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Cinemanila 2001

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  • Noel Vera
    Cinemanila 2001 Noel Vera After a long drought in the local cineplexes, a deluge: Cinemanila 2001 is bigger and better organized than previous years’
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2001
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      Cinemanila 2001

      Noel Vera

      After a long drought in the local cineplexes, a deluge: Cinemanila 2001 is
      bigger and better organized than previous years� incarnations, with a wider
      range of films--features and shorts, foreign and local, recent and classic,
      digital and traditional celluloid.

      Opening the festival is Korean filmmaker Im Kwon Taek�s �Chunyang� the first
      ever Korean film to compete in Cannes. Im, who has had a long career
      spanning over a hundred films (�Hidden Hero,� 1979; �Taeback Mountains,�
      1995), is Korea�s most internationally recognized filmmaker. He takes a
      classic folk legend set in Korea�s feudal age and has it narrated by a
      �pansori� (a form of sung theater) singer, the film alternating between the
      singer�s performance and the film�s story.

      The film is gorgeous to look at--rich, impossibly detailed tableaus, brought
      to stunning life by Im�s impeccable cinematic eye. The sumptuous wardrobe,
      the enormous sets, the lights, colors, and orchestrated music (not to
      mention an endless supply of costumed extras)�the story, about a simple wife
      named Chunyang being compelled by a corrupt government administrator to go
      to bed with him while her husband is away, should be lost in all that
      splendor, but it isn�t--Im keeps the film�s focus firmly on his protagonist.
      The background opulence gives the folk tale scale and sweep, while the
      �pansori� singer�s parallel narration lends the picture a �once upon a time�
      charm that is difficult to resist.

      The film�s look is startlingly old-fashioned, with Im using the kind of
      heroic filmmaking that Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi used in their
      bigger productions; it even has the kind of �humanist� values--marital love
      defying feudal tradition--Kurosawa and Mizoguchi once championed with such
      vigor. Im is an unabashed practitioner of this lost style of epic
      filmmaking, and �Chunyang� is both loving tribute to and glorious example of
      this kind of sensibility.

      At the far end of the spectrum is Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz�s �Batang West
      Side� (West Side Avenue). Where �Chunyang� is a magnificent symphony of
      imagery and color, �Batang West Side� is a spare melody played on a single
      flute; where �Chunyang� is a sweeping drama of fidelity and love, �Batang
      West Side� is a private tragedy of alienation and loss. The two films
      cannot be more unalike, but the most glaring difference lies in their
      running times: �Chunyang� sprints to its climax at (an already hefty) one
      hundred and twenty minutes, while �Batang West Side� takes deliberate time
      to finally clock in at a daunting three hundred minutes.

      Five hours--it�s the longest Asian ever meant to be seen in a single
      sitting, and easily the longest Filipino film ever made. Yet watching the
      film--all five hours of it--one can�t help but think that the length is
      necessary. Diaz�s work may seem small, but in retrospect it acquires its
      own size and sweep. On one level the film is a crime thriller, an
      investigation into the murder of a Filipino youth on West Side Avenue,
      Jersey City; on another level it�s an investigation into the
      Filipino-American community--of its elder, middle-aged, and younger
      generations, along with their virtues and vices.

      On yet another level the film is an exploration of the Filipino people and
      the ultimate direction they are taking--on their need, for one, to leave
      their mother country for a presumably better life abroad. On what role the
      family has to play--if it still has a role left to play--in their lives. On
      just what does the Filipino youth represent nowadays (our best hope
      fulfilled, or worst nightmare come true?).

      On still another level, the film reflects on some hefty imponderables--can
      the truth really be learned about anyone or anything? Is a connection still
      possible between people, no matter how disconnected or distant? And is
      redemption at all possible, after everything we have done to ourselves, to
      others?

      Difficult questions to ask, let alone answer, and �Batang West Side� has the
      courage not only to ask them, but the courage to try and make us feel the
      full weight of their importance--the courage to actually believe these
      questions are still important.

      Mind you, everything I�ve written about the film so far suggests that it�s
      difficult and challenging�and it is, but that�s not the entire truth--the
      film has its moments of deadpan humor, its moments of visual
      sleight-of-hand. And the performances are terrific, one of the best
      examples of ensemble acting I�ve seen in years, from established names like
      Joel Torre, Gloria Diaz, Priscilla Almeda (a soft-core porn actress,
      astonishingly good here) to some totally new faces--Yul Servo, Art Acuna,
      Ruben Tizon, Lou and Michelle Salvador (the children of Lino Brocka veteran
      Philip Salvador). �Batang West Side� is not only different in look and feel
      from practically every Filipino film I�ve seen this year or past few years,
      it�s also one of the best. Not to be missed.

      In between the two extremes: Cinemanila is also holding a retrospective of
      Thai producer-filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr�s pictures, from his exuberant �Dang
      Birely and The Young Gangsters,� to his atmospheric �Nang Nak,� to his
      (produced but not directed) �Bangkok Dangerous� and �Tears of the Black
      Tiger.�

      From France: Clair Denis� �Beau Travail,� based on Herman Melville�s �Billy
      Budd;� from Belgium, �No Man�s Land,� a satire on the war in Bosnia; from
      the Czech Republic, animation master Jan Svanmajer�s �Greedy Guts,� a black
      comedy about a woman who adopts a tree stump as her child.

      Also from Korea: Kim Ki-Duk�s �The Isle,� which competed in Venice, and Jung
      Ji-Woo�s �Happy End,� a twisted erotic drama on adultery. From Mexico:
      renowned filmmaker Arturo Ripstein�s �Divine;� from Malaysia, Tek Tan�s
      rueful �Spinning Gassing,� about a struggling music band. From Sri Lanka,
      Asoka Handagama�s �This is My Moon,� about a Sinhalese soldier and the Tamil
      woman he rapes.

      From the Young Cinema section: digital features like Ma. Theresa Jamias and
      Paul Morales� �Karga Mano� (Hand Carry) and documentary features like Butch
      Nolasco�s �Siglo Filipino.� Also shorts like Cesar Hernando�s �Motorsiklo�
      (Motorcycle) and �The Sky is Falling,� by Christopher Ad. Castillo (son of
      legendary Filipino filmmaker Celso Ad. Castillo).

      Then there�s a rare screening of Ishmael Bernal�s astonishingly assured
      debut film, �Pagdating sa Dulo� (At the Top), and Mike De Leon�s only video
      feature, �Bilanggo sa Dilim,� an adaptation of John Fowles� �The Collector.�

      It�s been a long and depressing--even tragic--year, but with Cinemanila 2001
      upon us--well, it�s as if Christmas had come two weeks early.

      (Cinemanila will be showing at Glorietta 4, Greenbelt and UP Film Center
      Theaters from Dec. 7 to 16. For details visit the website
      www.cinemanila.com.ph or call 881 6782 / 882 3935)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)


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