Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (Marlon Rivera)

On the way to Mr. Smithberger.

It might initially appear that this latest Cinemalaya triumph is particularly a well-tread filmic practice of traditional Philippine neorealism. But as it unravels in a fashion only a knowingly self-conscious deconstructive film can do, what it appeared to be was a creative blend of fantastical quasi-realism and full-fledged, jargon-filled nuances between the independent film scene and the commercial movie industry highlighted and fueled by Eugene Domingo’s eagerly commanding “Being John Malkovich-like” parody of herself.

But do not be misled, although Ms. Domingo and her much-hyped (thanks to well-played news columns by gossip writers) ‘plunge’ into the titular brown hole is the highlight of the film from a moviegoer’s viewpoint, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is essentially more about the film’s two visionary and free-spirited characters’ episodic adventures and whatnot. One a director (played by Kean Cipirano) and the other, a producer (JM De Guzman) who both display a certain raw energy typically steaming out from fresh grads, they are both struggling, amidst a cover of coffee-drinking comforts and ‘higher than anything else’ aspirations (they really much prefer Oscars than Cannes) to take a daringly unconventional independent film into fruition.

“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”, directed by Marlon Rivera and written by Chris Martinez who clearly shows both his humorous outlook and comic disdain towards cinematic nuisances (such as product placements and the industry’s nauseating ‘diva’ culture), is not necessarily about the technicalities, logistics or the pressuring deadlines of making movies. Hell, there’s barely a scene involving movie crews, cameras and stuff. Unlike, say, Truffaut’s “Day for Night” which is purely about the ups and downs of such, this film is more about the endlessly playful landscapes of the mind going colorfully amok in the middle of a mind-boggling series of script conceptualizations and cerebral storyboarding. If countless ‘movies-within-movies’ dissect the fascinating days of principal photography, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is inclined towards the fragility of pre-production.

The posters, the cast, the performances, even the overall treatment of the film within the film (which is entitled “Walang-wala”). These were taken into the open. Through a surprisingly muted character played by Cai Cortez, “Walang-wala” shifts through the different parallel realities of ‘what if’ movie scenarios via her daydreams and nap musings. For a film of immense creativity that caters its refreshingly postmodernist feel with exuberance and humor for a wider audience, using a non-speaking role as a medium to transcend the lucidly brittle “Walang-wala” film ideas is inexcusably lazy. But considering that the film is overwhelmed by endless modern Filipino vernaculars coming from Kean Cipriano and JM de Guzman’s mouths sugar-coated as loudly superfluous tirades and ‘two-cent’ dialogues and the parody Eugene Domingo sounding, acting and demanding like the real-life Kris Aquino, it’s a balancing tonic to see someone whose mouth is completely shut.

Normal to many independent films, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is also filled with inspired performances from its cast, specifically Eugene Domingo as her alternative reality self, whose scene of her accepting the script from the two maverick filmmakers may have been mirroring her genuine real-life reaction in accepting this film. A true breath of fresh air for her considering the formulaic haze of mainstream movies that she has previously starred in. But the best performance in the film, which I never have foreseen even from the farthest of distance (maybe me being unaware of him helped) is the bit role of Arthur Poongbato, a satiric character that pokes fun of award-conscious indie directors, played effortlessly by Tad Tadioan.

But then again, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is never a full-blown satire either nor a distinct celebration of the independent film spirit. Though the film can be a small-dosed mix of both, it’s mainly a subtly unnerving little film that highlights the forgotten urban plight of the impoverished that merely serve as harrowing textures of countless filmmakers’ attempt for superficial cinematic social commentaries.

"Majestic". One of them mouthed in ecstasy as they see the layered kingdom of make-shift carton houses and rusty tin-roofed shanties visually asking to be filmed. But what the film turned out to be, ultimately, is a tragicomic exposition of the characters’ internal realization that not everything adheres with their own cinematic vision and artistic conviction. As the film heads into a gob-smacking head-on collision course with reality, there’s this brooding clarity.

And as we see Eugene Domingo visually transform into the titular woman that could have easily been the scene that can elicit the silliest of laughter in the whole film, there’s this great sense that it is more profoundly symbolic than it is immediately graphic. It stared at cinematic apathy strong-eyed while inside a pungent hole of sobering truth.

The film ended with audience’s heartily fading laughter and tender smiles. For that sole reason, the integration of “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” as a comedy vehicle into mainstream cinemas fully succeeded. But I hope the film left an impression that is much more than that.


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