Young Critics Circle Film Desk
‘Porno’ named Young Critics Circle’s Best Film of 2013

Porno, Adolfo Alix Jr.’s triptych film of individuals linked through pornography wins big at the Young Critics Circle’s 24th Annual Citations, bagging five of the six main awards, including Best Film and Best Performance for Carlo Aquino who tied with Jhong Hilario for Badil.

Porno2Porno also took the prizes for Best Screenplay and Best Sound and Aural Orchestration, and tied with Frasco Mortiz’s Pagpag for Best Editing.

Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana is named Best Cinematography and Visual Design.

Porno was one of the entries to the 2013 Cinemalaya Film Festival but, due to its mature content, was only exhibited in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, unlike the rest of the entries that were screened in select commercial theaters.

Alix has now won three Best Film awards from YCC, previously winning in 2009 for Adela and in 2012 for Haruo. He has also previously won for his production design in Kalayaan (2012).

Both Aquino and Hilario have been previously nominated for Best Performance by the academe-based group: Aquino for Minsan May Isang Puso (1999) and Baler (2008), and Hilario for Muro-Ami (1999).

Having previously narrowed down the year’s cinematic output to a long list of 22 films, the group last night further reduced the list to 13, and, after more than six hours of intense deliberations, arrived at record-number nominations in most categories: Film (8), Performance (15), Screenplay (8), and Cinematography and Visual Design (11). The critics group does not confer any nomination to a film that is not part of the shortlist.

To encourage the growth of emerging filmmakers, YCC decided to introduce a new special category – Best First Features, to be given to the three most outstanding feature films of debuting filmmakers. This year, the recipients are Angustia (Kristian Sendon Cordero), Puti (Miguel Alcazaren), and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin (Randolph Longjas).

The awards ceremony is set on the third week of March, with the specific date and venue to be announced soon.

Below is the list of nominees for all categories:


Winner: Porno, directed by Adolfo Alix Jr. (Cinemalaya Foundation, Phoenix Features, Deus Lux Mea Films, Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, CMB Film Services, Inc.; Arleen Cuevas, producer)


Mga Anino ng Kahapon, directed by Alvin Yapan (VYAC Productions; Alemberg Ang, producer)

Babagwa, directed by Jason Paul Laxamana (Cinemalaya Foundation, Quantum Films, Kamaru Productions; Josabeth Alonso, executive producer; Ferdinand Lapuz, producer; Chad Angelic Cabigon, associate producer)

Badil, directed by Chito Roño (Film Development Council of the Philippines; Rafaela May Ocampo, executive producer; Han Salazar, producer)

Dukit, directed by Armando Lao (Centerstage Productions, Betis Galleria; Armando Lao, producer; Brillante Mendoza and Florentina Canasa Layug, executive producers; Sonny Dobles and City Heights Hotel, associate producers)

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, directed by Mes de Guzman (CineFilipino, PLDT-Smart Foundation, Studio 5, Unitel Entertainment, Cinelarga, SampayBakod Productions; Rhea Operaña de Guzman, producer)

Pagpag, directed by Frasco Santos Mortiz (Star Cinema, Regal Films; Charo Santos-Concio, Malou Santos, Lily Monteverde, and Roselle Monteverde, executive producers; Enrico Santos and Marizel Samson-Martinez, supervising producers)

Quick Change, directed by Eduardo Roy Jr. (Cinemalaya Foundation, Found Films; Almond Derla, executive producer; Ferdinand Lapuz, producer)


Winners: Carlo Aquino, Porno and Jhong Hilario, Badil


Angel Aquino, Porno

Nora Aunor, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti

Adrian Cabido, Lauriana

Carlo Cruz, Mga Anino ng Kahapon

Allen Dizon, Lauriana

Ensemble cast of Porno

Cherie Gil, Sonata

Dick Israel, Badil

Alex Vincent Medina, Babagwa

Daniel Padilla, Pagpag

Joey Paras, Babagwa

Sue Prado, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti

TJ Trinidad, Mga Anino ng Kahapon


Winner: Porno, Ralston Jover


Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Alvin Yapan

Babagwa,Jason Paul Laxamana

Badil, Rodolfo Vera

Debosyon, Alvin Yapan

Dukit, Armando Lao and Mary Honeylyn Joy Alipio

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, Mes de Guzman

Quick Change, Eduardo Roy Jr.


Winners: Pagpag, Jerrold Tarog and Porno, Aleks Castañeda


Badil, Carlo Francisco Manatad

Dukit, Diego Marx Dobles


Winner: Lauriana, Nap Jamir (cinematography) and Edgar Martin Littaua (production design)


Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Dexter dela Peña and Jan Tristan Pandy (cinematography), Whammy Alcazaren (production design), Frances Grace Mortel and Rita Vargas (art direction), and Phyllis Grae Grande (set decoration)

Badil, Neil Daza (cinematography), Jayvee Taduran (production design), and Donald Camon (art direction)

Debosyon, Dexter dela Peña (cinematography), Dennis Corteza and Paolo Rey Mendoza Piaña (production design), Roy Dominguiano and Pat Noveno (art direction), and Omar Aguilar (visual effects)

Dukit, Triztan Garcia, Bruno Tiotuico, Jeffrey Icawat, and Diego Dobles (cinematography), Leo Abaya and Olga Marquez (production design)

The Guerilla Is a Poet, Kiri Dalena (cinematography) and Sari Dalena (production design)

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, Albert Banzon (cinematography), Cesar Hernando and Mes de Guzman (production design)

Pagpag, David Diaz-Abaya (cinematography), Luis Custodio IV (production design), and Daren Francis Raña (visual effects)

Porno, Albert Banzon (cinematography), Adolfo Alix Jr. (production design), and Bobet Lopez (art direction)

Quick Change, Dan Villegas (cinematography) and Harley Alcasid (production design)

Sonata, Mark Gary (cinematography), Emilio Montelibano Jr. (production design), and Richard Francia (visual effects)


Winner: Porno, Albert Michael Idioma (sound design) and Ari Trofeo (sound)


Babagwa, Lucien Letaba and Joseph Lansang (music) and Addiss Tabong (sound design)

Badil, Carmina Cuya (music) and Addiss Tabong (sound design)

Debosyon, Teresa Barrozo and Jireh Pasano (music), Ray Andrew San Miguel and Andrew Millalos (sound design)

Dukit, Armando Lao (music and sound design)

Pagpag, Francis Concio (music) and Arnel Labayo (sound design)


Winners: Angustia (Kristian Sendon Cordero), Puti (Miguel Alcazaren), and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin (Randolph Longjas)

Aside from the 12 films nominated in the main categories, one other film, Arnel Mardoquio’s Riddles of My Homecoming, is included in the shortlist.

The YCC members who took part in the selection process and in the deliberations are Skilty Labastilla (Chair), Aristotle Atienza, Patrick Flores, Tessa Maria Guazon, Lisa Ito, J. Pilapil Jacobo, Nonoy Lauzon, JPaul Manzanilla, Jema Pamintuan, and Jaime Oscar Salazar.

Framer Framed Framing: Critique of “Porno” (Second of Two Parts)

Porno’s prelude takes us to a room in a motel where a closed-circuit television peeps into a couple engaging in the rigors of sadomasochistic practice. The role play draws an awful turn when a murder occurs off-screen and the murderer refuses to pull her gaze away from ours.  The blood in her hands is almost black in infrared light.

This scene serves as the zero degree of the pornographeme.

Such is the advance guard for a cinema whose diaphane between the erotic and death itself has become by turns porous and rigid.

Then, the ultraviolet in another motel scene provides us with the languorous milieu that entitles voluptuary non pareil Rosanna Roces to minister to the needs of a client (Yul Servo), who is paranoid about voyeurs in the adjacent room. After going through the motions of a rather awkward sex, they try to exchange post-coital pleasantries syncopated by existential meanderings until they have nothing left to say and we can no longer ignore the television frame above them whose depiction of ecstacies is infinite. Yul Servo, we discover, has failed to deliver death to an archbishop. When Rosanna leaves,the operative tasked to bring Yul back to jail kills him.

