Two films

For two nights I chanced upon two good films at CinemaOne: Isda and Manila. Isda's plot might sound like a Murakami short story, but it wasn't as surreal as it first seemed: Lina (Cherry Pie Picache), an expectant mother in her early forties, gave birth to a mudfish. This disappointed her husband, Miguel (Bembol Roco), as this was supposed to be their first child. It has been the butt of the jokes for Miguel's drinking buddies; it even sparked the media by conducting interviews with Lina. However, Lina and her kumares thinks of it as a sign of prosperity to come.

The film achieved what it should: it blurred the lines between fantasy and reality, to the extent that Lina actually went to the hospital first to call for help for his son bitten by Miguel's pet cat. (The hospital staff responded with incredulity: this is a hospital, we only treat humans. To which Lina retorted: but he's my son!) At the back of my mind I know Lina and her friends must have been delusional, but there it is in a fishbowl: Miguelito. Lina wanted him baptized, only to be turned down by the parochial priest: to him and to the community, Miguelito is a monster, a freak of nature, asking to be baptized.

I can't shake off the feeling when the film ended when Lina found her son in her husband's hands, trying to save him from the fire which perennially plagued the shanties. Overcome by emotion, Lina hugged her son and wrapped him on her chest. It's only a fish, but why is this scene endearing? I half-laughed, half-cried at this moment, thinking that this could be the ending which suits the story well. It's heartwarming without any feeling of being cheated or tricked by the film. There were not much dialogue, not much noise or conflict: it was as silent and as plangent as an open sea.

Meanwhile, Manila happened to be two short films shanghai-rolled into a twinbill production with an intermission in between. Aside from the fact that the story was taking place in Manila and Piolo Pascual starred in both short films connected the entire stretch of it, I was at a loss (he had two different roles--William and Philip--and the films had different contexts and plots).

To make sense of it I had to Google it: the film is supposed to be a homage to the masters (Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal). I have to admit I liked the first part better: William (Piolo Pascual), a drug addict, wanted to come to terms with himself, only to give in to his urges. The scene where William asked help from a blind masseuse to get him drugs was spine-chilling: he pleaded for drugs, and later on gave the wristwatch he was wearing. I couldn't believe that before my very eyes, Piolo actually convinced me in his acting.

The whole film felt like an adventure with soul-searching as a primary motive. The different characters are a sturdy backbone to the plot, a good accompaniment to the noise of the jeepneys and the stench of dumpsites, the stark contrasts of the shanties at night. The black-and-white motif appealed to me, revealing so much about Manila's temperature, texture, and grit. It's not so much about poverty as about restlessness, the self wounded and lost in an unapologetic city.