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Engkwentro (Pepe Diokno, 2009) July 21, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi.


Written and directed by Pepe Diokno
Cast: Felix Roco, Daniel Medrana, Eda Nolan, Zyrus Desamparado

Nowadays when you call a young filmmaker brave, that would be making a complete fool of yourself. Because seriously, young and brave, they go together, they never lose each other’s hand, they hold on like couples facing the sunset. Only when you are young you have the guts to do things that most people think are stupid, despite you thinking otherwise. And when you look back it’s fine because, yeah, you can just shrug it off and say, That’s me, I did that, I was 21, I was young and stupid, but I did that, I was brave, wasn’t I?

But Pepe Diokno is not stupid. He’s just young. You can choose to be stupid but you cannot choose to be young, young at heart maybe, but there’s no such thing as old at heart, right? So that nulls it. First films speak of love and labor, of affirmation and discouragement, of fate and options, so comments about it, half-meant or not, would be taken seriously. Admit or not, we are all paranoid about our own work; we would love to hear what other people think, the subtler way the better. And this is what I think: Engkwentro tries hard to be significant, while in fact what it says about the state-sponsored vigilantism down south is like watching a lame coverage of the subject on late-night news, the surface full of fearful reports and startling interviews, but once the TV is turned off, it all boils down to one thing: we never really know what it’s all about. We just pretend to know.

When you have a subject like this, it almost gives you every reason to do it. You have a buffet of important subjects to choose from; you choose the hardest. You choose the one that is most ignored; you choose what can speak very well for yourself, what your parents have instilled in you, what your environment tells you to be part of. It is brave, but before you go ahead and shoot it, the narrative based on the subject must also be well-thought-of, mature enough to be taken seriously by your target audience, and if your market is everyone, then mature enough to be taken seriously by everyone. Diokno chooses a very sensitive subject; in fact it is so sensitive almost every year we have two or three films about the war in Mindanao, and at least one of them winning in festivals abroad, getting citations yada yada yada.

There is completely nothing wrong with that. We are at this festival that requires camaraderie and civility, all for the love of Philippine cinema, because yeah, cinema is about life and capturing life and all that jazz but have we really become more critical on the films that we watch? Not that being critical is that important at all, in fact it ruins the experience, but have these films inspired us a lot to move us to thinking and acting? Sure thing, Engkwentro has moved me to thinking.

Once the film starts to feed you its politics right at the very beginning, even before you see its visuals, and by feeding I mean giving you some sort of demographics, numbers, quotations, all those things, as if you’re too ignorant not to know exactly how many civilians are killed this year in Davao by these squads, who sponsors them, et cetera, et cetera, then it will always remind you to think twice before saying anything bad about it, which isn’t fair because not every film is about the war in Mindanao. Should Mangatyanan replace that Baudelaire quote by showing how many tribes up north are already losing their tradition? Or should Astig show us how many cases of snatching are blottered in police stations daily? But it’s a more alarming thing you say, it’s a bigger problem than that how dare you, the killings in Mindanao, more frightening in fact that you could just get shot in the middle of the road if they mistake you for some NPA or whatever.

But Diokno has allowed his subject to eat him alive, disabling his vision to penetrate the many veins of his film. His adherence to his style is admirable. The sound becomes a vital element to create an atmosphere of fear, and the unseen is clearly more crucial than what we see. We get how these people struggle just to have something to eat every day, how they barely survive, how the youth now belongs to hopelessness, their ambition robbed so early by poverty, and Diokno decides, well, those things could add to my grand point. They did, because those are necessary, but we also get the impression that the film could only bring us to the surface and nothing deeper – – not that depth is a priority, but a good direction to reach that depth is. Engkwentro is a student work by all means: ambitious, experimental, angsty, and brimming with force and energy; but it is also a student work of superficial thoughtfulness. It goes nowhere.

Celso Ad Castillo’s voice embodies the powerful, fascist dictator, and even without seeing his face we get to feel for the main character, his need to run. Through the long takes in the dark alleys of the slum community, we find ourselves involved with these people, their activities and their way of life. But this is the subject alone. The subject is doing the film the whole favor; Diokno sets out with a thin narrative in hand, with that big bang thing in the end, and that’s it: it passes off as shocking and brilliant.

Now I’m starting to wonder how come these young middleclass filmmakers, well-educated and properly exposed to dire socio-political conditions of our country, still haven’t learned that hard-hitting preachiness doesn’t work. I believe Diokno and I are almost of the same age. I hope when I look back and read this journal a couple of years from now, finding myself sounding so stupid wouldn’t hurt so much. Because between being bravely stupid and stupidly brave, I would always choose the latter.



