A Handful Of Germs

(By: Nonoy L. Lauzon )

For Film Year 2002, the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle reviewed a total of 94 films that comprised the full output of local cinema in the given period. It was no less a daunting task. Dying it may seem, Philippine cinema remains one of the most prolific motion picture industries in the world. Sadly, what it delivers in quantity, it cannot in quality. Out of scores of homegrown productions last year, YCC found just a handful that could be considered meritorious and deserving of the critics' honors.

The local film industry has patents for plenty hoaxes and they cloud the truthful pursuit for recognizing cinematic excellence. Luckily in its incessant commitment to foster an alternative and emergent articulation of the practice of criticism, YCC-never falling prey-is not to be duped. For the 13th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film, YCC had to overturn the decisions of two festival juries and uphold the integrity of certain films whose worth the industry with its twisted standards and through its coterie of apologists and paid hacks would readily dismiss.

Foremost of the films YCC holds in high regard is Chito S. Roño's Dekada '70 (Star Cinema)-adjudged Best Film of the Year. As any work of art, the film is not perfect. But its tale of a plain housewife's political and social awakening is not to be resisted. It came at a time when the industry mainstream had rendered out of vogue the making of films of this sort-the better to distort the movie going public's notion of good films and manipulate them into patronizing exclusively mediocre and seemingly innocuous fare instead.

Apparently, the merchants of the celluloid are too consumed in self-preservation that they wouldn't want the status quo shaken and the order of things altered even a bit. They are afraid of truly good films as these have power to transform society simply by illuminating reality and providing enlightenment to the viewing throng. For them, some things in the past are best forgotten. When certain films lead viewers to a remembrance of things that they should rather forget in keeping with the designs of the powers-that-be, it's bad for business and there is cause for alarm.

From the screenplay of Lualhati Bautista based on her Palanca award-winning novel, Dekada '70 is one of those films that are to be dreaded and its critical and popular rejection is one of those elaborate schemes that have to be hatched if the existing order of things had to prevail. In the interest of the status quo, the film has to be shunned, subdued and suppressed. As it enjoins audiences to revisit the horrible episode in the country's past, it opens a can of worms that could spell disaster for the current state of affairs and jeopardize in effect the high stakes waged by the present dispensation's very overlords.

In this sense, the ultimate triumph of Dekada '70 lies not so much in recounting the horrors of Martial Law but in taking into account how one can embrace social change and follow the path towards struggle. This is dramatized in the metaphorical odyssey taken by the film's central figure, a wife and mother named Amanda Bartolome. At first, she would think that pleasing her husband and raising her five boys are all that matters in life. When monstrosities entailed by the turbulent times would prove otherwise, she would come to realize that to be a dutiful wife and loving mother means nothing amidst the social landscape without the wheels of justice, suffused with the spilt blood of oppression and severely debilitated by rampant poverty. The abiding wife and caring mother would then stop just tending to her home to reach out to the larger society that she would find in need too of her cradling. The symbolic trek Amanda would set out to embark on could nevertheless be hers alone. It must also be the inspiring odyssey involving countless others that audiences may do well to emulate for the valor and resolve they exemplify in taking up a cause. Dekada '70 pays homage to them as well. The film is also recognized for Best Screenplay, Best Achievement in Sound which includes music and Best Performance by the mother-and-son team of Vilma Santos and Piolo Pascual.

In addition to Dekada '70, YCC also honors more titles that encompass a gamut of fulfilled cinematic possibilities. They complete YCC's roster of top films for the year. Gil M. Portes' Mga Munting Tinig (Teamwork Productions; Maverick Films; CAP Philippines)-to the shallow mind-is a poor ersatz film with a lofty dream to break into the world market. But lost on its jaded detractors is the supreme value of the film in igniting the flames of idealism embodied by the character of a remote barrio's novice teacher who shall exhaust all means for her deprived wards to gain a chance in life. Music would be the key to their salvation and it would be compellingly demonstrated how the pursuit of art could prod hapless innocents to surpass Third World squalor.

Winner of Best Achievement in Film Editing, Edgardo "Boy" Vinarao's Diskarte (Maverick Films)-a fast-paced action film-is a sprawling indictment of the country in the pits. It postulates that chaos and disorder in the land persist with a useless bureaucracy overrun by thieves and scalawags. Diskarte is alright a cops-and-robbers story. But the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys is gray. The hero himself is not a good and honest cop. There are good and honest cops but they are not the stereotype of the good and honest cop. Meanwhile, the robbers are hoodlums in uniform, law enforcers dabbling in all illegal activities and high police officials who as private people are interesting and colorful in their own right. One is a doting father to a little girl completely clueless of the evil deeds of the man who sired her. Another gets loose bowels when cowering in fear. Then there is a police asset who is gay. A disadvantaged senior citizen who makes a living as a scavenger and loves listening to opera music as a hobby would play the Good Samaritan to the aggrieved protagonist in a most poignant enactment of commiseration and solidarity. Joining the fray are two contrasting sisters both engaged in the sex trade and would be entangled in the crossfire between warring camps of corrupt police.

Francis "Jun" Posadas' Itlog (Seiko Films) seeks to recast the patriarchal system and strip it of its pretensions for benevolence as well as its illusions of omnipotence and invincibility. The film engagingly interweaves the individual histories of five people-a daughter forced into marriage to pay the debt of her late father; an egg farm's kindhearted patriarch married to her; a prodigal son with film ambition; a reforming ex-con who would serve as surrogate son to the abandoned father and a scheming screen starlet bent on reconciling the feuding father and son with motives not exactly altruistic. A bonus attraction is the appearance of a homecoming japayuki to act as some oracle that would lend the voice of wisdom and foresee the denouement of one household's tragic fall.

Uro Q. de la Cruz' Buko Pandan (World Arts Cinema) is very much a tale of female empowerment masquerading as a skinflick that appears, on the surface, to capitalize on the naked female body and some steamy sex to generate fast bucks at the tills. In truth, it shows the clear road to retribution for victimized and violated women away from what conventional moralizing dictates and the penal code stipulates.

One last film has to be added to YCC's short list of gems for the year. Although not cited in the best film category, Yam Laranas' Ikaw Lamang, Hanggang Ngayon (Viva Entertainment-winner of Best Achievement in Cinematography and Visual Design) is to be celebrated for casting a cinematic eye at some of Manila's old landmarks to serve as backdrop for the bittersweet affair of a pair of vacillating lovers. It offers quite a reprieve and is a rare departure from the usual inane and antiseptic romance pics drenching local screens all year.

*Nonoy Lauzon is the 2003 chair of the Young Critics Circle (YCC). The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, in cooperation with the NCCA Committee on Cinema, recently published YCC's "Sampung Taong Sine,"an anthology of critical writing on Philippine cinema of the nineties. Written by members of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle, the book offers a new category and method of criticism and hopefully changes the history and historiography of present film criticism techniques. Buy your copies at NCCA's Public Affairs and Information Division at tel. no 527-2192 local 614.