Erik Matti makes the most good-looking Filipino sex films. But they just don't make sense - scriptwise! Prosti (Prostitute) takes a good subject and spends more time on how the bodies look instead of making the story believable. Noel Vera grinds his teeth.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Erik Matti has directed a number of films (Scorpio Nights 2, Ekis (Crossed), Dos Ekis (Double-Crossed)) that he’d written himself, and the results were - well, let’s just say they were less than satisfactory.

He’d have noir storylines (teacher involved with student in Scorpio 2; kidnap gang collecting ransom in Ekis; two lovers on the run in Dos Ekis), in the most outlandish settings (a school dorm a la Federico Fellini in Scorpio 2; apartments behind a movie screen in Dos Ekis). He would throw in grotesque plot developments (professor dressed in drag, raping his student in Scorpio 2; dead body in a trunk in Ekis; sadistic torture of heroine in Dos Ekis) that might have been perversely entertaining, only you’re too insulted by the nonsensical plots to enjoy yourself, however perversely.

This time Matti has decided to work with another writer, Roy Iglesias, and for the first hour at least, the difference shows. Fresh, pretty-faced Ditas (Aubrey Miles) goes to college in the big city, driven by Nonoy, a tricycle driver in cool shades (Jay Manalo). Driving down crowded streets, we get Jay’s cynical point of view via voiceover, which goes something like: "pussy... all that pussy... if pussies worked hard to earn money, they would make millions... the Philippines will be saved by hard-working pussy..." Nonoy is actually a pimp, and he’s driving his whore to her casa (whorehouse) to meet the boss, "Mama" Xedes (Racquel Villavicencio).

We get to know the people in the "casa," and we watch some fairly funny vignettes involving a necrophiliac, a man who wants his own pair of breasts, another with unbearably smelly feet, so on and so forth. "Mama" Xedes’s is a professionally-run operation - almost unbelievably so: there’s actually a health program going on, as the girls wait in the casa’s porch to submit their urine specimens to a visiting doctor (most prostitutes, I imagine, would go to free clinics). At one point, "Mama" Xedes asks a girl about to get married to "please don’t leave until we find a substitute." Employees come and go, but the work must go on, uninterrupted.

The film runs into trouble about the time the conflict starts: Nonoy falls in love with Ditas, a development "Mama" Xedes has expressly forbidden, time and time again. Why? "Because it’s unlucky," she explains. Granted, falling in love is inconvenient and unprofessional (and hers is a really smooth-running operation, with only an occasional police raid to interrupt the workflow): why is she so adamantly against it?

It’s an age-old convention; it’s how some whores become whores - the pimp courts them, makes love to them, introduces them to his "friends." "Unlucky" is an okay reason, but it doesn’t have any urgency to it - certainly not enough to pin the conflict of an entire movie on. Iglesias’s script, unfortunately, never satisfactorily settles the matter, leaving the question, the conflict, and the entire movie hanging in mid-air.

The movie never recovers from its misstep; earlier it had nothing to prove and no story to follow, so the one-thing-after-another flow of funny anecdotes worked just fine. Now that there’s a premise (a pimp and whore who fall in love when they shouldn’t), Matti has to work up the necessary lather, and the movie’s more than half-over; he has to build to an intense climax in some 20 minutes.

What should be operatic tragedy comes off more as fast-forward comedy: "Mama" Xedes suddenly has to play villainess, and it doesn’t fit what we previously knew about her nurturing nature. Nonoy has to storm up the stairs, storm off, storm back, ask forgiveness, and basically go berserk for no particularly sensible reason. Ditas - well, Ditas doesn’t really do much of anything, except have sex. She copulates with Nonoy in a closet, then in his tricycle; you wonder why she doesn’t fall out the closet door (most closets I know don’t lock from inside), or tricycle (she leans against a plastic tarp that shouldn’t hold her for a second, conveniently ignoring a nearby handlebar).

It’s a disappointing development, and with all the shrieking hysterics amidst the strikingly lit alleyways and rain-shower effects, unbidden thoughts come to your mind like: Ditas works in a casa and has a pimp? Pimps are a street prostitute’s agent; they search for likely customers, haggle over price, and bring them over for servicing. A casa prostitute depends on walk-in customers; she doesn’t need a pimp (if a casa prostitute went out to solicit, she’d be moonlighting - and probably encroaching on some street whore’s territory).

We see Nonoy waiting around in the casa’s porch (that porch has got to be the town’s social center), and delivering her to various high-powered customers, in which case he’s probably not her pimp but the casa’s bouncer and courier. Did anyone actually do any research for this movie?

Jay Manalo’s Nonoy is intensely played, but he seems incapable of coherent thinking or decision-making - a prime example of a man with gonads for brains. Which is fine - intelligence in a character is not a prerequisite - as long as the movie recognizes his stupidity and uses it, perhaps satirically, but no: Nonoy is seen as tragic (he’s not just an idiot, he’s a tragic idiot). Aubrey Miles’s Ditas, aside from not doing much, does the little she does without much talent; her coyly displayed nipples are her entire performance. Ditas’s sister prostitutes - Hazel Espinosa and Pinky Amador come to mind - are a lively, funny bunch that help keep the first hour entertaining, but are largely forgotten in the last half-hour, which kills the movie.

As "Mama" Xedes, Racquel Villavicencio (who seems to be channeling someone, I just can’t say who), has languor and mystery and a fantastically sensual low-pitched purr that outclasses every hooker in the picture, including Miles (she shouldn’t be a madam; she should be commanding the highest prices). It’s almost criminal of Matti to hobble her performance with a Captain Hook eyepatch, then give her a character that barely makes sense, on paper or on the big screen.

Villavicencio is actually more than just a character actor, she’s a formidable scriptwriter who’s worked with Mike de Leon (Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (Worried?), Kisapmata (Blink Of An Eye), Batch ’81)) and Laurice Guillen (Init sa Magdamag (Midnight Passion)). Why didn’t Matti ask her to write the script for the film, or at least look it over for problems, or at the very least ask for her advice about character motivation and plot development? It’s not as if Villavicencio is a stranger to or disapproves of sexuality in movies - Init is one of the most erotic films in Philippine cinema. She would have been the perfect choice to write Prosti, only Matti isn’t exactly known for making sensible, coherent choices, much less sensible, coherent movies.

Note: Businessworld, October 4, 2002. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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