Category Archives: arts

Rizal: Film Review

Note: I wrote this review many many years ago….

A commercial success during its initial public screening in 1998, this film also reaped major awards in the country and even in international film festivals. The people behind the production of this film succeeded in capitalizing on the renewed interest of the public on historical themes since the country was celebrating the centennial anniversary of the declaration of Independence from colonial rule.

The contribution of this movie to the ailing film industry was spectacular. It proved for one that actors and actresses do not have to strip off their clothes for the movie to earn money or that serious themes such as history can generate huge profit as well. It immediately showed that the Filipino public will patronize a local movie over foreign films if they are to be provided with a good movie.

The film assured the celebrity status of Cesar Montano as an actor and the sophistication of Marilou Diaz-Abaya as a director. Abaya’s Rizal was actually the first of her three successive films (Muro-Ami and Bagong Buwan) which provided the public with a movie to talk about and applaud. Through her string of successes as a director, and in no small part also due to lack of great filmmakers in the country, Abaya was to occupy a respectable position in the country’s popular culture and film industry that was once occupied by Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka.

The choice of making a film out of Rizal’s life was sound and logical from the very start. A producer wishing to balance his aim between earning money and to make a memorable film has only to extend the big Rizal cult into a movie fantasy. No person has come to symbolize the struggle for independence other than Rizal. His life story has pervaded the public consciousness in a manner that any enterprising film producer could not resist noticing. A film about Rizal is an expected box office hit since the market will be assured by the burgeoning educational establishment. That Abaya’s Rizal would be a big success was hardly surprising at all.

Perhaps the greatness of Abaya’s Rizal was the superb balance between frank storytelling and delicate use of cinema illusion. By making the trial of Rizal as the focus of the story, viewers were allowed an easy and smooth transition between Rizal’s early life and the events surrounding during and after the trial. Research was obviously well-done as the movie progressed. Abaya and the scriptwriters relied heavily on the seminal work of Austin Coates for much of the details about Rizal and his endeavors. A student familiar with Rizal’s biography, especially that written by Coates, would be amused to watch the minutest detail about Rizal skillfully and sincerely portrayed on screen. The effect on the chilling re-enactment of Rizal’s last moments before his execution is a haunting climax of a fine movie.

Nevertheless, despite the many outstanding qualities of this film in narration, research and cinematography, the film failed to circumvent the conventional portrayal of Rizal as the perfect human being devoid of any potential weaknesses. After all, doing a movie about Rizal’s life has its risks. How can you even portray a life so complex and enigmatic such as Rizal’s into two hours alone? It risks simplifying Rizal and the ideas he has espoused throughout his life.

Abaya and the scriptwriters have succeeded in making Rizal the perfect Filipino hero by unfortunately using Andres Bonifacio as the anti-thesis. While Rizal was the embodiment of a rational, prudent, thinking nationalist, Bonifacio was portrayed as a short-tempered, aggressive, reckless plebian revolutionary. Whereas the question of independence is complex, Abaya made it a simple argument between Rizal’s rational approach towards the subject and Bonifacio’s ill-conceived decisions. As Rizal was raised to the high pedestal of hero-worship in the movie, Bonifacio was relegated as the anti-hero in the story.

One can argue that Abaya was making a film about Rizal and not on Bonifacio that is why Rizal had to be overemphasized in the movie. But portraying Rizal in a good light while destroying the credibility of another national hero is no way to celebrate the Centennial much more the struggle for independence. This is a manifestation of the colonial legacy in what Constantino rightfully termed as “veneration without understanding.” This is also a classic outcome of the struggle between groups vying to shape the public consciousness over how to view the past in relation to the present.

Rizal is still the Establishment’s national hero. How we give meaning to the past is determined largely by the prevailing order of society. Abaya’s Rizal is basically a proof of Rizal’s continuing appropriation by the class whose sworn enemies are those represented by the class of Bonifacio.

In the end, Abaya’s Rizal would pale in comparison after the release of Mike de Leon’s Bayaning Third World which was a more balanced and delicate rendition of Rizal’s multidimensional life.


Italian Films: Christ stopped at Eboli / The Bicycle Thief

Christ stopped at Eboli

The film was an adaptation of Carlo Levi’s autobiographical novel about the years he spent in Eboli, a remote village in southern Italy. Levi was an anti-fascist intellectual who was exiled to Eboli because of his political activities during the 1930s.

Because of its detachment from Rome and other urban centers of Italy, Eboli was a perfect place to rehabilitate, silence, or punish subversive intellectuals. There the radicals wouldn’t be able to convert the backward peasants into enemies of the state. When our hero arrived in Eboli, two communist organizers and a disgraced priest were already living in the village.

The film depicted the everyday life of peasants in a poor village in Italy. Through Carlo’s eyes, we were able to see and judge the customs, beliefs, dreams, economic practices, and political education (or lack of it) of peasants in the far-flung southern Italian village.

Carlo attributed the poverty he witnessed to the inability of the state to improve the welfare of its citizens. He was right. But the same lack of empathy, the same unwillingness to study the conditions of peasants in Italy’s south, can be seen also among Rome’s urban-based middle class intellectuals. Carlo was one of these political creatures. He fashions himself as a renegade intellectual yet he was naively ignorant of peasant life. He may be a sincere anti-fascist activist but his activities were divorced from the daily lives of ordinary Italians.

