The story in Shireen Seno’s “Big Boy” is quite simple. It is post-war Philippines and we’ve just been “liberated” by the Americans from the tyrannical Japanese. In a small town in Mindoro, a father (Ian Lomongo) of six has devised a scheme to extract cod liver oil from his P1.50 worth of fish entrails. Experimenting on his son, 10 year old Julio, the father diligently documents Julio’s accelerated “growth” – then turns him into a “poster boy” for his product, as he peddles them around his community.
In the process, the family resorts to physical ministrations and solar exposures to maximize the child’s vertical surge.
Director Shireen Seno takes inspiration from her father’s tale of growing up in the 50’s, and she peppers her narrative with aimless random scenes that, though they may create a narrative cosmos, eventually loses novelty early on. Seno utilizes Super 8 to film her story, giving the film an elegiac veneer. However, the narrative meanders too much from these “randomness” that after wading through gritty scenes and uneven sound (it vacillates from “silent” to room tone to speaking mode), the audience gets their patience tested. I understand the genesis of atmosphere – to paint those memories with nostalgia – but there are just too much throwaway scenes that mercilessly needed splicing. Let’s take the scene where river-bathing kids play “slap”. This was been repeated twice or thrice, and you wonder why? The few people who braved the screening were snickering: "Anong ginagawa nila?" What's so exigent about it, it had to be magnified and repeated several times?
Moving a story to mount a coherent whole isn't such a tricky thing and redundant scenes don't an emphasis make, and there are plenty of them here. Seno's scatterbrain conceit is palpable. Her story is further dragged down by her fondness of real time scenes so much so that when you see a woman run a comb down her long hair, Seno follows the nimble movement with due attention; you end up hypnotized and find yourself drowsing. Five seconds later, once you claim your consciousness, the same girl hasn’t finished combing her hair. LOL. Story telling, to be accessible to its audience, should stay on focus and not wander off as though high on crack!
In the story, there is a hint of desperation in the household. Why would you have your child get baked by the sun for hours? He had to eventually collapse from sun stroke. Moreover, why would you submit a young boy to an invasive procedure – a rhinoplasty (a nose job) – just so he’d look better? The 1950's had those egocentric, enterprising concerns? The surgical procedure has been there for the last 2,500 years since an Indian doctor called Sushruta pioneered the technique, but chiseling off a nasal bone in the 1950’s feels exorbitant. Has Vicky Belo been transported back in time to conjure such aesthetically peppy, headline-hogging procedures? How can they afford such luxury when they even had to give up two of their children for adoption?
In the film's desperate bid to fill its cinematic canvas with so much extraneous footages, the use of a Super 8 quickly loses its novelty once you’ve realized the stark carelessness of the film making process. Employing the pseudo-documentary tack as an excuse to stage mediocre scenes becomes nothing but an indolent contrivance. It is lazy film making when you can't even tell a straight story.
There’s a scene in the film where a doctor appears in front of the camera. He looks straight into the camera, stands up, and all we have – for 5 seconds or so – is a headless man on a white blazer. Which school of film making has regarded this technique as brilliant, I wonder? In another scene, the gritty and fine-tremored camera pans on several people walking from a distance. We couldn't even identify them. There was movement from the field, but the whole scene was out of focus; and this blurry drivel went on for another 10 seconds or so. What's so artful in bad cam focus? More importantly, why is the editor so afraid of removing too many irrelevant scenes? Or was he asleep while putting the film together? Danish film master Lars von Trier is an exponent of such technique (shaky handheld cameras), but every scene represents a morsel of consequence in his narrative. Many of Seno’s scenes are overly indulgent and inconsequential to the narrative at hand. She might as well film herself taking a crap and such footage wouldn't feel out of place in this flick! It's like cooking a broth with brimming ingredients. The cook thought that throwing away everything in the pot would make a delectable dish.
With a spare story that easily accommodates mere 4 paragraphs to summarize, it’s a wonder how Seno could stretch her tale into an excruciating 2 ½ hours!
On point of narrative structure, it is a curiousity how the director has woven a tensionless story. There’s hardly conflict (a major element in a full bodied story) to speak of, except for the surprising narrative detour where Julio suddenly - and unexpectedly - steals a cooking pot. Why did he? What was his motive for doing so? Such artifice fails as “deus ex machina” (a contrived plot device with an unexpected intervention). In fact, this plot is too far removed from the rest of the story. Didn't I say "scatterbrain" earlier?
A few days ago, I went home surly after having completed watching 3 Cinema One films. It’s a totally different experience from my after-viewing experience with Cinemalaya where I left the cinema exuberant. The experimental “Busong” did that. This experiment annoyed me. I was in a bad mood for the remainder of the night!
DIMWITS AND CLOUD MOVEMENTS
What is wrong with Cinema One?
Whoever “curated” and green lighted these flicks should be burned at the stakes! This year's lineup represents a collection of technically savvy, but droll story tellers! Many of them populate their films with glorious nature scenes – count how many of their 10 main features has “moving clouds” in them, you would think there's an on-going contest about cloud movement instead of interesting stories! They probably thought they were making documentaries for the National Geographic, forgetting along the way that a story has to be legibly told.
And “Ka Oryang” gets Best Picture nod? Seriously?
When the lady inmates in Sari Dalena’s movie are raped and tortured, no one mentions “violation of international law”. But when another is refused medical attention, it becomes such violation? Galeng! Ang galeng! What made them think that a hunger strike would have their tormentors grow conscience or guilt? The guards prostitute them and feed them slop, and the inmates believe these guards would care if they refuse feeding altogether? And the performances are awash with livid telenovela mush, I half expected Kim Chiu and Bea Alonzo to suddenly make their rightful cameos. And allow me to underline the "subtlety" exhibited by Marife Necesito and Angeli Bayani who thought there's glory in livid emotionality and larger-than-life depictions.
Which lineup of dimwits decided on making “Ka Oryang” a best picture? Is their brain smaller than that of a paramecium? No doubt, this year’s rooster has got to be the worst in a long time!
Seno may hide under the cloak of experimental film making. Heck, she can adumbrate under the cloak of her international film making studies. But this much is clear; she gravely needs to learn to tell a more coherent, concise story. Isn't that taught in a university? She needs to polish her film making skills and make up her mind about styles (if it’s a silent film with subtitles, then stop shifting to one with sound every 5 minutes or so). Consistency is part of the process! And finally, she has to realize that stretching a film to an epic 3 hours doesn't guarantee a masterpiece. In fact, it inspires quite the opposite! It is something I’d rather not spend my P151 on. It wastes too much of my precious time!
Nose job in 1950! So he could promote cod liver oil! Imagine that!