I watched Lav Diaz’s recent piece, the four-hour Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (international title: Norte, the End of History), and I have to say it really engaged me — so much, in fact, that I caught myself several times just mulling over the plot and the characters days later. I was unhappy with how it ended, feeling (I’ll try my best not to give spoilers here, in case some people still find a chance to see the film) the additional tragic incident is an overkill, but I found the whole unspoken discourse about justice and grace, impunity and insanity, choices and consequences (it is, after all, an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment), set against the backdrop of the slow, brutal, provincial life of Ilocos Norte, truly riveting. Initially I was also dissatisfied as I had wanted a character to show up dead, floating in a river somewhere; I later realized that I merely wanted my taste for the conventional picture of justice gratified, but Lav Diaz actually got it right. Lastly, I discovered that Cid Lucero, whose name always rang a bell but whom I had never seen anywhere, is really, really crazy good.
Seeing Norte reminded me of how seldom I get to see really good Pinoy films. I thought of the last one that really wowed me: On the Job (OTJ), Eric Matti’s high-energy, fast-paced crime and politics action-drama is the first Pinoy flick of its genre (of all I have ever seen, anyway) that assumes an intelligent audience. The nail-biting chase scenes take viewers through the grimy, creepy alleys of Manila, while the running shots inside a prison gives one an unnerving perspective of the world of jailbirds. Most important for me, the plot with all its twists, revelations and conspiracy theories is told through a remarkably smart screenplay, which is such a delight after decades of horrible, formulaic scripts that have made Pinoy action movies barely watchable. As for the actors, Joel Torre delivers as expected, but Joey Marquez and Gerald Anderson reveal perhaps never-before-seen depth. Even Nino Muhlach, with his brief but scene-stealing turn as a pitiable scoundrel, is quite amazing here.
The last local production I really appreciated prior to OTJ, without a doubt — in fact this remains to be my all-time favorite Filipino film — is Ploning, by Dante Nico Garcia. It was probably the season in my life when I saw it that made it unforgettable, but those lines about love so quietly delivered, uttered with such dignity and simplicity…Just wow. Then there’s the use of the Cuyonon dialect interspersed with Tagalog, and the poignant song, and the lives and the broken characters — everyone seeming to seek/wait for something or someone — portrayed in that poor, beautiful coastal community in breathtaking Palawan, and the performances of Judy Ann Santos (watching this movie marked the first time I admired her) and Meryl Soriano…I know I can watch Ploning many times over. Here’s one of my favorite lines from this movie (Note: I’ll try my best to translate into English, though I know I won’t do the film justice):
Hindi ba mas masarap isipin na kaya ikaw ang mas nasasaktan, ay dahil ikaw ang mas nagmamahal? (“Isn’t it nice to think that the reason you’re experiencing more pain, is that you are the one who’s giving more love?”)
And here’s a conversation among protagonist Ploning and two other women:
Celeste: “Kung nagmamahal ka, hindi mo naman kasama araw-araw at hindi ka rin sigurado kung babalikan ka, anong tawag d’on?” (“If you still love someone even when you’re not together everyday and you’re not even sure he’s coming back to you, what do you call that?”)
Ploning: “Nagmamahal. Kasi ang nagmamahal, nagtitiwala.” (“Love. Because one who loves, trusts.”)
Celeste: “Kahit nasasaktan ka na?” (“Even if it already hurts?”)
Nieves: “Ako, naniniwala na ang nagmamahal ay nasasaktan. ‘Pag hindi ka na nasasaktan, aba’y matakot ka. Baka hindi ka na nagmamahal.” (“I believe that any person who loves experiences pain. If you’re no longer feeling pain, you should be scared. Maybe you’re not loving anymore.”)
Celeste: “Basta ako, hindi na ako papayag na masaktan muli dahil lang nagmahal ako.” (“As for me, I will never let myself get hurt again just because of loving someone.”)
Ploning: “E di parang mo na ring sinabing hindi mo na papayagan ang sarili mong magmahal ulit.” (“Then you’re actually saying that you won’t ever let yourself love again.”)
Anyway, I’m very certain that there are many other exceptional Pinoy movies that I should go find, especially with the indie film boom of the last decade. Any non-negotiable must-watch flicks you can tell me about?