ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
the title of which was taken from a Filipino dance, is the latest
from Chito Rono and Ricky Lee. Lee
is one of the best writers weve got, he wrote some of Ishmael
Bernals best works, Himala (Miracle) and Relasyon
(Relation); Rono is the rare Filipino filmmaker who, with films
like Private Show and Eskapo (Escape), displays a genuine style.
is neither Lee nor Rono at their best and I dont think
any amount of reediting is going to save it. The film is full of
disjointed sequences, heavy symbolism and endless philosophical
discussions. And even after a second viewing I still cant
understand what the 1986 EDSA revolution against then President
Ferdinand Marcos, and the various coups against his successor, Corazon
Aquino, have to do with the story - does Curacha (Rosanna Roces)
and her adventures stand for "Inang Bayan" (Mother
Country)? Does her first name - Corazon - link her with President
Aquino, possibly the most naïve woman in Philippine politics?
There are questionable
details: a beauty contest for children is conducted in the middle
of a revolution; nightclub shows and whorehouses continue to operate
despite the violence outside; and all hospitals are drastically
underlit (the better, I presume, to achieve a film noir atmosphere).
The various coup detats are staged with varying degrees
of inauthenticity; even the dirt smeared on the faces of the homeless
people look like applied makeup.
Granted a lot
of this can be forgiven by saying this is a stylized film, a nonrealistic,
nonlinear film. But a film stylized or not should have a central
performance that will hold the pieces together, that will give the
monstrous hybrid (cobbled from films by Federico Fellini, Ishmael
Bernal, Luis Bunuel) life. Rosanna Roces, a veteran of numerous
cheap sex flicks, might have provided the bitter wit and energy;
but as directed by Rono, she turns in a limp-wristed performance.
I run into people asking if the
movie is any good, they brush aside
my comments that its slow and
doesnt really go anywhere and ask:
"Does Roces really show her boobs?"
funny dialogue. When the film begins, Roces wakes up and says: "My
breasts are like Ermita; my vagina, Quezon Avenue." His concept
of Curacha is of someone whos seen everything and done everything
- whos bored to death with life. Unfortunately, Roces is too
convincing: she talks in a flat monotone and rarely cracks her face
more than a millimeter throughout.
She has brought
Lees concept to its logical conclusion: if shes seen
and done everything, why go on with life? (Why, if you carry this
one step further, bother finishing the movie?) Curacha is too exhausted,
too passive, too dull a character to carry what feels like a two-hour-plus
performance suffers even more when she is put side-by-side with
the real thing, talentwise - as she pops pills into her mouth, Myrna
(Jacklyn Jose) appears. It isnt clear whether Joses
character is real or a figment of Curachas drugged imagination
(if Curacha saves Myrna by putting her in a boat, is she just saving
some figment of her imagination?), but lets set that flaw
aside (we only have so much space).
character is markedly similar to Rocess - the same suicidal
tendencies, the same need for escape through drugs (Roces at one
point admits it was Jose who introduced her to pill-popping), the
same cynical view of life. But Jose pulls it off - what is dull
and contrived when Roces plays it feels real in Joses hands.
(Jose, it goes without saying, is a terrific actress; she was good
in Ronos earlier Private Show and in Lino Brockas Macho
Roces, a veteran of numerous
cheap sex flicks, might have provided
the bitter wit and energy; but as
directed by Chito Rono, she turns
in a limp-wristed performance.
directions literally and, as a result, literally saps herself of
energy. Jose realizes, through sheer imagination, the crucial difference
- that a character with a death wish isnt necessarily lifeless
- she is passionately, wholeheartedly in love with death. This passion
informs her entire performance; it gives her a special glow that
outshines everyone around her, including the star.
But Lee and
Rono shouldnt be concerned with any of this; Curacha is
shaping up to be an enormous hit. When I run into people asking
if the movie is any good, they brush aside my comments that its
slow and doesnt really go anywhere and ask: "Does Roces
really show her boobs?" "Yes," I say, facing the
boob before me, "one on each side."
Lee and Rono
should, however, expect a less forgiving attitude from people who
want some drama, some reasonable semblance of a story and/or characters,
some pathetic excuse to sit down and watch the movie. The films
final scene takes a page out of Ishmael Bernals great Manila
By Night and closes with a sunrise on Luneta Park. However, it tries
to do one better than Bernal. A sampaguita vendor tries to
sell Curacha some flowers; she gives the girl a thick wad of hundred-peso
bills and asks: "How old do you think I am?"
the girl replies.
good at counting," she tells the girl, and swallows a fatal
dose of narcotics. The people about the park (Curacha included)
come together to stand before the flagpole and sing the national
anthem. When they finish, she collapses and dies; they ignore her
corpse (!) and walk away, leaving the park attendants behind, appropriately,
to sweep away the trash.
May 29, 1998.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.