The Janitor: Perfect theme, perfect timing
The Janitor: Perfect theme, perfect timing
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - October 8, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Loosely based on real-life events, foremost of which was a bloody bank heist in 2008, the film brings into sharp focus police issues grabbing the headlines these days


Perfect timing? Cinemalaya 2014 box-office hit The Janitor opens today nationwide, incidentally as police issues have been grabbing headlines of late.

The police/crime-themed thriller, which won its director Mike Tuviera the Cinemalaya Best Director honor, is loosely based on real-life events, foremost of which was a bloody bank heist that sent shockwaves in 2008. The Janitor has a star-studded cast led by Dennis Trillo (who was the leading actor in the first movie Mike directed, titled Text), Derek Ramsay and Richard Gomez.

Despite its theme and timing, The Janitor is not set out as a statement of sorts, according to direk Mike. “It’s not a statement film against a particular institution. We really researched on both sides of the law. We wanted to be as realistic as possible.”

He added, “We didn’t want to come up with something fictional or fun, (especially) with all that’s happening now. I wanted to be fair. Everything we put in the film is real. Wala kaming ulterior motive, like a statement, that we’re criticizing this or that… We were speaking about very specific events that did happen. There are good people, there are bad people in the movie, but what’s scary is that you can no longer tell who from whom.”

In The Janitor, the bloodiest bank robbery happens in San Pedro, Laguna, wherein perpetuators wear Moriones masks to hide their identities, leaving a bloodbath (with employees heartlessly executed) in their wake. The way it is carried out raises the suspicion of it being conducted by professionals.

With media and people clamoring for the immediate resolution of the case, authorities secretly tap Crisanto Espina (Dennis Trillo), a dismissed cop, to take care of it. With redemption of his name and honor as motivation, Crisanto goes after each suspect in the massacre, but uncovers, along the way, “the dirty truth behind his extrajudicial duties.”

“You should know the danger of blind obedience,” direk Mike said when asked on the main message moviegoers can glean from the film.

The idea for The Janitor had long been germinating in direk Mike’s mind. “We’ve wanted to do this for six years already. It’s one of those things as a writer and director — na hindi mo pinipili kung ano ang mga storya na gusto mong ipakita or gawan ng pelikula. It’s the story that picks you and you respond to it. You read or see something in the news, and you really respond to it and I really responded to the (bank robbery news), so what I did was make a story from different sources — a lot of it (are) real events, real details, real elements — and combined them all.”

Part of the research for The Janitor was meeting actual hitmen. Direk Mike recalled, “I learned about them through kwento-kwento. I never thought I would ever need to talk to them kasi nakukwento lang, ‘itong kaibigan ko nuon ganito.’

“When I joined Cinemalaya with this particular concept, I really wanted to be true to what I would do. So, I wanted to hear what it is like to actually do this kind of job. I told (the middleman) na gusto ko sila makilala, tapos sabi niya, ‘Sigurado ka? May rules tayo.’ He said that we have to meet in a neutral location, that I wouldn’t bring a companion, a cellphone, have any form of communication or whatever. The middleman served as the protection for both sides.”

Direk Mike, however, faced a problem because Dennis wanted to join him in the meeting. “Medyo nagkaproblema kaagad kasi ang kulit ni Dennis. He insisted on coming… We went to this room at sabi ko kay Dennis, ‘Kahit anong mangyari pare, dito ka lang sa tabi ko.’ Good thing, I brought Dennis along because when we entered the room, our source also brought someone with him. So, I said, thank God! It was scary! It was an empty room in a very, very secret location but when they started to talk, they were very normal people. We didn’t pay a cent to meet them and they were just as nervous as we were.”

The Janitor, which is heading next to Portugal to compete at the 35th Festival Internacional de Cinema do Porto, was the Cinemalaya debut of Mike. He was disqualified when he tried to join in the early years of Cinemalaya because the only category then was New Breed (strictly for newcomers) and at that time, he already directed three mainstream films. Asked to compare working on an indie and a mainstream project, he said, “I’m very comfortable with the mainstream because that’s where my career started, but the indie world is very inclusive. They like new blood coming in every year, they love the introduction of new ideas. That’s why I love Cinemalaya because you never know what to expect every year.” 

That’s why he’s also saddened by reports on the “uncertain future” of Cinemalaya (purportedly due to “funding problems”) as well as the recent resignation of Cinemalaya Foundation president Nestor Jardin. He said, “It makes me sad. I feel bad. Monetization has long been a problem of Cinemalaya, but what have always kept it alive are the people inside because they’re very passionate about it. Passion will push you through. Kahit hirap sa funds, you will find a way.

“But yun yung sa tingin ko would be the end of Cinemalaya — if the people (there at) Cinemalaya isa-isa silang mawawala, that would really be the end of it. It’s not the monetization because for 10 years, that (funding) has been the challenge. ”

Passion is obviously one thing that drives the director. “What I realized, I think in my whole career, I just want to make films that I’ll be proud of. And I think yun yung naging shield ko whenever maybe critics don’t like my film or maybe audiences don’t like it as much, or (my film) doesn’t make hundreds of millions at the box-office. That’s my shield. At the end of the day, I’m proud of what I did.”

Mike, son of Eat, Bulaga! producer Tony Tuviera, has always wanted to be a director. He takes pride in the fact that it wasn’t an easy road for him making it in the business. After graduating from Ateneo with a communications degree, he said he worked his way up, starting out as a production assistant, then writing for a sitcom and eventually becoming an assistant director to the likes of Gina Alajar in teleseryes.

Direk Mike, who also has a masters degree in film from the University of Southern California, said, “I grew up in the industry, I grew up on the set of Eat, Bulaga, I grew up around actors. I was very happy in that world. That’s the world I knew and my father, he’s a frustrated director. Actually, he was directing PBA games (before) but to put food on the table, he needed a more regular job that’s why he became a producer and stopped his dream of directing. So, partially in honor of him and the sacrifices he’s done in his career, I want to do my best as a director.”

(The Janitor is produced by APT Entertainment and distributed by Star Cinema.)

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