Thursday, September 20, 2012

RD Alba's Biktima - Befuddling Suppositions & Cinematic Deja vu

Alice de la Cruz (Angel Aquino) is a news correspondent in a struggling network thirsting for the big break; the breaking news that would make her a household name in her industry. When Boss Jane (Sunshine Cruz) offers her a crucial assignment in remote Camandao village, she grabs the chance and heads to the Sumal Coast leaving her unemployed husband Mark (Cesar Montano) and five-year old son Buboy (JM Ibanez). However, her ambition would take her off-track as she convinces her contact (Lloyd Samartino) to head to a treacherous area. She gets caught in a crossfire, killing most of her colleagues, but she survives and becomes captive, taken as a “ransomless” hostage.

Six months later, Alice is found unconscious at a secluded roadside. Though she’s amnesic, she gradually regains her memory. In stages, she regains these harrowing vignettes in flashbacks, each one punctuated by acting out and re-experiencing her ordeals (she joins a group of intercontinental hostages; people get killed; she gets raped; she tries to escape but gets caught; as punishment she is tasked to kill another hostage; she tries to escape again).

When she eventually reunites with her family, she finds out that she was indeed taken for dead. Her family and friends have buried her. And Mark and her son are on the throes of moving on. She also discovers that Mark has engaged in an “extramarital” affair with her best friend Sandra (Mercedes Cabral). What’s more confounding are her intermittent anxiety attacks as she re-experiences her harrowing ordeal with the bandits. She suffers blackouts, inflicts pain on herself and conflagrates into bursts of anger. Suddenly, her once amorous family life has turned acetous. Young Buboy had to move in with her aunt while Alice tries to recuperate from her trauma.

But Alice is more concerned with the growing bond between her husband and her bestfriend. And she has decided to unravel the truth behind this coupling. Moreover, she wants her son back. She will get him – at all cost!  

There’s a sweeping sense of déjà vu watching RD Alba’sBiktima”. On one side, the dubious hostage situation reminds me of Brillante Mendoza’s recent “Captive”. On the other side, there’s Topel Lee’s also-recent “Amorosa”, and if that isn’t enough, it browsed on sketchy post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that also had Angel Aquino herself skirting through cuckoolandia as the titular Rosa. Finally, anyone remembers Lino Brocka’sBiktima” (1990) which starred Sharon Cuneta and Christopher de Leon? The latter actually won several awards for Gina Alajar who, in her prime, was the most brilliant actress of her generation (she won Urian and Famas for the film).


But let’s get to the nitty gritty. First off, I have to run a discourse on this oft-misinterpreted psychiatric entity because it’s getting too erroneously overused. Mostly, PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by an extraordinary major life stress; an accident, death of someone, ravages of war and survival, serious threat to one’s life or physical integrity, sudden destruction to home or property, witnessing physical violence, etc. These events are relived in dreams and waking thoughts. These anxiety attacks don’t necessarily become PTSD unless they satisfy specific criteria called DSM-IIIR in psychiatric parlance. Needless to say, PTSD doesn’t exactly equate to “insanity” because reaction to trauma doesn’t make you crazy! It just makes you scared! Klaro, Topel Lee and RD Alba? When you get scared and jittery, you don't turn nuts. So for the sake of the clueless, albeit lazy film makers and their researchers who keep espousing on PTSD, here is your coffee table criterion:

DSM-IIIR for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A. The person has experienced an event outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to anyone.

B. This traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in at least one of the following ways:

1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollection of the events (in children, repetitive play in which aspects of the trauma are expressed)

2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event (the most common)

3. Sudden acting or feeling as if the traumatic events were recurring, i.e. illusions, hallucinations, dissociative episodes like flashbacks, even those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated

4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to events that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event, i.e. anniversaries, etc.

C. Persistent avoidance of the stimuli associated with the trauma – or numbing of general responsiveness (not present prior to the event), as indicated by at least THREE of the following:

1. Effort to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the trauma

2. Effort to avoid activities or situation that arouse recollection of the trauma

3. Inability to recall an important aspect of trauma (psychogenic amnesia)

4.  Markedly diminished interest in significant activities

5. Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others

6. Restricted range of affect, e.g. unable to have loving feelings

7. Sense of a foreshortened future, e.g. does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, long life

D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), indicated by at least TWO of the following:

1. Difficulty of falling or staying asleep
2. Irritability or outbursts of anger
3. Difficulty of concentrating
4. Hypervigilance (paranoid)
5. Exaggerated startle response
6. Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to events that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event (e.g. a woman raped in an elevator breaks into sweat or hyperventilates whenever she takes the elevator)

E. Duration of the disturbance (duration of the symptoms in B, C, D) of at least 1 month or longer

Though this list tends to be overly didactic and/or laborious, fact is, this criterion is quite specific and almost exact. Let’s take Angel’s condition. Item B begrudgingly satisfies only two items where there should be three. Most other features are sketchy and lead more to psychotic criterion than anxiety disorder.

