I was reeling with antipathy as I left the cinema after watching Ian Loreno's Cinemalaya-entry "The Leaving". There goes my P161 down the gutter! Not only was it rife with an enumerable list of everything you hate from an independent film, it was also careless. And before someone tries to "remind" me again of the "blood, sweat and tears" - as well as the "good intentions" - invested in the making of this abomination, all those gibberish don't mean squat, but the finished product! Truth be told, good intentions don't a good movie make.
The film is subdivided into three "chapters", each one from the point of view of the subset's main character.
"Martin" follows a solitary man (Alwyn Uytingco) who's nursing a broken heart. He's unemployed, unsure whether he'd be content and productive if he joins his folks in the U.S. He lives in a tenement populated by dreadful characters, including a lunatic who recently lost her younger sister from an accident. Though Martin seems to piece the characters together, his side of the narrative is rather dry and uninteresting, as he partakes the role of the lackadaisical observer.
"Lovers" follows an extra-marital affair between married businessman William and travel agent Joan (Arnold Reyes and LJ Moreno, respectively). It soon becomes clear that William's negligent ways eventually lead to Joan's unplanned pregnancy. But on top of her troubles, Joan gets abducted and gang raped the night William stood her up from a date! Joan decides to make a clean break from William, but would he allow her to leave?
"Wife" zeroes in on Grace (LJ Reyes), William's persevering wife. In the course of her sacrifices, Grace rekindles her "friendship" with next-door neighbor Manny who - as it turned out - was her former boyfriend (the one who left a year ago, as narrated by Martin when the movie opened). While Grace begins to unravel William's indiscretions, she gets ghoulish visits from souls that go bump in the night! What's a wife to do.
These disparate characters navigate the bowels of Chinatown, thus we are ushered into a subculture not quite in consonant with what we are used to: Pinoy-looking personalities suddenly lurching into Chinese, spewing alien concepts like "chit gye puah" and "spirit days". It's like "Mano Po" sans the fake eye make-ups. We would have been more tolerant of such inanities if there were more care in the exposition, instead of randomly dropping these concepts like bombs!
Curiously, it's the least developed character that buoys the film into something vaguely navigable, thanks to Uytingco's understated but perceptive performance as Martin who languishes in his own dilemma. LJ Moreno also does well, if a bit too showy as the adulterous Joan. Arnold Reyes, meanwhile, is starting to suffer the Irma Adlawan-syndrome, indulging in livid strokes of characterization that jumps off the screen. He was once a promising indie actor, but these days, he is just too eager to please. And we need to remind him that "less is more". LJ Reyes suffers from irresolute story telling. Was this a dramatic feature? A psychological yarn? A vengeful horror tale this side of Edgar Allan Poe? Baka naman romance? To be honest, it's a bit of everything, making this elementary effort nothing more than a chopsuey of incipient ideas. Its lofty ambition is deemed too unfocused to truly raise any relatable statement.
Now let me veer into its even more annoying aspect: "subtitles"! I am absolutely for the use of English subtitles in local releases as this will open up the film into a bigger, more universal audience. However, if the subtitles are idiotic, it's counterproductive to display it during its local screening as it will expose the cerebral limitations, albeit mediocrity of its makers.
When you're looking at the screen, you can't quite escape badly subtitled lines, and it's very bothersome to say the least. It wouldn't have been too harrowing if these were mere typographical errors, but as the story progressed, it became apparent that erroneous typographs they weren't! Here are some of the several mind-benders:
"Hindi ka pa rin nagbago." becomes "You haven't change."
"Didn't we already talked about this?" (My dears, the word "did" is always preceded by its verb in the present tense! Wasn't that taught in elementary grammar class?)
"You're leaving me for another man, isn't it?" (You must mean, "aren't you?" For a while there, I thought I was watching an episode of "Bubble Gang".)
"Mga jeep na gago." becomes "Rubbish jeepneys." (Again please?)
"Don't let your eyes off our stuffs." (Stuffs?!)
"Salamat doon." becomes "Thank you about that!" (About what? ;-> )
"Why didn't you left with them?" (It's the "did"-rule once again, honey! Why didn't you leave with them!)
"When get home, food is ready." (Ano daw?!)
"If I should leave to the U.S. ..." (Baka naman "leave for...")
Even the use of Tagalog phrases is sketchy, with an oftly repeated "Pumutok na naman ang tseke!" In my world, "pumuputok" refers to a terrorist activity of sending explosives in mails, not of estafa. Is there really an alternate world in the Philippines that uses "putok" when they refer to bouncing cheques? Or were they using euphemisms for "body odor"? LOL
As the movie draws to a close, it further dispenses with more inspiring subtitling: "You look aweful!" (Didn't you mean "awful?" Or did you want to say "awesome?" Those 2 are quite antonymous, even my grade 2 cousin could tell the difference!)
Was my yaya hired for the subtitling job? I could swear she was gone for a couple of days in the last 5 months or so!
As I just came from a visually superior, but atrocious film - Neal Tan's "Tarima", I was desperate for a cinematic salvation to save the day. I should've looked elsewhere.
Consequently, I find it ironic that "The Leaving" actually won "Best Cinematography" at the 2010 Cinemalaya Award when it was obvious cinematography was not among its strong points. Or were the judges visually challenged? Lighting was bad and paucity of resources to design its set was evident. This was a production running on mere nubile ideas - devoid of technical savvy - and the borderline performances of its protagonists (one of whom actually won Best Supporting Actress). This just underlines the obvious - that winning an award is not exactly a pursuit of excellence in this country. How else would you explain "The Leaving's" 3 awards? Serendipity? LOL
We are also seeing Alwyn Uytingco in a different, albeit more positive light. Now that his "baby fats" have pretty much dissipated, he steps up into the limelight as a charismatic, compelling actor. He is effectively subdued as Martin compared to the cloying emotionality of LJ Reyes. And what's with all those ghosts, which I believe was either a misplaced or misused concept!
That they allow the movie-going public to actually dispense hard earned money to waste on this ghastly drivel is nothing short of a criminal offense. That "The Leaving" is borne out of the director's inspiring Berlinale experience is another testament that participation in "prestigious" film festivals shouldn't be construed as synonymous with film making excellence. After all, didn't Mark Shandii Bacolod's "Fidel" walk the same glittery red carpet as did director Ian Loreno?
Now how about this. Let's all line them up. Off with their heads!