He was proud that he possessed a scientific knowledge of the world. This intellectual superiority became visible when he mocked the superstitions of the natives. Notice his reliance on pills and modern medicines to cure the sick without studying the traditional medical practices in the community.

Carlo may have observed at first that his worldview was different from the villagers. During a solar eclipse, one of the villagers warned that it was a punishment from God. Carlo quietly interjected that it was perhaps a result of Italy’s gassing of Abyssinia (referring to the invasion of Ethiopia). He might have been disappointed to hear villagers talk about life in America than about politics in Rome. But later he might have detected the wisdom of native thinking. When one of the young boys of the village was drafted by the army, an elder complained: “Why go to Africa, if you have one here?”

The film’s political themes were symbolized by animals which inhabit the village. While discussing Mussolini, Carlo saw a large pig. After reaching the cemetery which marks the farthest place Carlo was allowed to wander, he saw a free bird flying in the air. While a goat was being butchered, a villager criticized the counterproductive Goat Law passed by politicians in Rome. Chickens and humans live together inside the dingy house of the priest. Carlo’s companion was an abandoned dog.

Carlo impressed everybody with his miraculous healing powers. But the villagers were unaware that it was they who gave Carlo the proper education in life. Witnessing at first hand the plight of peasants in the village, Carlo was able to understand the social and historical conditions of the oppressed in rural Italy. During his conversation with the town mayor, he was able to articulate the reasons why peasants join bandit groups (“They defended their civilization through banditry”).

The film highlighted the neglect suffered by Italian peasants. Carlo was a visitor in the Eboli village, but not a redeemer of peasants. When he wanted to paint a portrait of his housekeeper, the lady refused arguing that the painting might imprison her. Carlo couldn’t understand this primitive reasoning. But the housekeeper was correct. Carlo did “imprison” her and the rest of Eboli when he wrote a book about the poverty he saw in the village. He might have good intentions but the peasants didn’t need pity. They needed change.

So who will lead the crusade for reforms? Not Carlo, not the mayor, not the priest. Maybe the two exiled communists. Are we sure it was only spaghetti they were exchanging everyday?

The Bicycle Thief

Postwar Italy. The ravages of war are still visible. Unemployment is high. The film is about Italy, poverty, modern society, family relationships, humanity. It is a simple yet powerful and realistic film. A man needed a job. He got one but he needed a bike for the job. Unfortunately, his bike was stolen. Together with his son, he searched for his bike in the city.

The Bicycle Thief is not entertaining, it is enlightening. It is not subtle, it is direct. It is effective in revealing the painful essential truths of modern living. The film brilliantly captures the complexity of poverty and the contradictions it engenders in society.

Notice the Third World poverty spectacles which were shown on the film: an army of unemployed fighting over a few available jobs, water scarcity in the city, street vendors, black market for stolen goods, pawnshops, inadequate public transportation, prostitution, child labor, and unhelpful police. The film presented a different Italy. It is unnerving because these poverty images are still visible today in the world.

Observe how the film described inequality and hypocrisy in society. The working-class churchgoers need to be clean before being allowed to attend the mass. Food is distributed only after one has attended the church service. It is a clever way of blackmailing the hungry and dirty poor in the name of God. When father and son went to a fancy restaurant, the boy realized his situation in life when he noticed his difference to the rich boy on the other table.

Note how the poor spend their days and plan their future. Sports is a popular form of entertainment – perhaps to forget the troubles in life. The wisdom of an elder (seer) is sought to solve simple and difficult problems. Art, especially traditional art, struggles to survive during difficult times. Poverty drives people to affirm their faith.

Social institutions become more relevant in protecting individuals. Union organizing is a viable option. Families and neighbors stick together to defend each other from outsiders. The original bicycle thief was vigorously protected by his friends and relatives when he was confronted by our hero. It is a remarkable scene. It shows how the poor are always pitted against each other forgetting that the true enemy is the inequitable social structure. But the social structure has no face while the bicycle thief is recognizable. And so they fight for the crumbs while the monopoly guy enjoys his wealth.

The film teaches us that instead of simply ascribing a criminal personality to those who commit poverty-related crimes, it is better to understand the social conditions which drive desperate individuals to break the law. Sometimes (or often), crime stories we hear or read in the news have deeper meanings which we should try to find out.

The film can also be interpreted as the story of a child who learned that his father is a flawed hero. The child witnessed how his father bullied an old man inside the church just to find out the name and address of the bicycle thief; the child was slapped hard in the face by the angry father; and he witnessed at the end of the film how his father tried to steal a bike. The bicycle thief becomes the bicycle thieves in the end.

What was the father thinking during the closing scene? That he was a useless provider in the family? That he was a pathetic father? The he was a worthless individual? Or was he musing about the injustice of losing his bike?

The Bicycle Thief is a film about human frailty and the failure of modern society. It is unsettling to watch the film because the stories it depict are familiar to everyone who is exposed to the cruel realities of poverty.

Italian Films: General Della Rovere / La Famiglia

General Della Rovere (1959)

Victorio Emanuele Bardone is a conman who makes money by pretending to help desperate families whose relatives are incarcerated in Nazi-controlled jails in Italy during the closing years of World War II. A high-ranking German officer, Colonel Mueller, was impressed by Bardone’s skills and offers the latter a proposition: His crimes will be ignored if he agrees to impersonate General della Rovere, an important icon of the Resistance movement. Since only few are aware that the real General della Rovere is already dead, Bardone can assume the General’s identity and solicit information from other political prisoners. Bardone’s goal is to identify Fabrizio in the Nazi prison center. Fabrizio is the leader of the Resistance.

