Of heroes & anti-heroes

BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - August 8, 2014 - 12:00am

In Joel Lamangan’s Cinemalaya Directors Showcase entry Hustisya, easily his most restrained film after a long running series of fist-waving dialectics, Nora Aunor plays the moneybags Biring and turns in a performance worthy of  if not a national artist  at least one who was seriously considered for the elusive award. Hustisya is a rare combination of clear-eyed cynicism, and if such be the case, only the likes of the veteran Lamangan can pull it off.

In the dark and seedy world of human trafficking, everyone is on the take — police, customs and immigration officials, priests — and no one is spared from the glint of dirty money. There is apparently enough to go around, and Biring can occasionally climb the Manila city hall tower to throw largesse to the nearly invisible inhabitants of her city of squalor below. To paraphrase Cavafy and Bernal, there is no Manila but this one, noble and ever loyal even in its darkest hour.

And human trafficking is certainly one of the worst crimes because it ruins people’s lives, makes capital out of human naivette and innocence, the system gone wrong as it eats its young. Biring walks the streets of the unforgiving city, much like a kubrador on her rounds, dealing with the assorted crooks and confidence men whom she will no doubt outlast.

Aunor, as par for the course, is unforgettable as the moneybags with integrity but who in the long haul is swallowed by the system. Sunshine Dizon as Biring’s daughter also turns in an admirable performance, but it is Rosanna Roces, who nearly steals the film in her depiction of the fading madame’s long fall from the grace, and Rocco Nacino too as the smooth talking lawyer without whom the amazing crooked journey cannot proceed.

Worthy support is here too with Chynna Ortaleza who becomes Biring’s assistant after spending time with her in a Bulaklak ng City Jail-like prison, and theater actress Mailes Kanapi as the lesbian mayora.

Perhaps the only one unsullied by corruption is the media man played by Romnick Sarmenta, which is somewhat strange considering. But who are we to judge when even Lady Justice wears a blindfold, though we can fancy her stealing a peak at times to reveal mud in her eye.

There has been much speculation about what the Nacino character whispered to Biring in the final shot that made her laugh out loud and long, and kibitzers can’t help but connect it to the recent national artist brouhaha. Many are deserving but few are chosen in Lamangan’s milieu of both damned and survivor, and there is no better purgatory than our noble and ever loyal.

*  *  *

Relatively lesser-known director Luisito Ignacio makes considerable waves with his showcase entry Asintado (Between the Eyes), the comeback film of Aiko Melendez as a widowed mom to teenage sons caught in contrasting twists of fate.

The film makes good use of the Saint John the Baptist feast of mud people in Nueva Ecija, and though the pageant is riveting backdrop for a botched drug deal, there seems to be a disconnect between the employed folklore and the final resolution.

In this town in transition, the idyll is somewhat disturbed by the encroaching commercialism and drug use, and what rightfully saves the day is the act of autistic younger son played by Miggs Cuaderno, no notebook portrayal he gives as the sharpshooting slingshot kid. Jake Vargas as the love struck swain whose libido puts him in dire straits in a roundabout way, has set aside his bopper image for a more substantial take on provincial teen angst and drug mule stupidity.

And Melendez herself cannot help but be motherly, wonderfully rustic with beads of sweat forming above her upper lip, light years away from her Bubble Gang heyday. Gloc 9’s rap rich soundtrack gives the ancient ritual a modern feel, hip-hop in the house in this baptism of available light.

In a pagan setting the matriarch cannot be overruled, and when every mother’s son is threatened she has no choice but to fight back, and the audience is treated to a crescendo of mud and curious justice.

Bawal ang wangwang spoiler alert! In an ideal world everyone gets his just desserts, including pushers and traffickers, and where the autistic and dysfunctional are hero and anti-hero at the same time, in this roundabout way formerly known as tuwid na daan.


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