Monday, November 06, 2006

Thoughts on the Cinemanila opening

The 8th Cinemanila Internationa Film Festival, perhaps the best in the Philippines in terms of quality and diversity of films shown, is eagerly anticipated by local movie buffs like me every year. This is the festival where I caught Whale Rider and Dogville before they were shown in most of the rest of the world. That's a big thing when you live in a country that barely gets the good small international films on a wide release (though we usually get the really big ones ahead of many others). So as before, I was really excited about the opening of the Cinemanila. I didn't let the lack of promotion, the late update to the official website, or the general lack of buzz deter me from going to the first screening. I was especially delighted to discover that the opening film would be Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, one of my most anticipated films of the year. Good start, I thought. A lot of the Oscar-buzzed films that I'd have wanted to see were not in the slate of films, but at least this interesting film will open the festival.

The film was great (read my review), and it was a good thing that it was. Otherwise, my whole experience would have been terrible and I'd have shunned the festival altogether. The official opening of the festival started at 8 pm, when it was supposed to have started at 7 pm (that's a usual thing here, unfortunately). Then several people, including a limelight-hugging attention-desperate government official, made speeches. Said official gave one that lasted for no less than 10 minutes and kept on droning on with the same ideas over and over. When the festival director, Mr. Tikoy Aguiluz, finally proclaimed the official opening of the festival, I heaved a sigh of relief (as did most others there, I believe). I would finally get to see what I had come there to see, 1 1/2 hours after the supposed screening time!

But the organizers had another sneaky, annoying tactic up their sleeve. In the official bulletin, another opening film, the short Infancia en Las Islas de Filipina, Sin Fecha by Raya Martin, was supposed to be shown AFTER Science. Instead, they showed it before. Now, I actually wanted to see this short film, because film afficionados here were all abuzz regarding Martin's earlier silent film (Maicling pelicula nang ysang indio nacional). But for it to be forced upon us after 30 minutes of speeches... I was not in the mood to appreciate the film.

Did I like the Raya Martin short? No. Would I have liked it in any other circumstance? Maybe not. I like silent films a lot, so it's not the common aversion to soundless films that many people have. Period pieces are also a genre that I particularly like. But Infancia was nothing more than a well-meaning (maybe) but ultimately flat, dragging, and even pretentious cacophony of imagery. Granted, some of those images show Martin's much hyped talent and vision, but most others bordered on being gratuitous. The actors in the film range from terrible to amateurish, and that's not a good thing to have in a silent film, where emotions have to make up for the lack of sound. True, many of the silent films released as the silent film era was closing had more restrained performances (unlike those of many Expressionist pictures), but there's a difference between minimalist, restrained acting and simply lifeless acting. Martin's short had the latter.

I have not seen Indio Nacional, so this critique should not be taken as an attack on Martin's person or his craft in general. I would love to see it, if only to know whether Infancia was a misguided follow-up to a masterpiece or simply his second in a series of "artistic" films seeking attention from quality-hungry Filipino film buffs. I would be extremely disappointed if local critics start hailing Infancia as a revolutionary film, or one of stark vision. In these times when foreign film industries are invigorating themselves with fresh ideas truly unique to their respective cultures, we don't need one of these. Filming silent films these days is fine (some themes are even best brought to screen in this style), and of course the setting (Spanish colonial period) is a mine for rich ideas and potentially magnificent films. So abandon the pretentious artsy approach and give us something that we'll remember and cherish, something concrete and whole and powerful.

Am I making too big an issue out of this? Maybe. But I'm not the one who made it the opening film and forced it down our throats. If I had been Martin, I'd have been ashamed of the lengths to which certain people had gone just to have my film seen by the public.

1 comment:

anon said...

it takes courage to write what you did, particularly of an individual so praised.

sometimes i wonder if people truly like his films, or if people only say they do because that is what is exected.

i've never seen any of his films, by the way