I'm beginning to wonder... Are digital films ushering the new golden age of Philippine cinema?
With the success of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and Kubrador (among several others), there has been greater interest in Filipino films in the international film festival circuit. Kubrador has in fact won a number of awards in Moscow and India. Maximo Oliveros is this year's Philippine entry to the Oscars. Other Filipino films in digital format are also getting a bit of exposure in mainstream theaters, albeit only a handful of people are watching it most of the time.
I left early from the office yesterday to catch the screening of Kubrador (The Bet Collector) at the UP Film Institute (UPFI). This being the sembreak, there were only five of us in the large theater. The UPFI showed the movie three times a day for the entire week.
Kubrador is one of the best Filipino films that has come out in years. I couldn't agree more of course.
It was made documentary style, the camera handheld and the quality is very gritty, which heightens the squalor of the slums that is setting of the film.The squatters' area is in fact a central element of the film, almost like another character of the movie. Very much like Insiang.
The opening of movie follows a man going around the labyrinthine passages, squeezed between flimsy shanties. He ends up in the house where the numbers are drawn. The cops arrive and everybody scrambles. One man is pursued by a cop and we see them jumping from one roof to another in the slum. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang fly across rooftops, sans the visual effects.
The main character of the story is Amy, the bet collector herself, played by the illustrious Gina Pareño. I couldn't imagine anyone else portraying Amy. Gina fits the role to a T. I really don't want to talk much about her acting in the film because I don't want to disrespect her greatness.
Kubrador takes a glimpse of the complexity of jueteng, from the lowly person who bets even his last five pesos to the top man in the whole scheme. Johnny Manahan, in a cameo role, plays that top man; in his house coins are placed in sacks using shovels and stacks of money fill a large table.
The film is full of very interesting vignettes such as Amy praying the rosary and ending it with a plea to God that she be not caught by the police. That same day she the cops accosted her. After negotiating her release at the police station, the chief of police placed a bet to Amy no less.
The film, in fact, takes a look at the squalid state of Philippine society - ironies, hypocrisy, quirks and all. It does not go into generalities though, nor does it try to express any statements. Rather, social decay is used as a backrdrop to the daily struggle of Amy. I just hope that more people would watch Kubrador and that it would attact more international audience.