im home (obviously) and for lack of something productive to do i start defrosting our freezer while heating up leftovers for dinner. the ice in our vintage hotpoint ref has amassed all over and the freezer door wouldnt close for weeks now. weve seen worse when ever the chiller drawer beneath it couldnt be pulled out. it’s just that we havent really found time to do it and the rain has caused me to be very, very lazy (yeah, blame it on the weather). today’s my cooking day so i decided to do it while preparing dinner. on the menu today are about 5 pieces of thinly sliced pork cooked a la adobo a few evenings back, 3 slivers of pork tocino marinated in msg and pepper and cooked in a soy sauce-sauce by toots yesterday, 10 pieces of maling (not spam, not pure foods, MALING!) fried last sunday, and a saucer heapful of danggit that has aged months now in the vegetable crisper. add to that newly cooked steamed rice and a bowl of your favorite sawsawan, a real peasant’s feast! yum yum. it’s 8.31pm now, toots and ta tems have yet to check in our humble abode, there’s little ice left in the freezer now, and the tracks to “once on this island” and “youre a good man, charlie brown” has played its 2nd run on the winamp program now. i can hear chunks of ice falling off from the kitchen and that’s good news. i do speed up the process by knifing out whole chunks than just wait for it to melt. the electric fan positioned in front of the ref also helps. =) any time now the ref will run and freeze like new again.
i watched “i am sam” yesterday at the up film center and i was amazed at how smart that kid, dakota fanning, who played sean penn’s daughter was. it was incredible. at one point in the movie, sam (sean penn) tells lucy diamond dawson (dakota) she has grown a little taller and her eyes seem to have aged. she actually looked a lot like my little cuzin, tanya abcede. she has big, black curls and an inquisitive look about her. but her eyes, just like blonde and cute dakota fanning, seems to be older and way beyond her years. anyway, the movie was really touching and i could have been crying by my lonesome in the theater if not for the people around me. even at the first few minutes to the movie freshmen started sniffing and wiping their eyes and it zapped off me any empathy id normally have in a drama film. i was too disturbed by this big guy seated beside me with his girlfriend who was weeping more than she did. despite it i enjoyed the film, the soundtrack is a must-have, peppered all over with beatle staples and other hits from the 70s. at the last few minutes into the end dakota fanning finds a flying paper bird made of pink art paper. she picks it up, realizing it’s from her dad. she scans the trees above her but didnt find him. she smiles and moves on as her foster mom (laura dern from jurassic park) leads on. later a crane shot zooms up and we see sean penn perched way up in the canopy of leaves looking on. all the while sarah maclachlan sings a cover of the beatles’ black bird. really sweet, heartbreaking and uplifting, an irony of love and family. truly cinematic, it’s youre cue to sigh and blow your nose.
finally i was able to go to tandang sora to get my sandals. i had them resoled since i lost my other beloved pair of mojos, the one that i really liked and recently bought and was stolen on my first night in camiguin. yes i really miss that pair. now im back to my old one, and i was getting really tired of wearing just my islander slippers or my cheap faux leather sandals i bought from gaisano especially since the rubber has started to smell (naman, after all the rain!). im a sandals person and ive already been branded and identified to wear mojos. i wouldnt mind shoes at all but really, slippers are more comfortable. i might inspire a return to the olden times where people walked around in their wrap-around (grecian style ba) leather flip-flops you know.
im bored. it’s been a really long time since i had anything to say here. obviously a lot has happened. im now a junior in fine arts. just when i thought schooling was easy and i could wing it, first day of classes i meet most of my professors and they are really serious about their careers! i cant afford to take it easy so i might have to work harder still. im off to a promising start (it really helps if youre older than most of your classmates) and i hope i can go the distance. the Lord has been mighty great to me, i believe i got great teachers and great opportunities. one of my anticipated projects this year is doing a short film. my group mates and i havent decided on what to do but i thought it would be better for the group if i let go of major responsibilities. i kinda made a vow to myself that come the next project i wont be leader again. unfortunate for me now i wont get to be director. then again, if they put me up as director i might have a hard time saying no. giving up being director, are you kidding me? anyhow it all really depends on my group mates. ill be happy working anywhere. really.
