Conceit seems to successfully filter through the director of “Ben and Sam”. In one of the scenes, a film class shows its students what would be a superior film; a film that champions the truth – or “troot” as beautifully enunciated several times by the characters! The film in question? The remarkable “Fidel” – Mark Shandii Bacolod’s horrible amateur schlock!
What university classifies “Fidel” as a respectable work of art deserves to be shut down for good for they teach spurious materials to impressionable young minds! In fact, whoever made the scholastic curriculum for this particular film class should be crucified and fed to the lethal Safari Ants of Kenya! Yes, that’s you, Angeli Bayani! LOL
That a film director would refer to his own work as a landmark film of sorts really smacks of unfounded narcissism! We wouldn’t mind if he was Jerrold Tarrog talking about his “Confessional” or Peque Gallaga talking about his “Oro, Plata, Mata” or Brillante Mendoza talking about “Foster Child”. After all, there would be basis for that! But this is the self-important Mark Shandii Bacolod for his
Not to its director Mr. Bacolod, nor to Boy Rosas (who single handedly championed Lance Raymundo’s “sensitive portrayal”), its producers and filmmaking crew!
I guess there is no better avenue to hail your work than on your next film! If no one praises it, praise it yourself! Isn’t that sad?
The Story: Ben (Rayan Dulay) and Sam (Jess Mendoza) are polar opposites. They couldn’t be more dissimilar from each other, except that they share a dubious Film Class together – and that they vie for the “Campus King” title. While Ben is the resident sports jock, Sam is the eccentric chabacano who takes dance lessons! When Sam invites Ben as partner for their thesis, the latter accepts. Then one day, they share an unexpected kiss; something that gave our testosterone king Ben a stiffy! And thus starts their arduous journey towards social acceptance!
We have always found Dulay to be an insightful performer (he simmered in “Ang Laro sa Buhay ni Juan”) and he doesn’t disappoint here, except those painful moments when he is made to speak the queen’s language! This is really a pitfall! When your actors aren’t as proficient in the language as moi, pleaseeee don’t punish them with rigorous English lines. It will expose their shortcomings! It will further alienate the audience who’s supposed to sympathize with them. This is usually a writer’s myopic idea of rendering “intellect” to his character! Pa englishin mo para kunyari matalino! Honey, a person who speaks Tagalog can be as intelligent. False or Troot?
There are a myriad of cinematic gimmickry employed to buoy up interest in the lukewarm relationship that Ben and Sam shares! One, Ben’s mother (Ana Abad-Santos) is showcased in several scenes donning circus costumes a la Pokwang or, even better, Tessa Prieto Valdez! This was how they depicted the instability of the mother, a survivor of espousal abuse. Another gimmickry is the protracted use of slowmotion sequences that smack of bad visual poetry. We see this in a basketball game, and towards the end – when two full-length songs are played (one after the other) – while the lovers frolic naked in the rain! Once again, this is Bacolod’s version of rendering sophistication to his visual composition – slowmo! For a while there, I thought I was watching myx or that other music channel!
Moreover, Bacolod can’t shake off the storytelling tack of introducing an irate character when his narrative flow has gone dry. He did this in “Fidel” in that really-tacky scene when a would-be interview subject (who already said “no” for an interview, played by Von Arroyo) suddenly stormed into the news agency of that idiot journalist played wonderfully by Andrea del Rosario! This came out of nowhere. Why Arroyo went berserk is beyond me. What provoked his attack was the sole product of the writer-director’s imagination, bearing no logical explanation. Except of course that it is cinematic to have someone carry a gun while shouting crazy stuff! In “Ben and Sam”, this came in 6 months after Ben tells off his former bestfriend George (Micah Munoz). If you really think about it, George's actions fall under the Guiness Book of World Record's most super-duper delayed reaction! Hahaha! In the scene, George storms into a room and shoots Sam dead! It took George 6 months to gather balls to avenge his being scorned? Normal individuals tend to move on after 6 months. But of course, this is a Mark Shandii Bacolod narrative that doesn't necessarily follow the normal flow of human emotions. Like their director, the characters live in an alternate dimension where common acceptable logic takes the back seat!
I had dejavu of Von Arroyo’s harrowing, lengthy scene in "Fidel", where he wailed, “Ito ang gusto n’yo, di ba?” - again and again and again! Unfortunately, Micah wasn’t masterful enough to spout kilometric lines so he was sent to scamper off instead.
Then visual poetry makes a return: an empty university hall turns into a stage where – in glorious slowmo once again – people coming from different directions start walking towards the center and across, I was sure they were gonna latch into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” any moment. At some point, everybody stopped. Good thing coz I thought the principal (Malou Crisologo) was going to hit the wall! Shivers! It was a surreal choreography! Like that party game where people freeze when the music stops? Yes.
Bacolod is fond of employing these cheap gimmicks. I remembered a scene in my favorite “Fidel” when the idiot government officials were discussing the fate of Fidel, you’d see them walking around in circles, decked in black costumes. As though, once again, they were prepping for another Michael Jackson number – “Beat it!”
Finally, as Sam lies on his deathbed, we see Ben grieve for Sam. He cries, and the room stands still! My heart went to that lady doctor, looking like she swallowed 2 legs of pata tim; her position languidly oblique from the camera. Her face registering what it was like tasting crap! She stared at nowhere when she could have left the scene! But no! She stood there proudly like she’s seen the eyes of Medusa! Where is Percy Jackson when you need him most!
In a misplaced bath tub scene, Sam quips: "Bakla ka! Binabakla mo ako! Kaloka!" Hmmm, I knew that sounded familiar! That actually took me back to an anonymous message sender warning me (even before I actually saw the film): "“Bakla ka! ako ang magbibigay sayo ng 160 na binayad mo sa Fidel at Pilantik, nagpopcorn ka ba? sige isama mo na yun. pati pamasahe mo! Kaloka ka! Wag mong lalaitin ang pelikula ko... Kukurutin ko ang singit mo gurl!" Sometimes, you just can't take the palengke away from the palengkera!
Micah Munoz does well as shortfused George. He drops his lines effusively and clearly! Ana Abad Santos vies for Tessa Prieto-Valdez's enviable reputation!