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Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2016 (Part 2) August 11, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Festival, Noypi.
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ponching

Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching (Inna Miren Salazar Acuña and Dos Ocampo)

For a light comedy, a genre which is always a welcome addition to a festival that usually leans towards serious and heavy themes, Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching is a struggle to watch. Sitting through it is a chore that gets tougher by the minute. Whenever it becomes actually funny, the narrative hurries to go back to its weak point: the dull new family in the title, this being the center of the gags and drama, with many of its members trying hard to be quirky.

It’s hardly about predictability or depth, the believability of the situation, or the humor that gets tiresome, but mostly how the film runs out of steam so early, so quickly, like a balloon losing air and flying around without direction, spinning, wrinkled and writhing, before landing lifelessly on the ground. It’s this sound of falling the audience gets for a story, the deflating of an otherwise funny premise, and the experience is long and winding and sometimes pointless.

Many factors contribute to this: underdeveloped writing, lack of guidance, unrealized potential, a miscommunication of creative approach, and possibly the stubbornness to consider fresh, new ideas, all of which are made manifest in its overreaching efforts. It’s not wrong to borrow devices from TV for inspiration, but cinematic language requires sustaining of longer interest, and Ponching fails to have rhythm that fits the narrative it tries to stretch. Even the lesbian subplot, as much as it feels genuine and indispensable, comes off rather misplaced. Damn, even the charms of Janus del Prado, who deserves helming a full-length every now and then, cannot save it.

pamilya ordinaryo

Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy, Jr.)

Making movies about poverty can never solve or alleviate the problem, but one must not discount its function. In the ceaseless efforts of filmmakers to dwell on the subject and shed light on the vicissitudes of being poor, the issue continues to be relevant and therefore impossible to set aside. It remains an urgent matter, a constant reminder of situations conveniently ignored, and the most effective of these movies are those that not only provide meaningful perspectives through details and characterizations, but also offer, through vigorous handling of material, a credible and comprehensive view of life tested by extreme circumstances, one that goes beyond the tiers of financial troubles and extends to the larger aspects of the human condition: survival, dignity, compassion, morality, self-worth. Several of Lino Brocka’s films in the 70s and 80s validate this, and after him, if audiences would only be more liberal and discerning, there are many directors who have tried, and actually succeeded, telling stories that can effect as much change as activism.

It’s too soon to say, but owing to its absolute immediacy and cunning, Pamilya Ordinaryo already feels like a benchmark against which other films of its kind will be measured. It teems with so much life and energy, with explicit displays of force and frisson, that Aries and Jane could have been just outside the theater premises, loafing, asking around for the person carrying their baby. In his third feature, Eduardo Roy is able to refine his language in the most satisfying way possible, letting go of the tricks and excesses that weaken his previous films, and find not just the right ending but also the right timing for it. This strong direction, oppressive but never going too far, builds up in surges from start to end, and in between Roy knows how to make the scenes crack until the whole thing is fractured but still intact, about to be shattered but remaining in one piece until the very end.

The tension comes from the dogged linearity of it — how clear that there is really no turning back, and how, by using the simple narrative of an underage couple looking desperately for their abducted child, it is able to impart the cruelty of misfortune pounding without mercy. It is painful to see how Aries and Jane strive to walk forward and become defeated despite doing their best, more so when they are humiliated by the very people who should be helping them. When Jane goes to the police station to seek help and is instead asked to recount her first sexual experience, accused of lasciviousness and forced to show her lactating breasts to be ridiculed, the viewer feels the abuse vicariously. And when the TV crew loses the photos of their child, the only memento they have of him, it is only natural to expect them to go insane.

But they do not. Because Roy presents Aries and Jane as characters of enormous strength, not resilience, not understanding, not resourcefulness, but strength. They are people whose youth has been corrupted but whose will to survive is toughened by experience, making them nearly invincible. They steal for a living but are obviously guided by religious virtues, and such complexities and contradictions are substantially illustrated. Comparisons can easily be made with The Child, the Dardenne Brothers’s film with an almost similar premise, with the young characters and the intimate, direct camera style punctuating the physical proximity, but Pamilya Ordinaryo reflects a uniquely Filipino struggle, an exceptionally Filipino spirit and fate defined by a specific culture and politics of poverty. But it is when Roy decides to allude to The Bicycle Thief that it turns into something else, into something terrifyingly close, and no ending no matter how quiet and lingering can make their predicament any less heartbreaking.

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