Friday, December 09, 2005

Going In Circles

To the best of my knowledge, three of Crisaldo Pablo’s digital films have had their commercial run in Manila’s movie theaters (often at Robinson’s Movie World only), namely Duda, Bathhouse, and currently showing, Bilog. I have seen all three of his films during their regular run, and in all three times I’ve caught myself wondering, “Why do I subject myself to this?”

One answer I tell myself (with much consternation though) is that there are few Filipino film makers who tackle gay themes upfront and fearlessly. By supporting Pablo’s efforts I hope that this will encourage his tribe to increase—but with a certain caveat. We need fearless film makers, yes, but we need better ones too.

To be fair Pablo has become more daring in every film he’s made. Duda (“Doubt”) looks at the life of several men in the metro, their doubts about their sexuality and their partners’ fidelity. Bathhouse examines the meet-and-meat market of a gay bathhouse, touching on the lives of those who converge there. Bilog, while exploring more gay lives, is much more ambitious in form and content.

The first sign of Pablo’s ambition is in the clever title: bilog or “circle” refers to the Quezon Monument Circle, the setting where most of the action takes place. It also refers to how the characters are just aimlessly going around in circles with their lives (mind you, this movie is not just about the rent-boys roaming around the Circle; it is also populated with vendors, government workers and the other kind of “call-boy,” the call-center variety). It refers to how Chris, the central character, is clever at manipulating others (“pinapaikot lang sila”) and at making money (“nagpapaikot ng pera”). It refers to the saying “Bilog ang mundo” (“The world is round”); what comes up must come down, what seems good turns out bad, and change is inevitable. And bilog is also a word-play for libog or “lust”—often the very reason why worlds are turned upside down.

Structurally Pablo also makes the film go around in circles; he starts with one incident—a robbery involving Chris inside a jeepney—and repeatedly goes back to it throughout the movie. In between he explores the lives of each character. This Tarentino-esque, multi-story structure also worked for Go and Amelie. In fact, Pablo goes French on us by employing a third-person omnipresent narrator doing voice-overs throughout the movie. Another conceit is the way Pablo reveals, by repeating scenes all over again ala Amores Perros, how the stories of each character—at first seemingly detached from one another—actually intersect in surprising, not too obvious ways. He also plays with the medium itself; he fast-forwards the video or runs it in reverse.

Tarentino, Go, Amelie and Amores Perros—such heady company, right? Unfortunately aiming for the best isn’t the same as reaching it. While Pablo gets an “A” for “A”-ffort, his latest film shows that he still hasn’t learned his filmmaking lessons well. I think Bilog looked better on the page than onscreen.

First and most glaring are the technical deficiencies which this movie sadly shares with his two previous ones. Many evening scenes are too dark (and a lot of the action happens in shadows), and even daylight scenes are unevenly shot. The live sound, if not garbled or muffled, suffers from a cacophony of incidental sounds. It’s a chore to sit through the whole movie. How can a viewer get lost in the story when he’s at a loss as to what’s happening onscreen?

The characters are also poorly fleshed-out. With the exception of Chris, most of the other characters are flimsily written, one-note stereotypes. A multi-character movie often needs better-skilled actors to bring to life via action what the words in the script have no time to convey. Unfortunately Pablo employed newbies in this film, participants of an acting workshop whose culminating project was to act in this film. Most of them are earnest in their roles, but skill is needed more than just enthusiasm. I could also say the same for Pablo’s direction.

The use of a narrator is a tricky act to pull off properly. While Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s narration helped his film reach heights of poetry, Pablo’s voice-overs have the over-all effect of washing instructions being read. Am I too harsh? Well, his narrator asks a lot of existentialist questions and at times tells us the “lessons” gleaned from the scenes instead of allowing us viewers to figure things out for ourselves; I’m reminded of a bad Philosophy teacher.

Pablo’s attempts are as admirable as his failures are frustrating. Is it a lack of resources or of skill? I’ve seen other Filipino independent digital films and a lot of them achieved a level of technical competence. Maybe one day Pablo’s skills will match his enthusiasm; until then he’ll just be a filmmaker going around in circles.

And for now we can only sit quietly in the dark and endure a couple of hours in silent support of independent Pinoy pink cinema. If you’re going to watch Bilog, bring lots of patience.

