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Mangatyanan (Jerrold Tarog, 2009) August 4, 2009

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


English Title: The Blood Trail
Directed by Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Che Ramos, Neil Ryan Sese, Publio Briones III

The great thing about first films: the grace of kindness from your audience.

If the film turns out to be good, then sure thing you’ll have some followers. More than twenty is not bad. Imagine twenty mouths spreading the word to twenty more mouths. That would mean more people awaiting your next film. If it turns out to be bad, then people would think you are just starting to figure out the medium; surely it’s not your fault you don’t know everything. A first-film miss could be frustrating, possibly the most wounding thing that could ever happen to a filmmaker. But a first-film hit is more difficult, especially to serious craftsmen. Either you go down or you do something like your previous work, which makes you a consistently good filmmaker but a dull one at that. But when you go down, you deal with the cruel hands of fate: facing unmet expectations.

It would be stupid to fault Mangatyanan for coming after Confessional. For I have anticipated a lot, it is probably more my fault that it has not measured up to my expectations. Unfortunately, beside the coolness and first-rate storytelling of Confessional, Mangatyanan only comes close to the coo—– of the coolness and the first—– of the first-rate. I have read somewhere that the story is the most important element in films, which, according to the writer, Confessional fails to give. That may be true, but is the story only limited to the subject, the narrative, and the plot? Isn’t how it is told also contributes to how a story can be called ‘well-written’ and ‘dynamic’? Isn’t the real story of Confessional the wryly comic way of how Tarog and Antipuesto depict our culture?

Mangatyanan is narrative-heavy. After relying so much on twists in his previous works, Tarog now decides to track the more conventional way of telling the story with as little interference as possible. Apparently the goal is to focus on the drama rather than the commentary, and that goal is served well. The drama kicks a lot of sand. But as the narrative progresses and we start to learn more about the painful past of its main character, it becomes too driven by it that it ends too run-of-the-mill, commonplace, and predictable.

To have credibly connected Laya’s past to the tribal ritual that she covers in Isabela is clever. It is an insane idea but it works; we feel how devastated she still is, how difficult moving on is for her, how domestic violence is something indelible, how it marks you for life. Tarog has resorted to conventional means to show it: flashbacks, customary music, stylized lighting, dramatic execution, and tight editing. But Tarog, for me, is not like any conventional filmmaker; he is, in the basis of his previous films, the unorthodox fabulist, the irresistible liar we still believe in, and the beatnik who says what needs to be said, so much more if they hurt because they’re true. He has restrained so much in this film that his vision suffers, his mission is compromised.

There’s no better way to say this. Mangatyanan disappoints despite its humble simplicity. The cliché subject becomes trapped in its own stereotype. It is only told in a different voice but it is still the same person who tells it. Nevertheless I still believe in Tarog’s talent, and I still look forward to the last installment of the trilogy. Sounds like the usual breakup dialogue, but bias always favors the bold.



1. straycat - August 12, 2009

Para sa akin, ang Mangatyanan ang pinakamatapang at pinaka-kontrobersyal na pelikulang pinalabas sa Cinemalaya 5. Ito yung bet ko na sana e nakakuha pa ng iba pang awards bukod sa best in production design.

Medyo parang di ko lang nagustuhan yung ending, sana ang ending na lang e nung ginaya ni Laya yung mama na nagtaas ng kamay matapos siyang mag-resign dun sa work. Di na sana binigyan ng resolution dun sa pag-uusap nila ng nanay niya. Pero sa kabuuan, ito pa rin ang pinakamahusay na pelikula para sa akin. Aminadong isa na akong fan ng direktor.

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