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Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 8) March 24, 2010

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

5. WANTED: BORDER (Ray Gibraltar)

It has more of the rock than the roll, but the roll rolls hard and gathers thick moss while the rock stays hard as it is, unyielding to every plot point that Gibraltar decides to punctuate, each character looming on the dirty palette of mess, each taking turns but Osang above them all delivers the proper poison, the most toxic acrimony, Gibraltar allowing her to drink it until she finally passes the bottle to us. Wanted: Border is one hell of a debilitating work—a joint rolled to flip out once a drag is taken—with all the smoke fogging its profile but all the radical points getting through nevertheless. For the love of god, see this.

4. BRIGHT STAR (Jane Campion)

I’m mistaken. I’m not sure I have the right feelings towards women. I’m suspicious of my feelings.

When it comes to Fanny, Keats, suspicious he may be of his feelings, shows otherwise. His words are sweet, his eyes talk to her like caressing her skin, and his lips yearn to touch hers, tenderly, gingerly, lingeringly, professing a love almost forbidden. In Bright Star, Jane Campion delivers Fanny Brawne and John Keats’ romance with the luscious adornment of words and their beauty, the way poets have their way with glibness, only Campion forgets being glib and aces at being lyrical.

It’s all but complementary, the way the elements unfold and spread the drizzle, the beautiful colors splashing onto the lovers’ sad predicament, the little games they play, the butterfly farm, the kiss in the woods, back when kiss is not only a kiss but an entire life spent on reminiscing, all wet behind the ears, like embroidered initials on a handkerchief, holding hands, sewing hairs, holding hearts, stitching hems of hope, like letters read over and over again, relished to the last word and until the last ink, breathing the smell of the handwriting, the crease left on the corners, the wistfulness, the fences, the longing.

Touch has a memory; but touch also has tears like memory, pain like memory, agony like memory, crucifixion like memory, death like memory. Me(mort)y: Keats knows all of that—he says it to appease himself, to appease Fanny. He knows that love is not only sharing memories but sharing pain, not only sharing touches but sharing tears, sharing all that can be shared, loving the mistake, locking lips with chances. They are perfectly in love and imperfectly sharing it, passing on, passing muster.

Attachment is such a difficult thing to undo; and his attachment to Fanny, Keats the romantic he is, kills him even more than his illness. The distance, the inhibitions, the social standards of their time: he is killed by them more than anything else. He is poor; but his heart is wealthy. Abundant, overflowing with lust for life. He has a lot to give, from his dirty nails to his empty stomach, only his body is giving up, but his love isn’t. Fanny knows there’s a brighter word than bright, a prettier word than pretty, and a lovelier word than lovely to describe Keats, bright, pretty, and lovely which Keats was, which Keats is, and which Keats will always be.

Bright Star aches; it aches their aches. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are Keats and Fanny like they were Keats and Fanny, but even if they weren’t their portrayals warrant remembrance, like a sumptuous ode to the couple they give life to. Overwhelming is when Whishaw recites “Ode to a Nightingale” after Cornish sobs “Bright Star”, their correspondence from two different worlds sculpted like memories by Keats’ emotional verses. Sensuality is expressed not in the unclothing of clothes but in the unclothing of love, in the undressing of feelings, in the bareness of intimacy, especially when Fanny and Keats exchange the lines of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. Campion allows the beauty of Keats’ poems to seep through the cracks of the film, the way it bleeds to the point of consumption, frittering away, Keats the Endymion, forever youthful, forever remembered, and forever loved.

3. TWO LOVERS (James Gray)

Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but how awful that we always end up saying sorry than loving; how awful that we stray to places where hurt is the only feeling; how awful that we believe in things that will only betray us; and how awful that we wait on decisions that will never really be settled. James Gray films heartbreak in its most devastating—in its most banefully violent—and delivers an affecting portrait of romance that is so cruel and tender we walk out of the theater numb from too much crying, almost passing out. As tears fall down and carry ourselves away from the hurt, leaving only the physical weight of our heart and nothing else, we acknowledge and concede to the film’s power to wipe us out, walking alone behind a multitude of loves. Oh, Dylan Thomas.

