Tuesday, September 13, 2016


There are many good reasons to be happy ... despite what you read in the front pages of your newspapers or whatever news feed you get from Twitter.  

Despite what seems to be such a determinedly turbulent year finding Filipinos so willingly (and somewhat masochistically ) divided, Philippine Cinema scores points in proving that there can still be some good to come out of this country.  Over and above all the noise and chaos of politics, politicians and politicking ... and the cackling and crackling of all forms of journalism, Philippine cinema soars quietly proving once and for all that indeed we are a land of great art and artists.

Now if only the government can see and realize that.  But again that is another dilemma all together.  After reckoning with long hours of Metro Manila traffic ... or trying to bang your head against a wall trying to figure out why Filipinos are so determined to remain so fragmented, mercilessly divided by partisan opinions --- there are those among us who allow the greatness in their mind and spirit transcend the living hell of our politics.

Lav Diaz' victory at the recent Venice Film Festival will not improve the traffic situation. Such triumphs will not prevent Chinese aggression in the Scarborough Shoal ... nor would this placate the cacophony in the debates between the Yellowtards and Dutertards.  But here is one shining instance when a Filipino proved himself brilliant in the international arena, besting nations who have regarded cinema with almost sacramental value  and 
throwing forward a Third World artist and his uncompromising craft to be cited as best of the best.  

"Ang Babaeng Humayo" (The Woman Who Left) may not provide any immediate solution to the rampant drug problem plaguing the nation as exposed by this present administration. It will not shut up senators, put a pause to grandstanding personalities in politics --- or even press the mute button on internet trolls.  But the triumph of this film is significant.  It is very, very important to the Filipino.

It asserts the same importance as Jacklyn Jose winning the Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for Brilliante Mendoza's Ma Rosa.  It confirms the earlier success of Lav Diaz for winning the Silver Bear at the Berlinale last February for Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mysteries) in challenging the audience to an eight hour film showing that had the chairman of the jury, Meryl Streep, claim that the film rearranged the molecules of her mind.

These success prove that the Filipino artist is a force to reckon with --- that they are important in the much larger scheme of things, over and above the irritating pettiness of local or even national politics.  In a country so divided and pained by the arrogance in opinions and the reign of vested interests and greed for power and money, filmmakers like Diaz and Mendoza are showing the world that we are made of far better stuff. 

True. The films of Diaz and Mendoza are not for everybody.  Well, yes again ... it will require a certain herculean effort to sit through eight hours of black-and-white retelling of history to fully grasp the ouvre of Lav Diaz.  And yes again, the handheld camera of Mendoza --- snaking through streets and dark alleys --- are so alien to the Filipino moviegoer who to this day is enthralled by the kind of films that made Rock Hudson and Doris Day household names in world entertainment.

If not for that niche market of film enthusiasts and students --- those who religiously seek for the little nooks and crannies where specialized works are shown --- then Diaz and Mendoza are just names recognized but whose works are not seen much less appreciated. That is the saddest irony of it all: it is the Europeans who celebrate the genius of these two filmmakers but they have yet to find their own larger audience from the country whose soul they capture in their films.

Yes, yes: it is all about education.  Call it even sophistication.  As the everyday moviegoer would say, "I will not pay the price of a movie ticket to be challenged to think. I just want to be entertained."  There is validity in that too. And this is not a phenomenon that exists only in this country.  Count all the superhero movies and their various permutations, reincarnations and franchise to realize that movies as thrill rides and social anesthesia are very much the norm of the day.  People would rather flock to see Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow rather than to see his portrayal of a denizen of the underworld in Black Mass.  The worldwide audience would prefer spending their money on Suicide Squad rather than a thought provoking controversial film like Spotlight.  

There is nothing wrong with that either.  Movies as entertainment is good because this provides happiness --- and much needed escape to so many.  But films are equally important too.  To give the likes of Mendoza and Diaz ... as well as upstarts like Eduardo Roy, Jr. or Derrick Cabrido or Lawrence Fajardo or Jun Lana and a whole lot of young Filipino filmmakers a chance to be seen by their countrymen should not be an exercise in futility ... but a national necessity.  This is all about acknowledging that there are Filipino cinematic artists who have captured the national soul which we tend to take so much for granted.

Call it wishful thinking but one hopes that there will come a time that a Lav Diaz or Brilliante Mendoza movie can capture even thirty percent of the people who will flock to watch an Aldub movie or the latest cinematic adventures of Kathniel and Jadine.  Contrary to some shallow belief, cinema is not snobbish. It is not elitist.  It is not prejudiced to those with alleged taste or a false sense of superiority in education.  What is needed is to give people the chance to learn to appreciate these works ... so that we, as a nation of movie lovers ... can also have the opportunity to be enthralled by films.

In the meantime, Filipinos have a very good reason to celebrate.  

If Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal opened the doors, Diaz and Mendoza broke the ceiling.  From hereon in, there is the distance between earth and heaven for the young Filipino filmmakers to conquer. That is more than good reason to celebrate being who we are as the people of a great nation.

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