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ANC’s Kinse: The Tragedy and the Statistic August 20, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi, Short Cuts.

Projects that promote social awareness are rarely the subject of criticism because even before they are finished the mere idea of them being conceived has already provided them a shield from reproach. Of course, these selfless initiatives are appreciated, but some people who relish being slaves of their own vanity usually find themselves obligated to shower praises as dictated by their so-called social and moral responsibility. More often than not they equate good intentions with good results—a very dangerous mistake—all the time licking the whole arm when all that’s needed is a casual, perfunctory handshake.

I have to admit that it gives me the shivers every time I hear amBisyon 2010 called “groundbreaking,” not because the assertion is false but because the pronouncement, truthful may it seem, disregards the fact that the series is flawed and its ambitions faulty. Its shortcomings were overshadowed by the handsome attention it received from the media. It was acclaimed not because of what it achieved but because of why it was achieved: the need for change, the anxiety of what lies ahead, the call to action. Surely, how can a critic argue with that?

There is only a tiny room for criticism when it comes to socially relevant projects, but that tiny room, I wish to emphasize, is as important as the people who entered their doors and the high-profile organizations that supported them. Kinse, the latest brainchild of Patricia Evangelista and her team from ANC, has its share of production nightmares, but certainly she knows from the start that once the series is launched and begins to air on television, it will receive compliments left and right. But that’s not the point, is it? She wants change. And change she gets: Kinse has a clearer vision and a better collection of films than amBisyon. From this critic’s point of view, all is fair when that simple tenet of aesthetics is considered.

Human rights issues are a permanent fixture of any society, regardless of its economic or political milieu. Discussions of them are always significant because people will continue to struggle for justice and equality; even in passive societies there exists a pull between the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the marginal. Kinse recognizes that; and in the context of the ever-scuffling Philippine society, there is a wealth of subjects to choose from. These issues make up our everyday life. We breathe them, inhabit them, even perpetuate them. In these short films, present is the feeling of hope, yet they are not about hope. Contrary to the cautious activism of amBisyon, Kinse is a display of resignation. It gives more credit to imagination than truth, distinguishing levelheaded and reasonable protest from loud and aimless politicking.

Unsurprisingly, the most interesting works in the lot are documentaries. Kiri Dalena’s “Memorial for Filipino Journalists (1996-2011)” laments the countless cases of extrajudicial killings in the country, putting together images of tombstones bearing the names of journalists who died in the line of duty. Kiri’s treatment brings tears to your eyes because she avoids embellishing the drama. The simplicity of her delivery, the matter-of-fact placement of names, the manner in which she inserts the casualties of the Maguindanao massacre, they leave you in awe of her temper. She is angry and angered, and her film proves that images are sometimes mightier than words, their silence more affecting than speech. Quite a similar concern is raised by Mark Meily’s “Kaninong Boses.” A radio journalist, played with dashing zeal by Roli Inocencio, is shot dead in broad daylight. The dialogues capture the spontaneity of his character, leaving a mix of remoteness and apprehension as he unknowingly signs his death warrant.

On the other hand, the right to preserve one’s culture is the subject of Kidlat de Guia’s “The Forgotten Right” and Auraeus Solito’s “Indigenous Pelikula.” Both films grieve the plight of natives who suffer from the vindictive claws of modernity. Kidlat documents the concerns of communities whose wish is to have a generation come after them, to pass their culture and keep it alive in the years to come. Meanwhile, Aureaus introduces us to an old woman living in Bugsuk Island, Palawan, who plays kutiyapi. She’s frail but she still manages to oblige a performance for her group. Expressing gratitude to his roots, Aureaus joins these people as they fight against displacement from their own land.