The film has two parts: The first half features the shameful activities of Bardone. He is introduced as a bumbling conman, amateur gambler, and a pathological liar. He is an individual who cannot be trusted. The second half chronicles the transformation of Bardone into a respectable and brave leader of the Resistance. In the end, Bardone decided to become the “real” General della Rovere by refusing to identify Fabrizio. The conman became a genuine hero.

My first impression: the film is too long (130 minutes). The director (Roberto Rossellini) allotted more time to the first half of the movie. Is it really necessary to highlight the con tricks of Bardone? Later, I realized the importance of the early scenes of the film. A person can live a life of a criminal for many years but he/she can still change. A brief time of reflection is enough to guide a person into a different path. Bardone only spent a few moments with other prisoners but this proved to be most valuable in influencing his decision to respect the memory of the person he was impersonating.

On the night before their execution, one of the prisoners complained that he is only an innocent civilian who refuses to be involved with the war. The other prisoners reminded him that being in the middle is equal to doing nothing. He was told that "When a man doesn’t know which course to take, he must choose the more difficult." Bardone was listening to this conversation. Maybe he realized that he is similar to the non-partisan prisoner. For a long time he was in the middle, he has chosen the less difficult course, and maybe he was worse than the unsympathetic prisoner since he is a conman. This was the moment when Bardone decided to choose the difficult path by protecting the identity of Fabrizio so that the leader of the Resistance can live. The price he paid for this unbelievable display of courage was his life.

It was not only Bardone’s identity which changed in the movie but also his relationship with Colonel Mueller. First, Mueller admired Bardone’s pleasant manners. Then he looked down on Bardone when he learned that Bardone was a worthless conman. Later, Bardone became Mueller’s spy in the prison. In the end, Bardone became an equal and even superior to the cultured Nazi officer by proving that he is also a principled individual who is capable of making sacrifices for a higher cause.

La Famiglia (1987)

1. During a party, an 80-year-old patriarch recounts his family history. The main characters are Carlo, his brother Giulio, his wife Beatrice, his sister-in-law and lover Adriana, and Adelina, former family servant who later became Giulio’s wife.

2. The movie was shot entirely inside an apartment building. There were no scenes outside the house. The family history was told by allowing us to see the rooms and corridors of the apartment. This is a privileged gaze. The homes of our neighbors, friends and colleagues are not always accessible to us. We only see the outside appearance of their lives. We are not invited to see their daily troubles and activities. We make superficial judgments based on our impressions of their outward looks and public lives. The movie reminds us that all individuals, successful or not, have family-related problems and private secrets which are not revealed to us.

3. The film portrays the rise and evolution of a middle class family. Is the film a faithful representation of a mainstream middle class family? The movie aspired to sketch a universal characterization of what it means to belong to a family. Everyone is familiar: the powerful figure of a grandfather, the strong and honorable father, artistic mothers, competitive siblings, unmarried aunts, annoying uncles, loyal and hardworking wives, and rebellious children.

4. The transition of the movie mirrors the maturity of the main characters. When Carlo and his friends were young, the movie was also fast-paced and intense. When they reached midlife, the movie turned dull and slow. When they became old, the movie became more reflective, funny and interesting.

My generation often forgets that the generation born in the early 1900s had to endure and survive a global war. This war inflicted physical and emotional pain on individuals and it divided families into different political camps. The film was able to describe the unpleasant impact of war on society through its sensitive depiction of the struggles of Carlo’s family as they try to grapple with the realities of war.

The changing of the times is also symbolized by the death of family members, replacement of furniture, and the gradual loss of cultural practices. In the film, the radio was a prominent part of the living room. Characters were communicating through letters. There was a time when listening to the radio was a group activity (Now we have individuals enjoying music through iPods). Letter-writing was an intimate and serious means of communication (the art of letter-writing is dying today because of e-mail and texting).

Another fascinating symbol of change in the film is the relationship of Carlo and his lover Adriana. This was signified by their changing behavior and emotional response during the three parting scenes in the stairway. They were irrational and impulsive during their youth; hypocritical and moralistic during middle age; and wise and subdued in old age.

5. The family history was recalled from Carlo’s perspective. The story can be narrated again using the points-of-view of the other major characters, especially the female members of the family. Their life stories might be more exciting. Carlo’s history is traditional (read: feudal, patriarchal). He was not like his cousin who went to fight the war in Paris and Spain. He broke off with Adriana because he couldn’t persuade her to settle down to a domestic life.

The other and maybe more deserving hero in the film is Giulio. He was a prisoner of war; he ignored class restrictions by marrying the family servant; he was a businessman who struggled for many years; and he was a gifted writer. Despite his bravery and loyalty to his family, Giulio had to bear the stigma of being anointed as the weak brother who needed help. In the end, Carlo admitted his mistake by recognizing Giulio’s talent.

