As children, Raffy and Marco were inseparable, living their facile existence in the backroads of Masbate. Marco was there when Raffy’s mother passed away, and Raffy saved Marco from drowning. They share an irrefutable bond way beyond kinship. But when they turned 14, Marco (whose family owns the resort grounds where Raffy’s impoverished family dwells) had to move to Manila to pursue his education. As a token of their friendship, Marco left his friend a pair of pigeons and a ring.
Years later, we find a grown up Raffy (Johnron Tanada) working as a “magkakawayan” (bamboo cutter) earning a paltry P5 a bamboo stick. Unfortunately, bamboo sticks are dwindling. He’s trying to save some money for a Manila education that he plans to pursue unaware that Marco (Eugene Tejada) has finally come home. The latter doesn’t have plans of staying though. The family resort has fallen to neglect and isn’t earning anymore. Selling the place seems the better option. When they finally meet, their camaraderie is rekindled. They make up for lost time by spending all their time together. That’s when the ugly head of idle chatter starts churning out rumors? Sebastian (Dustin Jose), Raffy’s older brother, isn’t amused. Are Raffy and Marco an item? The whole town seems to think so. What happens when Marco departs?
Saving a friend the second time around.
Director Paul Singh Cudail’s sophomore effort rambles with a good number of incipient narrative strains that are mostly left hanging once executed, making rudiments of stories that are never fully realized or completed. To name a few: the loss of Raffy’s piggy bank; Sebastian’s seeming interest for Joyce (Marco’s erstwhile childhood sweetheart); Sebastian’s gay lover (who’s migrating to the US). Cudail fills his narrative palette with so much unnecessary details leaving an inchoate story that’s disorganized, random and confused. In short, Cudail is too perplexed, he’s simply lost in his own gibberish (yup, he wrote the screenplay).
A lot of things don’t make sense. When Marco finally arrives, he was too lazy to seek his friend out, you’d have to surmise his indifference. Yes, he did ask Raffy’s brother to inform Marco, but he couldn’t even visit Raffy home when the latter fails to show up? He knew where he lives. What kept him from springing a surprise?
In the course of the story, the character of Joyce (Jenaira Chu, “Anton Tubero”) shows up. She’s supposedly Marco’s girl friend. Yet Marco wouldn’t even visit her. You’d wonder if Marco was suffering from a form of disability. Their relationship is tenuous since Marco’s Manila sojourn seemed to have rendered him incommunicado for 5 years or so. When Marco finally reunites with Joyce, she cries her crocodile tears; offers her brownish nipples, before proceeding to cry again, thereby brushing off further sexual activity. That's the gist of their coupling. But why was she crying? It didn’t even seem real. What’s clear to me is the fact that they weren’t able to pursue a relationship the whole time Marco was away – and 5 years is a long time to pine for someone who doesn’t even lift a finger to correspond! Even a married person could already legally file for abandonment. Is Masbate too remote for a phone signal? Too desolate for a mailman to deliver letters to? There are a million excuses when you don't want to, right? Maybe we’re back in the 60’s when SMS wasn’t even a figment of the imagination. Such recondite endeavor! LOL
Brothers Raffy (Johnron Tanada) and Sebastian (Dustin Jose).
Dustin Jose (as Sebastian) cries, Jeremy Ian (as Joey) enjoys the falls.
When tongues started wagging about Raffy and Marco’s relationship, Sebastian was livid! He roared at Raffy, as though the latter just ingested a semen-tinged coffee: “Bakla ka ba?” (Are you gay?) Why was he so aversed to the idea. But early in the film, a scene had Sebastian bidding a gay lover goodbye. Is this a case of the thief despising the other thief? He wanted to join his benefactor so much he even stole his brother’s piggy bank - and he kept it for the next five years! In another scene where Joyce once again sheds tears, he runs after her. In another, he gazes at the heart broken Joyce who, once again, exercises her lachrymal capability to the hilt. And when she cried, he did so too! What the heck is happening here? This is getting too ominous. Is he suddenly in love with Joyce? This wasn’t even an issue until Marco’s homecoming, was it? Sebastian never had a relationship with Joyce, but with a gay benefactor! What makes him think he can start one upon Marco's return? Pieces don't fit!
To fulfill the raison d’etre of the film, Cudail had to pepper his work with a whole dash of frontal nudity. He even employed two anonymous guys bathing together (time it: it's close to 2 minutes), soaping away their privates in wild abandon. They were so good at it you’d think there was grime and sludge that needed scruffing off their penises. The main question should be: Who the heck were they? They didn’t figure into the story at all. Cudail’s acute sense of storytelling just suffered a low bat mentality, is all.
A completely unrelated character named Joey (Jeremy Ian) was roped in to perform yet another full frontal bathing scene. More than once, you’re thrown into rabid disorientation because these were characters absolutely unrelated to the story at hand! Did I blink and miss a scene that ushered these unknown characters to the fore? Cudail, in his consummate ineptness couldn't even write anything in his script to make these bathing guys’ presence be of legible consequence to the story. Basta. They were there to soap away their peckers. Period. What’s even funnier is, Jeremy Ian (in a 3 minute bathing scene) had to take off his undersized briefs then use it as body sponge. Inspired, right? I was tempted to head home and donate my unused loofa for the poor guy. But then he might ignore me. He was so intent on cleaning himself, he was almost levitating while scrubbing.
