact, maybe it is, but that is rather unnecessary to argue about, much less consider it a very significant narrative fault. I am assuming that you have seen the film – – one, because I don’t really enjoy telling plots unless they are convoluted, and two, because it was shown this Maundy Thursday and I am thinking you don’t have anything to do but to pass time on the couch – – but otherwise, let’s just say that John Lloyd, after having a serious row with his brother, has just found out that his brother has sacrificed a lot for him, has not really meant to steal his girlfriend, and has seriously been saving to reach their migrant dream together. Overhearing it, conscience tells him to make peace with his brother, but then Fate is Star Cinema’s bestfriend – – they really know when to use it – – John Lloyd drives his car and gets hit, which, as I told you, I thought has left him dead. So his brother gets informed about the accident, rushes to the hospital, and receives the things that John Lloyd has left for him, because incidentally, the poor child, who is now lying in the hospital bed, is leaving for Canada without him knowing it. The envelope contains a videotape. Conveniently for him, the hospital has a TV where he can connect the camera, and conveniently for us too, so we can also be able to feel the intensity of his loss even more, which is partly deceiving because it all leads to the idea that he must be dead, and not just dead but unpardonably dead, but there he is, his hands moving, tears falling from his eyes, mumbling pain, and his brother, who like us cannot also believe that his younger sibling is alive, cries and embraces him. It is nothing compared to the glorious ending of Sukob, when Kris Aquino wholeheartedly obliges herself to jump off the church tower to save her half-sister, somewhat paying a cheap homage to Vertigo, and lands on the cement ground DEAD, no ambulance needed. I felt the need of a round of applause from the audience after seeing that.
I am forcing myself to devote a relatively shorter paragraph to the brother’s character but this could have been anywhere in this confusion, only that I think I want to punctuate it for seemingly inexplicable reasons. (Okay, I confess, I dreamt of him, if that would make you happy. For that reason alone I believe he deserves a mention.) He is the cause of all the hurt, and he admits it. If he had been another person, we could easily find a way to murder him or burn him alive – – but we could not. Aga Muhlach gives his portrayal a certain coldness that is not at all times consistent, neither great nor irritating. The restraint feels more put-on than natural, but it is still effective. I can feel in Aga’s eyes the skin of an alligator, rough and cold, penetrating like the breeze of a January dawn. When he gets mad, it’s not even close to half of John Lloyd’s hysteria but he has said the most piercing words in the film, sometimes too trite and embarrassingly unnecessary, but still, it is moving to the point of inducing a chest pain. When Ana Capri mentions that she has first met him out in the cold, we picture him freezing to death, teeth chattering and knees trembling. Why do we give him sympathy? He realizes he still loves his brother’s girlfriend, he has given most of his money to other people, and he finds it difficult to save for their fraternal dream. How can we hate him? He says he is sorry to Claudine, for all the pain he has caused her. Wouldn’t that melt your heart if you were in her place? At least now, I must say, plagiarizing a very clever remark of a friend, Claudine is not asking the most unfair of questions, like, quite exemplary, in Milan. The blameless character is always a welcome creation – – he will make you realize a number of things, the best and the worst – – and that, I am afraid, is something I owe not to experience but to the opposite.
Dubai, unlike the fairly wonderful pair of Milan and Kailangan Kita, comes to the point of straining on being too self-important, even self-praising. Any given day, I wouldn’t mind hearing that speech Aga delivers in the party but I would also not hide the fact that something inside me stirs up in every word he says about the Filipino pride. Is it just me or I am not seeing Aga but Charo Santos or Gabby Lopez or Mar Roxas or Manny Villar holding the mic? We don’t always have to be reminded of what we have – – sometimes, just by doing that, we lose it. Why do we have to move away if we are such a handsome race anyway? Forget that this is an “OFW film.” Dubai could be set anywhere in any of our islands and still be filled with dramamations; if Star Cinema really intends to film the plight of our migrant workers they should start not with ambition but with criticism, not with familiar domestic dramas but unique slices of experience, not with histrionics but with a heart of a twenty-first century mind. The guise of tolerance is make-believe, and as far as emotional truth is concerned, one must remember that there is always dishonesty in relationships mostly spent in silence; when truth is held in hand, that is when the beauty of having it escapes.