One less hitman to terminate this terminologist.


The vignette that proceeds brings the video of the coitus between Rosanna and Yul to the studio where voice talents like Aleks (Carlo Aquino) would substitute mournful sentences with euphoric vocal pyrotechniques. His director (Allan Paule) complains that his talent’s skills are limited to monotones; Carlo, it seems, can only be distracted. The mis-en-abîme tells us that a certain social script is attempting to write the pornographeme off the speech acts of sex by supplementing sounds which although are culled from a sensual syllabary are not allowed to make sense as ejaculatory passages. Words should not interrupt moans. They get in the way of the sex.

Pornophoneme is hazardous to pornographeme.

Aleks compensates his lack of energy at the studio in the social network. His chatbox is riddled with the signs of a consciousness both allured and alluring: jokes and puns drown the oohs and the aahs. Conversations extend to telephone calls of unlimited expense. His room is lit under the cool tinge of a lurid green. And it is this dark room of desire that makes up for the privations of an “excitable speech.” His desktop is a frame of the “society of the spectacle” where the self regains whatever aspect of it has been rendered as effete in the public sphere.  This savvy is undercut when Aleks witnesses before the screen the suicide of a jilted lover. As soon as Aleks leaves the dark room, he suffers a seizure.

Carlo Aquino offers a most attuned performance in his adult career by tackling a premier pornographer. His face possesses a vacancy of possibilities.The way he gives absolute licence to pleasure in a span of a third of minute sums up the totality of pain a body must deal with at various cusps of desire desiring itself and its alternate affects, including that irreducible life between enervation and rage.

And Carlo Aquino as Aleks is punctured by Angel Aquino as Alex.

Years after the seizure, he becomes the queen of Club Mwah, which runs the most fantabulous drag show in all of queer Manila. Alex keeps an Australian lover, and on the eve of the latter’s trip to Sydney, they watch the video of Rosanna and Yul that Aleks had dubbed at the studio.  Alex and the Australian dismiss the monotone. And then, we only see the hard core of movements  in the bedroom shot through a soft lens.

Aleks is father to a son. The mother calls up Alex from abroad, telling her the son wants to see Aleks on skype on the former’s birthday. That proxy self has long gone, so only Alex can show up

Could this be a scandal of the pornographeme?

One night, after missing out on an exotic  finale, Alex finds herself running toward a hall of mirrors: her face framed by her own, her tears wholeheartedly her own.

Angel Aquino is riveting as a trans-woman.

And Porno’s critical pornography is peerless.

Framer Framed Framing


A critique of Porno (Adolfo Alix, Jr., 2013): First of two parts

J. Pilapil Jacobo

The key to understanding an apparent inconsistency in the cinema of Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr. is a  kind of almost vulgar unpredictability that does not allow a film in his oeuvre to proceed from the previous and augur what could be apprehended as sensible in the next.  What on earth can cathect the “prison-house of  actresses” (a colleague has quipped) in Presa to the aquarium drama that is Isda? And even within a piece, nothing is ever quite certain to be pursued in the same habit. When one is grudgingly convinced about the cellophane that stood in for water in Death March, the expressionism would revert to Capas, in full realist grain, but the incandescent angelology was there to stay!

The surprise in Porno is not so much the assault that teeters on the indulgences that will turn whoever toys with the genre tremulous with each step but on the thoughtful grace that persuades the viewer to grapple with the tightrope act from that voluptuous space between the wire and the net. Slyly, and almost too shrewdly, the film veers us away from the skills set of the sex-acrobat who is no longer so svelte to bend ligaments just to exceed the curvatures of the erotic. The pornography in Porno is frustrated every step of the way until what remains is a dimension of the surface one never expected to be there in the first place. The surface that is exploited in the mode is then relieved of its superficiality. The sex is never merely a matter of zooming in and out the skin in question, but a means to apportion to cinema in these parts in these so-called vanguard days a scale of inquiry it has not quite known to rehearse after exhausting, pace Bataille,  “visions of excess,” during a time of dictatorial duress. Some hard core of discourse should be banging on this sly surface.


Of course, various angulations of genitalia colonize Porno’s screen.  The penis and the vagina once again take over the face and the voice as loci of a primary cinematic articulation. And yet, these organs appear sans the orgasm that must complement them. Hence, the Titania of titillation’s mammaries are just those, lactating embarrassments; Rosanna Roces has got nothing left to conceal from hereon, except the forlorn memory of those years of relentless roses. And when the other characters are shown to be naked, their heads seem to have been severed from their own bodies. The picture of pleasure is incomplete; the harlot and the hustler are denied the chance to be seen with their faces. Outside sartorial sanction, and within bordello premises, an actress is obviously substituted with a body double whose corporeal proportions do not cohere with her optimal embodiment of prurience. And when a certain phallus imposes its amplitude upon most of the screen’s quadrants, its prosthetic tumescence cannot quite come to terms with the accuracy by which the pendulum swings of testosterone rage is portrayed. When the luridity of the exercise has been exhausted, so that things are reducible only to the tedium of technique, what can be magnified should be left as such, a body part that does not refer to the rest. Porno is no allegory of resistance, then, when the opportune metonymic moment is invalidated.  Nor is it spectacle of defeat, when hyberbole never quite appears to be bold enough to exhibit its convex effrontery.

The pornographic tradition is hailed from the literature on the lives of prostitutes and their purported métier, fornication itself. Pornography is the writing of sex. And further, sex writing itself.  What cinema has done to this premise is to disavow for the genre its intimacies with indeterminate erotique by removing the bar that seeks to signify pleasure incompletely, that is, again, through the synecdochic arc of metonymy.  Pornographic cinema promises to disclose the totality of the sexual act and remove the reluctance of the sexualized body. Every angle, even when marginal or posterior, is a frontal absolute. Nothing  is ever spared the violence of exposure. It is here where the prostitute becomes uninhibited. And the client who must face up to this figure demanding a reciprocal frontality. The writing that enables the vision of sex to gain the suppleness of flesh provides for a time to buy the prostitute out of the reifying conditions set in high relief by the obscene gaze. It is this time-lag of visibility that separates the pornographeme, the word that serves as signifying fundament of sex-writing, from the pornographic signified, the scene of sex summoned upon reading the sex-writing. For example, the reverie of silken neglect that would possibly be let loose after one reads “négligée” is no longer possible when the video forces its intended voyeur to see the tightest red spandex lingerie.

Alix deftly interprets the zeal that hovers above Ralston Jover’s screenplay by foregrounding within the mis-en-scène a mis-en-abîme. The scene encloses a version of itself that seeks to enlarge a discourse of the cinema through the ruse of the diminutive.  Pace Trinh T. Minh-ha, the framer is framed, and we catch him at a significant moment: framing. Alix has employed this trope in Chassis, to refute a supposed movement inherent in national progress, particularly when the subaltern is forced to reckon with scavenger ethic as the only way to apprehend the cusps of hunger and thirst. Porno departs from the kind of pornography that entitles itself to gain full scopic control over that kind of poverty by removing from the chassis the stasis that destitutes the political from the paradigmatic. The frame within the frame intrudes in the enclosure as it calculates a pace that would turn the picture to implode, and look the part of the disseminated. Porno is progressive in the sense that the mis-en-abîme is a true recursive. The frame acquits itself well as a vortex that can engineer iterations across vignettes in the diegesis. Turning to and fro into image onto narrative, the device pursues a counterintuition to one’s perspective of what a frame is.

There is something thoughtfully tropic in this Alix film.