The Filipino penchant for sentimentality is a constant source of fascination, yet once it’s projected on the big screen, you’d be surprised how a bad imitation of television can easily give way to infuriating embarrassment. Paolo Villaluna’s “Intolerance,” the vilest bit in the group—and a desecration to D. W. Griffith’s movie of the same title—is all smokes and mirrors, simplifying homophobia into a mere burst of juvenile resentment, its metaphors trite and toothless, its views on homosexuality inane and inept. Here’s a film that stinks to high heaven because it looks down on the ideology it has meant to defend. Behind the luscious visuals and the pretense of a coming-of-age story, not to mention the innocence it inconsiderately takes advantage of, is a rotten piece of dead meat. Thanks to “Intolerance,” Ato Bautista’s “Pilay” and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna’s “Choices,” a pair of timely cases of tragedy, don’t seem objectionable at all in their drabness.

A number of works turn out to be interesting failures. Jim Libiran’s “Batch 2011” stretches its ambition using historical parallelisms—members of Katipunan with members of school fraternities; blood compact with hazing; and the prospect of change through an armed revolution with the prospect of belongingness to an elite group. Although the film touches on many significant issues, it also leaves an impression of overwroughtness, its stylishness eclipsing its sincerity. “Bangin” is a minor Raymond Red short, so abstruse and ambivalent that all it manages to do from start to finish is slip in your fingers. Raymund Amonoy’s “Liham Para Kay Marco” offers a discerning look on the disillusionment of marriage. The narration is done by Sue Prado, who plays the wife in the film. Her voice exudes a charming vulnerability, but her exerted affectations make it sound a bit awkward. Also, Raymund’s feel for sensual visuals is commendable. However, his writing is problematic; instead of shock, what I felt after seeing the ending was disinterest.

This brings me to the argument—one that is really tough to defend—that the best local movies of recent years are comedies. The best Star Cinema movies are awesome follies (Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo; You Are The One; My Only Ü); the best Cinemalaya entries deal with complex subjects treated lightly (Endo, Jay, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros); and the best films of last year (Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, Senior Year) are infinite jests. If there’s an important quality of Filipino films that should be imported to foreign festivals, it’s humor. Our culture is defined, thoroughly and unfairly, by our comic sensibility. Whereas human suffering is universal, humor is unique. Art can only do poverty the favor of addressing it, but solve it? No. On the contrary, art often exploits poverty for the benefit of its makers. And that’s no fun.

As expected, Ray Gibraltar delivers an entertaining mockery of people living in the city. His main character, a young woman from the province, wants to have a picture of herself taken at Fort Bonifacio wearing her native costume. Seeing her change her clothes, the guard reprimands her, and she walks away and contents herself with a lousy alternative to her wish. “Ang Bayu ni Manilyn at ang Pekeng Duck” is a silent movie, but it appeals to contemporary taste because Ray makes Facebook jokes and translates his Hiligaynon title cards quirkily. A woman is also at the center of Nico Puertollano’s “Labinlima.” She is a mother of fifteen children who shares the joy and pain of raising her family. It’s a very familiar topic that we hear every day in the news and see on the streets, but behind the data flashing onscreen and the profiles of each family member, Nico’s sensitivity strikes a wistful chord.

The children in Richard Somes’s “1942” and Jon Red’s “Absent” are surrounded by adults, but both filmmakers, instead of wallowing in trite drama, choose to emphasize them because they lead more interesting lives and make more challenging decisions. Richard downplays the subject of child labor in “1942” without undermining it; he recognizes the cycle of destitution and man’s survival among dogs, including karma’s perfect timing. The hilarity of the exploding bomb at the end is almost as mundane as the grease on the siblings’ faces: shit happens and leaves a mark on our lives, every day.

And same shit happens in “Absent.” A grade school student is wrongly accused of stealing some of his classmates’s personal things, so he calls in sick the next day to avoid shame and confrontation. Incidentally, his father also takes a day off from work. They stay home and eventually go out to watch a movie, delighted with the freedom they rarely have. Ordinary the day may seem, the narrator, Jon Red, waxes nostalgic upon remembrance of the day, and he spins words beautifully, frivolously, accompanied by seemingly random images.

