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20 July 2014

The Best Kind of Worst (Film Criticism): “Magtiwala Ka: A Super Typhoon Yolanda Story (A Movie for a Cause)”

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(Film Criticism: updated July 25, 2014) 

Do not miss the most accidentally hilarious movie of the year, or perhaps not. Depending on which critical framework you follow, “Magtiwala Ka” is brilliantly bad or bad brilliantly done, or it is the most unpretentious attack on mainstream Philippine commercial cinema, and how Philippine “art” and “business” response to tragedy. Whatever your interpretation may be, you will not be able to decide if you do not watch this rare treat. The richness of the film is on the surface as obvious as Keanna Reeve’s pasty white face foundation, her ample breasts and the cringe inducing product placements, at times, almost like infomercials.  There are no subliminal messages or hidden meanings under layers. This film self-deconstructs before your very eyes, and every moral point that the film makes backfires justifiably, kind of like Philippine politics and pop culture. Perhaps, this is how new Philippine cinema should look like so it is time to forget Lav Diaz's films,  if you know what I mean.

If you think casting Keanna Reeves, Kevin Mercado and Andrea de los Reyes alongside real Yolanda survivors is ill-advised, think again. The casting is, in fact, one of the exceptional 'coup de grace' of the film.


Who is Malaya?

At first glance, Keanna Reeves looked wrong for the part; that is, if you assume farming and selling fish are her main sources of income. However, there is more to her character than meets the eye. Firstly, her two children do not resemble each other. Certainly, actors playing characters different from their real personas require some suspension of disbelief. After all, Judy Ann Santos and Sarah Geronimo do not look like real life siblings in “Hating Kapatid,” but the notion is not far fetched.  In contrast, Malaya’s children are poles apart. Her eldest daughter is dark skinned and looks more Filipino. Malaya’s youngest child has fair skin, with a hint that he may have some Chinese blood in him.  The daughter is also quite thin and sickly while the son is overweight and well fed. Authenticity may not be the primary concern of the director and producers. Perhaps, they simply want to cast a real life Yolanda survivor and a relative or a friend of an influential individual involved in the film. Obviously, the two child actors were not hired for their acting skills. Still, the haphazard casting unintentionally gave complexities to Malaya’s character, and making Keanna Reeves the perfect choice for the role, with her public persona and physicality all considered.

It is safe to speculate that the two children have different fathers.  The son is well fed and given more attention. And judging from his fair skin, he may not be doing much work under the sun unlike his older sister. In one scene, when the daughter pleaded for Malaya to ask help from her father, Malaya quickly retorted angrily, declaring that they would never ask assistance from her father even if they starved. If the daughter is thin and sickly because she works hard, perhaps her father was Malaya’s real husband who abandoned them. If the son is well fed and kept away from hard work, can we assume that the son’s father is still a valuable asset to Malaya? Any day, the son’s father could just come back, at least to visit his son and give child support? The devil in me would like to imagine that the son’s father is the town’s mayor.

It is also very interesting to note that Malaya was more concerned purchasing a cell phone than buying other important things for her children. Perhaps, she sold her old phone and lost some of her important contacts, which forces her to do temporary farm work, and to sell fish. Questions, questions. If you consider all these accidental details, they actually provide a richer back-story to Malaya.



Trust the Products (Magtiwala Ka sa mga Produkto)

I also assume that the film wants to highlight the noble relief efforts of various companies to help the residents affected by typhoon Yolanda.  Most of us should be grateful for their generosity, forgoing profit over compassion. However, because “Magtiwala Ka” is a classic example of “a film betraying its own intention,” the product placements backfire. The awkward executions of many scenes, the inappropriate timing of placing the products on screen and the almost ludicrous way of promoting certain products only highlighted how superficial commerce could be in helping people affected by disasters. In one scene, Leo (Kevin Mercado), a fair-skinned fisherman, was extremely grateful to receive a T-shirt from a sardines company even though the shirt he was wearing was more stylish and expensive. The scene where a well-dressed Malaya was eating sardines is also awkwardly hilarious. She even goes to a “certain” beauty clinic to have her scar removed, which the doctor hinted that she got the scar during the typhoon. If you are really observant, you may even catch Keanna as Malaya doing a quick Sharon Stone a la “Basic Instinct” if you know what I mean. Luckily, Keanna is covered up at the right places. 