Unbeautiful Pageant

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

At the outset, Slumber Party (2012) establishes a situation that is not especially objectionable, and certainly contains within it the potential to be entertaining. On the eve of the Miss Universe pageant, which within the realm of the film coincides with a hostage crisis, Phi (RK Bagatsing) organizes a slumber party with Jhana (Archie Alemania), and Elle (Markki Stroem) to mark the occasion, as they have apparently not gotten together as a group since graduating from college. What looks set to be a night of companionable bitching and campy fun is interrupted when Jonel (Sef Cadayona), seeking to prove his worthiness to be admitted into a fraternity composed of neighborhood toughs, intrudes into Phi’s house in order to rob it.

The burly Jhana foils Jonel by knocking him unconscious, after which the frustrated burglar is tied to a chair with computer cables and muzzled with what appears to be a pair of frilly underwear. In spite of Elle’s initial protests, Phi, with the enthusiastic consent of Jhana, decides against turning Jonel over to the authorities, instead suggesting that showing the interloper hospitality and kindness for the duration of the night would make for a better lesson against committing crime than a jail stay. The fact that, generally, a suspect thrown behind bars would have neither been bound nor gagged occurs to exactly no one.

Slumber 7

From here on, what could have been an interesting and enjoyable exploration of the dynamics of friendship between men who identify as bakla degenerates into a heated rivalry over the attractive trespasser, interspersed with bouts of collaborative toying with the same: Jonel is reduced to the status of a thing for the trio to compete over and amuse themselves with, his thoughts and feelings of little account as his captors subject him to assorted forms of humiliation. The only way to make sense of the affection that slowly develops between Jonel and Phi, therefore, is as a manifestation of Stockholm syndrome.

The maltreatment turns shocking when Jhana, taking advantage of the absence of his friends, forces himself upon Jonel. This act of sexual assault, presented as a joke and then glossed over for the remainder of the reel, is easily the nadir of Slumber Party. As if one portrayal of abuse were not sufficient, however, the film sees Elle attempting a similar, if less invasive, deed early the next morning, though he is aggressively thwarted by his would-be victim. Whatever monstrous sensibility was at work in the concoction of these scenes should not just have been left asleep; it should have been slaughtered.

Presuming that one could bracket out these utterly offensive moments of exploitation, the film still has little to recommend it. Apart from being bloated with hysterical melodrama and strained gags, it deals with the distressing realities of gay life using a hand that is at once despicably heavy and unbearably light: while it contrives conditions where the experiences of loneliness, self-loathing, and discrimination can be introduced, it never explores these with care or fluency, though two of its screenwriters, namely Troy Espiritu and Phillippe Salvador Palmos, are gay advocates. Even HIV—an urgent issue that, it must be emphasized, everyone, no matter what gender or sexual orientation, has to attend to—is treated with disgraceful superficiality in order to elicit a cheap titter or two.

That Slumber Party is referred to as a comedy at all points up a lamentable destitution in how the term is understood in these parts: it is not enough, and indeed, it will never be enough, for a work to involve rapid-fire barb-trading, slapstick antics, an apparently happy ending, and, particularly in the case of the present object of scrutiny, ostensibly straight male actors adopting what they believe to be the distinguishing behavioral traits of the bakla—insert the usual (and questionable) professions of “certified” masculinity, performatory difficulty, extensive research, and increased understanding of and admiration for gay men here—although there may well be a farcical aspect to the continued popularity and monetary success of such productions.

The absurdity is underscored several times over when one is reminded that the Emmanuel dela Cruz–directed feature not only closed the Cinema One Originals Festival this year—it was an entry in last year’s edition—but also had a brief commercial run with an R-13 rating from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), a classification that, according to the latest Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the regulatory agency, applies to films that do not “gratuitously promote or encourage any dangerous, violent, discriminatory, or otherwise offensive behavior or attitude”. In what way, one wonders, does the representation of rape—here defined as forcing another to submit to a sex act against his or her will—as funny, unleavened by any trace of irony or self-awareness, fail to promote or encourage violence, sexual or otherwise?

None of the foregoing is to suggest that comedy is in any way obliged to comfort, to console, or even to provoke raucous laughter, or that it should avoid certain topics completely—some of the best examples in the genre are notable precisely because of how they are able to simultaneously amuse and disturb in their handling of challenging or taboo themes. The crucial ingredients in such literary, theatrical, and filmic texts are sensitivity and intelligence, of which Slumber Party exhibits an appalling and deplorable lack.

Much like Zombadings I: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (2011), its sister film from Origin8 Media, Slumber Party may have laudable aspirations, but these are everywhere undermined and ultimately defeated by the effeminophobic and homophobic assumptions from which it proceeds; notwithstanding the claim of Dela Cruz that his film proffers “a chance not to laugh at gay characters but to laugh with them, to enter their world with lesser judgment and preconceptions”, Slumber Party merely reinforces and fortifies the ghettoes, both within and without cinema, to which the bakla has long been condemned to exist.

To those interlocutors who will aver that Slumber Party ought not to be taken this seriously, there is nothing to say. For better or for worse, the right to freedom of expression necessarily embraces the license to be vacuous.


Image source:

Iisa ang Estatwa at Bailarin sa Debosyon


J. Pilapil Jacobo

Isinasalaysay ng pelikula ang buhay ni Mando (Paulo Avelino), isang deboto ng Birhen ng Peñafrancia, nang makilala niya si Saling (Mara Lopez), isang dalagang naninirahan sa paanan ng bulkan ng Mayon. Magkakapalagayang-loob silang dalawa. Matutuklasan ni Mando na ang iniibig niya palang babae ay si Oriol, ang bathalumang ahas ng epikong Ibalon. Labis na matatakot si Mando isang gabi nang ipakita ni Saling ang kanyang tunay na anyo, kaya’t lalayo siya. At labis ding malulumbay ang diyosa, malulugmok sa isang milenyal na kalaliman. Magbabalik lamang si Mando kay Saling/Oriol matapos siyang sumama sa prusisyon ng Birhen bilang isang voyador. At ipagtatapat niya kay Saling/Oriol na nakita niya sa mga mata ng imahen ni Maria ang mga mata ng kanyang sinisinta.

Debosyon 01c

Sa ganang akin, makapangyarihan ang pelikula lalo na kapag ginagamit ito ng kanyang manlilikha upang minahin ang mga katutubo at kolonyal na pagmamalay gamit ang moderno nitong teknolohiya. Sa isang anyo tulad ng pelikula natin maaaring ilugar ang Panitikang Filipino sa popular, at ang popular maiuugat natin sa kayarian ng sining ng panitikan.  Sa pelikula, ang katutubo, ang kolonyal, at ang moderno ay kontemporanyo. Nananahan sila sa iisang panahon: ang panahong sinematograpiko, na inihuhudyat ng mga pinagtagni-tagning imahen (montage) at ng mga sandaling tinapyas-tapyas (diegesis).

Ano ang tagumpay ni Alvin B. Yapan sa Debosyon?  

Binabalikan niya ang epiko na itinuturing bilang pangunahing teksto ng sinaunang Panitikang Bikolano, ang “Ibalon.” Inilalarawan sa epiko ang paglilinang ng kabihasnan ng sinaunang Bikol ayon sa panahon ng tatlong mandirigma. Kasangkot sa paglilinang na ito ang bathaluman na si Oriol. Subalit lalansiin ng bawat mandirigma ang diyosa upang lubusang maitatag ang sibilisasyong papalit sa kaayusan ng kalikasang kinakatawan ng makapangyarihang babaeng ahas.

Subalit ang uri ng paggunitang ito ni Yapan ay masalimuot, sapagkat inilalangkap niya ito sa isa pang alaala sa kamalayang Bikolnon: ang debosyon sa Mahal na Birhen ng Peñafrancia. Ang mahihinuha sa hulagwayang ito ay isang malawak at malalim na pagsipat sa kayarian ng kultura na nakasuot sa malay ng tao. Marahas ang diwa na pinalitan ng debosyon kay Maria ang debosyon kay Oriol. Subalit higit na marahas ang diwa na, kung tutuusin, iisa ang nasabing debosyon. Ang mga puwersa ng pananakop lamang ang naggugumiit ng pagkakaiba.

