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10 March 2011

Jerrold Tarog's "Senior Year:" In a Perfect World, It is a Hit

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In a perfect world, Jerrold Tarog’s “Senior Year” deserves to get even a quarter of the budget of GMA Films’ “My Valentine Girls” or Star Cinema’s “Ang Tanging Ina Last Na ‘To.”  But this is the Philippines and so it means that anything substantial, even if it is borderline elitist, would have to settle being in the gutter while scum and garbage are in the forefront being deified, emulated and repackaged into glamour, and gasp, with Kris Aquino not far behind.  One of the saddest things that I have witnessed so far this year is watching “Senior Year” with perhaps less than a dozen people in the theater.  Where are the Filipino moviegoers who complain about the lack of good Filipino films in theaters?  Do they know that “Senior Year” is being shown? Maybe no because there’s a long queue of people eager to see Anne Curtis in “Who’s That Girl?” and a man-eating shark in “Shark Attack.”

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Senior Year” is an independent digital film, and so the less than desirable quality of its digital print is expected.  However, the poor quality of the digital print shown in SM North was inexpiable   The film started with a minor mishap so they had to stop the film and restart it again. For a moment there, I thought I was watching YouTube as I waited for the video to download.  Yes again, we were briefly in the “buffering zone.” 

Digressing a bit, SM North cinema officials should keep a close eye on their personnel.  With the exception of IMAX, the technical glitches in their cinemas are becoming more of a routine rather than accidents.

To go back to “Senior Year,” the visual quality of the film may frustrate viewers from finishing it.  Some of the scenes were so dark that I had to guess who was actually in some of the shots.  I don’t know if it’s the actual print or it is SM North Cinema’s fault again.  However, if you are willing to endure this, which I urge you to, you will be able to watch one of the best Filipino films this year.  Despite the many technical shortcomings of the film, “Senior Year” had a solid enough script and good direction that kept the film intact.  In fact, I would rather suffer from the poor cinematography of “Senior Year” because the film offers so much more than to sit and watch Richard Gutierrez in full clear close up dangerously brainwashing Filipino moviegoers into believing he can actually act.

What makes “Senior Year” such a fine film is its fresh and engaging take on Filipino High School life. Of course, it is not about public high school life but the film is realistic enough. The raw and authentic performances of the majority of the unknown cast are enough to put to shame most of the new young stars of big network television.  The actors playing high school students in the film really did look like they were in high school.  Most importantly, the film respects the intelligence of its audience, adults and high school students alike. It does not dumb down the story and that is the film’s greatest strength.  The technicalities of the film may have suffered from its obvious meager budget but the film is thick enough for various interpretations.

Just imagine if Director Jerrold Tarog had been given enough budget; he would have easily made “Senior Year” even better, and perhaps it might have been a box office hit and proving once and for all that the Filipino movie going public is hungry for quality films.  Alas, with less than a dozen people in the cinema, I think it might mean that Filipinos still find profound meaning in seeing Richard Gutierrez walking on a swimming pool like he’s the Filipino Movie Messiah. If Richard, his kind and the system that deifies him will become my filmic saviors, please throw me to the lions now. 

Bottom line; watch “Senior Year," just to remind ourselves briefly (and one more time) that once upon a time in high school, we were not yet sell outs. Then afterwards, we can all go back watching boobs, butts, abs, explosions, scandals and the proverbial Filipino of the moment Willy Revillame.

Update: April 15, 2011

I finally get to see “Senior Year,” the way it should be viewed, with proper projection setting. Gone are the blurriness, the inexpiable dark scenes and other unforgivable technical mishaps that I encountered when I first saw this film in SM Cinema.  I am not totally lambasting SM cinemas because one of my best cinematic experiences that I have had happened in SM IMAX.  SM IMAX is probably one of the best theaters in the metropolis.  Watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” in SM IMAX was a thrill. I actually felt Johnny Depp breathing on me and Helena Bonham-Carter’s performance became even more powerful with the 3D effects, IMAX style. 

Thus, I find it puzzling that the technician in charge during the showing of “Senior Year” on March 10 could not follow simple instructions.  Granted that “Senior Year” is a low-budget indie film, still, I think it deserves the same meticulous attention given to other big budget local and foreign films.  Thankfully, “Senior Year” was outstanding enough to survive the common Filipino affliction, which is (drum roll please) “pwede na ‘yan” syndrome.

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