Italian Films: Bread and Tulips / Everybody’s Fine

Bread and Tulips

Storyline: When Rosalba missed her tour bus, she decided to take a brief vacation in Venice. She met Fernando, a nice but lonely and suicidal waiter who kindly provided a room for her. She also got a job at a flower shop. Away from household duties and surrounded by amiable persons, Rosalba is enjoying her stay in Venice. She is falling in love too with Fernando. Meanwhile, a plumber-detective was sent by her unfaithful husband to track her down in Venice. When Rosalba learned that one of her children is on drugs, she went home immediately to her family. Fernando followed Rosalba to convince her to return to Venice.

Interpretation: Early in the film, Rosalba’s husband was talking about the lithium ion battery of his new mobile phone. He said the phone can be used for 96 hours without recharging the battery. But throughout the film, this powerful gadget with lithium ion battery was always disrupting communication. It was only when the plumber-detective closed his phone that he was able to express his real emotions to others.

The film is about the failure of individuals to communicate with fellow human beings. This inability to communicate could prove fatal. According to Rosalba, her grandfather died because he crossed an unfinished bridge. Are we building “unfinished bridges” when it comes to human relationships?

Coincidences and chance encounters could sometimes lead to genuine and long lasting relationships. There are many strange but sweet coincidences in the film. For example, the plumber-detective met the masseuse while looking for Rosalba who was staying with Fernando. The masseuse was Fernando’s neighbor. The plumber-detective and the masseuse became lovers at the end of the film. Compare these chance encounters to the kind of relationships in Rosalba’s family. Her husband was having an affair with his sister-in-law; and Rosalba herself felt unloved by her husband and children.

When Fernando first met Rosalba, he told her that his restaurant could only serve cold food because the cook had an inflamed appendix removed. Rosalba, the housewife, is similar to an appendix. Her family treats her like an appendix: unappreciated part of the body. Nobody in her family bothered to look for her in Venice when she extended her vacation. Rosalba was located by the plumber-detective because the latter plastered “missing person” posters all over the town. His inspiration was a “missing dog” poster he saw outside a bar.

Rosalba’s feeling of neglect was symbolized by the departure of the tour bus, the burst appendix and the “missing dog” poster.

There are other curious symbolisms in the film: The picture of Rosalba and her husband which was displayed in the husband’s office was shot in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (allusion to the shaky foundation of their relationship); Venice is a city which really needs plumbing engineers – plumbing is the business of Rosalba’s husband, and Rosalba met the masseuse because the latter had a plumbing problem in her bathroom; Rosalba was reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ – a book about escape, adventure, and freedom.

Rosalba noticed that Fernando is a passionate individual. He is obviously sexually repressed. His words are revealing: inadequacy, take possession, family nucleus. But maybe it was Fernando’s checkered past which endeared him to Rosalba. He appeared to her as the remoulded and repentant husband. In one of the scenes, Fernando whispers to his grandchild: “I was deaf. I now languish.”

The film is not only for middle-aged individuals who have grown tired of life. It is a film for everybody, especially the young. It reminds us about the value of human communication. It invites us to question our priorities and decisions in life. It dares us to welcome and develop relationships based on chance encounters. And it asserts that yes, everybody needs a time off.

Who is Vera Zasulich? Rosalba was called Vera by the old anarchist at the flower shop because she resembled Vera Zasulich. Who is this woman? The real Vera was a famous Russian anarchist. She acquired renown for trying to kill the Governor-General of St. Petersburg in 1878, she was only 27. After a jury acquitted her, she fled Russia and continued her revolutionary activities outside her beloved country. According to a historian, Vera lived in “cheerful penury and bohemian disorder.” She was a lonely individual. She had no family of her own; only comrades in the revolutionary movement.

Everybody’s Fine

Storyline: Matteo Scuro is an old widower living in Sicily. His five adult children are living in different parts of Italy. He believes they have successful and happy lives. When he visited all of them, he learned that these were not true and that the children lied because they were afraid to disappoint their father.

Interpretation: The character of Matteo Scuro was played by actor Marcello Mastroianni. Marcello’s acting performance is enough reason to watch this film. His portrayal of the seemingly naïve and unhappy Matteo is realistic and touching.

There is one scene in the film which captures Matteo’s predicament: A deer was blocking traffic in the highway. Matteo and his daughter went out of the car to look at the deer. Matteo was looking at himself. He was the deer. He was an old man from Sicily who is ignorant of city life. He is unaware of the linguistic codes of modern living. When a prostitute showed him her legs, he also showed his legs. When a poor man asked for donation by telling Matteo that he has three children, our hero replied by mentioning that he has five children.

Matteo insists it is impossible to die of loneliness in today’s world. He is wrong. His son’s death by suicide should convince him that isolation drives people to death. Matteo himself had witnessed and experienced the alienating effect of urban living.

Matteo is frustrated that he can only speak to his son through an answering machine. Every time he leaves a message in the machine, everything around him freezes. Only Matteo’s voice can be heard. The most intimate conversation Matteo could reach with his son was only through a lifeless object. It was a useless dialogue because the son was already dead.

Later, Matteo saw a baby (his grandchild) in his daughter’s apartment being entertained by TV. Instead of real persons, an object was taking care of the baby. An innocent child is bombarded with images from a TV screen, and later from the washing machine. Both the TV and washing machine appeared the same to the child’s eyes. They both emit empty images.

People are lonely because we have stopped talking to each other. Matteo warns that it would be the end of the world the moment we become dependent on answering machines when communicating with fellow human beings. Man is detached from others. Everybody wants to live in anonymity. When Matteo was mugged in a subway, nobody helped him.

