Last of the ponggols

BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
Last of the ponggols
Christian Bables topbills the comedydrama fi lm Big Night, the big winner during the 2021 Metro Manila Film Festival’s awards night. The late director Sigfreid Barros Sanchez.
STAR / File

Into the Chinese New Year and still the biggest story was the return of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) to actual brick and mortar theaters and movie houses last holiday season, netting a few gems including Big Night that was big winner during festival awards night, a feat of little wonder considering director Jun Lana’s latest foray into fine ensemble acting.

Very good to see the moving pictures up there again on the giant screen, never mind the occasional stray cough in the sparse audience that braved the dark uncertainty of the virus’ latest twists and turns, but the last shot of lead actor Christian Bables staring into the camera blankly, resigned to his inevitable fate of being swallowed by the system, specifically the so-called war on drugs that is just another cover for the propagation of drugs, should speak volumes about the state of the art of filmmaking as well our poor and sad republic in the run-up to elections.

What is Bables ruminating on could be also the few moviegoers making a beeline for the exits before credits end, the Philippine film industry again suffering another blow before it can fully pick itself up for fear of another mutant corona strain.

Lana himself is in fighting form, creating another version of the hero/antihero as a gay protagonist, not only happy but homosexual, in short maligalig, as witness previous versions better than their draft selves in Bwakaw and Panti Sisters, alternately thoughtful and hilarious, lest we forget that in the olde English days the term meant cheerful, of sunny disposition. And the ensemble did their work of wonders to pull the movie through, notably the ever-reliable John Arcilla as the crooked barangay official; veteran character actor Soliman Cruz as the manic village elder who hates drugs; Eugene Domingo again in fine fettle as the municipal official and social climber forever on the lookout for a racket; Janice de Belen as the herbolaria stricken by a delayed conscience; and Ricky Davao as macho father of queers. The whole kaleidoscope here and then some.

The week Big Night took home all those trophies and accolades, a footnote in the entertainment section’s obituaries reported the passing of independent stalwart Sigfreid Barros Sanchez, director of Lasponggols that was a cult hit in the first Cinemalaya filmfest in 2005. He was in his mid-40s, brother of another filmmaker Seymour, also known as mayor, must have seen him in the independent film runs and forums, tall guy with tomahawk hairdo, on the surface intimidating but really wouldn’t hurt a fly. At least was my impression during brief and random sightings of the fellow undoubtedly among the moving spirits of the local indie scene, nephew of once upon an enfant terrible Willybog Sanchez who wrote circles around his writing elders in the ‘60s, just as the nephew Sigfreid did in the 2000s, i.e. film parabolas and dizzying tangents around the movie establishment, the guy clearly ahead of his time.

And what a time it was. On YouTube might still catch a run of Lasponggols, Sanchez’s tribute to the small movie workers, those behind the scenes without whom the industry would grind to a screeching halt. But it even finds humor in their sad plight, as well such enduring mementos as T-shirts after pack-up of what could be a dubious pito-pito, Ang Sex Siren at ang Kargador, starring one Ronnie Lazaro and Juday.

Epi Quizon and Dwight Gaston run for their lives after accidentally catching on camera a drug deal involving one of the producers, and they find themselves in an obscure village pretending to be directors Jon Red and Erik Matti, which doesn’t ring a bell for the simple townfolk, but the pair enterprisingly say that they aren’t as well known as their gay counterparts in Manila but are nevertheless serious in doing their next project in these boondocks.

Side splitting cameos galore too, courtesy of Pete Lacaba and Marra Lanot, as the ill-fated veteran film hand and sagrada catolica who can only see evil in cinema, respectively, the bi-locating Cruz this time as a shoke set designer and Shamaine Centenera who doesn’t mind a roll in the hay with one of the pretend directors so long as her daughter gets cast.

It’s a cult favorite alright, and the version chanced upon on YouTube might occasionally suffer from audio being a few seconds behind the actual video and subtitles, resulting in what might be deemed a lettrist effect, a radical art movement that broke away from the surrealists to found their own disjointedness, not at all strange fruit to the filmmaker himself.

Further research would reveal other films by Barros Sanchez, Mga Kidnapper ni Ronnie Lazaro and Anak ni Brocka, where all, too, obvious are the literary bent and philosophical inclinations of this own favorite son of punknotdeath, sure to have riled the establishment of any time.

To paraphrase one reviewer during the heyday of punk, if you haven’t watched Lasponggols by now, hair may have already grown on your palms.

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