INTERESTING times make for interesting films. If one were to plot the periods when the best and most relevant Filipino films were made, chances are these were produced during our most difficult times as a nation.
It is indeed true that the printed novel has been replaced by the film as a proper and timely chronicler of our times. No, new media and that means this space and online blogs have not transformed to be truly discursive and popular mediums. They could not still be the exhaustive platform of important public conversations on burning issues of the day.
Perhaps, the audience for the printed material had also vanished to give way to a more acceptable idiom for the new generations. Film has become that medium, I believe, judging by the kind of theoretical reach and public reaction it is capable of eliciting from a select audience. By and large, popular culture still dumbs down on its audience and evidence of this are the kinds of entertainment churned out by the TV networks.
But curiously, the political economy of film-making in the country still allow for the relative artistic autonomy for directors to become proper auteurs who get the enviable chance to contemplate on the state of the nation and tangentially confront what it means to be a Filipino in these difficult times.
The argument that directors are the new social theoreticians and not sociologists or academicians is supported by the impact and social relevance of the recent works of film directors like Arnel Barbona of Tu Pug Imatuy, Treb Monteras of Respeto, and Erik Matti of both On the Job and BuyBust.
BuyBust which can be seen in cinemas this week is controversial and is prone to mixed reviews from an unsuspecting audience. For those uninitiated to the more violent works in Asian cinema particularly the body of work of Korean director Park Chan-wook, most parts of the film may seem like an unbelievable gratuitous and mindless violence and perhaps, that explains a few of the audience members I saw walking out of that particular screening I watched. It is a difficult experience for sure when fight scenes that outdo each other for how gore and death are arrived at follow one after another. But Matti may be paying homage or carrying out a cinematic conversation with his peers, I believe.
In Park’s Old Dog for instance, the violent scenes serve as the cathartic release of the pent up emotions of the characters in the film. I think the same interpretation should properly justify the recourse of Matti to the language of violence he used without restraint in his film.
There are three kinds of violence in the film if we were to create typifications. There is the drive for self-preservation and survival of the government anti-illegal drugs agents who have no choice but to keep themselves alive and in the process inflict horrible violence to the urban poor mob that threaten their very lives. There is also the violence of the drug mob who are also engaged in a struggle for self-preservation against the government agents who threaten their economic enterprise.
In the dog-eat-dog world of the urban poor, when the income from drug peddling is taken away, it is almost equivalent to endangering the economic survival of their families. These baser instincts for survival are on full display in the film and it is like watching a compilation of violent orgies for survival of animals in the wild from the cable channel Natgeo in an endless uncensored loop.
It is the third kind of violence that is actually interesting. Residents of the urban poor squalor finally get tired of being caught between the contending forces of government anti-drug efforts and the drug mob who also prey on their powerlessness. They decide to rise up and demand justice out of their collective losses from the two.
This “third way” is when they come into an awareness of their victimization and arrive at a heretofore dormant agency which finally empowers them to draw their own kept guns, even pots and pans, to reject their own lumpen inaction and give rise to a kind of proto-revolutionary consciousness. They vent their anger on both the police and the drug lord and his cabal of pushers in a final cathartic release of just retribution.
For me, the parallelisms in the plight of the PDEA agents to the Mamasapano incident are inescapable. In many areas of the country, the State remains an absentee landlord where its claims for legitimacy are rejected outright by the people themselves.
The film BuyBust unveils this hidden Filipino nation within the nation who have managed to survive on their own without government attention. Why should they accept the outrageous policing claims of the callous and violent State who, just like the creeping drug culture, violate and oppress them just the same?