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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Now Showing (3)

Read part 1 and 2 of this review.

Then, as the image (and sound) quality improves (along with the audiovisual technology history of recent years), the importance of the scenes also matures and becomes more meaningful. This naturally follows the education of a (fictional) filmmaker learning from experience to channel the enthusiasm and only shoot what might stay interesting when watched on TV for a viewer unrelated to this family.

Rita has grown up too, she's over 16 in the second epoch, and her concerns change from kidding around, playing with the neighbours, witnessing family drama from the sideline, to moving outside the house, meeting new friends and arguing with her boyfriend. The (fictional) apprentice filmmaker also moves outside family environment and films the city, composes better shots, plants his camera in a static position with a meaningful point of view. So the film really tells at once the evolution from the 90ies to the present days of Rita (from a child to a woman), of the filmmaker (from amateur to professional) and of our culture of images (from VHS to DV), through subtle understated changes that become evident afterwards.
A few years back, Jonathan Caouette brought to Sundance and Cannes 2004 (Director's Fortnight) a similar experiment with Tarnation (2003), with his own video-diary he had been recording since his early teen with 8mm film then video. It was a frantic flipbook through the mutation of images in the last decades, albeit not contemplative like Raya Martin's.

After the Black & White break (grand mother's film), we jump in time a few years later. Another girl impersonates Rita in her late teens.

Rita's adolescence opens with a creepy hand-held first person view (coming out of a Blair's Witch Project!) through a night trip in a graveyard. She's there to set a commemorative supper on her family tomb (I assumed it was her grand mother's but apparently it's her father's), next to a rooster chanting dawn.
The idea is beautiful, but less is the overdramatized thrill (with artificial sound-effects added) overstating her anguish to get lost (the camera searching for a way out) or be stalked by ghosts (the camera pans left and right nervously). The long take works well for the whole duration of the ceremony, but the way in (subjective POV) and the way out (frontal tracking shot), with the jerky hand-held camera, gets a little redundant after a while. From what I could see, this labyrinthine cemetery offered a magnificent space in itself with very natural architectural qualities that would render a spooky feeling by night even with a calm filming.

Follows a powerful long take. The new (older) Rita doesn't utter a word in the cemetery, so it's the first time she introduces her voice to us here. Out on her front porch, she's having a chat with her best friend and two boys at night. The filmmaker is removed in a corner like a static surveillance camera, at table level, and we overhear their stream-of-consciousness conversation. There is an unspoken tension, they are trying to be clever, taunting and mocking each other, awkward moments defused by a lot of laughters. We have the genuine feeling of watching real life teenagers filmed with a careful attention.
They joke about the circumstances of the suicide of a neighbour, like a trivial gossip. However disrespectful, it confronts them to the theme of death, which seems to touch an underlying existential concern among clever jokes. The girls whisper on their own about another gossip of a raped neighbour. The boys want to hear out loud the secret talks and are most uncomfortable when finally finding out. This rape topic digresses into other various subjects like the lust of some chicks with bad reputation, boobies, the insecurity in Manila and announces (tangentially) the turning point of the family drama finale. But for now, it will remain just a suspended hint in the back of our heads...

The film moves on to a more continuous form, slowly building some kind of a narrative, hint after hint, collected unconsciously in every scene. As Rita patiently looks after a DVD shop in a mall for a friend, her boyfriend Doy comes along to take her out for dinner. It's the occasion of nice extended takes of daily life observation, in the street, and in the mall.
There is a very interesting shot of Rita and Doy arguing about Rita's mum not wanting Rita to sleep over at Doy's for his birthday. Raya Martin films this long take from across the street looking at the couple seated right behind a large window pane in a bar at dusk. We can't see their facial expressions from there, we even have to assume the identity of these small silhouettes. But we can hear what they say clearly with a microphone recording the ambient sound behind the window. It's an interesting way to dissociate the visual and auditive channels. We decipher their body language from afar, and try to figure out what the drama is about from a dialogue that is not scripted to feed a "plot".
We are put in the position of an involuntary voyeur, the kind of curiosity we've all experienced when sitting for a long time in a public space, where we get to capture the personality of the strangers around us and by overhearing certain conversations we peek into their intimacy either by our own speculations or by being witness of their indiscreet exhibition.
Rita doesn't want to confess that her mum forbids her, so she brings up false excuses that her boyfriend doesn't understand. Doy feels offended she's not more enthusiastic to spend the night with him for his birthday. The unspoken conflict arrested by self-censorship or timid shame, Rita just walks out, and Doy sighs in incomprehension. This is a common teenage case of failure to meet between opposite gender, complicated by the family rules.

Another favourite scene of mine, develops this situation most pertinently. Rita and her mother are watching an offscreen TV in the living room at night. This could be the mirror scene of the horror radio program. This time they are not cuddled up together because teenage is a period of generational conflict and emancipation. The affection expresses itself elsewhere.
Rita is crouching in the armchair and her mother is lying in the sofa and asks Rita to bring her food from the kitchen. Rita plays nice and chit-chats attentively until she mentions in passing that her best (girl)friend's birthday is the next day and she invited her to stay overnight for helping to the preparations. What she doesn't tell her mum is that Doy's (her boyfriend) birthday is the following day (a coincidence we heard about, understated, in the scene where the four friends talk under the porch). Her mother accepts while giving severe recommendations to her minor daughter against the danger of being raped, echoing another topic evoked in that preparatory scene. Rita smiles with a large grin when she obtained the "proxy" permission to go out with her boyfriend, since her mum looks away at the TV, and agrees to whatever she's asked to promise, further aggravating her little lie.
All the mise en scene revolves around the fact they talk without looking eye to eye, and the dissimulation of information that makes the spectator first anticipate the dreaded reaction then projects us in the next scenes to come.

Part 4 (coming soon)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow, this review is not a trilogy after all...