- Cinemanila 2001
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
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
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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