Monday, September 10, 2007

May Lalaki sa Ilalim ng Kama Ko ("There's a man under my bed," Fely Crisostomo, 1978)

Just look at the framing for the title frame: balanced, with the bedroom (with one side of the bed empty) framed by a round wall on the foreground as if the film is a "peek" into her world. Unfortunately, the promise of the film's first images never amounted to much. Oh, and the title doesn't really make any sense either. Most of the men were on top of her bed, not under. On top of her even.

There have been very few movies where its concept just goes nowhere. Not just a limpid ending, an effort to dramatic tension that doesn't work, character development that didn't seem believable, or a turn of events that is too improbable. No. Simply, that the movie literally went nowhere. Things happened and the characters went through whatever happened, but the characters didn't change nor did their situation evolved. It's a stillness that carries with it no crises, drama, or meaning. It's a stillness that betrays nothing but the sincerest meaninglessness and vapidity. May Lalaki sa Ilalim ng Kama Ko carries with it a story, but a story only in a sense that a bunch of things go on. But nothing more.

The movie's concept is interesting: a philandering husband sleeps around while his wife stays home and takes care of their five children. When his wife gets tired of him, she reveals that none of their five children are his. Out of spite and jealousy, he hires somebody to make have sex with his wife (I don’t really know why). It fails. He goes blind. He realizes the evil of his ways. Wife and husband reconcile, not before the husband reveals that his illness is just a hoax. Movie ends with a dance party (literally). In the myriad ways Filipinos have twisted the concept of marital discord and extramarital affairs around, it's a little surprising that this movie is literally just about the extramarital affair. Even if the concept fails, such as in Dalaga si Misis Binata si Mister, the mad attempt to fix something impossible to mend is in itself more than not a fascinating thing to watch. And for a female filmmaker such as Crisostomo, it's a little odd that she gives no new or fresh way of looking at infidelity. (It doesn't mean that women have a different view of it, only that the industry, one would expect, would have been male-dominated enough that a woman's perspective would seem--even if it just sounds--fresh, even if it is truly the same.)

To salvage the whole thing, Crisostomo throws in everything and anything she could to make the whole thing seem interesting: eye candy in the form of half naked women, especially Amalia Fuentes; a singing Nino Mulach (!); fist fights; slap-stick comedy; annoyingly high-pitched maid who hits on the handsome hired help; and the handsome help's fat boyfriend. And Crisostomo, by and large, is a competent filmmaker. One could see that she is an editor and not a director by trade, utilizing more daring juxtapositions to represent the husband's horniness, and use shot-counter shots, which oddly enough I don't see much of in Filipino cinema (it's a very Hollywood technique, and Crisostomo did edit a Hollywood film directed by Monte Hellman). She also uses wild colors and lighting in certain scenes, especially in the scene where the husband goes to a Mrs. Robinson's house to...well, what else does a horny and philandering married man do in a house owned by a woman named "Mrs. Robinson"? She also has a lot of interesting framings, such as when the husband returns to his wife and he sees her waiting for him at the top of the stairs smoking, that if allowed to take flight would have been interesting. Maybe if left to her own devices, she would have made a movie that if not totally successful, at the very least not genuinely pointless. The movie would have been the sophisticated comedy of errors that it could have been, if she wasn't forced to essentially make a skin flick-child star-family picture-slapstick-melodrama-action hybrid (see, the last four categories would have worked. But with the first two...ay...).

In terms of acting, there are two basic emotions: resignation and surprise. Amalia Fuentes is basically just tired and has given up trying to change her husband. Her husband on the other hand is always surprised of the women around him. His trademark is a look of stun, almost as if slapped by the reality of female sexuality as power. The maid is always surprised by her boss, and the hired help is resigned of his role as paid seducer. This being the limitation of the film’s emotional pendulum, my reaction becomes limited as well: resigned that this shit movie will never do anything more than plod along, surprised that I am still watching. It’s like being back in school, where my eyes move but my brain, recognizing the vapidity, turns off. Other than the film’s complete pointlessness, this is its other achievement: making a film about sex unsexy, unexciting, and unengaging.


Jojo Devera said...

hi John!

i read and responded to your comment on my blog. i was wondering if you have any idea on which titles directed by Brocka and Bernal are available at your nearby video store. do they have Akin Ang Iyong Katawan and Gamitin Mo Ako? i've been looking for VHS copies of these two movies. i do have them but on betamax format and my player has long been gone even before the advent of DVD recorders. maybe i could do something for you to make it worth your while. thanks a lot for stopping by my blog.

all the best!

Jojo Devera said...

do they really? would you know if they seel the copies or they just rent them? i could send you a copy of Bakit Bughaw Ang Langit if you want even La Paloma or any other Joey Gosiengfiao movie. will you please let me know? i could send you the money for them. btw i just wanted to tell you that Banaue was directed by Gerry de Leon not Lamberto Avellana. many thanks!


Jojo Devera said...

hello john!

thanks a lot! i would reaaly appreciate it if you could send me a DVD copy of Gamitin Mo Ako. here's my mailing address:
Jojo Devera
193 Boyd Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07304

i need your mailing address as well.. can you please answer my comments here in your blog? marami kasing nagbabasa sa sinengpinoy and hindi lahat ng nagre-request sa akin pinagbibigyan ko ok? so gusto mo ng copy ng La Paloma am i right? sige padadalhan kita. maraming salamat! ingat!

John Santos said...

Cool. Ipapadala ko na yung DVD ngayon. Kung may problema man sa kopya mag comment ka na lang ulit titignan natin kung anong magagawa natin. Minsan kasi nagloloko yung rekorder ko. Yung address ko na sa envelope na ipapadala ko. And I understand about the comments on your blog. These things are so hard to come by that I'm sure you get requests for the movies you review like crazy. Kung ano man, kapag may nag-rerekwest sa iyo sabihin mo na lang na tanungin ako tignan na lang natin kung anong magagawa ko.

Thanks para sa La Paloma in advance!

Jojo Devera said...

talaga? you've already mailed the DVD? ang bilis naman... sige as soon as i receive it ipapadala ko agad ang copy ng La Paloma. alam mo in as much as i would love to give in sa request ng mga readers di ko naman silang lahat mapagbibigyan. kung puwede lang sana kaya lang i don't own the rights to these movies i just happen to have copies kaya di ko talaga magawang magbigay ng kopya. meron pang nag-suggest before na magbenta daw ako ng kopya i just can't make myself do it... nakokonsensiya ako. anyway, maraming salamat at hihintayin ko na lang ang pagdating ng padala mo.