have you ever heard of that little film called malena? malena is the story of a young boy’s coming of age, who speaks of her as the girl he’s always loved and will never forget despite the fact that theyve never really known each other. it starred super gorgeous model monica belluci. you cant forget the face. she’s so beautiful and it was painful to see her go through so much in the film. indeed it’s no small wonder the townsfolk stop to look every time she passes by. literally she stops traffic. the film opens to establish the period of the film where provincial italy remains idyllic as the father purchases a bike for his son, while outside in the city towncenter, speakers blare out addresses from military leaders regarding news about the war. the bike signals the boy’s promotion towards being regarded as a youth rather than a kid– although we would later find out that his short pants keep him from really leaving “boy” status. nevertheless, he is soon accepted to join the older kids playing adults and wolfing the beautiful lady living by the sea. here we first gape and be mesmerized at malena as she walks the whole dusty length of the seawall road to town in her pretty white dress. as if by magic we are enthralled, just like the boy, on the vision of ultimate beauty that just passed by our eyes. throughout the film, malena just takes our breath away even without meeting our glances or even engaging us in conversation. the rest of the movie surfs through malena’s downward spiral from goddess to pond scum (to borrow from my best friend’s wedding) and we stand witness, like the boy, admiring human perseverance and spirit, to empathize, and most importantly, to love.
the film was done by director Giuseppe Tornatore of cinema paradiso and it evoked a lot of the spirit and power of italian cinema at its best. my classmates have teased me about my preference to sad movies (sad, not melodramatic) with bittersweet endings like american beauty, children of the marshlands, la vita e bella, and many, many others like it. i just think that pain has been perfectly captured in these films and nothing can really beat the emotional rollercoaster ride an audience takes to enjoy these films. sometimes it’s so sad it gets me right there between my lungs and i cant help but be human.
the film also brings to mind another coming-of-age movie made in the 70s, summer of 42. other, the theme to the film, i dont remember much about it except that they actually got to consummate their quasi love affair. we could draw a lot of similarities between films– husband goes to war, he dies, boy spies on girl, boy falls in love with girl, etc. anyway, thank God malena is presently available in video rental stores and is also sold at PhP 150.
tagal ko nang hindi nakapag-update. i hope you dont mind. then again, you cant really do anything about it. medyo busy lang ako. ive so much to tell and no time to tell (or encode). ill see if i could fit it in my sked… im usually asleep by 12 kasi… =) ciao!
last june 28, the UP Camera as Art Movement screened Lav Diaz’s Batang West Side at the UP Film Center. They didnt know it was my birthday that day 🙂 anyway, that’s not the point of my story. we were required to write a review and this is what i came up with. this is medyo edited na from the original original. i submitted this to an independent college paper which is still waiting to be printed. anyhow, hope youlll get something out of this:
Batang West Side, clocking in at 5 hours, has sent heads reeling at the unimagined viewing experience they have to endure through Lav Diaz’s latest work, turning off people as well as captivating his would-be audience. Arguably the longest Filipino film to be made (a close second would be Oro Plata Mata at 3.5 hours), Batang West Side has sparked controversy, intrigue, and debate primarily for the necessity of its length. Will the Filipino movie-going public be ready for this? Will it be worth their while?
Personally I’ve also struggled as it challenges my very being as cinephile and artist. Interestingly enough, Lav Diaz shot this film based on his screenplay that previously won a Palanca Award for Literature. It also won most awards from the Urian (including Best Picture, Director and Actor) and in the Singapore Film Fest, thus accounts to the film’s significance as a valid work of art, hailed by both critic and colleague, regardless of the preconceived negative issues it entailed.