You would think Cudail would learn a thing or two after “Sulot” (his directorial debut). Instead, he is so helpless he can’t even gouge out and maneuver a semblance of emotion from his borderline actors. In the scene where Sebastian’s gay benefactor was saying goodbye, Cudail assigns this poor guy with a two kilometer monologue: “Dadalhin kita sa America. Doon, tayo’y magsasama. Lahat gagawin ko kasi mahal kita. Hintayin mo lang ako babalikan kita.” If it felt like poetry, the delivery was even more so - sans any hint of emotion. With his face on cam, you’d notice his stiff and restless pauses as though there were lines he couldn’t read from an idiot board (how appropriate) pasted on the walls. Watching a toadstool grow flowers is probably a more gratifying option than watching this guy dig himself a hole. What’s curious is, he didn’t even need to say all those things because his character was so disposable. He’s gone after the scene and never to be seen again, thank heavens.
Johnron Tanada once again delivers a one-note performance that awkwardly verges on the woe-is-me school of acting. He mopes around like the biggest loser in all of Masbate, and he even weeps like a girl. This is probably not his entire fault, but this experience is a testament that unguided actors are ultimately brought down by a bad script, poor direction and absence of that salient ingredient called talent. Do you know how many times Tanada had to weep for his scenes? He’d outcry the girls in “Mara Clara” that’s for sure. Ditto Eugene Tejada. Even Dustin Jose had to weep twice, and Jenaira Chu in all but one scene! It’s a behemoth crying festival, and in not a single scene was I brought to tears. The emotions on show were as hollow and insubstantial as Kris Aquino’s crying scenes from last December’s “Dalaw”. Opps, sorry, I meant her frightened look which seemed like she’s about to cry. Her “scared look” had been haunting me for years now. I could swear I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a tiyanak suddenly mumbling, “What’s shu-lit, mama? What’s shik-shik, mama!” I am just petrified.
Eugene Tejada, in his very first movie after winning that Bikini Contest, needs lessons in elocution, delivery and emotional urgency. He spoke his lines like a 12 year old boy, about to be circumcised: “Bawiin mo ang sinabi mo. Mabibigo ka lang!” It was inexplicable. I expected better from him. He has a strong register on camera, but comes off with a tentative affect every time he opens his mouth. But there’s hope, I’m sure. This is just his first full length feature. Did he flash his perky wand? He did (though it wasn't so errr "perky"), in a peek-a-boo sideway scene shot behind the cracks on the wall. But don’t wink, you might miss his mushroom. LOL
A 5-years later epilogue closes the story. Raffy and Marco are seen arriving in their barrio, fully decked in white. They’re now nurses joining a medical mission. This scenario allows them the closure the narrative requires. Raffy reunites with brother Sebastian - who looks exactly the same. In fact, he hasn’t removed his earing for half a decade, I was sure it had grown roots! How could Raffy end up as a nurse when it was never shown that he even finished elementary or high school? All he did in his earlier scenes was cut bamboo. Nothing else! Am I being asked again a “degree of imagination”? Even leaps of faith have to be deserved!
BURDEN OF THE STORY
The humdinger in Cudail’s “Kubli” (Hidden) really lies in how the structure of the story leads us to our protagonists’ burdens. Thing is, it felt like they weren’t even attracted with each other until the rumors eventually got to them. The suppositions were mere inventions of the idle mind, yet these suggestions were too vigorous, they’re left with no option but to believe them. "Ay, bakla pala kami" because the whole barrio said so! How else would you explicate the fact that Marco wasn’t even all that interested to see his old friend upon his arrival?
If you were harboring affection for someone you haven’t seen in five years, wouldn’t you even seek him out? Is it probably reticence? Or mere disinterest? But of course, Marco and Raffy had to be gullible. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a second Paul Singh Cudail film which has so far shown his genius in other masterpieces like “Tiyo Pablo” and the soon released “Maligalig”. How can such dubious aptitude proliferate into more projects? Neil Tan (who has had a face-saving rechristening, he’s now a Vince Tan directing “Private Nights”) and Joven Tan come to mind. And there’s the king of mediocre, Crisaldo Pablo, a living proof that proudly defies the adage, “Experience is the best teacher.”
Fact is, “Moron Cinema” breeds like wild insects because there’s a market for them. This is the cinema that willingly foregoes reasonable narrative in exchange of penile showcases! There are plenty of patrons who love moronic clutter; it’s a simple equation really. People believe their own amour-propre even when it’s as clear as day that the only artistry they patronize is the artistry of seeing flashes of male genitalia. Now, there’s probably pleasure to be had in that, but let’s not deceive ourselves and say a film deserves a 5/5 rating simply because it had 5 guys generously flashing 5 genitalias. Then we rationalize in the most florid, sophisticated English the false virtues of these films (“Kape Barako”, “Tarima”, “Santuaryo”, “Pulupot”, “Bayaw”, “Quicktrip”, etc.) It’s like believing that the well loved Anne Curtis is a great singer because she owns a CD (“Annebisyosa”) that tops the best selling list! Let’s not be hypocrites and let’s call a spade a spade. If you are disinclined doing so, then allow others the freedom to do so.