Director: Gamazon/dela LlanaReview
the plot follows a muslim filipino-american man who has returned home after his father’s death. shortly after arriving a cell phone, which has been placed in his backpack, rings and he is led by the voice on the line through a series of errands throughout the phillipine city Cavite. it is later revealed that everything is essentially leading up to a bombing which he must carry out or else his mother and sister will die.
it reminded me somewhat of “mysterious object at noon” in that the best thing about it may have been the documenting of the setting, rather than the plot and characters. so, one might say that strapping a camera to a dog’s back and letting it roam around the Philippines for 80 minutes would have had the same effect. more or less. we see the deplorable conditions of the people – people pissing in the street, naked children living amongst trash, pollution, etc. these things are known to anyone who cares to read, watch documentaries, or pay attention. so what’s the point?
the film also reminded me of films like se7en, phone booth, or many other films where a character is led by some insane person through a series of tasks. in most films, though, the end achieves some climax – a statement, an explosion, a death, a triumph, a defeat, a resolution, something. this film had none of that. the fruits of his journey don’t materialize. the purpose of his mission is never made explicitly clear. we know basically who is leading him on this wild goose chase and we sorta know why, but none of it is all that satisfying. the mission doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense either. why a church? why does the terrorist want the protagonist to live? why does he promise to let his family live? these things seem contrary to the terrorist’s own self-preservation. no witnesses, after all, is always preferable. perhaps that’s the point, i’m not certain. we get that it’s about terrorism and the protagonist’s denial of his homeland, but what is the point of this? after all, it is true that the filmmaker, who plays the protagonist, hadn’t even been to the Philippines since he was 9. if he’s trying to make a statement about people running away from their problems, wouldn’t this make him a hypocrite? if this isn’t part of the film’s message then why all the red herrings?
in the commentary the filmmakers focused primarily on the struggle to get the film promoted, as well as filipino response to the film. they stated that the younger generation was glad to see the film portray the Philippines accurately and the older generation took it as an affront to their country. the filmmakers, from what i heard (i skipped around the commentary for about 15 minutes), didn’t address the actual purpose or thesis of the film. they did mention that they received positive praise from some muslims who thanked them for portraying muslims more accurately than is seen in many films. overall i think the film is supposed to be an indie-thriller take on munich. a film that is supposed to help convey the sentiments of the minority side. the terrorist orchestrating the whole thing mentions that he is from mindanao, which is a highly muslim area of the country. i think that it’s all a reference to the violence that has occurred in that region and the tensions of the muslims (5% of the population) and…the rest of the country? the catholics (81% of the country)? i don’t know enough to say. if the film’s major purpose is to convey the point of view of the muslim terrorists it didn’t do a very good job. if it’s to justify their actions because of the poor living conditions, it did an even worse job. if it’s to depict the poor living conditions as the backdrop of an indie take on a hollywood thriller (i heard the filmmakers reference two films in the commentary, both were hollywood thriller/dramas), then it did a bad and dishonest job. in their commentary they say that they didn’t do anything to the images that they filmed in the city of cavite and let the images speak for themselves. there are a couple problems with that. first, they showed cavite, but only parts of it. we don’t know what they left out, so we can’t say that their depiction was completely indicative of the city. secondly, cavite isn’t one of the larger cities in the country and probably isn’t all that indicative of the majority of the population.
all these things, though, distract from the essence of the film. i don’t know why they didn’t talk about that in the commentary (so far as i could tell). the essence of my issue with the film is in its method. there are a lot of ways of getting across an idea, a lot of different symbols, perspectives, parables that can be employed. it didn’t seem to me that the conceit was well-suited to what i perceived their message to be. that is, the story device of a man being led by a faceless (sorta) villain didn’t seem to make sense for the any of the purposes that i can think of. a mess of a film. watch it if you want to try to make sense of it.
visually and stylistically it’s basically the same as open water or the blair witch project; more the former. in other words, it’s effective in getting across a gritty realism.