Batang West Side (titled West Side Avenue for international release) chronicled the investigation of the killing of a boy who was found killed on West Avenue, JC. Joel Torre (previously seen in Bayaning Third World) stars as Detective Juan Mijarez, a former military officer who unwittingly faces his own past as he delves deeper into the case. Yul Servo turns in a pleasant performance as Hanzel Harana, the title character who surfs through a series of events that leads to his own undoing. Others in the cast include Gloria Diaz as Hanzel’s mother, Priscilla Almeda as his girlfriend, Ruben Pizon as the grandfather, and Arthur Acuña as his mother’s lover.
This movie is not your typical detective movie. It could have been though, as it should be so many other things and yet, it is not. It has its funny moments and dramatic instances but the film belongs to neither genre. Lines here haven’t been defined and perhaps it’s best that it didn’t. I believe that makes the Batang West Side all the more interesting, and arresting to watch. To be categorized in genres and set expectations would have risked its potential to touch on what is imperative. Real life often dwells on the grey obscurity of morality rather than the extremes that spell what is right or what is wrong. Surely the characters in Batang West Side may have their own skeletons hidden behind oak wood cabinets but oftentimes they are just puppets or slaves to unavoidable circumstances that plague their celluloid existence. Case in point, Juan Mijarez comes off as a foil to the negative stereotype painted on Filipinos overseas. He is smart, hardworking, legally employed, and a professional in dealing with his cases. Little would we later realize that his own checkered past is not at all pretty. Even the menacing Bartolo, painted as a ruthless extortionist, exhibits a soft spot for his dog. Nothing and nobody is really as they seemed to be. That includes the film itself.
It did strike me how the film felt so alien yet so Filipino at the same time. Batang West Side played out with a sensibility uniquely Pinoy without resorting to melodrama and other such film devices that continually plague local cinema. Towards the end of the film, Batang West Side has already established itself and transcended into “art film” status (for one thing, its length made commercial distribution virtually impossible). The film also never really ends, denying us a straightforward resolution, yet rightfully so. As with real life, we are never given keys to the mysteries of the galaxy or a certainty on how we would turn out in the future. In the last frame of the film, we see a video image of Juan Mijarez looking out to West Side Avenue and possibly questioning the merits of his own existence. Resigned and broken, he turns around and walks away into the dead of night. Strangely enough, the image is charged with a determination for Mijarez’s character to survive. Novelist Josephine Hart did write once, “damaged people are dangerous, because they know they can survive.”
Is 5 hours worth it? My answer would be yes. Sitting through the screening was undoubtedly challenging but the film style and pace called for it. Lav Diaz employed a laid back approach to his shots and the natural telling of events would require unnaturally longer time frames to properly take effect. There is a certain theatricality to the staging of the scenes, employing long shots and probably influenced by André Bazin’s misé-en-scene. This particular approach worked well as it allowed the actors to take their time, and lent a more realistic and natural turnout. Even critic Noel Vera dismisses the 3-hour TV version saying that although it was impressive, the 5-hour cut would be essential to grasp the full impact of the film. Surely the length has broken film records and Batang West Side is now a milestone in Philippine Cinema, as well as a benchmark for other films to come. Batang West Side might spell out to be either a Waterworld or a Titanic in local cinema, although it seems to lean more toward the latter.
Lav Diaz has challenged much with the creation of this film. I initially questioned his authority and took it as arrogance. However, upon introspection Diaz as an artist would have as much authority to cut his film to that length as I would have artistic license to paint a sky red-green simply because I want to. Calling the shots as a genuine auteur, Diaz stands to be regarded as god, at least in the perimeter of his films. Lav Diaz battled off issues on commercialism and mass media to come up with Batang West Side, breaking out of conventions and challenging a revolution. In a released statement I read online, Diaz explored his aesthetic goals for a reawakening in local cinema. He urges the ushering in of a new age where the Philippines could be a real contender in the scene of World Cinema. Breaking through Filipino sensibilities towards Hollywood standards may be a hard thing to do but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Lav Diaz’s own contribution to the rally of innovation and change in Philippine Cinema comes out loud and strong. I just hope it is loud enough to wake up other artists and filmmakers to do their own part too.