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Reviewed by Rob San Miguel and a television news reporter who has chosen to remain anonymous for fear of being "possessed."
“Sapi” is a cross between a documentary drama and a horror film but Brillante Maria Mendoza failed to fuse the two styles together into a coherent film. Measure it by any standard, even view it as experimental film adventurism, “Sapi” remains disjointed and tedious to watch. In this film, Mendoza demonizes Philippine broadcast news and the ongoing network wars. The film is littered with visuals to get his message across but nothing holds his message together.
I watched the movie with a television reporter who has worked in broadcast news for more than a decade and he pinpointed some inconsistencies in the film. Some are quite humorous; for instance, no one in broadcast news wears sleeveless anymore but Baron Geisler’s character did. Some of the jargon used by Meryll Soriano’s character were incorrect but he said these things can be ignored. The main fault of the film is its incorrect premise. If the issue is media ethics, then the choices made by Soriano’s character is implausible. The television reporter commented that other more plausible scenarios that can best highlight the sins of broadcast news are available.
According to him, the close shot in which a television news vehicle actually ran over a real dog was the most disturbing of all. The proximity of the camera proves that the director staged the whole scene. Was it a real dog that was run over? Was it part of Mendoza’s statement against broadcast news programs, and that they have become voyeurs of violence, misery and absurdity for the sake of ratings? If that is so, Mendoza was unable to put his visuals together into one powerful piece. The viewers will only see a series of shots but that is all. They come and go.
It is now obvious that “Lola” may be Mendoza’s last outstanding film, stylistically and ideologically. “Captive” was ambitious but it disfranchised the Filipino captives. “Thy Womb” worked primarily because Bembol Rocco and Nora Aunor held the film together despite the script and direction.
Brillante Mendoza was once included in Take 100’s 100 best new directors in the world. He was cited for his film “Masahista” (“The Masseur”). Unfortunately, his last three films did not attest to his talent. Certainly, fans of Mendoza do not expect another “Lola,” but perhaps, as the fictional critic Anton Ego said, we need "some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective."