Wednesday, August 29, 2007

wonder under water

From "Journey of Man," an aquatic acrobatic performed by the renowned Cirque du Soleil

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

my own private filmfest

TO SEE IS TO CELEBRATE. Here's the top 10 from my recent binge of DVD viewing:

JULES AND JIM. About loving and living like death is a joke, one can’t experience a more effervescent film than this one-of-a-kind menage-a-trois that’s also valentine to friendship and reading. Directed by Francois Truffaut, this ode-worthy adaptation from Henri-Pierre Roché’s novel is way up there in my all-time top 40 list of personal favorites (aside from another Truffaut wonder, “The 400 Blows”).

The film explores the 30-year friendship—from the bohemian pre-World War I Paris to its doomed aftermath--between a French writer and an Austrian biologist as well as the ensuing love triangle with Catherine (in a sensually enigmatic performance by Jeanne Moreau). A feather in the cap of the French New Wave, this film is celebratory as it captures the devil-may-care days of youth—with a bacchanalia of details—matched with the panache of its zooms, flash cuts, freeze frames, etc.--that deftly reflect the changes in the relationship up to the postwar years.

INTOLERANCE. “Quite the most marvelous thing which has been put on the screen,” pipes in a celluloid scholar.

Living up to D.W. Griffith’s epithet as the silent era's "king of the world," this is the epitome, indeed, of an epic. Staggering is the scope of its vision and its narrative ambition as Griffith interweaves a quartet of parallel stories set in different historical periods: the modern 1916 when a workers' strike was brewing up, Jerusalem circa Christ's crucifixion, 1572 when Paris stewed with Catholic persecution against the Protestant Huguenots, and ancient Babylon. It’s nothing short of miraculous how the four stories accelerate into a common ground in its climactic race against time to save an innocent young man from the gallows. Literally heavenly, too, is the visual epilogue—a swarm of angels floating over a battlefield—a hallucination of a wished-for world without fear, ignorance, hatred, intolerance.

No wonder, the prize-winning and most controversial film critic Pauline Kael raved about it outright as the “greatest movie ever made.”

TOKYO STORY. How does a bomb buried in one’s heart feel? Find out with this restraint but emotionally explosive cache of insight by Yasujiro Ozu. Into the booby-trapped terrain of parent-children relationship—with its architectonics of tenderness and ache—Ozu dwells and delivers his stylistic signature: shots of nature undercutting and overlapping the story, the “tatami” mat angle, the stillness of his shots, and his characters speaking directly into the camera (compelling the viewer into intimacy).

Simplicity is beauty. True enough, this film hooks the heartstring tight into the plight of an aging couple on the road from their rural village to visit their two married kids in the city. What follows wrenches the guts without the fluffs and frills of sentimentality through the quintessentially Japanese yet universal theme of generation gap. So much so that a character’s comment (“One cannot serve his parents from beyond the grave") resonates with the crack of a rock under the weight of a teardrop. One of my top all-time favorites, definitely.

STORY OF WOMEN. Morality is a matter best left for God’s infinite grace, but its complexity is what director Claude Chabrol mirrors with utter complexity and unflinching humanity—warts and all—in this cinematic coup.

Based on the last woman to be executed in France, a housewife guillotined for performing abortions and housing prostitutes in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, the film dares to see a side of war rarely depicted: the lives in the margins of battle, no less caught in the crossfire between good and evil.

Exquisite as always is Isabelle Huppert, declared Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for the layered and quilt-worthy quality of her characterization: at once sly and naïve, vulture-like and vulnerable.

COMEDY OF POWER. Probably one of the most fecund of filmic collaboration in world cinema (aside from Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, Mario O’Hara and Nora Aunor), Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert score once more in this political thriller.

Inspired by a real-life scandal involving a French business empire and several top-level politicians, this film is tongue-in-cheek with its timely and provocative account of corporate and political rot. Huppert packs a knockout performance as a feisty magistrate, called "the piranha" in the judiciary system for her almost ravenous appetite for white-collar criminals in high places even as her domestic life languishes in the shallows.

Zooming into a world darkened by the monstrosity of power with its spawn of threat and intimidation, Chabrol is also light-handed at squeezing out humor as privilege paves the way for shadowy characters to lose face and fumble into disgrace.

THE CIRCLE. Smuggled out of Iran for the Venice Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion Award for Best Film, this daredevil work by Jafar Panahi roars with rage against a claustrophobic political culture.

Despite the pall of repression and injustice that hangs over the chador of a chain of women burdened by their gender, Panahi casts a spell of compassion as he showcases the rage and resilience of each character, scraping for goodness and dignity while scurrying through streets like rats to evade arrest.

