Wednesday, November 22, 2017

C1 ORIGINALS 2017: Review of HISTORIOGRAPHIKA ERRATA: Interesting but Inconsonant

November 21, 2017

Thanks to the very long vacation break brought about by the ASEAN Conference in the city last week, this is the first time I had actually been able to catch all 7 of the Full-Length Narratives in competition for the Cinema One Originals film festival this year. The awards had already been given out last Sunday, with "Paki" winning Best Picture, and "Changing Partners" as Audience Choice. Because of its difficult schedule, this winner of the Jury Prize is the last of the bunch that I got to watch, even if it was the title that intrigued me the most.

This film is a trilogy of separate stories set in different times in Philippine history. 

The first episode was set in the wane of the Spanish rule, prior to the birth of the Katipunan. Andres Bonifacio (Jett Pangan) and his close colleagues in the reformist movement, namely Emilio Jacinto (Kean Cipriano), Deodato Arellano (Dong Abay) and Ladislaw Diwa (Kevin Roy), were shown wearing wigs and women's clothing while praying in front of an altar with a photograph of their icon Jose Rizal.

Meanwhile in a Berlin hotel, Jose Rizal (Joem Bascon) was having severe writers block, was flat broke and was actually contemplating suicide. While he was having fantasies of his love Leonor Rivera (Max Eigenmann), his friend Maximo Viola sends a German prostitute his way as a gift and messenger that he was going to fund the publication of Rizal's book (which we all know was going to be the "Noli Me Tangere").

The second episode was set in the American occupation. An ex-Katipunero named Mateo (Alex Medina) was conscripted to become a guide for a troop led by an American lieutenant (Basti Artadi) for his freedom and a hefty amount of money. Their group was ambushed by native tribesmen but Mateo managed to escape. He sought shelter in a cave, which turned out to be guarded by an enchantress with curved horns on her head. 

The final episode was set somewhere in Luzon during the Japanese occupation. Ernesto (Paolo Paraiso), the husband of a beautiful Fil-American woman named Librada (Nathalie Hart), was incarcerated in a Japanese garrison. Desperate for food, she sells her body to a couple of men in the neighborhood, Pancho (Jess Mendoza) and Fidel (Rafa Siguion-Reyna), on the condition that they should not get her pregnant. One day though, the two men wanted her "services" even when she was not feeling well. 

The most remarkable aspect of this film is its cinematography. In the first episode, the scenes were shot with a sepia filter in keeping with the era it depicted. In the second episode, the whole trek through the forest and thru the river was spectacularly shot from all angles. In the third episode, there was a smoky filter to create a steamy mood for the intimate scenes. There were some pretty adventurous camera angles in all three parts. Being a period film, appropriate production design was also a challenge which was met very well by this production.

The acting varied in style for the three episodes. Being a farce, the acting of the cast in episode one was tongue-in-cheek, and oddly funny. They were fully aware that they were being absurd. Alex Medina's acting in episode two was at par for his course. Nathalie Hart naturally exuded sexiness, even if she was just roasting corn or harvesting taro. Jess Mendoza was more convincing than the hammy Rafa Siguion-Reyna as a horny rascal. 

At the end of it all though, what did writer Jim Flores and director Richard Somes really want to tell us? Honestly I am not sure. The first episode was entertaining in its dark comedy. I get the Rizal part, but on the other end, why would the would-be Katipuneros be wearing women's clothing? The second (with its fantasy element) and third (with its erotic element) episodes seem to say something about Filipinos who lose their morality in order to survive the war, but what connection did those two episodes have with first episode? 

"Historiographika" may have been engrossing visually, but I did not see any clear thread the three disparate shorts. I feel that an expanded version of the more original, farcical first episode alone could have been more interesting. 6/10. 

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