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Last update: July 10 2009, 11:57 PM
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Indies raise daunting questions

July 10, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—The local indies on view this week raise daunting questions as they tackle substantial themes—with varying degrees of success: Mel Chionglo’s “Bente” weaves disparate stories that collectively tackle extrajudicial killings, while Gil Portes, “Pitik Bulag,” examines the dynamics of luck and circumstance.

In “Bente,” Richard Gomez plays Ramon, the gun-toting henchman of Mayor Samaniego (Emilio Garcia) whose job is to stop hard-hitting radio commentator, Arnie Guerrero (Jinggoy Estrada), from exposing one of the corrupt politician’s shady deals. Unfortunately, Ramon’s focus isn’t on the complex job at hand—he suspects that his wife, Dina (Iza Calzado), is having an affair with another man.

Student activist

Meanwhile, thugs are also hot on the heels of student activist, Mervin (Aldred Gatchalian). In no time, these characters’ paths cross and entangle.

As a filmmaker, Chionglo obviously knows how to tell a story with logic and intelligence. His movie, in fact, is the most thematically substantial in the “Sine Direk” lineup (although Soxy Topacio’s “Ded Na Si Lolo” is the most crowd-pleasing).

The performances are uneven, but Chionglo coaxes notable performances from the insightful Gomez and Calzado, who turns in a moving portrayal despite her underwritten character.

Unfortunately, the production’s disparate stories don’t really come together, and its intersecting storylines merely add clutter to the narrative’s incohesive feel and style—and it doesn’t help that the movie suddenly ends in a convenient anticlimax.

In “Pitik Bulag,” the rotten luck of struggling action-star wannabe, Angelo (Marco Alcaraz), turns around when he finds a bag full of stolen bank-notes. His wife then convinces him to share his newfound millions with the families of victims slain in the heist.

Soon, however, the protagonist finds himself being pursued by the bag’s “owners,” led by Lino (Victor Neri), and his witless underlings. In no time, Angelo’s life takes another unexpected spin—and this time, it’s deadlier!

Motivations

On paper, Portes’ latest film is intriguing and promising, but the product seen on the big screen is a poorly realized, confounding version of a noble vision. The movie, graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, is a mishmash of trite situations, illogical twists, cardboard-thin performances, and an attractive lead actor who “indicates” rather than “feels” his character’s emotions and motivations.

We’re used to watching poorly made movies, but, when a government-subsidized “evaluating” body tells us that an undeniably inferior film, regardless of its noble intentions, is a good one, we must react—especially since this has been happening for some time.

Helping producers get tax rebates is one thing, but imposing deteriorating standards on moviegoers is another. Since when has quality been synonymous with charity—or relative mediocrity?

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