Tikoy Aguiluz' Kasalanan
Tatsulok (Triangle, 1998)
All art practice, including realist portraiture, must needs be Romantic in the sense that audience interest must be emotionally (albeit clandestinely) sustained by exaggerated bits of aesthetic imagery and dramaturgical technique. Thus the most realist of directors would still resort to lighting embellishments, and in the case of those British filmmakers (Mike Leigh, etc.) who purportedly use natural light and no more in their cinematography, obscure camera angles and movement, unexpected editing, color composition, disarming choreography, etc., may compensate for the inaccessibility of the expensive modes of aesthetic attraction. Younger in the local Philippine movie industry are such names as Yam Laranas and Erik Matti, names that have recognized this necessity, albeit they may yet have to master certain other aspects of intelligent film and literary discourse.
What Tikoy Aguiluz' B-movie Tatsulok lacks are precisely those aesthetic contrivances that could have carried his and Jose Lacaba's relatively visceral story, about Amerasians left behind by their American soldier fathers, further. The cinematography and camera angling and movement are not so awesome (in fact the camera was sloppy), lighting magic poor, dubbing not as strict as ample completion time might have insisted. Not that Aguiluz' direction here is bad, it's just that it's not the Tikoy Aguiluz of Boatman, Bagong Bayani, or Segurista that we see here. And given the uninspired art direction, a more thought-about process might have been gone through to eschew layman esthetes' impressions on this movie as yet another Filipino one hurried up for prompt commercial release.
Could this film indeed be another case study of Philippine cinematic production that leaves the director delivering the line that Elizabeth Oropesa conveyed at the start of Tatsulok -- "hindi ko ginusto ang nangyari"? And though Oropesa's character was referring to the emotional toxic waste that the US forces of the erstwhile Subic Naval Base left behind, Filipino critics have often voiced out one possible special reason why patriotic filmmaking in our country would sometimes suffer, viz., that it might be because production of the collective produce are usually placed in the able financial hands of Chinese-Filipinos who might not share the passion of directors for their film subjects or themes.
But, yet again, let's leave those things aside. Tatsulok must still be remembered as a breakthrough in Philippine cinema if only for its tight, albeit vague, delivery of an important angle on the Filipino colonial psyche that only the US-trained Aguiluz has been specially concerned with. This may be a story about Amerasian kids, but finally and chiefly or preferably a story -- years after the Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara-megged Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo's brave defiance of the US' proclivity to throw its weight around -- about what happened to the way we (including the Amerasians) think about ourselves vis a vis America.
The face of Oropesa's character Luzviminda (a once-popular woman's name standing for the Philippines' Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao regions that also make up the triangle in the Philippine flag) opens the film with the lines "hindi ko ginusto ang nangyari" and "wala akong kasalanan." Her voice then proceeds to serve as the movie's narrator. She sets her (Lacaba's and Aguiluz') story in Olongapo City, site of the former Subic Naval Base of the US Navy. "Dito ako namulat, dito ako natuto . . ." she says.
The time is the mid-'90s. Post-bases era after the Philippine Senate finally voted to boot out American sovereignty in the area (and in Philippine air and sea space). Subic has become a freeport, taken over by renting multinational firms who've invaded the Asia-Pacific region with their import-export ethos (care of a new superpower, the WTO).
Luzviminda, about 40, is an apt symbol for the Filipino today. "Wala na ang dati kong mundo, pero di ko pa rin matakasan." A one-time bar-girl (euphemism for strip-teaser and prostitute) who has given up a child for adoption twenty years ago (about the period of time since Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo came out), she is soon to be haunted by an ignominious past. In a neighborly mahjong game, she meets up with a young tattoo artist named Dave (practicing American tattoo art, not the tattoo art of the pre-Spanish pintados) cum drummer for the band Jason & The Astronauts that plays American rock music. Luzviminda is now married to an old corporate exec who took her up, and though he is mostly sexually incompetent, Minda would often see her off at the Subic International Airport for his recurring departure to an Asia-Pacific city or another with the suspicion that he might be looking forward to a Thai massage there. Against this background, she is tempted to a jointure with the good-looking American mestizo Dave. This is her. And this is us: often tempted to an understandable jointure with anything natively wealthy, moneyed, but also aesthetically with anything American or Americanized.