One for the Books

“Magtiwala Ka” is not a well-made film. As one Brun critic noted, “the film looked as if it were done by a first year film student.” Nevertheless, Brun critics agreed that “Magtiwala Ka” is one for the books. The film reveals so much about the current state of filmmaking, media, politics, commerce and pop culture in the country. And because the film does this feat unintentionally, it gains more value.  We can never really fake the truth, even if we gloss over it. Any artist who works using a specific mode of production will always reveal something about the ideology of the whole system. If the system only aims to make profit, the artist’s work is contaminated. If the system is elitist, his work will be elitist even if his subject matter is the poor. This essay is one clear example.

“Magtiwala Ka” is worth noting because it is the quintessential (by)-product of our time. “By” is intentionally enclosed in parentheses.

(Don’t) Show Me the Money

The film had a seven-day run in SM Cinema, albeit limited screenings during the last three days. Brun critics calculated the cost per day to keep the screening schedule. The ticket cost 210 so when multiplied with the number of seats, the cost is quite high. If only three or four people watch per screening, imagine the lost in revenue. Still, the film finished its six or seven-day run. In addition, the film had many sponsors. Just look at the credits at the end of the film. For God’s sake, the filmmakers were able to get Globe Mobile and Philippine Airlines. (I am guessing so please correct me if I am wrong.) One question remains though. Where did they get the money to finance all these? We do not need to answer this, but it is all part of the ironic beauty of the film. The financing question is all part of the existing mode of production that permeates all levels of Philippine society. That is a mouthful. Please do the math and further analysis. We here at Brun want to save our heads.

Final Say

The title of the film is also ripe for interpretation. “Magtiwala Ka.”

Kanino? Sa mga kumpanya, sa mga opisyal ng gobyerno, sa mga alagad ng sining, sa media at iba pang mga institusyong tutulong sa iyo?"

Apart from other possible interpretations, I think the title also inadvertently spites us viewers. You read the title, "Magtiwala Ka: A Super Typhoon Yolanda Story (A Movie for a Cause)." And we trusted and bought tickets. Other viewers might have left the theater feeling cheated but Brun critics left with our eyes and mouths wide open. Director Joric P. Raquiza may need to do some explaining but any explanation is optional.  With or without an explanation, this film will stand on its own. I love it!

In my opinion, “Magtiwala Ka” is as equally revelatory as Lav Diaz’s “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan,” but the former is shorter with “in your face absurdity.” The film still disenfranchises the people affected by Yolanda but the delicious tackiness of the film does not betray them. In fact, the “failure” of the film brings to the forefront how government, some media practitioners, some artists and some businesses regard Filipinos affected by man-made and natural disasters. “Magtiwala Ka” shows how our institutions f*** us up!

P.S.
One scene in “Magtiwala Ka” is similar to a scene in Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing.” Both scenes are disconcertingly funny.


Original Review (Posted July 20, 204)

Do not miss the most accidentally hilarious movie of the year, or perhaps not. Depending on which critical framework you follow, “Magtiwala Ka” is brilliantly bad or bad brilliantly done, or it is the most unpretentious attack on mainstream Philippine commercial cinema, and how Philippine “art” and “business” response to tragedy. Whatever your interpretation may be, you will not be able to decide if you do not watch this rare treat. The richness of the film is on the surface as obvious as Keanna Reeve’s pasty white face foundation, her ample breasts and the cringe inducing product placements, at times, almost like infomercials.  There are no subliminal messages or hidden meanings under layers. This film self-deconstructs before your very eyes, and every moral point the film makes backfires justifiably, kind of like Philippine politics and pop culture. Perhaps, this is how new Philippine cinema should look like so it is time to forget Lav Diaz's films, if you know what I mean. In addition, if you think casting Keanna Reeves, Kevin Mercado and Andrea de los Reyes alongside real Yolanda survivors is ill-advised, think again. The casting is, in fact, one of the exceptional 'coup de grace' of the film.

Regardless, the people severely affected by typhoon Yolanda are once again disenfranchised but not betrayed. The accidental or intentional satire of the film actually reveals so much about how superficial government and commerce treat disaster and its victims.  Director Joric P. Raquiza needs to do some explaining, but any explanation is optional.  With or without an explanation, this film will stand on its own. I love it!

Forgo traditional cinema; trust your gut response; trust the products! And as the ironic title suggests, "Magtiwala ka." Kanino? Sa mga kumpanya, sa mga opisyal ng gobyerno, sa mga alagad ng sining, sa media at iba pang mga institusyong tutulong sa iyo?"


“Magtiwala Ka” is currently showing only in SM Cinema 3 (The Block) with two screenings only. The last full show is at 2:45 P.M. At 210 pesos, it may seem pricey but my friend and I were the only people in the theater so it was dirt cheap for a private screening. Yes, I “unofficially” had my first private screening in a commercial cinema. “Yaya, penge nga ng juice!” (This line is also spoken in the film.”)

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