Thursday, September 19, 2019

PPP 2019: Review of VERDICT: Vivid Vérité

September 18, 2019

The Venice Film Festival 2019 ran from August 27 - September 7, 2019. "Verdict" from the Philippines, by first-time director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez, was the only entry in the official selection from Southeast Asia. It also won the Special Jury Prize in the Horizon Section (which ran parallel to the main section competing for the Golden Lion, which won by Todd Phillips' "Joker" this year). 

One night, while Joy and daughter Angel were enjoying a piece of cake, her petty crook husband Dante came home drunk and angry. In no time, he was brutally beating Joy up for no apparent reason. Severely injured, she quickly grabbed Angel and ran off to the safety of the nearby police outpost. From there, this film then followed Joy's quest for justice, step by step in detail, from Dante's arrest all the way to criminal court. 

Watching this film was not easy. Director Raymund Gutierrez's camera was constantly in motion and very shaky. The focus was very tight, with everything shot very up-close, we can practically see every pore on the actors' faces. Immediately, this cinematographic style called to mind that of acclaimed Filipino director Brillante Mendoza. 

As the credits rolled at the end, Mr. Mendoza's name was actually executive producer. It came as no surprise upon later research that Gutierrez learned his directorial ropes under Mendoza. Even the style of acting from his actors was Mendoza-esque -- very gritty and realistic, as if there was no acting at all. 

This role of Joy should be the most intense role Max Eigenmann ever had in her career. Her scenes with the swollen face were painful to watch, it was so ironic the indignities she had to undergo from the various authorities while in that damaged physical situation. She had a scene where the camera was following her as she was walking out on the streets, a scene that called to mind Jaclyn Jose's Cannes-winning final walk in Mendoza's "Ma'Rosa." (I was half-expecting Joy to stop and eat a stick of fish balls herself, which of course she didn't.)

Kristoffer King was a terrifying presence as pathological abuser and liar Dante. King had been mentored by Brillante Mendoza practically his whole career and he is indeed a master of not acting, and just being the character. Here, King's Dante reeked of evil even by just his mere look. Unease was felt even during his quiet moments with his innocent daughter Joy or with his ever-supportive mother (Dolly de Leon).  King's passing last February 23, 2019 marked the loss of one talented young character actor. This was his final feature film role.

As a Filipino, watching this procedural film will make you fraught with frustration at the quality of the justice system expected to uphold our rights and keep us secure. If you are poor, even if you had been so obviously wronged, everyone who was supposed to help you seemed so inefficient and cold -- the barangay officials, the police, the medics, the fiscals, or even the judge. Sadly, you just take it as it is. You simply can't do anything about it. This Santos v Santos case was filed in urban Mandaluyong, and it went like this. How much worse could we expect in rural courts?

The grueling pace of the film felt real time, as slowly as these cases would take in actuality. That immersive nature was why it packed such a mean punch to our guts. 8/10. 

1 comment:

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