Matteo’s journey around Italy is not only about his painful discovery of the truth regarding his beloved children. Matteo also uncovered the face of modern Italy. He learned that illusion and reality are almost the same. He enjoyed the sight of fireflies outside his son’s apartment only to realize later that the fireflies were fake, a virtual reality. Illusion is used to sustain a particular reality we need in life. Deception is a survival mechanism to mask the painful realities of the real world: The children are fine, the environment is fine, the economy is fine….

The film satirizes the techniques of contemporary politics. One of Matteo’s children is a government staff who drafts speeches for politicians. He rehearses the speeches in an empty room addressing an imaginary audience. In another scene, the baby of Matteo’s daughter mistook a washing machine for TV while the audio speaker of the real TV with static screen features a news report.

Isn’t the news in news reports akin to the “spin” of the washing machine-TV? Empty images, all spin. And isn’t today’s politics similar to the duty of Matteo’s son? Politicians are divorced from their constituents. Most of the time they appear on press conferences. They often address an imaginary audience. Governance is no longer about authorities meeting real citizens in the flesh. Everything is automated. Everything is accomplished by a push button.

Was Matteo completely clueless about the situation of his children? A man who spent 30 years meticulously checking birth certificates should have earlier seen the lies of his children. Matteo, who named his children after famous Opera characters, should have known better that great Operas are either tragic or comic. He should not be surprised that the lives of his children are both tragic and comic.

What if Matteo knew the truth from the very beginning? What if Matteo’s real intention was not to discover the real situation of his kids but to experience the illusion that his kids are doing well in life? Perhaps Matteo felt upset not because his children lied but that they failed to lie convincingly. Since the truth was spoken already, he could no longer continue talking about the illusion; and this disappointed him. The lies were his survival mechanism after his wife died.

Matteo’s eyeglass. What is the symbol of the thick eyeglass? Was it just to make the actor look old in the film? To symbolize Matteo’s inability or refusal to accept the truth about his children? To highlight Matteo’s failure to distinguish truth from the lies? Matteo’s eyeglass is similar to Clark Kent’s eyeglass. Kent’s eyeglass has a hypnotic effect on other people so that they won’t recognize him as the real Superman. What if Matteo’s eyeglass also has a hypnotic effect which prevents his children from discovering that their father already knew the truth?

Italian Films: Up the deadly boot / Rome, Open City

Up the deadly boot (2001)
A History channel production, 100 minutes

January 28. The video is about the military campaign of the Allied powers to capture Rome during World War II. Allied troops arrived in Sicily on July 1943; then they invaded Messina and Salerno. The Germans fought back in Anzio. But they were soon defeated. Rome was liberated on May 1944.

The documentary made me realize how little I knew about WWII history. My knowledge of that period is limited to the Philippine experience: the Japanese invasion and occupation of the islands, American humiliation in Corregidor, resistance of Filipinos, and finally liberation of the country.

The military campaign to capture Rome was a deadly march. Germany was prepared to defend its position in Italy. The result was catastrophic. The video proved that during wars, nobody wins. The Germans lost the war, Allied powers lost thousands of soldiers, the Italian countryside was destroyed. Rome was liberated but it was a pyrrhic victory.

The video provides a dry account of what transpired in Italy during 1943-44. Historians were interviewed, military generals were featured, and video clips of dead soldiers and old weapons were shown. The military strategies of both sides were presented. Students will learn a lot about the role of geography during warfare. Allied powers attacked from the sea while the Germans used the mountainous terrain of Italy to fortify their position.

The documentary gives a historical and military background to the Allied campaign to invade Rome and defeat Germany but it doesn’t highlight the viewpoint of Italians. There were only few Italians interviewed or depicted in the documentary. Where were the civilians and partisans? The documentary could have been more powerful if it described the lives of ordinary Italians during that era.

Here enters the appeal and necessity of literature. If history is dull, literature shall bring to life the stories of many individuals who were trapped between the fighting of the Allied and Axis forces. Literature shall narrate the sufferings endured by innocent civilians during the war.

The documentary serves as a good introduction to war literature. Viewers are able to see the battle gears, bomber planes, battleships, tanks, and guns used during WWII. These were the war machines which Italians also saw and evaded in 1943-44.

Suddenly, the plot of Italo Calvino’s The Path to the Spiders’ Nests becomes clearer to me. I now understand better the presence of German soldiers in Italy, the guerilla activities of the Partisans, and the sentiments of ordinary Italians about the war.

I will recommend this video to my friends. But I will tell them that this documentary would be appreciated more if they will also watch Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City.

Rome, Open City (1945)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini, 103 minutes

February 4. Imagine Rome during the end of World War II. The Allied forces are marching towards the city. The local resistance movement could not be defeated. Guerillas have occupied the hills near the capital. The German soldiers, aware of their weakening position, are venting their frustration by being more ruthless to the local population. Meanwhile, a movie is secretly being filmed in the capital. Professional and amateur actors were hired to star in the film. The movie, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, is about the lives of ordinary Italians during this period. The movie is hailed as Italy’s first major neorealist film.

If given the chance, I would give the film a new title: Just Path. It refers to the conversation between the two lovers in the film, Pina and Francesco. While talking about their engagement, Francesco assures his fiancée that there is nothing wrong with being part of the resistance movement. They are treading on a just path.