10 Comments:

Blogger nam said...

ur so de quiros talaga (whatever that means). the reason i keep on returning to ur site... galing! (there's the bite... este rub!)

4:55 PM  
Blogger qcpaperboy said...

i watched "Duda" and missed the other two. i felt that the "Duda" plot and subplots were full of promise (interms of drama, humor, insight) but was limited in execution. digital makes it easier for more filmmakers to translate their vision into reality, which is good, but this makes it no longer unreasonable for the audience to expect mastery at every attempt.

1:33 AM  
Anonymous jove said...

amen.

thank you for this entry, i thought i was the only person who thinks "that way" about cris pablo's films.

no joke. but, for quite some time now, i thought i'm a freak because everyone says impressed sila, pero ako hindi. i even watched his movies twice, para fair. but sadly...

and speaking of fairness, yeah, i have to just cut and paste what you said: "... Pablo’s attempts are as admirable as his failures are frustrating..." . I agree.

thank you mcvie!

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I HATE BILOG WITH FERVOR!

SO DAMN DIAPPOINTING!

BUT I LOVE DUDA.

9:52 AM  
Blogger McVie said...

NAM: Conrado de Quiros? Hahaha! I used to agree with him all the time. But now I don't like how he's become very bull-headed re. Pres. Gloria. He's this close to becoming irrational regarding the issue.

I hope I don't become too irrational over something. Or if I do, let me at least be self-aware that I am being irrational.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Nelson said...

Was the film "Masahista" shown in Manila? There was a film festival here, and that film was shown alongside with other entries. The director [forgot his name--but he once worked as a PA] was there too to introduce the film.

Anyway that film was shot on digital, and I'm rather frustrated with the quality of the cinematography. Too dark, too washed out, too saturated--there seems to be no way of balancing colors and tones as it would be projected onscreen. Director also fell into cliched metaphors that most film students overuse. However there is a lot of promise, and there's still a lot of room for improvement. Perhaps one day modern Pinoy filmmakers can pay attention to more detail to improve the quality of their digital films....

12:53 AM  
Blogger McVie said...

NELZ: "Masahista" was shown locally, and I watched it on the big screen in Galleria. Yes, production quality can still be improved. I guess Pinoy digital filmmakers are still learning how to best maximize the use of the medium.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous cris pablo said...

hi i was browsing thru the net to search for comments on the movie bilog and i found your blog! thanks for the critique, i loved your critique (ironic no?)... well, regarding the technical (visual and sound quality) i was just as surprised when i saw how our movie was projected on screen and how it sounded on dolby... digital movies like in my case where we only use digital lcd projectors to project our movies, depend so much on the lumens or brightness and contrast of the equipment... we could only afford a 3,000 lumens because it costs P15,000 per day to use a 5,000 lumens projector (this should be the minimum for good quality picture). plus we complained that the light bulb used for the projector seemed quite old and so very dark and when its bright, the image is lost na... pero sa source naman the image quality is good... we had to rent a more expensive projector with 4,000 lumens on the friday screening which costed P6,000 per day (imagine how many tickets we have to sell on a day just to meet that amount. since we are shouldering the rental of projector and robinsons has no responsibility over it, plus the fact that out of P110 ticket we only get around P25 of that... means we have to sell at least 240 tickets!!! hahaha) Anyway, so that's how it went with the video image projection, its really highly dependent on the quality and capability of the digital video projector... to approximate film projectors, they will need a 10,000 lumens projector with dlp sana and not lcd according mismo sa nirentahan namin ng projector. Hope cinemas will buy projectors na ganun kalakas ang lumens. The sound naman, i was disappointed too because several voiceovers that i already deleted resurfaced in what was shown in cinemas... Kasi actually, the reason for this could be: well, palaging nabuburahan ng files, very important video files, sa computer kaya ako what i did was to copy our edited versions to a mini-dv tape para whatever happens to the pc, we will at least have what we call as hardcopy. kaso, hindi napansin ng mastering editor na ang nakuha niyang audio eh yung dating audio where i tried to use a lot of voice overs... regarding the actors, it really was a graduation thesis eh, a recital... something like the design exhibits ng fine arts students... where they hold their exhibits sa malls... ganun din kami, while we were about to be done with our workshop, we discussed with the students and decided na gawing seryosong digital movie at wag magmadali sa paggawa nito... Actually, honestly, laging take 30 ang performance nila pero nang wala na kaming perang pangpakain sa kanila kapag natatagalan ang shooting dahil sa kakailang takes, eh sumuko na din kami at dinaan sa editing...

