Amok (Lawrence Fajardo, 2011) July 20, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Noypi.
Written by John Bedia
Directed by Lawrence Fajardo
Cast: Dido dela Paz, Mark Gil, Garry Lim, Nonie Buencamino, Roli Inocencio
If you ask me what aspect of local independent cinema I dislike, I’d say it’s the unabashed preference for content and dismissal of form. A good film strikes a balance between the two, but usually, movies that tackle social issues, no matter how sloppily made they are, are more appreciated than those that boast of technical excellence, as if choosing a pressing subject exempts a work from scrutiny and showing off technique is a display of arrogance. Whereas content is mostly a writer and director’s piece of cake, determined prior to execution, form is mathematics: every one in the production contributes to it, consciously or not, including luck and the lack of it.
The obvious dichotomy between form and content is sometimes so pronounced that when I say Amok’s production values are superb, I find myself guilty of singling out the obvious, an observation bordering on superficial because it’s right there on the nose, waving at every member of the audience to see. But my point is: however trite the story is, however familiar the predicaments of its characters are, and however predictable the turn of events has become, Amok succeeds because Lawrence Fajardo, who serves as the film’s director, production designer, and editor, has managed to put together a fantastic group of people—from writer John Bedia and cinematographer Louie Quirino to the movie’s trailblazing ensemble of actors—whose slight misstep can actually ruin the unmistakable rawness of the film.
Amok depicts Manila in the claws of darkness, except that the streets are bathed in light. Broad daylight brings its citizens close to danger and far from the comfort of anonymity, death being an outcome of chance and not necessarily of wrongdoing. Every sequence shares not a slice of life but life itself, fast, open-ended, arresting, seemingly pointless. Far from asking for sympathy, Bedia’s script presents people as people: they laugh, they cry, they live, they die. Their lives begin and end the moment we see them. Fajardo does not make room for too much subtlety like Ron Bryant did in Rotonda, which, aside from its location, also shares a number of characters strewn together in a muck of misfortune. What makes Amok a better film—and mind you, I was rooting for Rotonda to win the grand prize that year—is that its direction pulsates. The rhythm builds up and is carried through the climax, not an explosion of some sort, but a gala of predictable outcomes and unpredictable victims.
The principal crime committed is triggered by the weather, the scorching heat that pushes someone over the edge. Contrary to the complex social dynamics of Brocka’s Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Bernal’s Manila by Night, Amok simplifies the message—or more appropriately, the delivery of the message—but not in an unfavorable way. It’s as if all the characters are placed inside a maze and each one of them stumbles upon each other, reacting based on their circumstances, staving off the madman but to no avail. The camera looks at them and runs after them, never shaky, its movements never gratuitous. While it is easy to assume that every film shot in Manila is influenced by Maynila and Manila, what strikes me upon seeing Amok is that despite painting a similar picture, it pulls off a bleaker end, primarily because nothing much has changed since then. There is still order from the chaos.