Thursday, July 26, 2012


Chiaroscuro is an Italian term which literally translates to “light-dark.” I encountered this back in college, explained by my good professors in photography and film making, as a technique in which you provide a picture of light and dark battling within the frame. In paintings, Wikipedia states it refers to the description to clear tonal contrasts which are often used to suggest the volume and modeling of the subjects depicted.

This July is the 8th year of Cinemalaya, the birthplace of most of the highly regarded independent films in the country like Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Ataul For Rent, Niño and the rest. Despite the controversies, one cannot avoid but take a peek for another set of films that hopefully would follow its predecessors to international film fests and award giving bodies. Yearly, I make it to a point to attend the gala screenings seeing it as a chance not only to meet the people that built the film but also a gathering of the country’s obsessed buffs and reviewers.

For a single day (last Sunday), I watched four: Mes De Guzman’s “Diablo,” Vincent Sandoval’s “Aparisyon,” Loy Arcenas’ “Requieme” and Raymond Red’s “Kamera Obskura.” Curiously, there was common bedrock that these four competition films share: the battle of light and dark.

Diablo dares to profound on the world’s undying quest to define evil, man’s search for truth and the lines that draw a family. Set in a rural town of Ilocos, most of the lines employ the Ilocano dialect. Curious is the irony between an erring son, played by Roeder Camanag, told be their mother’s favorite, the veteran Ama Quiambao, and the two vagabonds who robbed the old lady’s house but turned house helpers and willing company.

Noticeable is the meticulous split of darkness and light in every frame. Ama’s house at dawn, when the sun’s light slowly pushes that of night’s darkness and the inviting shots of mountains, above them a swirling pack of dark clouds attempting to hide the sun away, the great ball of light fighting to retain its brightness, are only few of them. This provides the picture of hope the same way Ama, despite her age, tries in might to keep her family together and shoo away the demons in her family during the twilight of her life.

Next is Aparisyon. The film revolves around the life of nuns huddled inside a far flung monastery set during Marcos era. While the nuns try to keep away from the darkness polluting the “outside,” they are caught unaware that evil is already creeping its way freely pass the barricades they created, plaguing them one by one.

Aparisyon (apparition) lives up to its banner. Like a real apparition, it is silent. Even Jodi Sta. Maria’s, the rape of Ruth, scene was eerily silent despite shoutings and helpless cry of plea. There were no unnecessary sounds or music to draw you more to what’s happening. Rather, it brings you directly to what’s happening like the two elder nuns, like you yourself is watching the injustice done helplessly. 

The shots are tight, allowing you to feel the suffocating feel of the entire monastery. Even the display of the nuns in Sandoval’s frame, while he brings you pictures of Mother Superior, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio and Raquel Villavicencio in their high stature, you see them vulnerable through the meticulous close-ups of ancient lines in their faces, the dark circles ‘round their eyes and the gripping guilt and fear in their gazes.

The film dares us to throw the blame, questioning morality and again, the boundaries that set darkness from light. Sandoval proved to be one heck of a storyteller by providing a poetic yet profoundly political tale that of the age-old battle of evil and good, not just within our community, but even inside one’s self.

Requieme is very different from Arcenas’ last year Cinemalaya entry, the much acclaimed  Niño . The usual employ of comedy in tackling a highly sensitive pieces of the country’s political and economic state, homosexuality and other family issues and the glaring truth about death, while common nevertheless proved to be effective.

Arcenas admitted during the gala screening that the making of the film was far from easy. There were at least 60 speaking characters in a fast-paced jagged piecing together of its entirety and the established clichés it tries to bulldoze. The comedic scenes are familiar, but you laughed at them because you encounter them every day in reality. The film appears light but you discover as it progresses that a shadow of doubt, of sad hint of reality, lurks just somewhere.

Joanna, Anthony Falcon’character, in his might to bury a neighbor which he took for a father during his exile, unknowingly pursue the burying of his old self, the straight male, his family and the society always wanted for him. Swanie, Shamaine Buencamino’s character, on the other hand, in her quest to stage a fake funeral for a long lost relative, unconsciously grieves and blames herself for the "death" of the son she knew which turned out to be Joanna.

Kamera Obskura, while the toughest to grasp especially in an independent film festival that sees a dawning of commercialization, is the most thought provoking of all. While it portrays a very subversive message, the film never attempted to preach or impose its ideologies. Rather, it dares you to contemplate, rise and stand your ground against the invisible force of darkness gripping the country from everywhere.

Another commendable message Red’s entry invokes is the cry for the lack of surviving copy of a silent film here in the country. Many of the great films our forefathers created were lost without a trace. And the lamentable part is even at present, we don’t have decent archives of films which are again in danger of being lost forever.

All these films, while drift in the said battle of darkness light, also attempt to tell that even in darkness, there is good and that even in the light dwells evil. In Kamera Obskura, Pen Medina was trapped in darkness for 20 years. Alas, there was a ray of faint light and there he saw a beautiful reality only to find out in the end that there lies injustices, hunger for power and the struggle for the genuine truth.

Old tales tell this kind of story, the perpetual battle of two unknown forces but it felt like seeing the same scenic view in different lenses this time. Curiously, I noticed even the Cinemalaya finds itself struggling between light and darkness. 

2 reaction(s):

Mugen said...

"Another commendable message Red’s entry invokes is the cry for the lack of surviving copy of a silent film here in the country. Many of the great films our forefathers created were lost without a trace. And the lamentable part is even at present, we don’t have decent archives of films which are again in danger of being lost forever."

Was never able to grasp the message of Kamera Obskura until I've read your review.

Thank you DB. :)

imsonotconio said...

this post is very informative, i like it!


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