From the opening scene at a delivery room and final moment in the dungeon, Panahi’s camera bears witness to the wonder of each woman’s spunk in spite of their common nightmare.

MAMMA ROMA. Stirring a critical stew against post-war Italian society and peppering it with dollops of neorealism, Pier Paolo Pasolini demonstrates how cinematic art can pack artillery for his anti-Fascist ideology.

Outrage becomes this film with the fiery Anna Magnani in the lead role as a former whore struggling to steer away from her past for the sake of her estranged teenage son.
But a better life with her child and her petit bourgeois idealism haplessly goes against the grain of Pasolini's worldview, whittling her dreams to the dimension of a tragic opera.

Like most of Pasolini's films, Mamma Roma was grist for controversy, but it was nothing compared to the outcry over La Ricotta, a 35-minute short featuring Orson Welles included in this DVD. Seized and condemned "for insulting the religion of the state," La Ricotta is a subtle but droll thumb-down at the Catholic Church with its story of a director (Welles) filming the crucifixion of Christ in which the actor playing Jesus stuffs himself with ricotta cheese and dies from indigestion on the cross!

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS. From acclaimed director Peter Mullan comes an incendiary testimony to one of the great tragedies of our time: an unflinching account of life inside the Magdalene Laundry, one of the asylums for "wayward women" run by the Catholic Church in Ireland under the mercy, or the lack thereof, of sadistic nuns. Stripped of their dignity and condemned to indefinite sentences of manual labor in order to cleanse themselves of the "sins," the women have become outcasts of society and spurned by their families.

In the face of hell, Mullan’s camera—basking in the perspective of three young inmates—also lays bare and celebrates their indomitable will and defiance that pave the way for the closure of a repressive establishment. Righting a wrong is never a cliché in Mullan’s hand as this gripping film went on to garner the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

L’AVVENTURA. Hailed by many as Michelangelo Antonioni’s masterpiece, L’Avventura is veritably a voyage of discovery, not only for its characters but also for its viewers bracing for a film’s function as a moral mirror and a visual poem.

A milestone in motion-picture grammar, film scholars call it. What appears to be a search for a missing person in a rocky island is actually an exploration of spiritual alienation and an understated diatribe against the decadence of idle upper class and their superficial notions on love and happiness.

Symbolic resonance is what Antonioni luxuriates in this tale of a girl who mysteriously disappears on a yachting trip. While her lover and her best friend search for her, they begin an affair. Eschewing smooth plotting, Antonioni revels instead in the power of symbols and uncanny character development. Something that grows like second skin with each repeat viewing.

CAMILLE CLAUDEL. Obsession with art and its intimacy with insanity. Thus this riveting film renders the life of Camille Claudel, the prodigy-muse-lover of sculptor Auguste Rodin who later became her competitor en route to her fall from grace.

Isabelle Adjani is incandescent in the title role opposite the great Gerard Depardieu in this historically accurate depiction of one of the most important union in the history of modern art.
The film begins with Camille braving the winter and digging clay with bare fingers from a frozen ditch. In the end, with her being hauled to an asylum, the viewer is left asking regarding the cause of Claudel's madness. Was it genes, or her reaction against society's mores, or the product of Rodin's persecution? Or, as one exasperated family member reckons, was it "the madness of mud"?

(Next in my viewing list: L'Atalante, Twilight Samurai, A Streetcard Named Desire, The Remains of the Day, Hannah and Her Sisters, Coup de Tourchon, Face, Army of Shadows, After Life, and Lilies of the Field.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

on their feet

WHO SAYS INCARCERATION is a drudge? Not the dancing prisoners of Cebu who recently went out in the open with their terpsichorean skills and caught the world's eyes.

Beyond the crowd-pleasing choreography, my opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (August 14, 2007 issue) zooms in:

Rhythm and reason

Postcard-perfect beaches, sweet mangoes, online dating and porn sites, guitars, and singers. These may have placed Cebu in the international map, but certainly nothing more sensational and unprecedented as the upbeat video of its dancing prisoners.

Such a welcome, if not well-choreographed, respite from recurrent headlines about the arrhythmic showdown between Cebu’s governor and the city mayor. It may not shake the viewers of YouTube and the media across the borders, but a Gwen-Tom tango might yet clinched for Cebu the international renown as an island of happy feet.

Or else, locked in their long-drawn-out hostility as if they were each other’s zombie, they’d become prisoners forever of their mutual disgrace.

Digression aside, one can shake off the straitjacket of downbeat expectations. Or so proved the eurhythmic inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) now reportedly rehearsing to the tune of “Electric Dreams” for another crack at global spotlight.

