Saturday, September 1, 2012

Paul Singh Cudail's Ang Jowa - Vicious Cycle

Don and Orlando (Zander Olivarez and Miguel Alcantara respectively) share a lot of things: a home and a job at the bank. They also share a bed. One thing they don’t share is Annie (Jessica Ruiz), Don’s girl friend of several years. But Orlando doesn’t know about her. What’s worse, Don intends to leave Orlando to start a family with Annie. When he finally does, Don is inconsolable. However, life with Annie is tough. After all, Don resigned from his job – and Annie is eternally unemployed. With bills piling up and rent’s long overdue, Don turns to Orlando who’s only too willing to lend a hand in exchange for sexual favors. While Orlando has pretty much acquiesced to a shared relationship, Annie is kept in the dark. The latter, in fact, is getting suspicious about her husband’s hushed calls and clipped replies. Where does Don get their rent money? Where does her “husband” spend his overnight soirees? 

As it comes to pass, Orlando starts demanding more attention from Don who jumps from one concupiscent bed to the next. What’s a guy to do? In fact, does he have enough stamina for his two lovers? And if this dilemma wasn’t enough, Don further harbors intermittent sexual thrills with Betty (Adriana Gomez), Orlando’s childhood friend – who frequently visits him.  Plot thickens when Betty inadvertently gets pregnant. But all hell breaks loose when Annie discovers Don’s relationship with Orlando. On the other side of this sexual chain is Betty who doesn’t know that Orlando has hatched plans to adopt the child once she gives birth. Meanwhile, “wife” Annie has decided to walk out of Don. Will Orlando get the child that shall “seal” his coupling with Don? What happens to Betty?  

Orlando (Miguel Alcantara, right) espouses about contractual relationships to lover Don (Zander Olivarez, left).

More than ever, director Paul Singh Cudail shows that his ineptitude towards a narrative craft knows no boundaries. And he valiantly succeeds outdoing this exquisite “talent”. To process a scene, for example, he keeps harping at a redundant situation that repeats like a broken record – those darn miscalls and hushed phone conversations that are too loud to ignore. Thus, this becomes an oft-repeated source of altercation among the characters: Orlando decries these calls, so does Annie. They occur in every location of their limited scenography: living room, stairs, bedroom, which kinda reminds me of Zig Dulay’s Huling Halik” where constant phone calls become a nauseating source of tension between protagonists. At some point, these get hilarious and you end up, slapping your thigh with an ebullient “Na naman…? (Again)” Though it should underline the artistic limitations of Cudail who writes his scripts, it’s just one piece of this baffling, albeit shoddy puzzle.

Logic is impugned in several persuasions. When a couple starts planning their lives together, they usually consider the economics that go it. In Cudail’sAng Jowa”, they bury their heads in the sand. Don resigns from his job at the bank to join Annie who couldn’t find work. As if that wasn’t enough, Don also leaves his benefactor – the one who supplies all the dough. Hasn’t it crossed his dimwitty cerebrum that money is needed to pay the rent; feed another person; buy soap and toothpaste? When Annie finds out about her husband’s homosexual affair, Orlando tries to convince Annie with an asinine, “Dapat nga matuwa ka kasi ako ang kahati mo, hindi babae.” In my rule book, anyone who shares the affection and engages in sexual calisthenics with my boyfriend/husband is a competitor, thus needs to be annihilated! Relationships and emotional proprietorship have boundaries of their own. In fact, biting on another person’s apple is forbidden.


As one of the purveyors of the “Moron Cinema” (cheap productions shot in a few days; poorly conceived narratives; domestic settings usually set within the confines of a house), Cudail makes a fallacy out of the aphorism that goes “experience is the best teacher”. How many films has Cudail completed within the last two years or so? Yet you hear lines dictated to his actors. At a dinner table, you hear someone order his cast, “O kumain na kayo!” When there’s food in front of you, you don’t need twats dictating such mundane instructions, do you? You munch, you chew, you masticate – then you throw your make-believe lines. In another protracted scene, you find Annie waiting for Don, and this gets intercut with Don and Orlando sharing fervid copulation. But this isn’t even the issue, what drives you mad is how these scenes are repeated half a dozen times to stretch its running time. I could have pinched the singit of its editor for failing to do his job well, as he allows Annie to wait for Godot.

Don (Zander Olivarez) and Annie (Jessica Ruiz) post-coitus: That darn cell phone!

When Don and Orlando hear about pregnant Betty’s death (she slipped and bled to death), the camera pans at the couple and we find “no discernable emotional reaction” emanating from Don, Betty’s lover and the father of the child. For Don, it was just quotidian dispatch. No need for grief, astonishment or dismay. How’s that for emotional investment? This takes me to its lead – Zander Olivarez. He is stocky, and on cursory glance, looks muscle-bound. Aside from the obvious extra pound of muscle, Zander doesn’t have much emotive skill. In fact, he coasts with a single expression. His moment of inspiration comes when he is made to scuffle in bed with his partners, and he isn’t shy judiciously showing off his backside. He slouches when he should be sitting comfortably, occasionally flexing his arms to bulk up his biceps, triceps, brachialis and even his deltoids. If fact, his muscles could run a gamut of emotional discourse more than Zander himself.

Miguel Alcantara, a protégé of the current queen of mediocre cinema G.A. Villafuerte, tries his luck with real drama. Unfortunately, he doesn’t succeed either. You could see that he tries hard, but for now, this doesn’t suffice. And I couldn’t even bequeath an “A for effort”. Though his conveyance is palpable, he looks like he’s in pain. Not emotionally; more like from toothache or that pulsating pustule inside the nose. “Anong akala mo sa relationship natin, contractual?” He would vividly dispatch with flaring nostrils. The good news? Alcantara registers well on screen, and when he’s earnest enough with his craft, there should be a huge window for improvement.

The ladies are mostly forgettable. They either display bland affect or an irritating display of waylaid theatrics, like when Jessica Ruiz (who sometimes shares an uncanny resemblance with Vice Ganda) cries and all of her facial contortions don’t amount to much. In a scene involving Sally Grefaldo, a character named Tita Lily (the bearer of the bad news regarding Betty’s demise), you find this wrinkly lady cry her hearts out. The camera closely pans to her contorted face. She huffs and haws; she makes singhot, and makes garalgal her voice – yet in her abstruse heartache and convoluted affliction, she isn’t able to shed a single tear! It always bothers me to see someone cry – without tears! Maybe Tita Lily has lachrymal obstruction? Let’s rush her to the eye surgeon for a dacryocystorhinostomy - fast!

The sex scenes are few and far between, and if it's what you're after, you would then have to bury yourself in a bed of frustration. The men mostly show their backsides while the ladies pop out their nipples - perfect for a night of red wine and a generous dash of patience.

Despite these rebarbative situations, you hardly feel the compulsion to care. You’re made acutely aware that the emotional width and breadth of Cudail’s little story spans the four corners of his little rooms, and thus are ill-equipped to expand to the realm of insight. I would suggest a more productive career. Maybe he has green thumbs; farming or gardening could be a better option? Or maybe he can grow camote better than he can assemble a cinematic narrative? Surely, there must be something he could do better than direct films.

Don and Annie: There was never a mention of a wedding, yet they refer to each other as husband and wife.
Don (Zander Olivarez) canoodles with Betty (Adriana Gomez) 

Zander Olivarez postures with a slouch.

Olivarez: Whos' the muscle man? :)

Miguel Alcantara as loan officer Orlando

Adriana Gomez as Betty, Orlando's childhood friend. Gomez looks lost in "Ang Jowa".

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