The movie featured several characters who have walked the just path by joining the resistance (the mysterious engineer, rebel priest, and the brave children in the parish). There are also others who have chosen the other path by collaborating with the Germans. To support or oppose the foreign power – which is the popular option? Before his execution, the rebel priest murmurs: “It is not difficult to die well. It is difficult to live right.”

The scenes inside the headquarters of the German army are the best moments in the film. There are several rooms in the building which are interconnected: the office of the German major, the interrogation room where torture is applied on uncooperative prisoners and “where heroes become cowards”, and the officers’ room where German officers indulge in merrymaking.

The German major could enter all rooms without realizing the irony of the situation: drinking and gambling in one room, performing official transactions in the adjoining room, and torturing dissidents in the next room. The division of the floor was built to hide the official and unofficial acts of the occupying army.

It was in these rooms where the moral bankruptcy of the German army was exposed. In the officers’ room, a guilt-stricken veteran officer described the Germans as the master race consumed by hatred without hope. In the main office, the priest refused to betray his rebel friends. In the interrogation room, the engineer who defended his principles was killed by the Germans. But this death did not terrify the priest. Instead, the priest mocked the impotent power of the German army. The engineer’s heroic death symbolized the victory of the resistance movement.

The film highlighted the sacrifices given by the murdered protagonists. But even more significant was the continuity of the resistance symbolized by Francesco who remained alive at the end of the film. And the unwanted participation of the children in the resistance points to the proven ability of children to understand which correct political actions they should choose during times of war.

This war drama continues to be relevant. During an interrogation scene, the German officer reminds the priest that the rights of Germany (“the rights of an occupying power”) are being violated by the activities of the resistance movement. This is the same complaint of Israel in Palestine. The implied message is: the rights of the occupying power are more important than the rights of the colonized.

During film break, someone asked, “Will there be a happy ending?” The reply of someone at the back, “Unfortunately, war movies do not have happy endings.” My answer: This is a movie which has a happy ending. The oppressor’s empty power was unmasked; humanity prevailed; and the struggle of the liberation movement was allowed to continue.

Poetas. Parolas. Panunuluyan

Southeast Asia: The shoe, the shoe and Philippines: Fisherman saved by dolphins and whales – posts written for Global Voices.

December 6. I went to the San Francisco Public Library – to borrow books; to find some quiet place where nobody would bother me about my views about the Pacquiao-dela Hoya boxing match; and to attend a poetry reading.

I did borrow a few books. I was able to escape from overexcited boxing fans. And I enjoyed the poetry reading. The poets were Luisa A. Igloria, Barbara Jane Reyes, Karen Llagas, and Joi Barrios.

I’m familiar with the poems and plays written by Joi. I’ve also seen and heard her perform in public assemblies. Then and now, I’m a big fan of her poems of love and struggles.

The poetry reading event gave me the opportunity to read a sample of the literary works of some of the award-winning Filipino-American writers. I’m fascinated by the themes they have chosen. Frankly, they used many metaphors which I couldn’t understand. That is why after the event, I promised to read a few poems written by Fil-Am writers before I go to sleep. It’s one way of demystifying the difficult linguistic codes and symbols.

During the open forum, I think the issue of identity was briefly discussed. Who are the audience of Fil-Am writers? And it is also a question for myself. Lately, I’ve noticed that I no longer think of Filipinos as the primary readers whom I want to reach. I’m still resolving this question.

December 13 morning. Thousands of Obama-Biden community networks held meetings across the United States to gather the sentiments of the grassroots about what to do with their organization. I attended the San Francisco meeting. What did I learn? During the campaign period the tasks were simpler; there was only one goal: the electoral victory of Obama. Now the grassroots are unsure about their actual relationship to the new administration. What will be the new functions of these local networks? What will be the effective structure of the national organization? How can they sustain the participation of the volunteers? The challenge is to tap the voices of community formations, minority groups, and the netizens. Judging from what I witnessed in the meeting and from what I have been reading in the newspapers, the new tasks will not be easy to accomplish.


December 13 evening. Parol Lantern Parade and Festival. I saw some beautiful parols. Kudos to the city of San Fernando, Pampanga for sending their own delegation to the event. Groups like the Veterans Equity Center, Gabriela, and Filipino Community Center also participated in the parade.

A short but lively program was held at the St. Patrick’s Church. The highlight was the staging of the Panunuluyan (asking for lodgings). The actors/actresses were senior citizens and homeless residents of the community. I learned that the actors themselves conceptualized the enactment of the play. They internalized the social meaning of the Panunuluyan by comparing the experience of Mary and Joseph, who were looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem, to their personal and daily struggles of looking for a home.

The message of Panunuluyan is very timely especially at a time when foreclosure cases are up in America.

Click here and here to view more pictures.


Related entries:

Homeless in America
Obama effect

Coppola’s revisionism

What happened to Francis Ford Coppola?

He was one of the greatest, if not the most intelligent filmmaker of the 70’s. Now he is overshadowed by contemporaries like Martin Scorcese and Roman Polanski who continue to make award-winning films.

Perhaps he is too preoccupied building beach resorts in the Caribbean or consolidating his title as a wine mogul.

He has not made a new film since Rainmaker in 1997. He released new versions of Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart and recently, The Outsiders. People doubt whether he is serious in completing his screen adaptation of an Ayn Rand’s novel tentatively titled as Megalopolis.

