jump to navigation

Cuchera (Joseph Israel Laban, 2011) July 28, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Noypi.
trackback

Written and directed by Joseph Israel Laban
Cast: Maria Isabel Lopez, Simon Ibarra, CJ Ramos, Jon Neri, Sue Prado

The people behind Cuchera have always been vocal about the nature of their material. Like Pepe Diokno’s Engkwentro, the film lays down statistics and starts the grind from there. It owes its life from the news, from stories of Filipino drug couriers abroad, about people who are trapped in a labyrinth in which trouble lurks at every exit. By saying that Cuchera is based on a true story, its makers suppose that clinging to that selling point provides the film a certain importance, giving it automatic weight and substance, a powerful defense from reproach that may have convinced filmmaker Francis Pasion in calling it “the darkest, most depressing, gut-wrenching film in the history of Cinemalaya,” or festival programmer Ed Cabagnot in saying that “it’s the bravest Cinemalaya film this year” and adding “nay, ever.” Veering away from the shower of empty praises, critic Oggs Cruz shares an insight, which, even though I find the reasoning faulty, gives Cuchera the credit it deserves. Cruz says, “Cuchera is rightfully shocking. It’s [better] seen as a horror film than a drama.” I agree, but it is more important to point out that the key word here is neither “shocking” nor “horror,” but “rightfully.”

Hovering over the movie is a nagging sense of legitimacy, which is a little conceited in suggesting that any appalling piece of news translates well into film, that whatever detail misinterpreted in between is unintentional, and being informed and sharing it with other people expresses concern, deliberately mistaking expression for actual help. Cuchera is heavy on depiction. In fact, there’s very little in it that we haven’t heard from the news or read in the newspapers. Director Joseph Laban makes good use of that advantage and fills his movie with details that shock as much as they numb, fixated on building an atmosphere of fear and claustrophobia. He succeeds in provoking emotional responses, but what he fails to consider is the skill to sustain them, to allow us not only to hold onto his characters but also to grip them, even embrace them, and not just feel sorry for them. Laban feeds on unsophistication, borrowing distinctive elements from Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (strobe lights, long van ride, ominous music) and misconstruing them, heedless of context. There’s no argument about its realism, but how far will the prose go without something new to say?

One of the key concepts related to hyperreality is “reality by proxy,” and Cuchera simulates a piece of reality, reproducing it in such a way that the dynamics are dressed in guilt—cloaked in the thick armory of pertinence—that having a socio-political theme becomes an excuse for reason. At some point these questions need to be raised: Why make a copy of reality in cinema where fantasies of self-nourishment abound? How do you contend against a film whose urgency looks daggers at criticism? And most importantly, who do you think the Cinemalaya people are fooling when they tease the audience with the strapline, “See the Unseen”? What here have we not seen before? Notwithstanding a couple of disturbing scenes—disturbing because they are staged in bad taste—the rest of the movie is downright predictable except for one. The character of Maria Isabel Lopez checks herself in the bathroom mirror, probing her breast for a lump. The worry in her eyes speaks volumes, evoking Catalina Sandino Moreno from Maria Full of Grace, and her fingers reach out to something that the entire movie takes pains in discovering. It’s the only time Cuchera dips its toes in the water, and unfortunately it’s too quick to withdraw.

*Cross-published on Pelikula Tumblr

Advertisements

Comments»

1. Rina Lyn - July 28, 2011

“…but what he fails to consider is the skill to sustain them, to allow us not only to hold onto his characters but also to grip them, even embrace them, and not just feel sorry for them.”

you may be speaking here for yourself alone because cuchera held our attention from the time it showed the capsules down to the last frame. and if the gauge is by how you praised amok whose storytelling was as grave as a beginner’s work, this nit for cuchera remains as is, nit.

“What here have we not seen before?”

are you assuming here from what you’ve heard in the news or have you really witnessed those capsules rammed into the orifice? there is difference between assuming and being there and unless you’ve peeled your eyes before the mule’s hole, your statement above is as presumptuous as your assumptions are.

“staged in bad taste”

can you offer how the whole thing can be staged otherwise?

