Thursday ∗ 29 Dec 2016

The septic tank as critique

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2 #ForeverIsNotEnough is probably the most fun I’ve had in a local film since … well, the first Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank.

It’s not that I do not find commercialized comedies funny — the ones that fall back on formula, the hilarious banter of every Vice Ganda movie character, even Sosy Problems from so many MMFFs agoBut there is a layer of intelligence that ABSST demands of itself, an ability at self-reflexivity that it demands of its audience, but also a sense of the archetypes and stereotypes that we inevitably create in the course of unthinkingly insisting on what is “new” and “different.”

Where the original ABSST was a hilarious how-to in making an award-winning independent film that shone a light on the predisposition towards poverty porn — the better to win awards with! — bringing it to its most absurd conclusions, this sequel focuses on the making of a realistic film about love and its undoing, and discusses the tropes not just of the formulaic romance film, but even the anti-romantic notions of independent filmmaking.

The effect was of course funny, not just because it pokes fun at the making of local film as we know it (if we watch local films at all), but also because it is premised on Eugene Domingo, credible actress with her own audience, playing a fictionalized version of herself who had taken a sabbatical from filmmaking and was now staging a comeback given the new film written for her (and Joel Torre) by the same director who had given her “Walang Wala” — the film that was being made throughout ABSST 1.

septic1

This time though, the film “Itinerary” is also premised on the personal: the writer-director’s marriage is in shambles, and this was the couple’s story. Domingo, with her slew of suggestions for making the film “better,” does not care. Neither does she care for the refusal to use tropes and clichés, questioning the need for realism when so many watch films for escapism, highlighting the need to bring audiences into the cinema, effectively putting into question notions of what is real versus what is fictional, the sad versus the happy endings, the absurdity of hugots (levels 1 to 3), and the audiences’ ability to make the distinction between real and pampelikula, romantic montages running through open fields, sunset kissing scenes, and damn good looking leading men, included.

All of this happens in one space: an exclusive resort spa where Domingo treats the film crew of three, and in the course of a series of spa treatments that supposedly cleanses the body of toxins and stress, the original film is also slowly “cleansed” of all its realistic baggage, the sadness and silences that stand for the breakdown of a marriage. Given all that Domingo wants, what she feels will be different and new and unique, and which will feed the fantasies of the public, alongside her own delusions about her youth(fulness), the film is decimated and made into something more palatable, and necessarily unreal.

septic2

While the spa is the main set, it is in the imagination of the film’s making and transformation that much of the action happens:  it is here that you have Joel Torre and Jericho Rosales inhabiting the same role, it is here that Domingo’s suggestions are revealed to be absolutely ridiculous. These scenes are funny though not just because these point to the fakery of the formulaic, but also because these are exaggerations of the imagination as framed by Domingo herself to be “what the audience needs to see.”

That this last line sounds like a press release for MMFF is of course worth noting: undoubtedly this is a film that is pointing a finger at the whole enterprise of holding a filmfest such as this one, questioning the many presumptions its organizers have mouthed about the audience, and highlighting the fact that even “quality” and “independent,” “better” and “new” now mean formula and cliché.

In many ways, given its discussion of films and filmmaking, Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2 is a veritable up yours to the filmfest itself, and is probably the closest to a revolt here — no thanks to the MMFF.

Postscript: Written by Chris Martinez and directed by Marlon Rivera, this was the most clean, most succinct, most careful storytelling there was across the eight films of the MMFF. It is sad that in terms of writing it has been overshadowed by the ones that have generated more noise like Die Beautiful and Seklusyon. One can only wonder why. ***

Photos screen-capped by this page.

Posted in: arts and culture, kultura, pelikula, produkto, review

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