Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lem Lorca's "Bola" - Lessons in Basketball

In the poverty stricken seaside fringes of the city, Lester (Kenneth Paul Salva) and his friend Brat (Jacob Miller) weave their ambition of playing professional basketball. But such are mere pipedreams. Lester cannot afford to enroll in college, while Brat turns tricks by accommodating liaisons with lascivious homosexuals. Meanwhile, they content themselves with their barangay basketball league which is in need of a manager who will provide their jerseys.

When Lester gets the idea from girlfriend Angel (Sofia Valdez) with whom he’s nurtured a strong 6 year relationship, Lester and Brat turn to couturier Pandy (Arnell Ignacio) who’s only too willing to manage the league. What’s more, the besotted philantrophist even offers to pay for Lester’s college education. Pandy even enveigles the help of the university’s coach Rito (Dustin Jose) to get the boys playing for the varsity team. With these earlier encumbrances remedied, their dreams start taking shape.

But Lester is slowly unsettled by Pandy’s suffocating presence: he makes a hundred calls; extends numerous invitations; he’s everywhere, even during team practices. Even the coach, who was once Pandy’s protégé and lover, starts to resent Pandy’s distracting ubiquity. He starts prohibiting outsiders, Pandy especially, from watching his team practice.

But a collegiate life isn’t as easy for our beleaguered protagonist – Lester is failing his subjects. His mother (Suzette Ranillo) suggests the option offered by his cousin to migrate to Canada – to become a nanny! “Ayokong maging yayo,” Lester adamantly refuses. It would seem understandable for a young, 6-footer to emasculate himself by even considering the option, di ba? His way to redemption is staying in the varsity – but what about his failing grades? Coach Rito offers a winking solution: “Ako’ng bahala. Kakausapin ko ang professors mo.” How convenient, right? But this generous offer doesn’t come without a price – like a coach and his player sharing a shower together. With his luck briskly running out, Lester acquiesces.

When Pandy learns of the coach’s ministrations, he is grief stricken. Sheldon (Simon Ibarra), Pandy’s confidant, offers a solution: “Gusto mong makaganti?” So Sheldon offers Brat the chance to pay for the latter’s debt. Would Brat betray Lester? Will Lester extricate himself from his piling misfortune? Will Pandy get his retribution?

Another pink trash?

The first hint of this production's motive comes from its theatrical poster which has a dramatically placed basketball floating on mid-air as it casts a heart-shaped shadow on the ground below. Had this been commercially bent on attracting the hormone-crazy pink crowd, it would have been more convenient to use the fetching images of its well sculpted stars - have them stand half naked with enticing gazes directed at the camera, instead of using a sexless inanimate object.

Much like Miko Jacinto's "Salo", I was mildly surprised to find this to be a compelling watch. Sure, there are a few conscious artistic contrivance meant to satisfy a subset of its intended audience (in separate scenes, the camera pans over Lester and Brat's half naked body while their hand gently reach down their crotches and enticingly insert a finger under their briefs - while asleep!). But most of the sexually-charged scenes were never gratuitous. In fact, these cinematic teasing felt sexier than the brainless fodder that the Pink Industry has been churning out!

Arnell Ignacio delivers a nuanced performance, richly contextual and adequately tempered although his concluding scenes needed restraint. His obsession with Lester becomes a believable entity. Some attractions, after all, need resolution. Kenneth Paul Salva, a former Viva Hotmen, occasionally feels tentative and unsure, but watchable. Though not particularly drop-dead gorgeous, he oozes with sex appeal and his shirtless scenes scorches the screen like a well-done baby back ribs!:) Yum! Am I really writing this? LOL

My point here is, titillating an audience doesn't rest solely on indiscreet flashing of genitalia. The art of seduction goes way beyond full frontals. This isn't even saying that "Bola" is the quintessential erotica - it isn't! This is a film that doesn't desperately exploit its actors - like most of the 30 Pink Films that was shown in 2011.