Upang pahindian ang kolonyal na negasyon (the negation of negation), kailangang muling isaritwal ni Mando ang kanyang debosyon para sa dalawa niya innamorata na sina Maria at Saling. Kailangan niyang isabak ang kanyang katawan kasama ang iba pang katawang lalaki ng Kabikolan sa prusisyon ng imahen sa ilog Naga. At kailangan niya ring kilalanin ang katawang bathaluman-ahas ni Saling bilang katawang tao.

Ano ang kaisipan na magsasara sa pelikula?

Ang kasaysayan ng mithi ay hindi maaaring balangkasin sa isang linyar na paraan. Dahil sa masalimuot na ugnayan ng katutubo at ng kolonyal, ang anumang pagtatangka na taluntunin ang kasaysayan ng mga damdamin, tulad na nga ng pagnanasa at ng pangungulila, ay kailangang maisadula sa isang paraan kung saan masasaksihan ang sandali ng pag-aalinsabayan, ang sandali ng katiwalagan, at ang imposibilidad din ng lahat ng palakumpasang ito.

Iisa ang estatwa at bailarin sa ngalan ng debosyon.


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One Is Not Born An Indigene

J. Pilapil Jacobo

In Ecuadorian Demetrio Aguilera Malta’s  novel Siete serpientes y siete lunas (1970), the Christ of the crucifix refuses to yield to his own gravenness upon the moment of speech. At some point, he seems to threaten to abandon the figure that the sculptor had assigned to him. His wounds can no longer be sustained in a relief so high in their fatigue. Outside the church, creatures of the most enormous testicles spar to ravage Santorontón’s final virgin.

Such scenes returned to me at the screening of Bikol poet Kristian Sendon Cordero’s debut feature Angustia (2013).

Rinconada showed me “the lost steps” to Santorontón. While Cordero’s film does not possess the saturnalian fervor of Aguilera-Malta’s marvel, it succeeds in concatenating a version of the surrea lwithin the sacred, and proceeds to tackle the mélange with risky seriousness and unquizzical confidence. Somehow I did wish the mahogany Christ would interrupt the priest’s benedictions and that the shamaness’s stones would turn out to be vaginal holes shrieking currencies out of a certain Inca coinage, but Cordero’s sudamericanese is contemporary, lavishing its already piquant accent with a prominently sibilant mannerism.

The sacerdote Victorino’s crime is akin to Amaro’s, and Gael Garcia Bernal’s incarnate is the diabolically tormented Alex Vincent Medina. Quite a stretch, if truth be told, but Cordero’s charms have been previously persuasive elsewhere, and whoever springs from the root of Crispin should be given the vastest opportunity at grandiloquy. He seizes that chance so well at the end of Act Two. All of the fury at the failure to preserve a tableau tropicaux was directed at the nonchalant aloe vera. I wanted to scream: spare the succulent sabila!

Set in 16th-century Rinconada, that region of the Bikol peninsula located between the cabeceras of Nueva Caceres (Naga) and Legazpi and most populated by the aboriginal Agta, Angustia surveys a vignette of parochial life during the early history of the reduccion, during which ethnic enclaves started to vanish in light of Christianized pueblos arresting the mountains where the Agta would take shelter and forage. Angustia is all about the autochthonous trauma that remains after all that clearing of the native encampment.


The autochthone is Dunag (Michelle Smith). Her nubility can only be anticipated by the Aztec Malinalli. She possesses an attunement to the highland tropics that ranges from the locus of mollusks to the epicenter of a tone so brassy it makes the body gyrate and refuse a bracelet strewn from the salt-white corral by Sikaw (a Victor Loquias who masters both the naive and the macabre), a pursuer in the tribe. Such knowledge can only be torrid, and Michelle Smith parses out the epistemes of such a habituation with so much relish that the character becomes an anachronism in the script that is written all over her deshabille. It is this kind of acting that distinguishes the film’s contribution to ethnographic surrealist cinema. The juxtaposition of heedless foliage and Smith’s maroon gaze cantilevering the filigree of fern makes the floral and the faunal kindred but at the same time out of joint in terms of vertiginous seriality. That the eroticism of the bosom is transferred to a delectation that hangs over the eye’s promontory is testament to that temporality when the indigenal, when something more is incepted elsewhere even after the exotic becomes so sure of itself, is born out of the always already indigenous body. I desire, Dunag tells one, and no unnatural offense is assured leverage at that contagion: looking. When one becomes a conduit of each that cannot be inhibited by shame, one cannot necessarily careen into sheer libidinal license. With those unsentimented eyes, and the somber carnality around the iris, nothing less or more, especially if it concerns prejudice, can invade.

Born and raised in Zambales, Smith is Filipina and African American, and musters the right amount of intellection from this position to coordinate the autochthone’s global racial destiny out of the archaic and into the ideology critique of the change that syncresy subjects the miscegene to complete. There is something awry then when her transport to the convent denies her of any chance to figure out what it means to be strategically defiant. There is incalculable consent and unmediated delight in the utterance of  the Christian name “Josefina” when it is fundamentally a phonetic diminution of the fosterity of her rain: “Dunag.” Colleague José Mari Cuartero interjects: “Could the problem be an inarticulation of acoustic impression?” Michelle Smith performs an apparitional method, to a fault, that the error of the look must emerge by way of an vocable practice almost bereft of irony. Could this mistake be blessed?

That Dunag is murdered by her seductee, the sacerdote, is not so much a sensationalist gesture but a political act to mark out a historical incident the perfection of which, colleague Juan Ariel Goméz would intervene, is the neo-Europe that is the Argentine predicament. This is a second moment of the indigenal, plotting out emergent grooves in Guada (an indefatigably irreverent Jazmin Llana) and residual maneuvers in Natividad (a splendidly tremulous Maria Isabel Lopez). The indigene mediates between trickstery and shamanism and reveals the indifference.

The film is imperfect, for sure (a certain nostalgia lurks around the chromatic design that the palette seems almost incompetent if not for that raucous green), but to say that “[it] comes off as a very literary venture, the theories and frameworks fueling the narrative plain enough to see [sic]” is not only irresponsible, but also indolent. When the same automatic reviewer says “the movie just isn’t very good,” he surrenders to acknowledge some truths of the cinema that has failed him: the evil that resides in the colonial church…and the evil that debilitates critique and seeps into the writing of such a catastrophe. The filmmaker is said to be the most terrible child the literature of the Bikol peninsula has ever bred. One wished he would abandon the childhood, and forget the terror of this leave-taking, but with this text, there are growing pains, dealt with both recklessness and grace, which can be perceived. Cordero is no Aguilera Malta, well, not yet, but his Angustia is a frenetic assault to metropolitan tastes which, pace Montaigne, relent as a matter of habit, to screen barbarities.


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Statement of the YCC Film Desk on the acts of plagiarism committed by film blogger Jojo Devera

We, members of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle (YCC), denounce in the strongest possible terms the acts of plagiarism committed by film blogger Jojo Devera (also known as Vincent Joel Llamas Devera) in his blog Sari-Saring Sineng Pinoy.

Although Devera rendered his blog publicly inaccessible at about 10:00 PM last 3 November 2013 (Sunday) and has subsequently deleted it, we have been able to gather evidence showing that Devera copied passages of varying lengths, from single sentences to entire paragraphs, from texts written by YCC members without permission or acknowledgement and presented such as his own work. Where he did not simply substitute his name for that of the author—as in the case of the post on Nunal sa Tubig (1976), which is wholly drawn from an essay by Eulalio R. Guieb III—he went a reprehensible leap further by producing reviews on films that combined excerpts from materials contemplating or assessing completely different issues—as in the case of the post on I Love You Mama, I Love You Papa (1986), which patches together parts from essays by J. Pilapil Jacobo, Nonoy L. Lauzon, and Patrick D. Flores, none of which discuss the Maryo J. De Los Reyes picture. Other members whose essays were plagiarized include Eloisa May P. Hernandez and Jaime Oscar M. Salazar.

