Tuesday, November 18, 2014

CinemaOne 2014: Review of ESPRIT DE CORPS: Intense Interrogation

November 18, 2014

It was quite obvious from some posters and the trailer (with the actors in various states of undress) that this film had a gay theme. However, "Esprit" had just copped two major awards last Sunday: Best Director and Best Actor, and that was reason enough to catch it.

C/Maj Mac Favila is the S3 (operations officer) of the Corp of Cadets in St. Michaels, an exclusive Catholic boys school. C/Pvt Abel Sarmiento and C/Pvt Cain Fujioka are both aspiring for Favila's prestigious position, with the power and popularity it brings. However, the one-on-one interrogations of Favila with the cadets took extremely unconventional detours for him to determine who among the two was the right candidate for the job.

This film throws us back to the time when there was still CAT in high school, during the officers training course. As someone who underwent that course myself back in high school, the military jargon (S3, poop sheets, military discipline, the commands, the demerits, the punishments, etc...) we encountered back then all came back to me, with good and bad memories.  There were also references to other Martial Law-era pop culture, like the Marcoses and Bagong Lipunan, to Japayukis, to Voltes V (the TV series and the movie) that we all remember.

The film took a turn to the uncomfortable when the dark gay elements took over.  I can't say I did not expect it.  I just did not expect it to be so disturbing.

Since I only saw two films, it is hard for me to comment if Kanakan Balintagos (formerly known as Auraeus Solito) truly deserved to win Best Director. I do know that I liked how the camera was in constant motion around the characters, giving it a sense of dynamism and energy. I liked the theatrical style of the screenplay with the fast exchange of words, and the way the director told the story out of order for the best effect. 

An exception would be the swimming scene in the middle of the film which felt extraneous and gratuitous. It was not realistic, nor did it really advance the plot in anyway. The wargames was supposed to be climactic, but it was not executed too well.

I thought Sandino Martin did well in the lead role as Abel. His role was difficult physically as well as emotionally during his intense interrogation scenes. I thought it was Best Actor caliber performance. In the role of Mac Favila, JC Santos also did creditably well in his complex, conflicted character. Santos was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, though arguably his role is actually co-lead.  Their chemistry sparked some serious sexual tension that the film required to succeed.

Lharby Policarpio played the very competitive Cain, who was willing to do whatever it takes to get his rank. It is good they put in a scene explaining the reason why he got that unrealistically negative name. This character had less subtlety than the other two, so he did not show much range. Garry Lim essayed an uncharacteristically sleazy role as the Commandant. The beautiful Sue Prado had a puzzling wordless cameo which revealed her bountiful assets and more.

The story is solid and well-told, though the unsettling details involved are not for everybody. Conservatives may not approve of the graphic sexuality displayed. Although sex is an essential part of the story, these scenes could have been done in a more subtle, less blatant way for wider audience appeal. However, the director decided to push the envelope, and the actors were likewise daring, and for thus this film had been amply rewarded. 6/10.

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