29 October 2011

Movie Review: Kape Barako

Ceci n'est pas un cafe.

In a number of reviews that have been posted, there seems to be this repetition of a certain perspective regarding independent cinema that I must dissent from. It is the outright dismissal of all films that feature sex, sexuality or the naked bodies. It is not a surprising occurrence. In Manila, and especially among the wealthier classes, there is a public aversion to the body, to sex and to life. The animal part of us is something to feel shame and guilt towards -- as though our bodies were something separate from ourselves.

I do not disagree with the view, on the other hand, that many independent films go to a reactionary extreme (an enantiodromia perhaps?) where a film enacts a similar one-sided compensatory reaction which has value in pointing us to the underlying problem.

Kape Barako, directed by Monti Parungao and written by Lex Bonife, is a clear attempt to tell us something about our feelings of shame and guilt but not from the view point of tragedy. As von Franz once wrote:
It is a normal rhythm in human reactions, illustrated for instance in the classical antique plays where three tragedies are succeeded by a comedy. One could not go home after having seen Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and two others like it; there had to be one of Aristophanes' comedies at the end so that everyone would roar with laughter... It is the climax of excitement which turns into the wish to laugh -- one cannot stand too much of such an exaggerated tragic condition so that occasionally one is compelled to make fun of it.
It is for these reasons, that comedies, especially must be looked at very very carefully, before one can cast them into the rubbish bin of meaninglessness or our own shadow contents. Kape Barako is precisely a Feast of Fools. That is a celebration of medieval Europeans in which the roles in social and religious life were reversed and blasphemy reigned as the liturgy on this day. It was finally prohibited in the 1400s with the strictest punishments. This of course was followed by what Norbert Elias referred to as the civiling process in which our bodies, materiality and so forth was increasingly habituated/disciplined into its present state through shame, guilt and repugnance. European and American encounters with natives all over the tropics who had hang ups in departments other than the body and hiding it presented very uncomfortable moments of ethnographic self-reflection which would usually result in some effort to "correct" "reform" or "teach" us -- including Filipinos. Now, of course, anthropologists write books and books about our neurosis with how we clothe ourselves!

So, we are definitely in the realm of the shadow in this movie. It has the usual features of this realm: naked bodies, open and unabridged displays of sexuality, objectification of the male body. But then it has something more -- which, if felt out accordingly, might produce a light nausea. Coffee is mixed with semen and served to clients.

Ceci n'est pas une barrista.

Let's do some associations, shall we?

Coffee was first discovered as a useful bean plant in Ethiopia hundreds of years ago and crossed over to Yemen where it became firmly established as a vivifying drink -- used by Sufi mystics in their night time devotions to stay awake. It was banned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the 12th century and was unbanned in the 19th century. It became a drink of the aristocracy in Europe in the 17th century and fortunes were made by imperial-merchant companies growing coffee in the tropical colonies and importing them back to the imperium.

Coffee is black but it has an awakening, vivifying effect. It is slightly acidic. Traditionally, coffee trees were grown under much larger canopy trees and were grown in what was called 'shade-cultivation.' So coffee has a strong association with elements that could be associated with the shadow contents of the psyche. It is grown in the shade, the shadows. It is black but had an awakening, vivifying effect. It goes through an extensive process from the tree to the roasted bean that is ground and and then hot water added. It is not just a primitive shadow content. But the liquid end-result of a long process of distillation. It is a concentrated form of the shadow.

I don't feel like I need to really go into a long history or association of semen, do I? Semen has always been associated with what it does in humans and other animals. It creates.

So what does it mean for coffee, this concentrated form of the shadow, is mixed, secretly, with the procreative force? In Kape Barako, we are told that it activates and resonates with gay men -- who as I mentioned before represent a certain shadow figure. This is a key point. It is only the gay men who respond to this powerful form of creativity, mixed with the shadow -- who slowly turn a failing coffeehouse into a successful coffeehouse with gay bar qualities. In order to save the coffeehouse, the owner agrees to a macho dance show and he is able to save the coffeehouse. Although the coffeehouse has a certain historical association with elitism and hierarchy I don't think that's a central theme in the movie. Instead, we are shown that the mixing of this condescended and concentrated form of the shadow and creativity offers a recipe towards a livelihood.

I will now talk about the end of the movie, so be forewarned.

The end scene tells us that we have experienced a Fools Mass or a Feast of Fools. Afi Africa's character presents a complex reversal of gender norms in many respects. He is the bakla. But, at the same time, he has adopted the Christian and conservative attitude on feminine sexuality as his own -- that is, he's a virgin. This only gets more complexified when Johnron Tañada's character ends the movie by going down on him. It robs him entirely of the self-imposed femininity of his sexuality. This indicates that the comedy has provided in a joking manner, the most serious truth which names the important role of the shadow in the development of consciousness, but does not go so far as to fully demonstrate it and remove the story from the realm of play. Nothing is safe including the absurdity of adopting a narrow, misogynistic view of feminine sexuality. Had it not been a Feast of Fools type comedy, it would have ended with Johnron Tañada making out with Afi Africa and then a tender love-making scene.

