The cinematic ancestors of Debosyon (Alvin Yapan, 2013) include Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari and Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Woman in the Dunes, with the bizarre realism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century (plus the thing about orchids). It also reminds of the haunting ending of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse: Monica Vitti and Alain Delon agree to meet, but neither show up, and we see instead spaces emptied of their presence.
This emptying is terrifying; Antonioni (a great poet of spaces) has made time and space “stare right back at us,” wrote Martin Scorsese. Debosyon is equally terrifying, a great modern horror film, not in the generic sense, but in its ordering and reordering of images that are religious, romantic, mythic.
The education of Mando (Paulo Avelino) in signs and symbols is comparable to that of the narrator Marcel in Proust’s Swann’s Way; it is learning by making sense through comparison, of the wild orchid and the Marian statue which Mando both try desperately to reach, for example, juxtaposing Mando’s views of work and faith. The images come together in the radical ultimate parallel, between Salome (Mara Lopez) and the Lady of Peñafrancia, both of whom are the objects of Mando’s debosyon.
This is an almost heretical parallel; this is Yeats seeing the Second Coming as a revelation, a sweeping (re)arrangement of experience through images, with the suggestion that the image that appears is a rough beast. There are legions of symbolic orders, Yapan (like Yeats) tells us, and Christianity is only one among those. This thing love is also a system of symbols. An exceptionally cunning suggestion by Yapan, as if this is self-evident. Love is inscrutable, mystical, anarchic, profane, divine; love is otherworldly, but Earth’s the right place for love.
Pornography, among the film genres, has the strictest conventions, and is the most conservative. Genre conventions in films other than porn are subject to perpetual revision; in porn the same pattern is used again and again. Porn cannot be made new, and thus is the most boring film genre and the one that offers the least pleasure to watch (but, to be clear, boring and offers least pleasure only when we talk of film genres).
Porno‘s (Adolfo Alix Jr., 2013) title therefore is misleading. Here, not a single scene is unsatisfactory; this is the human subconscious made film, made with a Hitchcock-like proficiency, a reminder of cinema as a pristine source of pleasure.
Precision is one of the many great things about Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarog, 2013). Precision is not plainness; neither is it lack of ambition. Who, after all, are the most precise filmmakers out there? Well, there’s Chantal Akerman. And Robert Bresson. Elsewhere, Tolstoy. To succeed in precision is to survive a highwire act without a safety net; the room for error is simply too large.
Among my many emotions watching Sana Dati was fear of disappointment that a sudden imprecise twist, a sudden imperfect moment would ruin everything I had seen so far. What if Dennis (Paulo Avelino) were really Andrew (Banjamin Alves) who, I don’t know, just had some kind of face surgery or something. When Robert (TJ Trinidad) finds Andrea (Lovi Poe) alone at the rooftop (and this was the moment I started crying), where a second ago she was talking suicide with Dennis, what if the entire thing was just in her mind and there really is no Dennis? Or what if Dennis is some sort of a specter? What happens to the necklace? And when it becomes clear that Dennis is real and the wedding is happening, what happens next? In what way could this film end without a sort of letdown? Because what now happens to Robert (good guy Robert who cannot stand politics), the character I’m fond of the most (which might explain the crying during the rooftop scene)?
In Sana Dati, difficult abstractions are effortlessly expressed in the tiniest gestures (the difference between CEremony and ceREmony, for example, reveals a particular class insecurity). Every tiny gesture provokes, but also resists, interpretation (see my fears of disappointment above). Nothing prepares one for the exhilarating jolt of the ending: it is unexpected (we wrongly braced ourselves for sad, not happy, tears), inevitable (how else could this film end) and what else but beautiful. The highwire artist made it to the other side. And look at that.
– J. Chew