Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jeff Luna Plows The Barren Field in "Araro"

I refuse to be director Alejandro Bong Ramos' trumpet-blower. He doesn't get points from me for admitting the obvious - that all he intends to deliver are "skin flicks" which he still outdated calls "bold" as though we're still in the 80's. These days, we appropriately call them sex exploitation movies which has gotten synonymous with "indie movies" or "gay movies". These terms jubilantly interchange.

In "Araro" (Plow), a farming couple Andoy (Paolo Rivero) and Elena (hopelessly homely Lorraine Lopez) comes home to find a stranger resting inside their shanty. Steve (Jeff Luna) shakes their seemingly harmonious marital existence. Though initially suspicious of the new kid in town, they soon invite him to stay over after Andoy injures himself while farming his rice fields. "Dumito ka muna at tumulong; babayaran kita," offers Andoy, despite his wife's objections. Something in the soft spoken young man intrigues the couple. His presence will eventually rock the boat, what with Steve seductively taking skinny dips by the river. But just when you thought he would run away with Elena, we suddenly find him locking lips with Andoy! How convenient, right?

Well, this ends into a menage a trois that's too unseductive to watch, it was like reading a by-the-number tutorial on sexual orgy sans the requisite passion. Fine, they can then live happily ever after. But then there's that silly subplot about Steve's past (spoilers ahead: he escapes a defensive murder drama from the city) which is bound to catch up with our strapping hunk of a man!

The narrative is rather derivative we don't even have to look far for reference. Jeff Luna's recent release, the straight-to-video "Darang" also tells of an almost similar tale. But this film teeters into legitimacy - but not quite. First, camera work is sparklingly crystal, much like Ramos' other work, "Butas". He has the eye for such visuals which is sad as he has basically surrendered into being a skin flick director. A local palayan (rice field) has never looked this scenic and lovely in the green plains of Laur, Nueva Ecija. Some scenes were just too pretty they looked like gentle brush strokes. Another plus point is the way the narrative is moved by dialogue-free scenes. This is not a "talkative" movie, and it actually works for the story. It has successfully done away with too complicated "explanations" by being "silent". Paolo Rivero carries the performance grade here. His naturally calm presence reeks of an underlying pathos that when he cries for fear of being abandoned, his uhog drips and his heart breaks into tiny little pieces.

Jeff Luna, this season's it-man oozes with enough testosterone charm, it sometimes suffices that he just stands without opening his mouth. When he does, all possibilities of lewd fantasizing drop down exponentially. Much like his earlier movies, - "Libido", "Darang", "Chub Chaser", his straight-to-video sex flicks ("Summer Boys", a walk-on in "Here Comes the Bride", etc.) - he speaks with a doze-inviting, emotionally-hollow monotone, delivering his lines like he was reading from the page of a script. His face is a blank, which only changes when he closes his eyes to depict the emotions of a self-pleasuring gentleman - which he seems to do in every movie he does! Yet, even his masturbation scenes are hardly believable. Someone has to teach Jeff how to deliver emotions on screen fast! Half a dozen movies after and you're still a ham, Jeff? What gives? Otherwise, what becomes of his strong presence but being reduced to a mere phallic symbol! As for the only lady in the film, Lorraine Lopez, you somehow wonder what the makers see in her! Her mere presence is a mystery - and we refuse to further talk about her!

The director is fond of shots that inspire a voyeur; his camera floats on ceiling walls, doors ajar, holes in the wall. He isn't quite over "Butas". And it is obvious that he loves to highlight his actors in their several states of undress, Jeff Luna especially (check out his swimming scenes as he floats and flips over river waters, you'd notice a mushroom - LOL).

A lot of the arrogant indie film directors should learn Visuals 101 from Mr. Ramos. Chances are, it's really a matter of economics and how Mr. Ramos can afford to use a high definition video camera, while the others are content with their visual mediocrity. As for his ambition to wallow in skin flick heavens, what a waste! An admission of his story-telling limitation.

Isn't that sad?

Jeff Luna's testosterone charm and emotionally-hollow monotones.


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