Wednesday, December 21, 2011

HIV: Si Heidi, Si Ivy at si V - A Mediocre Advocacy

Documentary film maker Gil Bustamante (Jake Cuenca) is commissioned by the Department of Health for a project about the people who tested positive for HIV. Bearing his video cam and an irascible assistant (Candy Pangilinan), Gil is held up by indecisive subjects who can’t make up their minds about sharing their stories. With a looming deadline, Gil diligently runs after his subjects.

Ivy (Iza Calzado) is a reluctant call center agent who’s discombobulated how she contracted the virus. Though she has feckless and easygoing boyfriend Arnel (Will Devaughn), Ivy is far from being irresponsible and promiscuous. Does it have anything to do with a recent party gone wild where she passed out? Heidi (Ma. Isabel Lopez) got her disease from a philandering former husband, an overseas contract worker who eventually died in Saudi Arabia. What’s worse, she gave birth to a child who likewise contracted the diseases. Vanessa (IC Mendoza) works as host of a comedy bar who’s been sexually active as early as 13 years old. Though cheerfully eager for the exposure, Vanessa is careless and still sleeps around with anonymous strangers. One day, he gets beaten by a band of thugs while cruising the streets.

Director Neal “Buboy” Tan, the purveyor of cringe-worthy titles like “Ang Babae sa Sementeryo”, “Tiltil”, “Pasang Krus”, and “Barang” (and let’s not forget his early efforts like “Pilya”, “Misteryosa”, “Shirley”, “Kalabit”, “Puri”, “Check-Inn” and the awards-worthy “Onyok Tigasin”) is back with a star studded cast, a messy script and a film making skill reminiscent of this year’s student shorts! Yes, he’s at it again!

Wanggo Gallaga, unofficial poster boy of the HIV-positive yuppies, manages a Pechsniffian, albeit didactic script that’s laboriously preachy and contrived, not to mention predictable. Midway into the story, we gleaned on the climactic comeuppance. Moreover, the narrative is too engrossed peppering its story with a hundred-and-one characters, it briskly loses focus. Precious Lara Quigaman’s character as Miles (Gil’s girl friend), for example, should have been down played further because her requisite narrative string muddles the already convoluted plot. Besides, why can’t a loving girl friend fathom the concept of a deadline? It’s beyond annoying!

Jake Cuenca, who never looked so handsome and fit, tries hard, but like JM de Guzman (“Pintakasi”), Cuenca’s idea of acting borders on being too indicative. He emotes way before events transpire. Hasn’t he been told that when annotating or hosting for a documentary, you need to divest yourself of emotions, at least when you’re just giving your introductions? Like news anchors, it is important not to show your emotional bias even before events unravel before your camera. It’s a “sin” to lead your viewers to a form of prejudice by way of your inclination to the story. Imagine a teary eyed host who starts his spiel with adequate sentimental fervor? Imagine what he’s capable of doing once the sad stories roll out! Is he gonna bawl out like a girl with hands flailing wildly and legs kicking away? It’s a scary thought.

Gil, our protagonist, sleepwalks with his head on the clouds. He knew he had ambivalent subjects. Anyone with a brain would sweet talk his interviewees to bolster their confidence. Yet in one scene, he goaded Ivy with a moronic question: “What if you can’t get answers to your questions?” And you wonder why he has problems keeping his subjects. :)

The performances here are characterized by overt sentimentalism. If they aren't on the verge of a nervous breakdown, they're dissimulating pity. Candy Pangilinan deserves mention for her noisy, staccato version of how acting should be. If you've seen her in "For The First Time", "Petrang Kabayo", "Who's That Girl", and all her other television work, it's the same thespic attack: she has, in fact, mastered the art of constipated delivery. She's always irritable, throws her lines like she's gonna drop dead if she couldn't finish a sentence in 2 seconds, and evinces the personification of the word "irascible". In one scene, out of desperate hurry, she referred to Gil as "a hot young shot director" - Ano daw? Of course, it should be "a young hotshot director". See what I mean? Which idiot gave her the idea that she could act? Her best friend, IC Mendoza, on the other hand needs more insight. He isn't playing Vanessa but himself. His superficial depiction of a badly wigged transvestite is so painful, it felt like a root canal sans anesthesia. Perfunctory doesn't equate to masterful.

Neal Tan’s idea of a confrontation is so generic, not to mention pedestrian, I almost fell off my seat when Iza Calzado and Will Devaughn started fighting in front of the camera. It was like watching a bad exercise in an acting class; the blocking was as awkward as the staging. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s more of that similar blocking: when Precious confronts Jake for being a negligent boyfriend, the staging was transplanted from Iza and Will’s confrontation scene. It felt like déjà vu – with different actors taking the part. Check out the 2 screen caps of such confrontations below if you don’t believe me. Then we can all sing-along: “Alin, alin, alin ang naiba!”

The general concept of AIDS and HIV needs further dissemination. There are 4 new cases documented daily in the Philippines. Though the numbers in the U.S. are on the decline, it’s on a distressing upswing in the Philippines. What’s more alarming is, anti-retroviral drugs given free in San Lazaro won’t be free anymore in the coming year. If we want to educate people, giving them an overwrought story such as this one is not the answer. Otherwise, people will stay away in droves. A series of short videos called “Positivism” featuring Wanggo Gallaga is an easier watch than Neal Tan’sHIV”, that’s for sure.

In Jade Castro’sPositivism: Risky Business”, Gallaga (who penned "HIV") talks about his illness and compares his diagnosis as “like being shot”. Gallaga comes off as pansophical, sometimes downright smug: Rationalizing about his illness, he dispenses sweeping concepts like “That’s how you measure life.” Quite clever for someone who, before his diagnosis, dismissed the notion of a life-saving rubber protector called condom. But his story should resonate to some demographics who continue to deny and shun the reality of AIDS in the Philippines. There is life after (diagnosis of) AIDS.

Scene one: Iza and Will's confrontation. Now take note of the same blocking down below.

Scene two: Jake and Precious' confrontation. Deja vu?

Maria Isabel Lopez is Heidi. She got her illness from a philandering husband, then she passes it on to her son.

Comedy Bar host Vanessa (IC Mendoza) basks in the spotlight.

Candy Pangilinan - the most annoying being this side of Earth. I was tempted to throw darts at her - or - duct tape her mouth - now!

Scriptwriter Wanggo Gallaga - Unofficial poster boy of HIV(+) people

Check out “Risky Business” (Positivism) here:

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