Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pinoy Film Focus: Kinatay (2009)

(The Execution of P)

Director: Brillante Ma. Mendoza

Writer: Armando Lao

Cast: Coco Martin, Mercedes Cabral, Julio Diaz, Jhong Hilario, John Regala, Maria Isabel Lopez

Runtime: 105 minutes

Kinatay, the film that won Brillante Mendoza the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, can be (and has been) called many things: indulgent, violent, in need of trimming, to name only a few. But one thing that cannot be said of it is that it is senseless.

Peping (Coco Martin), a criminology student and recently married, accepts the invitation of Abyong (Jhong Hilario) to join him in assisting Kap (a police captain; Julio Diaz) in an unexplained operation. Drawn by the need for money and other benefits that would come along with getting on Kap's good side, he accepts. What Peping does not know until it it too late for him to turn back is that it involves a long journey out of Manila with a kidnapped prostitute/junkie (Maria Isabel Lopez), who in the name of vengeance guised as justice is brutally abused and ultimately butchered. Peping is shocked by what he is made to go through, and he does not seem to be able to recover by film's end. His eyes are glazed, expression dead, and we know that the experience will for a long time haunt him.

The protracted trip out of Manila may be slightly overlong, though it is effective in setting a dark, chilling mood that would permeate until the end. It is thus with a sort of morbid anticipation that the viewer, having been made familiar with the primary plot of the film (it is difficult to think of a casual viewer going into a screening of this controversial film without prior knowledge of that), awaits the scenes of butchering. Peping knows--or at least has an idea of--what is about to happen, and so do we. Ultimately, those who expect unbearable amounts of blood would be disappointed, as the much-hyped scenes are not nearly as monstrous as we have been led to believe, but the tension, the sense of waiting, never dissipate...for both Peping and the audience. This power of the film rests in the unfortunate fact that these things do happen in the Philippines. Whereas foreign journalists are quick to dismiss the film and its contents as gratuitous and senseless, it is all too real for us.

The film is not an easy one to watch (much like Lars von Trier's Antichrist, this film's competition in Cannes), but there are rewards to be had for the effort. Notwithstanding the raw strength of the message and the images used to convey them, Brillante Mendoza has given us a film that shows that Filipino films and their makers could go places where many have not dared to go. May this challenge and motivate them to do so soon.

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