While we have thus far managed to identify only six posts containing material lifted from both print and digital sources put out by our group, we are convinced that such constitute the merest tip of the proverbial iceberg: Devera began his blog in 2006, and before he took it down, it had nearly 400 entries—all of which, by the way, he had the gall to assert copyright over, if a line that ran along the bottom of his now defunct blog is any indication: “Karapatang Magpalathala 2006-2013. SARI-SARING SINENG PINOY Lahat Ng Karapatan Ay Nakalaan. Disenyo Jojo Devera”. Moreover, the way that Devera put together the plagiarized posts, which are in places inevitably marked by schizophrenia of tone and thought, suggests not the creativity of the parodist or the inventiveness of the pasticheur—we are not unaware of the lively and meritorious debates surrounding the concepts of authorship and originality—but something that is, to our collective misfortune, becoming more and more banal at present: the calculation of one who seeks to establish and burnish a reputation as a commentator in as expedient a manner as possible, without putting in the necessary time and effort to organize one’s thoughts and to deliberate over one’s words, or to give credit to those who have done so.

Considering the sheer amount of data that is available in the world today, online or otherwise, and the concomitant difficulty of guarding against plagiarism, it is perhaps not astonishing, but certainly unfortunate, that Devera has been as successful as he has in building a degree of credibility within the film community by carving out a niche for himself as a kind of specialist in Philippine films from the 1970s and the 1980s. We trust that he realizes, at the very least, that he has done this community a signal disservice. Lover though Devera might be of Filipino films, a claim he announces in his online properties, he might be exceeding his zeal if it spurs him to abduct the texts of others rather than to arduously work through the experience of cinema with his own body and mind in conversation with others.

In view of the foregoing, we demand that Devera immediately issue a formal public apology for his detestable acts of plagiarism, not only to us but also to every other individual and organization from which he may have lifted material without proper attribution. Furthermore, we caution all parties who have published or are considering publishing anything that Devera professes to have written to examine whatever he has done according to the strictest editorial protocols, and to withdraw or reject his work as necessary. Finally, in light of the situation at hand, we call on all film enthusiasts, bloggers, reviewers, and critics, as well as on all members of the general public, to contribute toward cultivating an environment that encourages, if not expects, judiciousness and responsibility in the production, circulation, reception, and use of information. We must always strive to uphold intellectual honesty as we pursue, develop, and disseminate knowledge.

For comparison of the plagiarized works and Devera’s blog posts, see Evidence of Plagiarism by Jojo Devera from YCC.
Spherical Sympathy

J. Pilapil Jacobo

A world is imagined to be more shapely when the geometric configuration of the sphere takes over the idea of landscape. Or else terrain falls back into that ancient conceit of flatness. Of course this historicizing belongs to the colonial order, but the cartographic claim is enabling for those whose place on earth is threatened by the techne of, let’s say, geodesy. Such is the rift that needs to be resolved by the eponymous character played by Nora Aunor in Mes de Guzman’s Ang Kwento ni Mabuti.

The narrative pursues the labors of a peasant woman who forages what remains of the verdure of a piece of land that belongs to her clan but now needs to be ransomed from certain laws which demarcate the earth and expel those who have long nurtured it. Mabuti’s mother (Josephina Estabillo) dreads the day that would find them living in a hut suspended from a tree at the edge of a cliff, but Mabuti refuses to succumb to that banishment from a sphere they have already emplotted as sacred.

To anticipate the good that is to come, and to internalize this practice of patience, Mabuti assumes the role of the shaman: summoner of the spirits, interlocutor of the elements, Aeolian harp on Nueva Vizcayan earth that plays the music of the spheres. With saliva and stone, Mabuti converses with the pharmakon (poison) of venom as the pharmakon (antidote) of devotion, bargains with the universe to remove the contagion, and restitutes the order of benevolence. All shall be well, because the world is enfolded into a state of grace. It may not be visible, but the good, in God’s time, shall foreground itself. The figure that completes the sphere is an embrace from the firmaments. Mabuti is a widow, and her son (Arnold Reyes) and daughter (Mara Lopez) have been taken away from her by metropolitan commerce and diasporic exchange, but with crone-mother and four elfin girl-grandchildren, the shaman asserts the insurmountable place of sympathy in a world that must wax in fortitude when fortune is on the wane.

Mes de Guzman has crafted a film whose milieu musters the enclosures and the extensions of what could be the scope of a cinema of a considerable degree of independence: the sphere of a locality whose roots and rhizomes can only allow the cosmos to open itself up to both providence and peril, which includes a bridge that is never completed, and military checkpoints which must delay travel into the city. The agon that emerges out of the depths must tilt fate toward disaster or away from it. This cusp allows the hailstone to hold within its core a precipitate of insight on cosmic change and the swarm to hover above the ambivalence of an ethic. This “dialectical image” empowers the writing to pursue the mystique against all manner of mystifying. The crisis then is only fomented not to threaten the place of the good but to test the ground on which its matter could speak.


The money that Mabuti inherits from Nelia (Sue Prado), a woman summoned and surrendered by the local insurgency, is not so much a metaphor of corruption but a metonym of corruptibility. The spell around the cash stolen from possibly the same bank that is keeping the title of Mabuti’s ancestral land may enchant the shaman. It is her misrecognition of the sorcery that must be apprehended. The good is intimated in the promise of goods, but only after the fetish about capital decays. Hence, two prospects from within Mabuti’s sphere appeal as objects of the gift: the four girl-children’s collegiate education and the crone-mother’s recovery from metastasis. And yet, these options remain improvident. When Mabuti finally resolves the compromise, the categorical imperative divorces itself from any possible imperial category. Mabuti is not turned into a philanthropist. At that moment, the exchange value is hinged upon the girl-child Marife, the daughter of the insurgent who sneaks the money inside Mabuti’s bag before she is killed by the military. Marife’s term of ransom may be fiscalized by a known amount, but it can only be accounted for by an interminable capacity—Mabuti herself—the only sympathy that can correspond to the girl-child’s subaltern state.

The sanction of this ethic is suffered with an elegiac pace by the syntax of the sympathy, Nora Aunor. Her understanding of the pastoral is accurate, and almost exact in calibrating a sense of biome whose radii are aware of catastrophe and attentive to the fulfillment of the shamanic mandate. It is a range that understands both limit and infinity. Aunor’s formal attitude is most assured here, then. Her late style has become an archive of attunements that can relate with either primordial kernel or final foliage. Earthen is the range. Because she is comfortable treading the reed-path with swine, we forget the contempt we have attached to the animal, and our zootropy recuperates.

We have been instructed well on how Aunor enacts a moment of conviction to tell a truth or to release oneself from victimry, but the method of her act in this film homes in on crisis: the tentativity that surrounds its valences, the articulations of a dilemma that nonetheless electrifies the spirit, and that static moment where the only charge that matters is the epiphanic self.

Is anyone else capable of shifting into tenses of terror perfect and progressive upon finding out the excess in one’s baggage is money, money, money?

The ensemble of women that accompanies this performance must be celebrated for providing Aunor with formidable foils to her character’s predicament. Josephina Estabillo, the termagant, is such a levity. Sue Prado, the renegade, is imperturbable. Mara Lopez, the lovelorn, is by turns melancholic and sanguine. Not every seasoned performer knows the difference.

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti reveals to us that there are still stars, and the stars are still, in Nora’s eyes. Superstars, they remain. And we must gaze, gaze, gaze.