And what is it that keeps us attached to the second sort of temptation, apart from our already-Americanized (or Hispanicized) definitions of beauty? Tatsulok seems to suggest a culprit in our preferred silence, our opting to forget. "Tahimik na ang buhay ko," even while chronically we are compromised by situations that make us exclaim, "di ko pa rin matakasan." And while Luzviminda's daughter Stephanie (adopted twenty years before by a Filipino doctor-and-nurse couple who would later emigrate to the States) is coming back to see her real mother, care of a culture tour that teaches Fil-Ams how to drink water that has gathered in bamboo stalks in the jungle, Minda is contemplating her addiction to youthful (American?) sexual desire.
Stephanie arrives at Minda's garden. The memory/history one wants to forget has come back in a friendly form. For Stephanie is a produce of a gang-rape on Minda's person by five American servicemen.
A contrivance is the line that says "isa ring adiksyon ang pagtatago ng lihim. Ayaw mong masaktan ang mga mahal mo sa buhay." But this opting to forget is tangible in Filipino behavior, the reason why we would consequently fail to see any symbolic meaning in the Subic Freeport bats left by the Americans to fly all over Subic, or lose our way in the border between maintaining our Oriental theories of teen upbringing ("igalang mo ako bilang ina") and allowing our children to an American expression of suburban youthful liberty. Respect is misplaced.
This failure to see is likewise touched on by the film's musical scoring by Jun Lopito, Juan de la Cruz Band, et cetera. Old ('70s) Pinoy rock was supposedly in touch with the angst of its time ("pati utot maririnig mo"). The CD generation's rock, in contrast, cannot seem to point to any believable angst in local locale (except Yano, and the few artists in leftist folk rock), supposedly the "kaluluwa ng musikero." This statement is stamped deep in the movie's shadows by the presence of the famous Amerasian icon Joey "Pepe" Smith as himself, he who had the presence of mind (contrary to my generation's reading on his person) to address via his songs his Filipino nation (instead of rock's American source places that couldn't care less about Asian rock). This statement is also etched deep in the film by Dave's bandmate Jason's loud Christianism and rock emcee-ing statements ("mas marami kaming nagagawang orihinal na musika ngayon, dati puro 'Born In The USA' lamang") that hide a tearful longing for his serviceman father. These statements are scratched all over the film by drummer Dave's self-indulgence and selfishness that hide anger towards another serviceman-father that left him behind. Jason is not completely free of such a hatred, for why else rebel by naming his kids Amihan, Buhawi, and Kulintang?
Filipinos love to throw away trash and clean their throats by spitting phlegm on the road. We hate to clean up our surroundings. Thus, Dave's refusal to look back at things that happened: "parang naglinis ka ng garahe mo, kung anu-ano ang makakalawkaw mong basura."
However, when our Oriental or Hispanic love for family (for Stephanie too is seduced into a relationship by Dave and later abused by his macho anger) is awakened by an awareness and/or courage to feel and face our past, our sense to protect our own could lead us to violence, waking up a "halimaw na mananakit ng tao." Such awakenings, however, are understandably painful. For how else would one face the embarrassment of having been called a little brown monkey, or Luzviminda the "banana cutter" among the bar dancers of yore, but with a disbelieving tremble? Kailangan lang may magtulak sa kaniyang "ilabas mo iyan," so he/she would be able to express him/herself as a proud erstwhile oppressed/abused Filipino.
But there is some balance to be searched for to avoid all sorts of filial or patriotic calls for Andres Bonifacio-like violence. While Luzviminda was contemplating aborting Stephanie's birth, "ninerbiyos siya at nagdasal," thus aborting by an inherited recurring Christianity the planned abortion. Without it, should some multinational firm or the WTO in time future display yet again in our country a clear abuse that may awaken a form of national outrage, we might find no other legalese but the ones to be found in the lines "hindi namin ginusto ang nangyari; wala kaming kasalanan." (VISV III, July 2002 - April 2004)
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