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29 July 2013

Cesar Evangelista’s “Amor Y Muerte” (Review): “The Subjugation of the Natives and the Politics of the Absurd Erotic"

Updated Aug 18, 2013
Most Filipinos know that our Spanish colonizers and Catholicism were responsible in cutting the umbilical cord that used to connect us to our authentic national identity.  In its death, we forged a new and unique identity fashioned by history and collective pain. 

The ironic thing about our faith as Filipinos is most of us blindly follow a religion that was used to justify our subjugation as a people.  How can a religion take root in a land if that religion was the cause of so much suffering? 


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Certainly, many will disagree with me but intolerance and hatred in this country became institutionalized when misguided Catholicism declared itself as the true faith of the Filipinos.  The Spanish missionaries burned our deities and their priestesses at the stake (figuratively), called our beliefs as creation of the devil.  Unlike most nations, we were not allowed to evolve and reinvent ourselves around our native belief system for the modern times.  We were cut from our womb before our birth as a nation. 

Today, the powerful hands of the Catholic Church still maintain its hold around our necks, defining for us the framework for morality, individuality and freedom. 

What have all these got to do with Cesar Evangelista’s film, “Amor Y Muerte?” Simply put, the film explores Catholic subjugation on a personal level. Instead of delving into the political, Evangelista sets his lens on a smaller scale, namely his protagonist, Amor.   The personas in the films represent the main players in early Philippine history. We have the old Babaylan, the native non-chauvinist male, the Spanish priest, the deceptively kind, naïve, but powerful abusive Spanish general, the old datu and the free-spirited young native woman. Despite functioning as historical archetypes, "some" of Evangelista’s cast gave layered and nuance performances; most notably, Althea Vega, who sizzles on screen reminding most moviegoers what an ideal Filipina actress should look like. 

Naked men, guns being pointed at
the girl and a big snake

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Certainly, my interpretation is subjective; but here lies the potency of Evangelista’s work, the film opens “a can of worms” that Filipinos refuse to see.  In the eyes of some Christianized Filipinos, the natives in this film may appear unsympathetic and lustful but bottom line, the film does show that the foreign religion and power did not have a noble intention. It did not come to make us more human and save more souls. It came to subjugate and amass material wealth. The ending says it all. Amor is as rebellious as any of our heroes. She is not a slave to lust as others may claim.  Isn't that always the case? Take charge of your sexuality and they call you a whore.  In this case, as some audience members put it, "a funny dumb whore." 

In fact, some viewers attested that none of the sex scenes in the movie were erotic and they were more ludicrous and staged. That is perhaps the intentional (or accidental) point. Absurdity is an effective device in diffusing the "male gaze." Amor is spared from being objectified and it is the man who becomes the object of her lust,  comedy and ridicule. Just see Apitong walks around barely clothed as Amor blurts out sexual puns like "hinanap kita dahil sa sawa." (I look for you because of the python.) The female vixen becomes comical that she makes you laugh than "hard." The native women discuss penises as if they were the pre-Hispanic version of "Sex and the City," and "Amor" could be a mix between Carrie Bradshaw and Samantha Jones.  Perhaps, if one sees "Amor y Muerte" as a serious period film, it will fail. But viewed with the politics of erotic absurdity, the film is liberating.  That is the secret joke of the film and I love it!

Five minutes after the film started, we hear Amor screaming on the verge of orgasm. She is in control and on top of her man, the powerful Catholic Spanish. Her orgasmic screams infuriate the Spanish friar who simply want to finish his prayers. Oh no, not in my movie, Amor might be thinking. Everyone, hear me roar. I have the male "subjugator" by the balls, literally.  Despite looking like a serious dramatic period film, "Amor y Muerte" borders on absurdity and its unintended politics.  Amor is not a historical character actually. She is a modern construct placed in a contrived setting so she can play.  This is her comedy the same way Mae West did her comedy.  I have the best lines. I have the best scenes. I will play dumb but in the end, I get to decapitate and castrate the man.  She is neither a convenient poster girl for feminism nor a bombshell.  It is Madonna-ism.

Bottom line, Cesar Evangelista is one director we should take notice and his “Amor y Muerte” is an outstanding film that quenches our thirst for quirky films. If he was actually making a comedy and fooling everyone, he is a genius. But if all these are accidental, then the muse of camp looks at him with favor as "she" sips her cosmopolitan. Look beyond the obvious sex scenes. 

 As Eddie Romero once put it, “ganito kami noon,” and Amor replies, “hindi na dapat tayo nagpapa-ganun, ako na ang mang-gaganun.”

PERFORMANCE
4/5
The great Amable Quiambao delivered her swan song performance with impeccable precision.  As a young child, I first saw her in Ishmael Bernal’s “Himala” on television. One of the greatest sins of the Philippine movie industry is that it blatantly neglects the talents of true thespians like Miss Quiambao in exchange for peddling Spanish-looking actresses who cannot act to save their lives.  

P.S.

In my perfect world, this should be Best Picture (Directors Showcase) because it is not even on the straight line.

________

CINEMALAYA 2013 REVIEW SERIES

NEW BREED Film Reviews
Nuwebe
* The Diplomat Hotel (watched but no review)
DIRECTORS SHOWCASE Film Reviews
* Ekstra
* Liars
* Porno
* Sana Dati

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