A good turn, of course, deserves another. And so what more uplifting flight of fancy than the CPDRC jailbirds adding one more feather in their caps—pardon the pun—as a contingent for next year’s Sinulog mardi gras. Though this scenario looks like a security nightmare, wouldn’t that be a hoot for tourism to drum up international interest once again?

Beyond the hoopla, however, the recent popularity of the prisoners is a good time as any to look at their dance as a twinkle-toed prelude to deliverance. The very notion of rehabilitation, after all, presupposes the propitious idea of the incarcerated finally breaking out to a new and brighter day after facing the music of their transgressions or their outcast state. It’s about turning over a new leaf, yes.

No less spectacular than the stunts of Cirque du Soleil, certainly, would be the grace of a convict or the accused up on his feet for a whistle-worthy personal transformation.

Prison, despite its deprivations and utter desolation, can also pave the way for a wider inner world. Regarding the epiphany of empowerment, the book “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela” abounds with passages in which the political prisoners formed a “university” inside the Robben Island prison, where Mandela and his friends shared and primed themselves up with books by Tolstoy, etc. Read how they dance around embitterment as they found decency even in their cold-hearted jailers.

Then again, outside the walls of prison also looms a dead end. Where finding a new path and bending the back of an old and dark past can be as painstaking as limbo rock. Or, the dance of death. That’s what the ill-starred spirit of one ex-convict found out after he was gunned down by two masked men Sunday night in Barangay Tisa. (Police, according to the report, are still determining if the incident was the handiwork of vigilantes.)

How ready are we as a community to give reformed sinners a second chance?

If only making a new life were as tidy as learning a new dance step. “Without an effective support group and rehabilitation program in the community,” explains non-government organization (NGO) official, “offenders still run the risk of getting involved in crimes again.”

Civilization could be judged by the way it treated its prisoners, stated Winston Churchill. But it’s a sorry judgment on us when our society, with the orchestration of its prejudice and discrimination—out of the lack of imagination and faith—can only compel those seeking a new footing into our fold to dance, awkwardly and hapless ever after, alone.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

eros and psyche: for my wife-lover-best friend, arlaine

To celebrate the birthday (August 10th)of Arlaine J. Obenieta, here's a montage of Cupid and Psyche culled from various era of art to the tune of one of my favorite songs: Sting's "My One and Only Love."

to erase the stain of badness from their badges

IF THERE'S SOMEBODY in dire need to possess congeniality to inspire our confidence, it's none other than the police.

Here's a reprint of my recent opinion column in the op-ed page of Sun.Star Cebu (July 31, 2007):

Too true to be good

Perhaps we can love our law enforcers truly only if we’d have the hearts of their mothers.

Papa may preach, but “God sees us through our mothers' eyes,” as one philosopher once surmised. The milk of human kindness. Nothing else is more essential than this when cops are no less vulnerable than crybabies. Then again, those inclined to be cynical—as the police badge become something to weep for—would see nothing but crocodile tears.

Through rose-colored glasses, however, is the way Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Silverio Alarcio Jr. looks at the men and women under his wings. True to a poet’s vision of hope as something with feathers, Alarcio is reportedly in cloud nine, “happy to see an improvement in the PNP’s image” and “elated that the business sector has a better outlook on the organization.” Yes, despite the negative approval rating.

When one’s scraping the bottom, even morsels are manna enough. And so a -36 evaluation on the PNP’s sincerity in stamping out corruption can only be an improvement from its 2005 rating of -54.

Look who’s endowed with maternal instincts, and the top gun in Central Visayas would rather behold the future as fibers of glass stained with sunlight and rainbow. “In the next survey,” he says, “we will hopefully get a positive rating.”

That’s the story, that’s the glory of love mothers can hum along: “You've got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little.”
With such forecast worthy of a painter’s canvas, Alarcio and the rest of the rank and file had better reckon a reality check from Marc Chagall: “My mother's love for me was so great I have worked hard to justify it.”

By “being sincere on the job and in eradicating corrupt activities within the organization,” Alarcio is bullish about continuing their “transformation efforts.”

Which, if that would turn fantasy to fact, would be no less fabulous than Ovid’s tales of transformation wherein love is all it takes for a metamorphosis: a person or lesser deity becomes a stone, a flower, a tree, or a star.

An epic task of the imagination, what Alarcio is up to.
And, hopefully, Senior Insp. George Ylanan, the chief of Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (CIIB), and policewoman Jerybel Lerio can believe endings of legends and fairy tales do come true.

Meanwhile, not even their mothers’ lullabies are enough to shush both Ylanan and Lerio after lawyer Alex Tolentino deems police integrity no better than bugaboo to scare children into slumber.