Maybe Coppola is satisfied that her daughter Sofia is already an accomplished director. Or maybe he is just too happy producing sci-fi programs or supporting new directors. He is reported to be producing a film based on a Jack Kerouac’s book. Or maybe critics are correct when they maintain that Coppola has little or no creative ideas left in his body.

Coppola is regarded as an icon or a patriarch in the art of filmmaking because of his epic works like The Godfather, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. Whether he still has those legendary artistic skills in making a movie or he is already an overrated and has-been director, it is appreciated that he announced his vow to end his revisionism or his proclivity to revise his past films which were not warmly received by the public and critics alike.

He says he will now concentrate in making original films. A competition with friend George Lucas who also announced his intention to make movies about human relations without droids may be in the offing.

I am one of those eagerly anticipating the next movie by Francis Ford Coppola now that he is through with his revisionism. It is hoped that its story would be as compelling as the Godfather and a screenplay that could rival the lines in Apocalypse Now. In short, Coppola must offer a film we could not refuse.

once upon a time

umuutang pa ako noon para lang makapanood ng pelikula ni jet li. sinusuyod namin ang mga video shop sa project 7, quezon city sa pag-asang makahiram ng mga piniratang VHS ng mga pelikula ni jet li galing hong kong. sa katunayan bukod sa paghanga ko kay chairman mao, kumuha ako ng chinese language na subject sa kolehiyo para maintindihan ko ang dayalog sa mga kung fu film ni jet li.

paborito ko yung mga unang pelikula ni jet li tungkol sa mga shaolin kids. sa unang pagkakataon ay nakita ng mundo kung paano sinasanay ang mga shaolin sa kung fu. sumikat lalo si jet li dahil sa ‘once upon a time in china’ series noong unang bahagi ng dekada nobenta. sa pakikipagkolaborasyon ni jet li kay tsui hark at yuen woo ping ay naisapelikula ang buhay ni wong fei hung, isang doktor sa lumang tsina na magaling sa martial arts. sumikat din ang karakter ni fong sai yuk.

pero para sa maraming tagasubaybay ng mga pelikula ni jet li tulad ko, di pa rin mapapantayan ang ‘fist of legend’ bilang klasikong kung fu na pelikula. dito nakita ang husay ni jet li sa martial arts at di siya lumilipad dito, talagang dinadaan lang sa tradisyunal na bilis ng suntok at sipa na para bang nanonood ka ng salsa.

natuwa ako ng maging bahagi si jet li ng lethal weapon 4 noong 1998. napanis si mel gibson at nagbukas ito ng oportunidad para sa mga aktor galing asya. panahon na siguro para matuto naman ang hollywood kung paano gumawa ng action movies ang mga taga-asya.

ngayon isa ng superstar si jet li sa amerika at buong mundo. marami na siyang nagawang pelikula sa hollywood. kaso walang dating ang mga pelikulang pinagbidahan niya tulad ng ‘the one’, ‘cradle to the grave’, ‘kiss of the dragon’ at ang pinakabago yung ‘unleashed’ o ‘danny the dog’. nagmumukha siyang van damme o steven seagal at nawala yung imahen niya bilang aktor na inangat ang lebel ng mga kung fu film. pilit na inaayon ang mga istorya para sa konsumo ng mga manonood sa amerika at europa. kaya tuloy palaging may mga gang war o mga sidekick na rapper o soundtrack na pang-MTV. kaya tuloy naihahanay si jet li kay john woo, jacky chan at chow yun fat bilang mga ‘sell-out’ dahil sa pagpayag nilang magpalamon sa dikta ng hollywood.

natutuwa naman ako at stylish pa rin ang fight scenes sa mga pelikula ni jet li. sana lang sa susunod niyang pelikula na tungkol ulit sa buhay ng isang bayani ng tsina ay makita muli ang mga matataas na lipad, mabibilis na suntok, at istoryang akma sa panlasa ng manonood at nababagay sa imahen ni jet li.

frasier’s legacy

Balita sa Amerika ang mababang rating ng mga comedy sitcom dahil sa patuloy na pangingibabaw ng mga reality show. Maliban sa Everybody Loves Raymond, wala sa Top 30 ang mga lumang sitcom tulad ng Will and Grace at Joey.

Sa tingin ko ay hindi lamang rating ang dapat problemahin kundi ang kalidad ng mga programang pangkomedya. Pagkatapos magpaalam ng Frasier noong nakaraang taon, nawala ang isang palabas na may matalinong dayalog at sopistikadong paraan ng pagpapatawa.

Iisa lang ang istasyon ng Friends at Frasier pero higit na popular ang una kahit kinikilala ang huli bilang pinakamatagumpay na comedy series dahil sa dami ng nakuha nitong parangal mula sa mga manunuri at halos lahat ng award-giving body para sa TV.

Sinasabi ng mga aktor ng Frasier na ang kanilang programa ay masuwerteng tinangkilik ng publiko dahil hindi kumbensiyunal o pang-mainstream ang konsepto ng kanilang tipo ng pagpapatawa.

Hindi slapstick, toilet humor o mga karakter na may pisikal na depekto ang nag-iiba sa Frasier. Sa katunayan hindi nga pang-masa ang mga karakter ng programa dahil ang Frasier ay kuwento ng isang mayabang na radio psychiatrist at ng kanyang mga kaibigan at pamilya. Tampok sa istorya ang kumpetisyon sa pagitan ni Frasier at ng kanyang mas mayabang at mayaman na kapatid.