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Counterpoint of No Return

J. Pilapil Jacobo        

The cinematic articulation of the Philippine diaspora offers a historical opportunity to foreground the insertion of such an instance into the global narrative of migration. As a scopic device that maps out the economies of scale which retard the movements of Filipino migrant work, cinema, especially when it heralds itself as independent, can speed up the telling of the lives which have fallen out of the traffic. It can also report the coordinates of the displacement as well as the elliptical routes of engagement shot through the cartographic palimpsest. Diasporic cinema can then enliven the discourse, as, pace Edward W. Said, a counterpoint that syncopates the manner of the dispersion. A counterpoint elects interpretation into the order of contemporaneous histories across contemporary spheres. It is an indigene of critique.

Accomplishments in the diasporic imagination have been single-handedly modulated by Gil Portes, in ‘Merika(1984), Minsan May Isang Pangarap (1995), and Homecoming (2003). In all three, the right to take exception from the protocols of departure is paramount, as long as the individual assumes a position on the world-historical after engaging the “anti-conquest” in the contact zone. Efforts like Sana Maulit Muli (1995), Milan(2004), and In My Life (2009) have relegated the Filipino immigrant to a lachrymose figure that belabors the national melodrama of community and its concominant estrangements. Hannah Espia’s Transit (2013) isTransitconfident that it has proposed a counterpoint to the habits of diasporic cinema by situating the Philippine predicament in Israel, an originary locus of global migrancy that has troped itself into a translational zone despite its modern inception as a strategic neo-colony. Filipino migrant work, in various phases of documentation, is set to be told, for sure, with some degree of facility, within this milieu, and yet the fetishistic commitment to describe the ethnicity of this locale falters in engaging the trauma that besieges the Israeli state—the Palestinian question, a most peripheral but the least distant counterpoint to the Philippine predicament. The failure to determine the truth of this confluence accounts for a perspective on the diaspora drafted from the script of xenophobic neurosis.

The structure of the narrative masks such insipidity by repeating a short story of a rather single effect in five episodes, each one devoted to a character. The technique of recurrence is at times persuasive in visualizing a leitmotif of entrapment within the urgency to move in and out of quotidian intransigence, but the quintuple rhythm is incapable of building up resonances. The inclination toward an insight on sequence and simultaneity is detectable, but that aspiration remains within the realm of conjecture.  The story repeats but tension does not accumulate. Scenes are appended sometimes to extend an affect, and when that happens, the effect is less ironical than hyperbolic. A collective experience is diffracted into five vignettes, and yet, there is nothing contrapuntal in echoing denials of a single perspective. An errant thought that can be contested in the name of the multiple-argument never takes shape, because the point of view is notaltered. The characters delineated after Janet (Irma Adlawan) must nonetheless discredit the feminine insight that somehow charges the Philippine presence in Israel with a certain deliberation. The paranoiac Moises (Ping Medina), the passive aggressive Tina (Mercedes Cabral), the depressive (Jasmine Curtis Smith), and the hyper-active (Marc Justine Alvarez) mark out the coordinates of despair that endangers Janet’s agency. The actress’s hysterical investment is arguably earned. Adlawan needed to compensate by aggregating a repertoire of shrill sentiments to overwrite that rather stentorian judgment on the futility of maternal suffering.

To excise the idea of Palestine from an image of Israel seen through Philippine eyes is to occlude the complex historical circumstances which have made possible the visibility of Transit as a Filipino film production shot in the Middle East. With “Palestine” entirely out of the picture, it becomes easy for the film to represent the Israeli state as dismissive of the possibility of a legal Filipino presence. And without a counterpoint to its precarity, the Philippine predicament fails to find a ground where a claim to relevance can be demarcated. We are not asking a rewriting of the screenplay. A moment where a metonym of  an “outer” space “within” appears should be enough to open up the film as a persuasively global engagement. A text must allow some scissions into its surface to allow a totality of traumas to emerge as vital to the analysis of a problematic.

Arising from the impasse are two risky figures of transnational subjectivity: Joshua (Justine Alvarez), the child who is interpellated into the rites of the Torah in Jerusalem and Haifa but is doomed to endure listening to monsoonal tales in Manila; and Yael (Jasmine Curtis Smith), the Filipino Israeli who is entitled to the Jewish homeland but rejects her entanglement with the Philippine post-colony. The racial consciousness nurtured by these enchantments can only breed a species of Filipino racism. Alienated from contrapuntality, neither Joshua nor Yael will think through the split in their identities through what W. E. B Du Bois calls as “double consciousness.” How does one respond to the cheer hanging upon Alvarez’s voice, and the incipient vacancy all over Curtis Smith’s face? There is hatred deep within them. Its particulate object is the Philippine.

Nobility and Degradation: A Conversation on On the Job

This exchange, begun in the interest of exploring a different format for evaluating films, was conducted from September 4 to 14, 2013 via e-mail. The messages were then compiled into a single document, edited, and sent to the participants for review before posting.

The goal of this exercise was not so much to form a consensus, but to bring to the surface observations, questions, and concerns that the participants, as well as the various audiences of On the Job, could think through and about.

For readers who have not watched the film, what follows contains spoilers.


Tessa Maria Guazon

Taking off from our after-dinner chat last night, I initiate the thread on Erik Matti’s latest film, On the Job [henceforth OTJ]. I watched it on opening day and was initially thrilled by the idea of Gerald Anderson being cast in the role of a prison inmate. And who can ignore such a film, when my television news screen was peopled by the many versions of a beaming Anderson?

Anyhow, let us get the conversation going.

As I recall, we agreed that the merits of OTJ were its superb editing and sound design, but Jason sharply noted that its screenplay was its biggest flaw. I found discomfiting OTJ’s “sleekness”; the title for the review I have yet to write is “The Lures of Sleek”. The apparent gloss is what made it tick, yet it was also what made it weak. And the biggest fissures were in terms of narrative and characterization.

JPaul was right to note the sudden revival of action films, but compared to those from the eighties, the current spate of mainstream action films are inherently flawed. JPaul, can you remind us again why you said this? I think this can lead us to the comic presence of Piolo Pascual’s character, the wisp that was Shaina Magdayao’s OTJ persona, and even the contentious appeal of Joey Marquez’s hardened police officer.

Thinking back on the melange of the big-name actors: it reminded me strongly of Hollywood or NYPD dramas!

Jaime Oscar Salazar

I saw the film last night. The visual and aural aspects are what drew me in—it is indeed slick and sleek—but in the wake of the thrill, I found the screenplay, despite its intriguing premise, rather inept. The characters are generally badly developed; the attempt to provide expository information on all of the main players has a flattening effect. Also, many of the events are simply unable to withstand logical scrutiny.

The performances of Joel Torre and Joey Marquez are noteworthy, but everyone else was miscast, or had poorly written parts, or both. Considering the size of his role, Gerald Anderson was particularly grating in my view. His playing eager puppy to Torre’s battle-scarred wolf lacked the grit and the hunger that I would expect from someone who has presumably been imprisoned for a long enough period to establish his potential as a hired gun. That there is a training sequence, which includes lessons on jailbird decorum, is just one example of the poor writing; shouldn’t Torre have tutored Anderson in all these areas even before the latter started coming along as back-up on assassination assignments?

Tessa Maria Guazon

Thanks for the sharp insights, Jay!

Jason has crafted a beautifully written review; I think he plans to post it today.

Indeed, such sleekness is intriguing. It can even be riveting. However, such surfaces may also appear lifeless, even dead. Donald Kuspit makes a similar observation of hyperrealism in contemporary art.

Yet the very same forms are alluring for some reason, and I must admit there is ambivalent joy in cruising along such surfaces. I am intrigued by the affect birthed by this motion—viewing/cruising, skimming the film image.

Jay says he was “drawn in”. Did anyone else feel the same about the film?

