Sunday ∗ 11 Apr 2010

When Indie Fails

a version of this was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 7 2010.

There are many things to say about the movie Red Shoes (directed by Raul Jorolan, written by James Ladioray), but it’s definitely not that it’s the year’s first best movie. Because this is nowhere near as good as Unitel Pictures’ other films (Inang Yaya, Pinoy Blonde, La Visa Loca, Crying Ladies), and nowhere close to being great at anything. In fact, to a certain extent, it is no better than the commercial romance movies that our film production outfits churn out. To a certain extent, we are reminded that a good premise is not what a good movie makes, nor is it in the mere fact of using the label indie, i.e., independent film.

In truth, the only thing Red Shoes ends up becoming is a montage of various stories that are not well woven together into the narrative that it makes its main protagonist, Lucas (Marvin Agustin), tell. But this is getting ahead of the story, or in Red Shoes’ case, ahead of the many stories here.

One of which is the story of Bettina (Nikki Gil). The rich girl, is a nurse by profession, who has the dream of elsewhere as possibility, the death of her activist brother during Marcos’ martial law and her matapobre mother as context. She is childhood sweetheart to working class boy Lucas, but she is oblivious to the latter’s struggle with their class difference. Her class violence against him is only apparent in her dislike of his white rubber shoes, and her insistence on spending her money on him.

There is the story of Lucas’ mother (Liza Lorena), who seeks closure to her husband’s death in the ill-fated construction of the Manila Film Center of Imelda Marcos’ the true, good and beautiful dreams, by talking to every other ispiritista. She makes a living out of giving women pedicures, that which creates her relationship with Bettina’s mother (Techie Agbayani), that which allows for the romance of Bettina and Lucas to happen.

These two women’ stories are told by Lucas, along with the shorter less important stories of Bettina’s nurse-colleague (Iwa Moto), her mother, and the ispiritista turned Imelda impersonator (Tessie Tomas). Lucas is the one who tells the story because as a 10-year-old boy, he steals a pair of red shoes from Imelda Marcos’ collection left behind and ripe for the picking during the 1986 EDSA Revolution celebrations in Malacañang.

As a boy, Lucas gives one shoe to Bettina, she who mourns her brother’s death, and his mother, she who looks for answers to her husband’s death.

Failure in storytelling

These premises seem wonderful enough, if not perfect for a lot of sad laughter, the kind that the combo of love and death necessarily bring. But this isn’t the way the story unfolds, and while there was a lot of laughter, it wasn’t the kind that the movie could’ve imagined from an audience. For example, the Bettina-Lucas confrontation about Lucas’ infidelity was nothing but campy, with lines that are reminiscent of those 80s Regal Films. When Lucas throws Bettina’s class origins in her face, he says, “Sabi ko na nga ba, nakatungtong ka sa marmol!” Bettina gets back at him by saying, “At nakatungtong ka sa’kin!” It was difficult not to roll over in laughter.

But more than this kind of failure in script (and there were plenty here, try the use of English), there was a failure in storytelling. Lucas had too many individual stories to tell here, and the sad thing is this wouldn’t even be a problem had Red Shoes been told chronologically, or had it been told from one space and time within which Lucas’ and all the other character’s stories become clear. Instead, it employs the use of the flashback and, well, overuses it.

Case in point: Lucas’ story begins with his current girlfriend, and begins to flashback to his relationship with Bettina, which required that he flashback to his childhood, which required that he tell the story of his father and Bettina’s brother, and then he’s go back to a present with Bettina, when in fact the real present was his breaking up with current girlfriend, but the real present becomes his and Bettina’s putting a real close to their relationship, and his mother finding out about his father, and Lucas throwing the red shoes into the sea, with tears and all.

Great acting, weak characters

As confusing as this story unfolded, as ambiguous were the characters’ motivations and evolutions, and this had nothing to do with the acting. Through to the end of the movie, it remained unclear why Lucas’ mother couldn’t accept the death of her husband, how Bettina’s kindness could be reconciled with the evils of her class, why Bettina’s mother was angry, what the point was of the isipirita turned Imeldific. While Lucas’ character might have been the most evolved here, it wasn’t clear either where his anger was coming from and how so much could depend on those red shoes.

And when it ends with Betinna’s hot pink stilettos walking away at the airport, and Lucas choosing a new pair of shoes at a store, there was this question: was this simply about how shoes talk about our personalities and the changes we go through? But then this for a final scene: a young boy swims to get one red shoe floating near the shore, and gives it to his lola who is happy because she’s an amputee and only has one foot. This isn’t about personality; it’s about disability. This was everything and politically incorrect.

Maybe as with much of the movie, this was just proof that not everything sold as indie is great, and that sometimes, the simplest of love stories can be told just as simply. And the more complex ones? Need to be told without escaping into an abyss of flashbacks.

Posted in: kultura, pelikula, review

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