November 13, 2016
"Area" refers to a district in Angeles City where prostitutes who are past their prime continue to ply their trade. They are either old, obese, multigravid -- various states of staleness, willing to accept any cheap or freak customers just to survive. As Area became more and more rundown, only two brothels still existed. The family of Ben (Allen Dizon) who had been in this flesh trade for generations ran one of them.
Hillary (Ai Ai delas Alas) was once a prostitute in posh Fields Avenue, where American G.I.s used to spend their down time. During the panic of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, she frantically sent her infant son with his father to be brought to safety. She never saw her son again. Her colleagues in Area call her a delusional liar, but Hillary continues to save up all her cash in her trusty locked box to hopefully see her son again.
The unsavory events in Area happened during the Holy Week, when Pampanga is a hub for serious penitential activities. The four generations of Ben's family were shown to be a super-religious happy family, who just so happened to run a prostitution business as a means of living. The dark and squalid Area was shown to be poorly ventilated and hot, so much that you can practically smell its stench.
Ai Ai delas Alas and Allen Dizon have already proven themselves as effective actors in indie films. Delas Alas had no makeup on and was uncharacteristically bold with her skin exposure and bed acrobatics, though nothing really too excessive was shown. Dizon, it seems, actually underwent the flagellation rites in the streets, complete with the initial pricking of the skin in his back to make it bleed. Talk about method acting!
Indie favorite Sue Prado played Julie, whose fine looks and voluptuous body made her the most popular girl in Area, despite having born three kids (with names Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth). Ms. Ai-ai's son Sancho Vito delas Alas actually had good screen presence here as Duman, brother-in-law of Ben, also a pimp. Bambalito Lacap is the child actor who played Ben's son, another pimp in-training. Because of his gentle features and long hair, I thought he was a girl, until I heard that "her" name was Boy.
Among Ben's family, the standout was Eurocina Pena as the matriarch of Ben's family, his grandmother, boy's great-grandmother. Her acting was very natural and unaffected, just like any regular doting and devout grandmother would act. I really liked her performance a lot. Among the prostitutes, the standout was Tabs Sumulong in her humorous role as Glo, the aging whore no customer was choosing. She was delightful in her desperation, unmindful of the cruel fun poked at her.
Before it had its commercial run this week, "Area" had already earned an Grade A from the Cinema Evaluation Board. It had also just won the Special Jury Prize in the 12th Eurasia International Film Festival last month in Kazakhstan. This film by director Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio was an intense immersion in an underworld so seedy we would never hope to see it for real. However, the religious counterpoint is not exactly new and the climax and conclusion were predictable from the get-go. 6/10.