JPaul Manzanilla

First, the slickness/sleekness: “sleek” is always a come-on in the action genre. It makes violence attractive and, more importantly, worth doing in the pursuit of justice. Indeed, the gloss of guns, cars, and the manners of enacting crime are material pictures of the hired gunman’s professionalism. These are not his resources, though, but his bosses’ (the “bosses” in this country as stated by Leo Martinez’s character)—the latter provide the polish, the sleekness in the enactment of crime. Still, they just give the raw materials but it is Joel’s character’s intelligence and efficiency that craft the sleekness. There is a class divide in this making of sleekness. The smoothness of the politician’s image is superficial—slick, relying on the hard and cruel labor of the hired gunman.

We need to attend to this sleekness because the materiality of the image is its meaning. Had the film shown at considerable duration the political economy of its violence, we would have gained a significant moral benefit from it. Sadly, the politics was just that, politicians, and the economy we had was the transaction between the politicos and the gun-for-hire prisoners and the diffusion of financial benefits to their families. Aside from sending allowances to their families, do Torre’s and Anderson’s characters invest in the future, of a life possibly without crime?

Tinatanong ko ito kasi ang character ni Joel Torre ay lalaya na, kaya kailangan niyang tantiyahin kung irereporma pa ba niya ang sarili. Sana naipakita pa nang maigi ito. Kapani-paniwala naman na makapapatay siya dahil sa pangangaliwa ng asawa, pero puwede naman silang mabuhay nang maayos ng anak niyang nag-aaral maging abogado, bilang kalaban-kakampi ng mundo ng kriminalidad na kinapapalooban nila.

Was the choice to remain a murderer for such a calculating man brought about by the emptiness, the hopelessness, outside of the prison, in the real world where he is not simply a hired killer anymore but subject to the degradations and nobility of normal life?

Wala kasing nobility sa paggawa ng karahasan. Sa mga pelikulang bakbakan, igagalang mo ang ibang gumagawa ng krimen dahil ginagawa nila ito para sa kanilang mga pamilya, na temang Pilipino naman talaga. At dapat ipinakikita na wala na silang mapagpilipilian, kaya ginawa nila ito. Hindi ko naman sinasabing dapat maging squeaky clean (again: glossy/sleek) ang karakter ni Torre pagkatapos, pero dapat kauna-unawa at katanggap-tanggap ang desisyon niya sa bandang huli.

Or, was he rational and professional to the very end because killing Anderson’s character wins him the competition, preserves his life and makes him the best hired killer after all?

I need to watch the film again. Ito na lang po muna.

Tessa Maria Guazon

I am thinking, the “sleek”/”slick”/”smooth” also translates to “hype”, especially in the context of producing and promoting the film. While it is an overarching trope within the film, it permeates the film beyond material form. I watched numerous interviews with Gerald Anderson, director Erik Matti, more Gerald (until his unusual “lisp” assumed a certain appeal), and these prove my claim.

I will have to disagree with the idea that Joel Torres’s character should strive for a life of so-called nobility—or a life of redemption, if we wish to put it another way. Perhaps that is our moral aspiration. And I really liked the thought of you ending the piece with a question.

I think Torres’s character’s choice of carnage at the very end earns him a chance at nobility. In the end, while he remains alive, he is transformed into Atlas who bears the burden of the world’s excess and amorality, who lives through this burden—someone who has to strangle every last morsel of conscience within his person. And this painfully transforms him into an unfeeling machine who suffers the rest of his remaining years.
Can this be resonant with typical action film characters—this twisted Robin Hood persona?

Jaime Oscar Salazar

Though Mario does assure his family, particularly his daughter, that he will soon retire from his work, giving rise to the impression that he looks forward to a peaceful life, there is also a scene where he informs Thelma of his imminent parole and manifests his eagerness to take on more jobs, which suggests to me that Mario is uninterested in a life free from crime—after years of assassinations, perhaps he is so hardened as to be irredeemable? Certainly the film is not a hopeful one; the most that one can aspire toward is a beautiful death under the bougainvillea. (Were they bougainvillea? Some kind of flowers, at any rate.)

Mario is immediately rebuffed, of course: Thelma tells him that, to the interests she represents, his freedom will make him a greater liability than an asset, as he will be much more difficult to control—if nothing else, he would become a loose end in the entire operation, just like the people whom he has been assigned to eliminate, and might be marked for death at any time. Hence, his later decision to turn against his apprentice, Daniel.

Mario’s expectation that he will still have a career as a killer beyond the bars speaks of incredible naïveté, especially in light of his experience, though he is not unique in that regard—it is possible to argue that many of the characters suffer from this baffling affliction (witness, for instance, Francis and Joaquin), notwithstanding the circumstances of their lives, which brings us back again to the glaring deficiencies of the screenplay.

Skilty Labastilla

“…beautiful death under the bougainvillea”! Like na like!

Kagaya ni Jay, gusto ko rin ang teknikal na aspeto ng pelikula. Akma ang paggamit ng masilakbong editing at propulsive photography sa istorya at hindi lang siya ginamit na gimik dahil kaya itong gawin ng mga filmmakers (at dahil may pera ang Star Cinema). Medyo naingayan lang ako sa music, na ginawang masyadong in-your-face, kaya minsan nagmumukhang rock music video ang pelikula.

Kahit sang-ayon ako sa karamihan na may kahinaan ang screenplay nito, na-appreciate ko naman ang istruktura nito—’yong pag-juxtapose ng good vs. evil (na hindi kailangang black-and-white). ‘Yon nga lang, hindi masyadong nagalugad ng mga manunulat ang mga posibilidad ng kakaibang senaryo na kanilang hinulma.

Siguro mas forgiving ako sa inyo kasi sinusuri ko ang pelikula sa konteksto ng Pinoy action film genre, na ang priority kadalasan ay hindi naman talaga ang paglalahad ng nuanced na kuwento at mga tauhan kundi ang pagpukaw sa mga prurient interests ng mga manonood nito. Kung tutuusin, kahit ginastusan ang at maayos ang craftsmanship ng OTJ, B-movie naman talaga ang sensibilities nito: it revels in its hypermasculinity to the point that you can smell the testosterone from your seat. At siyempre sa Pinoy action genre, par for the course ang sex scenes na wala naman talagang silbi maliban sa pag-pander sa mga kalalakihan, kaya obvious na tacked on lang ‘yong karakter ng old girlfriend ni Gerald, at dinagdag ang bed scene nina Piolo at Shaina para sa Pinoy audience.

Sa madaling salita, hindi ko siya masyadong sineryoso kaya siguro hindi ako nadismaya.

Tessa, ‘di ako sure kung tama ang pagkaintindi ko sa issue mo ng sleek/sheen ng pelikula. Mas gusto mo ba na rawer and grittier ang production values?

Tessa Maria Guazon

Thanks, Skilty, for your thoughts!

On the contrary, though, I think that the soundtrack and the editing are the redeeming points of the film.

Regarding “sleekness”, I think it is not about what one expects from a film of a certain genre. It is not that I wanted it to have more grit or rawness.  I am looking at “slick”/”sleek” as a given characteristic of form, and because it is to some degree alluring, I doubted it. There is devious seduction in OTJ’s use of gloss. And much to our disappointment, this very same slickness weakens, flattens its inherently weak structure.

Sure, we know the much vaunted good and evil trope; it has been worked to death—how else can they be presented in an ambivalent manner?

Skilty Labastilla

In terms of performance, consensus yata ang papuri kay Joel Torre, hati kay Joey Marquez, at thumbs down para sa natitirang cast. Isa ako sa humahanga sa pagganap ni Torre dito. Buong-buo ang characterization niya at makikita ang emotional investment niya sa karakter. Tingin ko ito ang pinakamagandang role ng kanyang career.