2. Rina Lyn - July 28, 2011

“reality by proxy”

natawa ako dito. halatang nagpapauso at gawa-gawa lang.

3. Richard Bolisay - July 28, 2011

Apparently, it’s on wikipedia. So hindi gawa-gawa. :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperreality

4. Rina Lyn - July 28, 2011

oh, ok. but your idea of “reality by proxy” is different from what is explained there. yours is literal. read again.

5. Richard Bolisay - July 28, 2011

Cuchera is by all means literal.

6. Richard Bolisay - July 28, 2011

(“…but what he fails to consider is the skill to sustain them, to allow us not only to hold onto his characters but also to grip them, even embrace them, and not just feel sorry for them.”

you may be speaking here for yourself alone because cuchera held our attention from the time it showed the capsules down to the last frame. and if the gauge is by how you praised amok whose storytelling was as grave as a beginner’s work, this nit for cuchera remains as is, nit.)

– Of course, I’m speaking for myself. Why should I speak for other people? The technical excellence of Amok is incomparable to Cuchera’s flatness.

(“What here have we not seen before?”

are you assuming here from what you’ve heard in the news or have you really witnessed those capsules rammed into the orifice? there is difference between assuming and being there and unless you’ve peeled your eyes before the mule’s hole, your statement above is as presumptuous as your assumptions are.)

– No, I haven’t. But are you sure the filmmakers have really seen the actual insertion of capsules themselves?

(“staged in bad taste”

can you offer how the whole thing can be staged otherwise?)

– There are countless ways.

7. Rina Lyn - July 28, 2011

“Cuchera is by all means literal.”

isa lang masasagot ko dito. mali ang gamit mo ng “reality by proxy” hehe

“Of course, I’m speaking for myself. Why should I speak for other people? The technical excellence of Amok is incomparable to Cuchera’s flatness.”

technical excellence of amok? huh? the only good thing about amok is its editing, which is expected for a material whose main objective is to stitch several mini-threads together. and we’re not even talking of bad performances, belabored climax, over-the-top sense of dramatics, inept screenplay. and, wait, we aren’t initially discussing about the technical aspects but amok’s inability to sustain the narrative whose narration is sidetracked by trying to pull in several fragments without building up on them — the very thing you are nitpicking on cuchera whose grip on the viewer is more forceful than anything from amok. yes?

“No, I haven’t. But are you sure the filmmakers have really seen the actual insertion of capsules themselves?”

see! and how can you assume with enough boldness to declare: “What here have we not seen before?” see?

“There are countless ways.”

enumerate them and will discuss.

8. Rina Lyn - July 28, 2011

ay dinelete. kung totoo kang kritik ka, bakit dinelete mo last post ko? it was a challenge to see who knows film, its different aspects, technical or otherwise.

ang hirap sa iba jan, nagmamagaling magrebyu, pero pag hinahamon, bumabahag ang buntot. kung di mo talaga alam ang pelikula mo, wag na mag-assume. malalaman at malalaman namin ang echosera at hindi.

find other diversion instead.

ciao!

9. Richard Bolisay - July 29, 2011

“find other diversion instead.”

– the same goes for you, rina lyn.

10. anna - July 29, 2011

well…this was entertaining – i meant the posts.

the film did remind me of engkwentro and kinatay. actually thought that cuchera would get a special mention like engkwentro did. but then again, the director didn’t have the advantage of being too young. :)

11. Richard Bolisay - July 29, 2011

hi anna. touché! how did you find cuchera?

12. anna - August 1, 2011

i think it was okay. the blurry cinematography and excessive scoring bothered me a lot. still, not bad for a first feature. thought it was cinemalaya’s underdog this year, along with bahay bata. but i loved bahay bata more.

13. Richard Bolisay - August 3, 2011

I don’t think Cuchera was bad. I just thought some scenes (esp those that involve capsules and butt) turn out to be unpleasant not because of the subject but because of how they are handled. Sure, it’s aiming for realism but the bad lighting is distracting, as well as the framing and the music. I refuse to believe it’s an underdog after reading the blurbs for it. But then again, that’s advertisement.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: