ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
innocence... people misunderstand my intense regard for Carlitos Siguion-Reynas
films. I dont think theyre bad films exactly, and my reviews
arent really attacks on their artistic qualities per se. To
be honest, Ive actually grown to enjoy every new Siguion-Reyna
film, and the latest, Kahapon May Dalawang Bata (Yesterday
Children being the grammatically doubtful translation), is no exception.
like Pedro Almodovar or John Waters earn critical praise for their
shockingly bad taste and outrageous comedy, but Almodovar and Waters
are fully aware of what theyre doing; they revel in bad taste
and outrage. Carlitos Siguion-Reyna belongs to a purer breed altogether:
think of Edward Wood, Jr., the famous B-movie director of films
like Bride Of The Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Woods
films are enjoyable because theyre obviously labors of love;
at the same time, theyre excruciatingly bad films. The punchline
is that Wood himself never had a clue to his true status as a filmmaker;
he thought he was destined for artistic immortality and he was right,
though not about the artistic part.
is a Wood with real talent; he has huge resources at his disposal,
and he wields them with the confidence of a real master. He knows
how to tell his story in visual terms. I remember a shot in Hihintayin
Kita Sa Langit (Ill Wait For You In Heaven) where Richard
Gomez held the dying Dawn Zulueta in his arms, and a panoramic landscape
unfolded below them - a deep-focus shot straight out of Orson Welless
Lady From Shanghai.
tells his stories visually,
but what stories! TheyÕre usually
melodramatic and overwrought,
with no basis in reality whatsoever...
the plot is just a flimsy excuse:
the film is really about wonderful
production values and amazing
technical wizardry in the service
of a sensibility thatÕs flown way past
any cuckooÕs nest.
this busy scene in Misis Mo, Misis Ko (Your Wife, My Wife)
where Edu Manzano was seducing Dina Bonnevie in the background while
Ricky Davao was attempting to do the same to Jackie Lou Blanco in
the foreground - a scene that could have come from Citizen Kane.
I wouldnt be surprised if Siguion-Reyna deliberately quotes
from Welles; he comes from New York University, and Welles is as
basic to film school as film is to a camera. I wouldnt be
surprised if he also quotes from Gerry De Leon; De Leon has shots
in his films that are positively Wellesian, particularly the deep-focus
ones, and Siguion-Reyna has surely seen his share of De Leon.
tells his stories visually, but what stories! Theyre usually
melodramatic and overwrought, with no basis in reality whatsoever.
Bibeth Orteza (the filmmakers wife) writes most of the scripts
and should share in the blame, but ultimately (if you subscribe
to the auteur theory) the fault lies with Siguion-Reyna. He seems
to lack judgment - the first requirement for a great filmmaker -
or at least a sense of proportion. He apparently cant tell
when a script has left solid ground and floated off into the Twilight
Zone, so he floats off after it.
May Dalawang Bata is a case in point. Its about two virgins
(Ara Mina and Jennifer Sevilla) being eyed by cultists (Ray Ventura
and Pen Medina) as possible sexual sacrifices to the gods for rain,
to relieve the extreme drought (thats right, blame it all
on El Nino). But the plot is just a flimsy excuse: the film is really
about wonderful production values and amazing technical wizardry
in the service of a sensibility thats flown way past any cuckoos
nest. The film is set in a small town, and every location in the
town (Pagudpud, in Ilocos - Siguion-Reynas traditional shooting
ground) - is so breathtakingly beautiful its unreal; its
almost as if he was filming promotional footage for the Department
lighting and staging only aggravate the sense of artificiality:
at one point he has Ara Mina whirling through a field at night,
a white cloth twirling about her body. The field is as brilliantly
lit as a Monday night football game on ESPN; the cloth Mina twirls
about her (unbelievably voluptuous) body is so pure and white she
could have pulled it out of a washing machine standing just out
of camera range. She might be doing an R-rated ad for Mr. Clean.
is stylized, with kilometric lines; everyone sounds like they took
a masters course in Filipino Language and, at the same time,
suffered from massive logorrhea. At one point my partner leaned
over and asked: "Does anyone really talk like that?" "Only
in his movies," I answered. He went on to note that the sound
recording is incredibly crisp and clean. "They probably dont
want you to miss a word," I said.
film ends in the classic
Siguion-Reyna manner - a manner
like no other filmmaker on Earth. Gutierrez as the town priest faces
congregation and asks for forgiveness,
particularly from Ara Mina, with whom
he has had a torrid love affair.
Mina tearfully starts singing "Ama Namin," and soon the whole congregation
Suddenly it starts to rain...
The cast is
talented, with actors like Medina, Ventura, Sevilla, Eva Darren
(as Minas mother), Tonton Gutierrez (as the town priest opposing
the cultists) and Carlos Aquino (as Minas cousin) all managing
to speak their lines with a straight face. Of the actors, Aquino
comes off best; I note this for the record because as far as I can
recall, the only other actor to survive the Siguion-Reyna treatment
with his dignity (largely) intact was Ricky Davao in Ang Lalaki
Sa Buhay Ni Selya (The Man In Her Life).
Even an actress
as good as Maricel Soriano went down in flames in Abot Kamay
Ang Pangarap (Elenas Redemption) where she was raped,
spat on, slapped, inflicted with both amnesia and a miscarriage
- all in the first five minutes of the film. Davao and Aquinos
performances are on a markedly lower key - I cant decide if
its because they played them that way or if its because
Orteza and Siguion-Reyna couldnt think of more outrageous
things for them to do. Apparently, it takes more than talent to
give a good performance in Siguion-Reynas movies, it also
takes a bit of luck.
The film ends
in the classic Siguion-Reyna manner - a manner like no other filmmaker
on Earth. Gutierrez as the town priest faces his congregation and
asks for forgiveness, particularly from Ara Mina, with whom he has
had a torrid love affair. Mina tearfully starts singing "Ama
Namin," and soon the whole congregation joins in. Its
a direct rip-off of the ending in Priest, where another priest was
also in tears, another girl was forgiving him, and another popular
song ("Youll Never Walk Alone") played loudly in
the background (extra points to Siguion-Reyna, though, for the guts
to use the Lords Prayer). Suddenly it starts to rain - which
recalls the ending of Leap Of Faith, where another holy man ended
a drought with another genuine miracle. Kahapons climax recalls
the climaxes of so many other movies your head may spin; theres
even a point when Gutierrez starts to tear off his priestly robes,
and the film threatens to turn into the finale of The Full Monty.
I know Ive
just given away the ending, but reading about it on the printed
page is one thing; seeing it onscreen - with whirling camera, innovative
staging, expert editing, and crisply clear sound recording to catch
every syllable of "Ama Namin" - is another thing
entirely. I recommend the film highly, though I do think that -
for a more complete experience - the management should sell overripe
tomatoes at the theater door.
March 5, 1999.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.