Kay Marquez medyo on the fence ako: kahit bilib ako sa kanyang pagganap, ‘di ko maiwasang maisip na nagawa na niya ang ganitong klaseng pagganap—ang nakakatawang everyman—sa iba niyang pelikula, most recently Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles (Erik Matti, 2012).

Sinubukan naman ni Gerald Anderson na maging kapani-paniwala bilang preso, pero ipinagkanulo siya ng kanyang pisikalidad. Ibang-iba ang hulma ng katawan niya sa mga katawan ng mga ka-edad niyang preso. Tingin ko’y walang gym sa ganoong klaseng kulungan. Kung susundin ang sinabi sa script na matagal na siyang nakakulong, hindi kapani-paniwala na ganoon na kalaki ang katawan niya noong nakulong siya. Iniisip ko na lang ang mga posibilidad kung ibang aktor ang gumanap sa role niya: unang nasa isip ko ay si Alex Medina—ordinaryong mukha/katawan, pero nakakatawag-pansin pa rin dahil sa husay ng pagganap.

Wala naman akong problema sa performance ni Piolo Pascual. He did what he could with the role, which only means that his character is not fleshed out very well. Masyado siyang ginawang goody-two-shoes to the point of being boring.

Regarding the script, Jay, can you cite other events that you believe are illogical?

JPaul Manzanilla

Quotable quote: “Ipinagkanulo siya ng kanyang pisikalidad…”

Lisa Ito

I finally watched OTJ last weekend, with a still fully packed crowd.

I’m still trying to follow the thread (naipon ang e-mails, sorry), but offhand, I was blown away, so to speak, by the weight of Torre’s performance. This was balanced by the unease and occasional comic tension between Joey Marquez and Piolo Pascual.

I am ambivalent about Gerald Anderson’s casting. It also strikes me as unbelievably, painfully naive. But this is a quality that dovetails with his intended character, as it is precisely this naïveté which makes his downfall imminent. As for the other characters: too many problems to mention one by one! Gerard’s love interest, for instance, seems to have been inserted for the sole purpose of having a sex scene to offer, fading away after the act.

What I do particularly appreciate about this film is its timing, aired during the height of the Napoles scam brewing outside the cinema. For all its narrative gaps, it aptly conjures the complex web of real-life collusion by the military and police bureaucracy with the so-called bureaucrat-capitalists who dominate the scene, capped by their mercenary enlistment of the lumpenproletariat. Furtive reference is made to how the web reaches “all the way to Malacañang”, but this remains largely hidden and unexplored, for to know is to become a target oneself.

A bit of coincidental trivia: I think the film’s opening sequences included a news clip of my husband joining a protest march. The faces of those who joined are pixilated, but I spotted him right away holding a placard. Pleasant surprise!

Jaime Oscar Salazar

That’s a good point you’ve made, Lisa, regarding how OTJ resonates with the PDAF scandal; it may well be one reason that the film has become so popular. However else it might be understood, it certainly confirms, and may even deepen, the widespread suspicion and distrust with which people view our political system. Finally, though, it seems to me that OTJ suggests that opposing said system is futile, which is objectionable.

Skilty, here are the other illogical events that I observed, in no particular order:

First, the sex scenes—which we all agree on, I think. Even the slightly more believable one with Gerald was introduced clumsily. (These scenes, to my amusement, have been made much of in the press: Gerald and Dawn’s scene apparently took eight hours to shoot, while Piolo and Shaina’s took two days.)

Second, the ability of Joaquin to make connections, despite being a bungling cop. He is able to track Mario down merely on the basis of a cartographic sketch—are our criminal databases that good, particularly considering Mario has supposedly been in jail for the past 13 years?—and, toward the end of the film, just happens to come upon the general (Leo Martinez) and his henchmen while madly driving around.

Third, the confrontation scene between Francis and the general. As you’ve already pointed out, Francis is insufficiently fleshed out, and so his motives do not register clearly. Sure, there are references to his father, whose bad reputation he would like to shake off, and whose wrongful death he would like to avenge, but these fail to come across as persuasive drivers of his behavior, which may be the result not only of weaknesses in the script, but also in the performance.

Fourth, the decision of Michael de Mesa’s character (his name escapes me at the moment), supposedly a veteran politico, to trust an impossibly naïve Francis in the first place. Francis doesn’t display any real venality or greed or ambition, just vapidity.

JPaul Manzanilla

Thanks, Jay, for reminding me of parts when the possibilities of hope were given, which are, again, the problem of the screenplay’s plausibility. Napanood ko ang Eseng ng Tondo (Fernando Poe, Jr., 1997) sa Channel 2 noong Sunday, at masasabing simplistikong Manichaean ang pakikibaka ng mga tauhan sa Pinoy aksyon. Masama lang ang masama at mabuti lang ang mabuti, at hindi pinalalalim ang pagsama at pagbuti nila. So OTJ is a progressive step, Skilty, in presenting a nuanced playing out of the nature of crime.

I’m thinking of nobility here, Tessa, as central to the contradictions of the Philippine action genre. We are given Torre’s character as a coolly calculating one; hence, his decision for a perpetual life of crime is determined by the loss of hope in a post-prison scenario. In this case, his is the most solidly grounded struggle of all the characters in the movie—hardened by crime, as Jay said. And this is perhaps the strongest point of the screenplay. His frustrated attempt to have sex with Angel Aquino’s character is more believable owing to the changing nature of their relationship, compared to the two tacked-on sex scenes.

What is excellent in the film’s making is the representation of the fraught nature of crime and violence in this country, which almost all people know, and ought to be presented to us in myriad ways. Crime is pervasive because those that have already been punished are illegally set free by legally constituted authorities in order to execute their own kind of justice. It seems that crime is always about to happen, because it comes from everywhere: a poor people’s fiesta, in the dirty kitchen of a legitimate business, on the streets, in the presumably safe domesticity of homes. And yet justice comes from nowhere, because those elected to uphold it as part of the affairs of the state—Martinez’s and de Mesa’s characters—preclude the meting out of such.

The film at least gives us spaces of hope, found in Joey Marquez’s character who clumsily—and therefore, “truthfully”—ferrets out the truth. His character doesn’t die in the end. It is Piolo Pacual’s character who is killed, which may be taken as a kind of critique of all those failed attempts to resolve corruption from deep within, in the hierarchy of police and investigative bodies, and the thick blood of family relations.

Nagustuhan ko ang pelikula at malaking abante nga ito sa Filipino action genre. Iyon nga lang, nakulangan ako (na repleksyon pa rin ng patuloy na pag-aaral ng mga pelikula) kaya may kritisismo, at layunin naman ng kritisismo ay ang pag-unlad, ‘di ba?

Skilty Labastilla

JPaul, I wouldn’t exactly describe the ending as hopeful. Buhay nga si Joey, pero tinanggal naman siya sa trabaho, at walang nahuling higher-ups.

The very last scene, with Rayver Cruz taking Piolo’s cell phone out of the file box, can be interpreted in two ways: that Rayver, on a noble personal quest, will act as a whistleblower; or that he has been requested to destroy the phone by his higher-ups.

JPaul Manzanilla

Kaya nga “space of hope” lang, Skilty. At nakita ko iyon sa karakter ni Joey Marquez, kahit paano. And even then, the ending with Rayver Cruz’s character has, at least, a glimpse of freedom, or further entanglements.

Skilty Labastilla

I agree. Hindi siya totally hopeless. Baka may Part 2!

JPaul Manzanilla

Hopefully. Or other films by Matti and others which we expect to be as highly, if not more, attentive to form as this one. The cinematography is exceptional for me.

Jaime Oscar Salazar

We are told little about Rayver’s character, but I am disinclined to entertain the notion that he might become a whistleblower in light of what precedes his act of retrieval. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I think that OTJ ultimately proposes that resistance is useless and reform is impossible. If there is a space of hope to be had, it lies in rejecting this vision of monolithic malevolence. #