Pinatunayan ng Frasier na pwedeng magpatawa kahit hindi sumisigaw o nag-aasaran ang mga karakter o kaya ay dapat may mataba o kulot sa istorya o mga dayalog na wala namang katuturan.

Nangahas ang Frasier na humabi ng nakakatuwang istorya tungkol sa mga duktor at ang kanilang interes tulad ng mamahaling alak, opera, pelikula, art deco, french cuisine, caviar atbp. Ang magkapatid na duktor na walang alam sa isports ay kailangang makisama sa kanilang simple at mas madiskarteng ama na isang retiradong pulis. Kasama sa programa ang therapist at katulong sa bahay na lihim na iniibig ng kapatid ni Frasier at ang secretary ng duktor na walang problema sa paghanap ng lalaki.

Mahigit sampung taon sa ere ang Frasier at naging bahagi na ito ng kulturang popular. Gayunpaman, baka matagal-tagal pa bago ulit magkaroon ng programa na may mataas na respeto sa katalinuhan ng publiko at may kakayanang umakit ng maraming tagasuporta.

Samantala, maraming salamat muna sa DVD center ng Pilipinas sa Quiapo at nakabili ako ng Season 2 at 11 ng Frasier.

The Spy

Napanood ko ulit ang pelikulang ‘The Spy’ kanina at naalala ko na meron pala akong nasulat na rebyu dito. Akmang-akma ito sa paggunita ng anibersaryo ng pagsakop ng US sa Iraq at sa kasalukuyang panghihimasok ng Amerika sa ating bansa….

Mahirap hindi mabighani sa pelikulang ‘The Spy’ lalo na’t may kasalatan sa ating bansa ng mga obrang nagtataglay ng parehong pagpapahalaga sa estetika at panlipunang komentaryo.

Halaw ito sa nobela ni Graham Greene (The Quiet American) tungkol sa kuwento ng isang matandang Ingles na peryodista, isang batang ahente ng CIA na may prenteng miyembro ng economic aid mission at isang Vietnamese dance-hall girl na gustong “iligtas’ ng dalawa sa kanyang kalagayan.

Ang bumubuhay kay Fowler ay ang pag-ibig niya kay Phuong na hindi niya pwedeng pakasalan dahil may asawa siyang iniwan sa England. Sa pagdating ng batang-bata at inosenteng si Pyle na agad nag-alay ng kanyang pagmamahal ay nayanig ang kanilang mundo. Pumaibabaw ang natatagong ligalig sa kanilang kalooban at nasiwalat ang usapin ng moralidad na kinakaharap ni Fowler sa kanyang utak.

Ang taon ay 1952. Sakop pa rin ng France ang Vietnam subalit malapit ng magwagi ang mga pwersa ni Ho Chi Minh. Nagsisimula pa lamang ang interbensiyon ng Amerika sa Vietnam.

Ang pelikula ay tungkol kay Fowler, Pyle at Phuong subalit naratibo rin ito ugat ng digmaan sa Vietnam. Hindi lamang ito pag-usisa sa motibo ng bawat karakter sa kanilang piniling sitwasyon, ito rin ay pagtukoy sa kahinaan ng tao na nakikipaglaban sa mga demonyo ng kanilang utak at damdamin. Higit sa lahat, ito ay pagkilala sa kahungkagan ng digmaang naganap sa Vietnam na binunsod ng pananakop ng banyagang kapangyarihan.

Hindi lantaran ang pagtutol sa gera subalit ang buhay ng mga karakter sa pelikula ay nagpapatotoo sa ideyang ito. Si Phuong, tulad ng Vietnam ay gustong iligtas ng mga banyaga mula sa kanyang katayuan kahit hindi niya ito hinihingi. Ang pagtulong nila Fowler at Pyle, kahit busilak ang inihahayag na intensiyon, ay tutumbok din sa huli para sa kanilang makasariling karnal na interes.

Maraming dahilan para panoorin ang ‘Spy’ ng bawat Pilipino. Maaaring ilahad ang mahusay na pagganap ni Michael Caine, ang cinematography ni Christopher Doyle (na huli nating napanood sa pelikulang ‘Hero’) at isang pagtuklas sa kahusayan ni Greene na maghabi ng matapang na kuwento tungkol sa karuwagan at makitid na pag-iisip ng tao. Pero ang pangunahing dahilan ay ang napapanahong halaga nito sa buhay ng mga Pilipino sa kasalukuyan.

Madali nating makilala si Pyle. Madalas siyang bumisita s Pilipinas. Maaaring siya si Lansdale noon at si Meihring ngayon. Bumuo ng ‘third force si Pyle pantapat sa dalawang nagbabanggaang puwersa ng France at mga komunista. Sa Pilipinas, maraming ‘third force.’ Nagpasabog ng mga bomba sa gitna ng Saigon si Pyle sa pamamagitan ng kanyang alagang si General The at sinisi ito sa mga komunista. Lumang kuwento, pero balita yan sa Pilipinas.

Tapos na ang gera sa Vietnam at malamang nasa proseso ang bansang ito sa pag-eexorcise ng kanilang mga pinalayas na halimaw ng nakaraan. Habang pinapanood ko ang ‘Spy’, hindi ko maiwasang isipin na Pilipinas, hindi Vietnam, ang bansang tinutukoy sa pelikula.