Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 47              January 5 - 11, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Filmfest Blues

A stinging word war between actors Vic Sotto and Bong Revilla.  Raised eyebrows over sexy actress Ara Mina bagging the best actress award.  Awards night walkout by affronted Dekada ’70 cast.  Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Chairman Rey Malonzo’s seething words to critics. Despite all these, organizers would have us convinced that this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival was the best in history.  

By Ronalyn Olea 

Indeed, controversies are normal in showbiz. Who knows, all this brouhaha may also be part of the festival promotions.  As showbiz personalities always say, good or bad publicity is still publicity.  Like past festivals, this year’s must be hyped as well so as to jack up public interest and revive a dying industry that is the Philippine cinema.  Tangkilikin po natin ang pelikulang Pilipino”  (Patronize Philippine movies) were the oft  repeated words.  Out of 100 movies produced every year, less than ten become blockbuster.  

I would have wanted to watch all of nine entries but it would eat precious time and money, and so I chose three.  The first two easily came to mind for they are the most controversial—Star Cinema’s Dekada ’70 and Regal Films’ Mano Po.  I would have picked Fernando Poe’s Alamat ng Lawin to see the Action King who is being prodded to run for presidency in 2004 but the movie was not shown in the two nearest theaters to our place.  I settled for MAQ Productions’ Spirit Warriors: The Short Cut.

Relatively high were the expectations on Dekada especially among those who read the novel by Palanca awardee Lualhati Bautista.  I first read the book when I was 15 and thought that becoming like Jules Bartolome, the activist-son, was thrilling.  I read it again before watching the film to remind me why it agitated me.

The film was successful in presenting state fascism so vividly. Violent dispersal of protest actions. Curfew imposition. Forced disappearances. Salvaging.  But the horror that was martial rule was best reflected in the torture scenes, which were based on actual testimonies of the victims’ relatives.     

After Marcos was ousted by the 1986 people uprising, almost 6,000 persons were killed, 737 missing, 35,000 tortured and 70,000 arrested.  Ruins of the Marcos bust flashed to my mind.  It could only tell so much of the ire earned by the Marcoses.

What struck me most was that I realized I was not only looking at the past but also at the present state of human rights in the country.  A dear friend was shot while pleading for her life.  Another colleague abducted and harassed.  Another one raped.  Perpetrators were men in uniform.  The victims were plain civilians.

The movie's focus was Amanda Bartolome (Vilma Santos), how she sought her worth beyond being a wife and a mother.  As a wife, she struggled against her chauvinist husband Julian (Christopher de Leon).  Many scenes played up Amanda’s sensitivity and compassion as a mother, especially toward Jules (Piolo Pascual).

However, Amanda’s political awakening, unlike in the novel, was not fully developed.  It was as though she has learned to accept Jules’ convictions because he is her son, not because she has come to understand.  The novel cites actual events and facts from which the main character draws up realizations. 

Chito Roño was effective in bringing out the best in his artists.  Surprisingly, Marvin Agustin and Carlos Agassi (Em and Gani, also sons of Amanda) acted tolerably well. Many activists said they would have preferred actor Jericho Rosales to Pascual because the latter looked too neat and ‘soft’ for the role.  But yes, it won for him the best supporting actor award.

Mano Po, winner of 12 major awards, was about a Filipino-Chinese family.  The film is said to be inspired by the life of the parents of Regal matriarch Mother Lily Monteverde whose father was a Chinese from the mainland.

Best actor Eddie Garcia was the clan's patriarch.  His wife Boots Anson Roa was a strong-willed Filipina.  Their children were Tirso Cruz III and Amy Austria.  Gina Alajar played Tirso’s wife.  Maricel Soriano, Kris Aquino and Ara Mina were their children. 

To make it ‘authentic,’ Joel Lamangan made his artists attend Chinese classes before shooting the film.  Some scenes were also shot in China.

Richelle (Mina) was the black sheep in the family.  She was a drug addict turned police agent.  Ala-Rosebud, she exposed the criminal syndicate run by a General Blanco (played by Fernando Josef).  His father Daniel Go, a business tycoon (Cruz) would not let Richelle kiss his hand.  Richelle was finally allowed when she saved her sister’s life (Kris Aquino) from a kidnapper's bullet during a kidnap-for-ransom incident.

The movie was realistic especially about the attitude of most Chinoy businessmen toward politics.  The only unimaginable thing was the immediate expulsion of the general as PNP chief. 

Like Dekada, Mano Po gives highlight to family relations. 

The P80-million Spirit Warriors 2: The Short Cut got the award for best visual effects and third best picture.  The story was about spirit questors whose mission was to redeem the lost piece of a babaylan’s talisman. 

Starring Streetboy dancer-actors Jhong Hilario, Vhong Navarro, Danilo Barrios, Spencer Reyes and Christopher Cruz, the movie is a horror-fantasy featuring evil creatures from the Philippine folklore.

Even as it attempted to link science to mysticism, it inevitably failed to do so.  It was a typical movie, only it had good visual effects. 

Although it was made for children, I had to tell my brother, who watched it with me, not to believe what he saw.  I do not want to reinforce popular beliefs on aswang, tikbalang, sirena and what-have-you.

When I was through watching all three, I wished I were old enough when films by Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal were shown.  I wished alternative cinema, especially those that are social-realist in content, would have space in the mainstream Philippine cinema. 

I look forward to the time when films will not be a means to escape from the harsh realities of a crisis-stricken society but a means to portray the true state of the people and compel us to do something about our conditions. Bulatlat.com

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