1. critic after jizz - July 22, 2009

havent seen this but how’s the film stand in comparison with sanchez imburnal

2. dodo dayao - July 23, 2009

welcome to the new generation of indie filmmaking in the Philippines, Chard.

Don’t they teach kids in film school these days na huwag maging pikon. O huwag magign artist kung mapipikon lang. Oh well.

On the film: I did like the voiceover and had no trouble with the technique ultimately but it is been-there-done-that-so many-times-over. It’s action scenes may be more accomplished than Tribu but Tribu was there first and before both of them, the infintely better Tirador.

3. Richard Bolisay - July 23, 2009

critic after jizz, i haven’t seen imburnal yet, but based on sherad’s style in huling balyan ng buhi, definitely it’s far from that.

do, hey, i hope i’m welcome. hehe. i actually thought our dear celso ad castillo would show up (not on stage, but in the film) but then, i guess many scenes were cut in the editing to tighten it.

4. dodo dayao - July 23, 2009

We all live in hope, Chard. Hehe.

Thinking about it now, if there’s no Celso Kid on the cutting room floor, if he was really just a picture on a poster and a voice over, then that’s one point for Diokno.

5. anna - July 29, 2009

i heard engkwentro was one of the strongest films in the festival. but when i saw it, i kinda felt like it was a short film – not because it was short, but because of how the subject was tackled.

the film was okay, i guess. but i do agree with your review. Diokno is not stupid. He’s just young.:)

6. Angelie - August 8, 2009

I feel that he should have won something. The issue being told in the film is something not everyone knows! I didn’t;t even know something like this is happening in Mindanao.
It was amazing how the movie only had 2 takes and that it really makes you feel how real it is.

7. aiko - August 9, 2009

at first i thought the setting was in cebu..only after reading the post in this page did i find out about it being in davao…well anyway, the film sure undid me. if i only knew what it was about, i think i wouldnt have watched it..it set me rather grimly afterwards..but i guess i am sort of grateful that i was able to.. engkwentro made me more aware of the evils of society and how some people do as much as even feed it…how can one end evil with the workings of the devil?…what good thing can turn out from another mistake?sigh,. . .

8. straycat - August 12, 2009

Sakit sa ulo yung galaw ng kamera, tapos di mo malaman kung ano na ang nangyayari kasi madilim. Naiintindihan ko yung istilo na gaya sa tribu at tirador pero medyo bigo yata pagdating sa pagdedetalye ng kwento. Anway, bata pa naman ang direktor kaya may malaking chance pa siya para mas ma-improve yung kanyang talent. In fairness nga pala ang ganda ng trailer, wag mo na lang panuorin yung film para di ka madisappoint.

9. neil - September 13, 2009

You must be thinking too hard when you watched this film… One advise for you kiddo, don’t expect everything to be in the film. If you want to see what you want to see in a film, then MAKE ONE! Belat! Nanalo sya sa Venice Film Festival!

10. kontra-pikon - September 17, 2009

ang pikon naman nitong si neil. e kung wala ng kritiko at mga enthusiast, wala dapat venice film festival at kung anik-anik pang awards. wala ring cinemalaya. heck, wala na ring manonood (noun ito at hindi verb, para sa maraming di marunong magbasa) ng anumang palabas. gagawa lang nang gagawa ng pelikula ang mga direktor pero para panoorin ng sarili nila. tangna kayong mga galit sa kritiko, kung takot kayo sa salita, wag kayong gumawa ng pelikula! wag nyo rin itong ipagduldulan sa kritiko, enthusiast, at madla! magsalsal na lang kayo habang pinanonood ang mga sariling gawa niyo!

11. dodo dayao - September 17, 2009

Ang tunay na artist hindi dine-defend yung trabaho niya kahit kanino at ganun din ang manunulat.

Sana naman hindi involved ‘tong si Neil sa pelikulang Engkwentro.

Dahil ang tunay na artist hindi rin mambebelat.

(Si Brillante kaya binelat si Ebert? Hindi ‘ata.)

Congratulations nga pala sa Engkwentro sa kanyang pagkapanalo sa Venice. One more para sa mga Pinoy.

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[…] na lang may Engkwentro at Mayohan pero halos maloka na sila dahil sold out din pareho kaya ang no choice choices nila ay […]

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[…] na lang may Engkwentro at Mayohan pero halos maloka na sila dahil sold out din pareho kaya ang no choice choices nila […]

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[…] na lang may Engkwentro at Mayohan pero halos maloka na sila dahil sold out din pareho kaya ang no choice choices nila […]

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