Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sa Aking Pagkakagising Mula Sa Kamulatan (Ato Bautista, 2005)

I'm never one to suggest that progress necessarily implies that the present is inherently better or more “advanced” than the past, but Sa Aking Pagkakagising Mula Sa Kamulatan illustrates the great strides that the current Filipino digital filmmaking scene has taken. The film works best as an extended dream sequence, where it is always night but we never see anyone really sleep. Bodies and characters move through space like zombies, as if the proper solution is not deep sleep but complete escape. But it never happens, and the one moment it seems to have happened, it may as well be just the dreams of a man who is dying for revenge. No one dies; everyone just suffers continuously. Wide lens and telephotos are used in abundance, skewing perspectives and distorting shapes and producing the effect of a drug-induced hallucination. The darkness punctured by the golden glow of street lamps and naked light bulbs made eery by the constant billow of cigarette smoke exaggerate the sense of being interrogated in a dark room, a session of truth telling largely limited by the listless confessor and the interrogator in denial. Regardless of the title, the film is one long nightmare, and the characters merely wake into it. However, as a critique or illustration of society, the film is problematic. A dream at least does not have to make sense, an unintelligible soup of symbols and Freudian allusions that mean nothing. It is enough that we walk through this landscape without necessarily knowing what is going on around us—only, that it is hell.

Once the film tries to make sense of everything—and it wants us to make sense of everything—it falls into the same tried cliché of blaming “moral corruption” for the mess. For Bautista, hopelessness is a product of laziness, unrequited libido, shady authoritarian figures, and conniving homosexuals ready to prey on the trodden masculine ideal. Any explanation of how these contribute to social degradation does not come. The viewer, who is supposed to be “Filipino”, is assumed knowledgeable of the rights and wrongs that make these “issues” the source of the problem. In short, it relies on cliches and social norms to understand the very system that makes these “norms”. Paired with the way the movie was edited—disrupting actions to focus on exposition—scenes become incoherent, like Angel's father who kills one of her lovers really for no good reason, or the evil policeman Lakay who proceeds to sodomize Jopet while trying to convince him to be one of his drug runners. The accompanying yelps, screams, and tears point to a cinema, then, still unshackled from melodrama. Although films such as the flawed but good Endo ultimately succumbed to melodrama (albeit more subdued), it was still in hindsight a signpost to how films were to become: more complex, accepting the truth of the situation rather than the easy explanations that wish it away. Whereas the disillusioned youth of Sa Aking Pagkakagising Mula Sa Kamulatan were more products of a middle-class third world fantasy/dream/nightmare, Endo struck closer by depicting people as they are, desperate but taking each day as it comes.