The renewal and further development of consciousness cannot occur without the Feast of Fools. It cannot be skipped and dismissing it only adds energy to the autonomous functioning of the shadow -- which may be what your soul is just looking for. A reactionary movement to one extreme before transcending both.

I hope to spark a discussion with this post about some of the things I've written here. Please feel free to add your voice.

28 October 2011

Movie Review: Dahmer

I did not watch this movie when it first came out. And I watched it on an impulse. I don't recall having such a nauseating experience of a movie in such a long time. One particularly gruesome scene, in which I averted my eyes and muted the sound was when Dahmer drills a hole into the head of the actor playing Konerak Sinthasomphone, the 14 year old Laotian victim of Dahmer (played by Dion Basco, one of the very handsome and talented Fil-Am Basco brothers of California).

It doesn't matter how many times the story of Konerak Sinthasomphone has been told or even nervously joked about by American comedians when Dahmer was caught. A psychopath drugging a 14 year old boy unconscious, raping him and drilling a small hole into the side of his head while he's still alive, but unconscious, is just too much to stomach. And this scene occurs in the first ten or so minutes of the movie so it was like a cinematic punch.

The only thing that was more disturbing was when the Konerak character made his escape. Knowing the outline of the story of Dahmer from when he was caught, it was the longest sequence of the film, for me.

You see, Jeffrey Dahmer, was an American serial killer, who would drug his victims, rape them, drill holes in their heads, kill them, decapitate them, eat parts of the them, refrigerate other parts of them and chemically dissolve other parts. His victims were all men (and most gay).

Konerak Sinthasomphone's death was so tragic that twenty years later I remembered it and was haunted by it. You see, a few years before he ensnared Konerak, he was convicted of molesting Konerak's younger brother. Konerak was Laotian.

In the early morning hours of May 27, 1991, three police officers responded to a 911 call from a rundown Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb. Two 18 year old Black women witnessed an incoherent Asian boy running around naked and bleeding from the head and rectum. He could not speak English but in his incoherence demonstrated obvious fright at Dahmer who was 31. Dahmer told the police that Konerak was his 19 year old gay lover -- Konerak was 14. And that they had a lover's quarrel. The police returned the two to Dahmer's apartment. The police officer subsequently reported back to the 911 dispatcher "Intoxicated Asian, naked male was returned to his sober boyfriend" then added that his partner was "going to get deloused."

Konerak Sinthasomphone (1976-1991)

The police made no effort to identify Konerak to learn that he was a child. The two women followed up with the police later and were told that everything had been taken care of. Although Dahmer had already drilled a hole into Konerak's head. He would subsequently strangle him to death, rape and abuse his body then dismember it and keep his head as a trophy. He would then rape and kill four more young gay men.

Had the police identified Konerak and Dahmer, they would have either discovered that Konerak was 14 or Dahmer was still on court probation for molesting Konerak's younger brother. But they didn't.

This movie is not for the faint of heart and is a true horror film -- even if its true and I knew how it would end. This movie and reflection on it will leave you with questions about evil in this world -- this ought to be even more challenging if you believe in a personal, benevolent and omnipotent god. I previously wrote about Ladlad's push for hate crimes inquiry and legislation. I think the story of Konerak shows us what is lacking in hate crimes legislation. It is police training and proper investigation and enforcement of the law as it is written that is needed most. Until the rule of law is present, there is no justice.

24 October 2011

Movie Review: Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa


I have decided to end my long silence on Philippine films in this blog. There are a number of reasons for doing so. The film I'm about to review being one of them. I do not intend to write many reviews of Philippine films so when you see one, know that the film has registered as significant to me.

The script of this movie is part traditional cinematic dialogue and part the spoken poetry of Merlinda Bobis, Ruth Mabanglo, Joi Barros, Rebecca Anonuevo, Ophelia Dimalanta and Benilda Santos. You might wonder if its possible to include so much feminist poetry in a movie without it becoming academic. The movie is hardly academic. Instead, the poetry is used as a way for Karen (played by Jean Garcia) to bring a particular matter into the field of consciousness with more emotional resonance than just dialogue.

Rich kid Marlon (played by Paulo Avelino) is a mediocre student in his poetry class, taught by Karen. He also happens to have a big crush on her. Stalking her, he discovers that she also sidelines as a dance instructor and choreographer. He is caught watching her from outside her studio one day by fellow poetry class student Dennis (Rocco Nacino). He does not recognize or really have a familiarity with Dennis from his poetry class.

However, sensing an opportunity, Marlon offers Dennis a ride to the studio the next day where he eventually decides to hire Marlon to teach him the various dances that Karen is teaching so that he can enter the class with competence. Marlon simply asks that the instruction be done outside the knowledge of Karen. Dennis who has a crush on Marlon readily agrees.

