Thursday, December 28, 2006

Delightful and disturbing

This was my column last Wednesday, December 27. The same internet difficulties you have been experiencing caused the delay of the post.

Trying to decide the other day which movie to watch among the nine entries in the Metro Manila Film Festival, my friend Emer and I went into a spirited discussion. It was a tough call because none among the entries seemed to warrant the spending of time and money. Patronizing the filmfest, however, was an annual tradition for me and my friends. Our reasons were more altruistic than artistic, or even affective. Finally, we decided to heed the advice of the Film Ratings Board who gave three films (Ligalig, Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, and Kasal Kasali Kasalo) A ratings.

Deciding exactly which one among the three films to see was a little easier. We simply picked the movie with the shorter queue. Expectedly, the Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo film Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo was making a killing in the tills so we figured watching it didn’t fit well into our reasons for supporting the festival. We settled for Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh which features Rustom Padilla in the lead and Zsa Zsa Padilla as his super hero(ine) alternate. I had read Carlo Vergara’s comic book and had seen the musical play adaptation. I figured it would be fun to compare how the film fared against its earlier artistic incarnations.

The whole viewing experience was almost destroyed for me by my friend who kept gushing about how beautiful Rustom Padilla was as Ada, the parlorista (gay beautician). Actually, my friend kept gushing about how beautiful Padilla as a gay man was, period. The fact that we had difficulty dissociating Padilla, the person, from the character he was supposed to play spelled trouble as far as appreciating the film was concerned. (It’s really not his fault that the circus attending his coming-out-of-the-closet continues to haunt him.)

To his credit, Padilla delivers a really heartfelt and touching performance. In fact, I think his performance is luminous —he really does shine, even when my friend kept insisting Padilla was too beautiful and classy to be believable as a parlorista for the masa. I figured my friend had been going to the wrong beauty parlors—the ones that I had been to were always inhabited by beautiful gay people.

This is a movie that presents the heart-rending situations of gay people in a decidedly tongue-in-cheek way; and it does so without trivializing them. Here, the gay man is still a drama queen, is beaten by his father, is used and abused by almost everyone, and is a responsible uncle to his niece. Here is a movie that depicts the gay man’s quest for affection and empowerment sans the usual slapstick. It is still tragic-comic because in real life as in this movie, gay people do have this inherent propensity to turn even the most emotionally climactic situations into something hilarious. In this movie, though, the result is less comedy and more poignancy. One can actually empathize with Ada and his emotional situation. In that scene where he cries his heart out after being dumped by the guy he has supported through college, one can actually feel his anguish and pain.

Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah is also noteworthy because it is probably one of the very few Filipino movies that is an authentic musical. I know there are countless Filipino films which feature some singing and dancing, but they are gratuitous; you get the sense that the musical performances are inserted simply to add length or to make up for the performers’ absolute lack of acting talent. This film features singing and dancing that pushes the story forward and serves as emotional highlights.

Too bad the young could not appreciate the homage to those Darna movies from the ’70s that featured all those women from other planets wearing silly wigs, sillier costumes, and truly bizarre dialogues. Pops Fernandez as Queen Femina Suarestellar baroux (you read the name right, that’s how campy the movie is), Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah’s nemesis from planet XXX, reminds me so much of Helen Gamboa’s similar turn in Darna and the Planet Women which I watched when I was a little kid. Why, even the cardboard spaceship and the sidekicks look similar. Fortunately, the special effects are more advanced in this movie.

Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah does not offer much in terms of storyline. But then again, this isn’t a movie that you watch to appreciate a good plot. Even the romantic angle between Ada and Dodong is a little contrived. To the director’s credit, however, this is probably the first movie featuring a romance between two people of the same sex where people inside the theatre actually go “awww” in the end as the two characters declare their passion for each other. I can go on about the political implications of the film, and they are there in the movie, but I think people should simply enjoy the film and come up with their own individual analysis. That’s what brains are for.

As a whole, it is a well-made film with a lot of heart. It’s a film that deserves to be watched if only because it tries to say something important and succeeds in doing so while entertaining people at the same time. Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah is a delightfully funny and poignant film.

My friend and I still had time in our hands after watching Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah so we decided to do more than our share in supporting the filmfest. We watched the third film which was given an A rating —Cesar Montano’s Ligalig. The people behind the film have been making a big deal with the supposed surprise twist at the end of the movie and have gone as far as using this twist as the main marketing come on. Halfway through the film, though, my friend and I already figured out just what the twist in the end would be. It was too obvious. Duh, the title already suggested that someone in this film was disturbed.

This movie, though, still deserves the A rating because of its technical achievements. The opening and end credits alone are worth the admission price—they are so well-made that one gets the feeling that one is watching a foreign film. Cesar Montano’s main strength as a director which was already palpable in his first film Panaghoy sa Suba is in his astounding ability to capture details on camera. Although the movie does feature the standard scare tactics (one almost sees subtitles that say “be prepared to scream in the next scene”), the real suspense comes from lingering context shots: a quivering hand holding a cigarette, a fluttering leaf, etc.

This movie is almost in the same league as Mike de Leon’s classic Kisapmata. In particular, it does a really great job of capturing that general sense of foreboding that makes a suspense-thriller worth watching. I won’t be surprised if Montano wins the best director plum for this movie. He deserves it, mainly for being able to produce a gem of a film from a rather soporific premise of a story.

4 comments:

Dinno Erece said...

hi bong

read your article actually and thank you very much, you're way too nice and hope you still remember me.

dinno erece
scriptwriter zsazsa/manay po
irc #gaymanila

Bong C. Austero said...

hi dinno,
of course I remember you. now that you have left a message, I reread my column and realized too late that I forgot to mention that I knew it was you who wrote the screenplay.

anyway, i am really glad you are doing so well in your new career and carving a niche at it too. I know you are destined to do better things so more power, my friend.

bong

Anonymous said...

Excellent ZsaZsa review. Thank you for not comparing it to "Chicago" or "Dreamgirls", which everyone seems to be doing. It is a totally different kind of musical and stands pretty well on its own merits.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry; I just read this review and what the fuck, Bong Austero-- you're so off. You can't write, and you can't even review films properly. You get everything wrong-- Zsa Zsa, well made? Fuck man, that's the funniest and stupidest thing a review can say about Zsa Zsa.

I couldn't even read through your article-- it's so badly written. It's all over the place, and the way you write doesn't entice.

How'd you get the column gig? Oh, that's right-- didn't you write this stupid essay or something? That was so off, too. No wonder you're stuck in some obscure broadsheet. Way to go, man.

And yes, you're entitled to your opinion. But so am I. So I dare you to keep this published. Come on. :)

Good day.