2. MOTHER (Bong Joon-ho)

The dramaturgical first half, which morphs into an ingenious suspense-thriller-shocker in the second, has an effect like no other. Maybe it’s the cunning simplicity—the meticulousness of the shots, the careful precision of movement, the way the mother looks out for her son as she cuts the ginseng and cuts her own hand unconsciously, and the way the son drools and loses his patience—that holds water like a sponge, waiting for the right squeeze to be let out, whereas on the other side, unseen to the naked eye and felt only by the naked intuition, the lovely bones are being exhumed—”the lovely bones that had grown around our absence”—leading to a conclusion that mixes the great fire of calendars, acupuncture, tofu cake, Rashomon, and cellphone mysteries; the battle royale of high school life, Lolitas and gamers and nerds and thugs and tramps in one place, lipstick on a golf club and signed golf balls as murder accessories; and the assembly of merry senior citizens dancing on the bus. Memory is as pivotal as the lack of it; and that horror of the mother poisoning her own son and killing herself afterward almost happens, only it didn’t happen, the mother picks the wrong brand and the son, of all memories, remembers that his mother tried to kill him. Like every satisfying story we get in Mother a sense of closure in immortal openness, the intolerable cruelty of the need to end in two hours, the life and death of emotions evenly laid out, and the dance of wakefulness and wakelessness shown in possibly the most wonderful opening and closing sequences of 2009.

1. ANACBANUA (Christopher Gozum)

Over the phone Teddy Co teasingly asks, “If the mainstream gave way to the indie, what will indie give way to?” It will spoil a rather interesting conversation if I say what I think so instead I ask back, “What, sir?” After a slight pause—a grin perhaps?—he tells, “Regional cinema. Regional cinema it is.” As he talks, my mind is elsewhere, trying to count how many films from the regions I have seen so far. Very few. Very, very few. If it weren’t for When Timawa Meets Delgado—Ray Gibraltar’s first feature—and Anacbanua—the first film to be shot in Pangasinan language (not dialect, please)— I wouldn’t be so convinced to promise myself to rally for its propagation, for regional cinema to be considered fairly and seriously particularly here in Manila.

Come to think of it, more than the themes of romance and poverty that city filmmakers are always fond of, regional filmmakers have an edge on the very basic they have, to tell their life and culture unknown to us, their slowly dying language, and their people needing help but instead succumbing to anonymity. With the accessibility of filmmaking, creative minds in the provinces can find a way to commit their thoughts in the celluloid, a belief in which Teddy Co has been a staunch supporter of. According to him it’s better to leave to these people to film their own life than have these city dwellers go there and shoot, resulting sometimes in false interpretation of their culture. A film like Anacbanua—written, produced, and directed by Pangasinense jack-of-all-trades Christopher Gozum, using the poems of Santiago Villafania, Erwin Fernandez, and Melchor Orpilla—is that foolproof testament to regional cinema’s wealth of imagination, of its roads paved with novelty, and of its many undiscovered farms of beauty: indeed a future of almost ceaseless things to offer.

There is greatness that goes without saying; greatness that only gets vaguer when explained, when detailed, when someone comes in its defense; greatness, considering the meaning of the word slowly becoming obsolete, that is liberating, emancipating. For a film like Anacbanua to be made speaks of the times, of the reality that multiplies itself as much as fiction does. In the film, a young poet returns to his roots to have himself healed—to free himself from the angst that he feels, the spiritual sickness that grips him as he dreads the materiality of the mundane. What does he find? What does he not find? What else has changed? What else can change? Gozum films images the way an impressionist painter dabs his brush on his tableau, not only careful to achieve the effect he wants, but also careless to discover an exciting mistake. Cinematographer Joni Gutierrez nails it: the visuals are exhilarating, sensuous and breathtaking to the point of coma.

Remember what the pensive Emmeline Fox says in The Crimson Petal and the White?—I think we’re moving towards such a strange time. A time when all our moral choices will be complicated and compromised by our love of progress—and if she said that in a book taking place in the 1870s, could she also say the same thing now? Now as ever? Try to imagine her saying, centuries since: Love exists; and now it is as painful as death, as slippery as memory, as lonely as a falling leaf. Yet, in Anacbanua, love exists, and it is indeed as painful as death, as slippery as memory, and as lonely as a falling leaf. It has the courage of others and the heart of just one—the dead star’s glimmer before it bids goodbye, before it succumbs to that progress. Pronouncements never really make sense upon reflection, but for the heck of it, hear this: Anacbanua not only completes a year; it crowns a decade.




1. Epoy - August 9, 2010

anacbanua is really something.

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