QCinema 2019 movie reviews: 'Babae at Baril', 'Cleaners,' and 'Kaaway sa Sulod'
Babae at Baril review: An exciting and enticing work
It doesn’t just take exquisite skill to make a film like Babae at Baril. It takes courage.
Its depiction of a society brimming with toxic patriarchy is both exhaustive and exhausting, in the sense that it doesn’t skirt away from portraying the gritty details of the daily suffering of a lowly saleslady (a very compelling Janine Gutierrez) whose life spirals out of control not just because of the men around her but also because of a world that is always iniquitous to women. Writer and director Rae Red is unflinching in her imagining of this world and while it feels like some of the details are enunciated to serve the noir aspirations of her film, its being stylized never overpowers the patent anger and frustration that pulsates in every carefully constructed frame.
The film, however, doesn’t stop at depicting the plight of a woman and her eventual road towards revenge. The film isn’t interested in shallow wrath, in presenting a woman’s coming to terms with her latent power as being like the brutes that commodified and shamed her. It endeavors to enrich the discourse, to show the very history of violence and how it is expressed by the fact that oppressors always have a tool to oppress, whether it be a phallus or a firearm.
The film is courageous because at the moment the saleslady’s storyline climaxes, it suddenly withdraws, probably to the chagrin of narrative purists, to deepen the discussion and to connect the plight of women and the marginalized in this current regime. Babae at Baril is brimming with relevant and radical insight. It is an exciting and enticing work from a director whose excellence in craftsmanship is matched by her advocacy.
Cleaners review: Beauty in imperfections
There is no such thing as a perfect film.
In the case of Glenn Barit’s Cleaners, the imperfections are proudly displayed. It is rough, raw and reminiscent of work made out whim instead of a desire to win awards and prizes. The stories it anthologizes are simple, resembling jokes with hilarious punchlines or parables with clear-cut morals. The visual conceit of each frame being photocopied with the outfits of specific characters brightly hued with the use of highlighters is so overt and obvious that it feels like a needless gimmick. The performances are inconsistent. However, all the supposed imperfections seamlessly collaborate to arrive at a work that is starkly deviant but also so disarmingly pure and transparent.
Cleaners harks back to the time where Filipino filmmakers were still excited about digital cinema and how it has freed them from the stranglehold of studios in telling their stories. Barit stretches the medium to come up with a film whose very shape and form are consistent with its message of youthful caprice and rebelliousness. However, the film isn’t just all about the past. While it is easy to read it as a work that stems from the mind of an adult romanticizing his coming-of-age, it also offers an affecting optimism that applies to the bleakness of the present. It is hilariously irreverent but its humor is never in a vacuum because with every laugh it earns, it also manages to squeeze a tear or two. Barit’s film is joyous and hopeful. It is also unabashedly beautiful in its unseemliness.
Kaaway sa Sulod review: Lost between two worlds
The problem with Arnel Barbarona’s Kaaway sa Sulod is that it seems lost between two worlds.
Its plot of two identical agents from opposing factions is the stuff of absurd actioners. Its compelling advocacy of exposing the oppression dealt by the military against those in the margins is worth telling. Its lofty ambition is to merge pulp and purpose. Sadly, it misses the mark. The film is confusing, ultimately bogged down by storytelling that is uncertain whether it wants to excite or to educate. When it endeavors for excitement, the film’s limitations become apparent, with its fight scenes draped in darkness or rendered incomprehensible by reckless cuts and camera movements.
However, Kaaway sa Sulod shines when it slows down, when it fills its skimpy spectacles with weight. It helps that the performances are solid. Dionne Monsanto plays the dual roles of Lai and Raiza with utmost conviction. It is Perry Dizon however that adds an air of palpable cruelty to the film. In one impressive scene, he performs a soliloquy that is at once terrorizing and tender, encapsulating the devious and devilish charisma of the dangerous populists that have infested the Philippines up to the present. Truly, Barbarona’s film has moments that command attention. Unfortunately, it fails to be consistent in its grasp, letting go of its more pertinent causes in its attempt to juggle gravity and genre.
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.