Beware of the monster called “Mamlantiray.” That’s someone who plant evidence on suspects, thus begins Tolentino’s tale after he, in defense of two drug suspects, allegedly badmouthed Lerio. “The credibility of our office is at stake here,” cried Ylanan, who could have been more emphatic if he muttered: “Mother, mother, I am sick…”

Monday, August 06, 2007

it takes eight to tag

MY PILLOW MAY be too hard for your head, but you can call me anything but a wet blanket. So it's as good as tickle when I got tagged by Isolde Amante.

Here are the rules for “8 facts”:

• In the 8 facts about [name], you share 8 things that your readers don’t know about you. At the end, you tag 8 other bloggers to keep the fun going. Each blogger must post these rules first.

• Each blogger starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

• At the end of the post, a blogger needs to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

• Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
So, take it or leave it:

Fact 1: My original birth certificate carried a mythic name--Hector--but my mother said I was sickly and blamed it all on that name. And so when I was baptized a month later, she took her cue from the daredevil portrait of an archangel in our altar. I have never been hospitalized ever since, thank God and my guardian namesake. Then again, the protracted state of non-existence about a certain Michael Obenieta in the files of the national census was like a sick joke. It was only last year, 38 years after birth, that I set the record at the NSO straight and became legit.

Fact 2: I sold newspapers during my elementary days because I envied my best friend and classmate--the late Gerry Almin--whose pockets were always full from his earnings as a newsboy. Of course, I read the papers first before I hawked them out in the streets, shouting again and again short of Eureka: "Bulletin, Journal, Express..."

Fact 3: As a reader, I'm obsessed about closures and continuities, and so I can't and won't read a book without first reading the last page. As a writer, I find the article "the" too imposing if not taking itself too seriously, thus I advertently avoid beginning my sentences with such as much as I can.

Fact 4: I have a life-long crush on Nora Aunor since I gawked at her way back in the 70s in the anthology "Makulay na Daigdig ni Nora" and the Sunday variety show "Superstar." My love affair with the movies started from my fondness for her films, the best of which have become hallmarks in Philippine cinema. From her humble beginnings, she amazes me with her larger-than-life gifts no less than her iconic persona, nothing short of phenomenal in Filipino culture, as well as her survivor's spunk. And I've been getting the hang of my friends' jokes since I cross my Noranian heart.

Fact 5: When going to funeral parlors, I always have the urge to take a peek at the faces under the coffin glass and often wonders if they're not yawning or rolling their eyeballs while we're not looking.

Fact 6: Among my fantasies, nothing's more recurrent than singing like Sting, James Brown, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Crawford, Jamie Cullum, and Yoyoy Villame. Poor me, reality check started early: I was eight when my mother, nudged by our neighbor next door, accompanied me to an audition for an amateur singing contest sponsored by Darigold (a brand of milk now extinct). Among the wannabes, my name was called first and I just stood there in the middle, petrified by the first guitar strain of "Bato sa Buhangin," my mouth gaping wide as I groped for the lyrics and wondered how my tongue turned into stone.

Fact 7: My dream jobs: film reviewer (I'd give an arm if I could write like Pauline Kael, Noel Vera, and Richard Corliss), carpenter (God knows I'd only end up hammering my head on the nail, but it's nothing short of miraculous that I actually earned my first 35 dollars here in America after five-hours toil as a carpenter's assistant, ha ha!), gardener (because I don't have a green thumb and the secret life of flowers and weeds fascinates me), librarian (because it's erotic to be privy to all that body of knowledge), lighthouse keeper (ah, solitude and the horizon), psychiatrist (because what's cooler than getting paid by those who are not sane enough to presume that I knew better?) and police detective (because nothing's more life-affirming than the hunt and the cloak-and-dagger thrill of it all.) Talking of the last dream job, I actually took year's worth of Criminology in college and dropped after realizing that my instructors were teaching me no more than how to scratch my head and have a big tummy.

Fact 8: Preemptive measures suits me perfect, as when a lady agreed to go out on a dinner date with me and before we could eat, I proposed marriage to her even before I formally made it known that I'm courting her. To prove that I was not joking, I later asked the lounge singer to dedicate the Beatles' "I Will" for her, and I had to go to the toilet when the singer started mentioning her name in the prelude. Lest she had the urge to slap me, I stayed in the toilet throughout the duration of the song. What's next? Well, she has been my wife and the mother of our two children. But up to now, she's still convinced there was potion in her plate.

Enough said. Gotta move on, and pass the tagged ball to these 8 bloggers: John Biton, Jeremiah Bondoc, Januar Yap, Niza Mariñas, Marlen Limpag, Lorenzo Niñal, Cathy Perez and Noel Villaflor.

Saturday, August 04, 2007