Parang ang dami kong rason ano? Sorry ha... Hindi ako offended sa comments mo, actually mas gusto ko nga siya kesa sa ibang comments na basta na lang, hindi man lang nag-qualify kung ano yung hindi nila nagustuhan, kaya imbes nakatulong ay tila nakaapak pa sila... Ang critique mo ay maganda dahil inilalahad mo nang maayos ang points mo... Sa akin naman kasi pagdating diyan sa puntong yan ay nasa beholder na yan... Di ko naman masasabing stupid yung mga taong nagustuhan nila ang movie (atin-atin lang ha, actually tinatanong ko sila kung may kaibigan sila sa staff o sa artista para may hint ako kung nagustuhan lang nila kasi kasama ang friend nila hehe).

I hope you will not be mad at me for the kind of movies I made... Wala pa naman kasi akong intensyong gawin silang excellent or art movies or anything other than, may kuwento ako gagawin kong movie tapos susubukan ko ang mga artistang hindi pa umaarte... Ganun ako lagi tumingin sa gawa ko. Ang problem ko lang, sabi ko nga sa friends ko sa Pagdadalaga ni Maximo at sa Masahista, buti pa sila mostly film professionals ang grupo nila composed of at least 5, moneyed, film professionals... Ako madalas dalawa lang kaming talagang professionals kaya madalas ang plano sa preproduction, hindi na-achieve sa actual shoot. Then (I hope you wont say sobra na akong defensive here) pag umabot sa point na wala na kaming magawa kasi, medyo sobra pag kinapos kami during shoots, sa funds (like for food or transpo)hindi na kami makakilos kungdi make do with what we have or what we shot. May mga artista din kaming nakukuhang papayag sa shooting schedule at hindi darating pag naroon na kayo lahat (madalas ito) kaya nakakabaliw!

I will try to make a matinong movie this year, pag nakaipon na ako ng panggawa ng matinong movie hahaha...

If you want, I can lend you copies of my previous movies which were the ones that critiques really liked (slowmotion, etc.) Para hindi mo naman ako isumpa hahaha sa pinaggagagawa ko.

Thanks. merry christmas!

Cris pablo

3:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two years after you wrote a review, allow me to post a similar view on another Pablo digital movie, Moreno.

----------

Three persons documenting the plight of the T’boli women who surrendered their rights for pre-arranged marriages are themselves haunted by their own failing relationships.

The NGO woman Mawen (Ynez Veneracion) confronts her philandering husband in the city via cell phone. The documentary artist Cris (Cris Pablo), suppresses his angst of a deteriorating relationship he left behind in the city. Arlan, (Arlan Degullacion) the idealistic NGO co-worker slowly but painfully comes face-to-face with his denials and true self.

Nothing is completely resolved. But neither did it end in a stalemate. To Mawen and Cris, there is an acceptance to move on. To Arlan, there is a struggle for liberation from a trapped self. To the T’boli women, there is an option of escape other than submission and death.

From among the three haunting relationships, perhaps, it is Arlan’s that will prosper as it only involves himself. Cris has to completely dump one person, a string of affairs and years of living in, Mawen, a husband, a child and her cause. The plight of the T’boli women may never be resolved in this decade.

As a documentary as far as I saw it, Cris, the writer and director clearly presented this perspective. The other carnal elements hyped in the trailer are as described, just a tease.

Cris Pablo’s digital films inspire viewing writers to elaborate on his theme, symbols and subplots but only after completing the movies. Going through them is however an ordeal. What drives me to view from start to finish is convincing myself that I am watching a documentary with an insightful perspective.

-a reality viewer. 29 Nov 2007

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. late na itong comment ko ha about "bilog" hehe. sa akin ok yung movie. low-budgeted sya talaga pero at least nasabi nya ang gusto nyang sabihin. magaling sana yung nag-play ng government employee na bading(nora-aunor look a-like) na na-in love sa activist kaya lang bakit may part na wala syang audio. Gusto ko yung style ni Cris Pablo,nakakagawa ng pelikula sa kung anu lang available. Mabuhay ka!

2:33 PM  

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