Finally, we have Erik Matti’s “Nang Tumambad ang Hubad na Katotohanan.” I saved it for last because I realized, rather belatedly, how special it was: its display of wit, brilliance, and utter virtuosity is actually what’s missing from amBisyon. Given its timeliness—Erik taking on the subject of sex and freedom of choice, of basically owning a voice and standing up for it—it’s easy to suppose that he is just riding on the controversy concerning the RH Bill. But look, here’s an old chap who’s been actively directing films for years. He knows the medium, he knows every nook and cranny of it, he knows how to make or break it, and in this short, he delivers a pitch perfect and spiky lampoon of clichés whose sheer audacity lives up to the hype.

Rez Cortez and Gina Alajar play the parents, and they reprimand their daughter, Dimpy, upon seeing the script of a film entitled “Nang Tumambad ang Hubad na Katotohanan,” a movie in which Dimpy, played by Anne Curtis, agrees to star as the main lead. The script is filled with obscenities. Enraged, father and mother remind their daughter of the values they taught her, ask her to bear in mind morality and decency, and stay away from lewdness and profanity. But Dimpy, in a rabid expression of anger, almost close to childish erudition, flares up and speaks her mind. The moment she screams “Gusto kong maghubaaaaaaad!” her response is a reflection of her “youth” (she’s in her late twenties) and hardheadedness, but she might as well be speaking on behalf of the members of the audience deprived of their right to speech, no matter how irrational their reasons are. Erik points out our responsibility to face the consequences of our actions, but above all else he punctuates the importance of claiming entitlement to ourselves.

Anne Curtis, warts and all, delivers a career-defining performance, and by career-defining I mean she’s far from surprising: she’s phenomenal. This is when she has finally immortalized her greatest line from Maging Sino Ka Man, that she is indeed the “best slut in town.” She’s stubbornly fierce. Her tenacity reminds you of every local starlet from the 70s and 80s who’d been yearning to have their big break in show business, only to destroy their own small careers. Whenever I think of Kinse and ponder on its merits, Anne’s furious face flashes into my mind, and I’m so proud I’d cheer her on, egg her to do things that will make her happy, the same way I’d tell Patricia Evangelista to continue producing projects like this, knowing her desire to accomplish is as earnest as Dimpy’s.

With the alarming cases of human rights violations growing every year, and the perpetrators getting away from them like it’s the coolest thing in the world, clinging to hope is the hardest. But is there anything more heartbreaking than hope? Is change really possible, or believing in it only alleviates our guilt and nothing more? I can’t help remembering that joke Stalin allegedly liked, which I got from a John Le Carré novel. It goes: “Three people dead in a ditch after a motor accident, that’s a national tragedy. But a whole nation deported and half of them exterminated, that’s a statistic.”

After all these years, tossing from one colonial pig to another, from slavery to democracy, what have the people of our nation become? A sorry digit? A poor decimal point? A feeble fraction of shoulda woulda coulda? It’s hard not to take that joke seriously—it’s a joke laden with kicks of truth, of hurtful actuality, of downright certainty shoved to our faces. Buried in every piece of news reported, every interview conducted, every activist condemned, and every protest ignored is the fact that sticks out like a sore thumb: numbers speak louder than words.

How many times have we been told that the revolution will not be televised? That the revolution, a product of faith and deceit, will not be brought by a cascade of shampoo commercials or by the news of the president’s missed romantic opportunities? That the revolution, waiting to be hatched at the right place and at the right time, is not a fancy trap, or a middle class notion of comfort, or worse, a poor man’s desperate idea of escape, but a legitimate path, a turning point in which all religions, both spiritual and political, lead to? Let’s say Gil Scott-Heron was wrong—and he’s up there watching, all the questions he once asked answered and all the knots he once tried to untie untied—and the revolution would indeed be televised, who among you would dare watch and wait for someone to crawl from the screen without backing off?

First published on:

*With thanks to Aldrin Calimlim


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