The private tutoring brings the two young men together. Marlon eventually enters Karen's dance class. However, Karen seeing precisely what is going on, decides to bring things into consciousness which naturally brings light to a conflict in Marlon. As we know, so long as things remain in the unconscious, it is easy for denial to operate effectively with the left hand simply undoing what the right hand has done without conflict. But as soon as the conflict is brought into consciousness, there is tremendous suffering.

Let me digress momentarily to help illustrate this point. In Lihim ni Antonio, we could clearly see what was going on, di ba? Remember Uncle Jonbert. It was as clear as clear could be -- even Tong's mother saw him cuddling with Tong. But, as long as denial is operative and everything is occurring in the unconscious, there is no problem. When Tere is finally told the obvious truth about the unfaithfulness of her overseas husband, suddenly everything is dragged into consciousness. The shadow side is brought under the light and what Tong fantasized Uncle Jonbert being his plaything, turns out that Tong is Uncle Jonbert's plaything. We see that when the conflict is brought into consciousness, there is tremendous suffering and it does not necessarily produce a successful end. Tere goes catatonic and Tong is sent drifting out to sea -- to reproduce the struggle and, perhaps, transcend it.

Back to Sayaw. So Karen nudges Marlon to be conscious of his conflict. Karen overhears a brief comment by Dennis to Marlon which indicates something occurring behind the scenes. Karen then discovers from the studio landlord the entire arrangement. She makes it known to Marlon that she knows and also asks him if she thinks his crush on her is appropriate. Marlon's reaction is to blame Dennis and be mad at Dennis! The conflict has been brought into consciousness.

It is at this point that Karen helps conduct Marlon through a series of exercises that will help him to discover within himself the resolution to his conflict: a choreographed version of Humapadnon in the Hinilawod epic of the Suludnon.

I will save the ending for you to discover if/how his conflict is resolved when you watch the film. But I will add one more point about the movie which I think is relevant for my understanding of it. As Marlon and Dennis work towards the performance, Marlon has a moment of panic where he attempts to control his out-of-control feelings which are well outside of his comfort zone. He does it by attempting to minimize the significance of Dennis. (In much the same way that the conflict of Walang Kawala begins when Joaquin attempts to take control of his own conflict by trying to minimize the significance of Waldo.)

The final scene, which is the staged, choreographed enactment of the part of the Hinilawod where Nagmalitong Yawa saves Humapadnon, is where the conflict's underlying symbolic tensions -- with Marlon at its center as Humapadnon and the archetypal forces at work -- are most clearly revealed.

Alvin Yapan did an excellent job of weaving the story together with the textiles of feminist poetry, indigenous epic and emotion. The cinematography, by Alvin Viola, was also masterfully done just as he did in Lalake sa Parola and Lihim ni Antonio.

The movie will be opening this Wednesday 26 October at the following theaters:
SM: North Edsa, Megamall, Centerpoint, Manila, Southmall, MOA and Bacoor
Ayala: Glorietta 4, Trinoma

17 October 2011

Book Review: Gay Dads

David Strah is a New York City resident who is a gay father and a writer. He wrote this book based on his experiences as a gay dad with his partner Barry.

This is definitely not an academic book and everything about gay fatherhood in the U.S. One of the benefits of being gay is that most gay men do not have accidental children. However, the mystery of the accidental child reappears in the wholly arbitrary process of social workers, adoption agencies, lawyers and government officials.

It's clear that not every person should be a parent. This is true for both biological parents and prospective adoptive parents. At one point, the inquiry regarding adoption was that it was a benefit to childless parents. Now, we look at adoption as what is in the best interest of the child.

But this is quite a subjective analysis that is loaded with tremendous social implications. Art. 185 of the Family Code requires that "Husband and wife must jointly adopt, except in the following cases: (1) When one spouse seeks to adopt his own illegitimate child; or (2) When one spouse seeks to adopt the legitimate child of the other."

This provision, for intracounty adoptions in the Philippines, limits adoptions by gay men to those that are married to women. However, it is possible for an unmarried gay man in many other countries to adopt a Philippine child through an intercountry adoption so long as he is "eligible to adopt under his/her national law." Sec 9 of RA 8043.

What a strange sort of discrepancy in the law. It is much more complicated and expensive to complete an intercountry adoption. How funny this strange sort of discrepancy is. What does this really tell us about our country? Especially if you look at the fact that the standard for adoptions is the best interest of the child. How is only married parents for intracountry adoptions in the best interest of the child, where other forms of parenting are not -- except if the child leaves the country? Is the standard the best interest of the child or the best interest in the integrity of outdated, reactionary public policy on marriage in our country?

This book does not address any of those issues. Rather, it focuses on the stories of how men of varying backgrounds who feel the call to be a parent go through different trials and tribulations to become parents.

The version I read was a 270 page paperback published by Tarcher/Penguin (2003), ISBN-10:1585423335. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.

01 October 2011

Get Happy!