"Bola's" most unexpected achiever is the amerasian Jacob Miller, playing the willful Brat. Miller, despite his beguiling looks, acts naturally on screen. He is comfortable with his declarative lines as it it when the thespic degree of difficulty is raised. After a scene where Sheldon, the scorned gay man, confronts him in front of Brat's basketball team mates then expropriates the gifts given to him by his benefactor: shoes, cell phone, wrist watch - the scene cuts to a heart broken and absolutely embarrassed Brat drinking his heart away. He bawls like a child and there was never a hint of hesitation how he depicted his character. This guy can act! Seriously!

There are, of course, reckless narrative strains and hints of social commentary: the egregious misappropriation of SK funds; government officials who can't be bothered, etc. But these were harmlessly grazed upon. Even sociological statements like "Gay men should fall in love with fellow gay men, not straights" spring out of nowhere. The vengeful plot is also imprudent. They will first have you thinking that an assassination plot is in the offing. Then it turns out to be a mere video scandal in front of a basketball audience! Video scandals almost never "kills" anyone, does it? Katrina Halili is alive. Hayden Kho is selling Parisian perfumes. Toffee Calma and Mark Herras still have their lives. So much for nefarious schemes.

There is a lesson to be learned from "Bola". An artist cannot be adept in all aspects of film making. Heard about the adage, "jack of all trades, master of none"? It is a valid statement even in the cinematic process. Director Lem Lorca benefits from Jerry Gracio's writing. Script constitutes half of the artistic success of a film. Technical proficiency completes that. This really makes multi-hyphenated artists somehow failing somewhere, although there are a few exceptions. This should not stop directors from tweaking with a script on hand. After all, his is the vision behind the movie. He can collaborate, but someone should step up to concentrate on the basics of a narrative, its contents and more importantly, the designed structure.

After watching "Bola", I went out of the cinema feeling light. It was far from being a masterpiece, but it didn't dumb me down. In fact, I went out of the cinema not feeling badgered or embarrassed. There is hope - even for the Pink Film industry! I hope Crisaldo Pablo and his cohorts take note.

Dustin Jose is Coach Rito: troublesome English delivery. Time and again, I've been saying don't compromise and expose your actor's limitations by having them deliver in the Queen's language. Tagalugin po! It doesn't make a character less authoritative by speaking the vernacular! Otherwise, I slide deeper and deeper into my seat while he painfully wrestles with his lines!

Jacob Miller: Surprisingly good!

Lester and mother (Kenneth Paul Salva and Suzette Ranillo)

Simon Ibarra as the scorned and vengeful gay man Sheldon.

The coach jumps shower stalls for an intimate errrr... stroke? P.S. Pink Cinema's
"it" boy, Jeff Luna has a blink-and-he's gone cameo.

Miller and Salva: Both models hail from Davao! What's with Mindanao waters?

Kenneth Paul Salva: Decent cinematic starrer!

Kenneth Paul Salva

Sofia Valdez in "Talong". Her other films include "Ang Kapitbahay", "Anakan Mo Ako" and "Kangkong". Don't you just miss the exquisite taste of Seiko Films' title-making machinery? How about "Sitaw ni Sofia"? Or "Bola at Mani"?

Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to google and find any other photos of Sofia. She's more beautiful now in "Bola" than when she was a nubile nymphet in Robbie Tan's masterpieces. Yes, there's a couple of mammary peekaboos here. :)


Please read our featured post on Cinema Bravo and why Web Criticism isn't always about good and reliable writing.


sineasta said...

suprisingly, this isn't that bad at all. i particularly liked sheldon's scene where he took everything he gave to bart. may pagka-gay empowerment ang dating niya as opposed to pandy's character na give lang na give.

acting from the lead guy is passable, as well.

despite the contrive plot, pwede na. a step higher sa mga pelikula ni CP! :)

Cathy Pena said...

@ Jheck:

Just a step? Try several more. :)

"Bola" has more ambition than most other films in the genre. I liked that scene with Sheldon too, where he took everything he gave to poor Bart (Jacob Miller's a great find, acting-wise).

Sheldon could have been a more threshed out character had they veered away from writing him as too "black-and-white" vindictive. I half expected him to grow fangs and a cape. :)

All in all, it isn't a bad effort.