Most PTSD patients would rather shy away from anything that would remind her of the traumatic event, yet Alice is intent on getting her job back. Moreover, we never see her get nightmares or have difficulty falling or staying asleep, usually a hallmark – though not pathognomonic – of PTSD. While most PTSD patients get disinterested or dismissive with significant events, Alice dives into things as though it was another day at work. These are salient points that seem uncharacteristic of PTSD cases.

The point here is, if you’re focusing on a specific diagnostic entity, why not study the case well? Don’t assume you can create situations out of suppositions or hearsay. Consult a specialist because you’re going to feed these indolent thoughts to a paying crowd. They even had to clutter the situation by saying that Angel’s father had a “history of insanity”. It’s muddling an already muddled narrative strain. How convenient, right? Let’s make sahog everything para masaya. LOL

The film is likewise guilty of fast resolutions. This was a woman afflicted with PTSD who actually had violent streaks. In fact, she murdered her aunt. Yet they released her easily like she just recovered from typhoid fever or malaria. What should prevent her from killing her own son since PTSD may have long term repercussions; the symptoms can recur intermittently for years. Isn’t “suicidal or violent ideation” a cause for concern? After all, “killing someone” isn’t part of the criterion for PTSD. How about schizophrenia? Why not Major Depression? How did her closest ties (her best friend Sandra and her Auntie Jean) remind her of the trauma? Were they abrasive or intrusive? Jealousy couldn’t be a stressor for PTSD. I’ve never heard of such thing until now so this one is for the books! We all should make a medical journal out of it.


Angel was supposedly taken hostage by some terrorist group akin to the Abu Sayyaf bandits, yet despite her stature (a famous TV personality and a news anchor), the authorities or her family were never informed about her being taken hostage. Akala ko ba, hostage situation? She was in fact considered dead after the bomb explosion. Her husband and son have moved on quite easily. What’s a hostage situation without demand for ransom? Don’t tell me they forgot. J She could have fetched a considerable amount, not to mention media mileage because of her stature, couldn’t she? The bandits could have taken the media blitz for their notoriety yet her capture was never known and you simply wonder why.


When Angel first saw Mercedes, her “bru” (their term of endearment) best friend at a supermarket, their reaction was one of surprise - and discomfort. Not elation. This was again spurious, if not suspicious. Yet Angel was stunned and, once again, this baffles. Did she have an inkling of Mercedes’ indiscretion with her shaggable hubby? Not at that point. Prior to her capture, she received a ring from Mercedes that she was coming home soon from her work overseas. Her presence in the country couldn't be surprising.

And why is Angel’ Alice, the psych patient, confined to her sick bed and hooked to an oxygen nasal cannula? Are PTSD cases in respiratory distress? It couldn't be bronchial asthma or COPD, could it? Anyone can check out our Mental Hospital and other hospital psychiatric wards to know that these patients aren’t exactly bed-ridden unless they undergo special procedures like the electro-convulsive therapy (which shouldn’t take an hour). Most cases are ambulatory. Heck, even the catatonic ones aren't confined to bed. Co-writer Disi Alba (who also plays Tita Jean), supposedly a Family Med physician, should at least be aware of this.


Biktima” is buoyed by earnest performances lead by Angel Aquino who’s always dependable. In fact, she kept this middling effort afloat. However, you are acutely aware that her depiction is a redundant exercise. Wasn’t she a hostage victim a few weeks ago in “Captive”? Didn’t she get raped in the Brillante Mendoza flick? Moreover, didn't she play the post-traumatic case in "Amorosa"? Cesar Montano is unusually relaxed and casual as the unemployed husband who lost his wife to bandits. He used to be one of the country’s most dependable and insightful actors yet in his older years, he has failed to impress. And I am mostly bothered by his middle-class Taglish dispatches. When he gets news of his wife’s “demise”, he delves into a spine-tingling, “What?” By jeeves! Ano ‘to, English-language flick with subtitles? J  He must have thought he’s still hosting “Singing Bee” or that creepy-crawly talent search “Artista Academy”.

Mercedes Cabral is likewise conjectural. In fact, it feels like she couldn’t make sense of her narrative stock. Why was she suddenly the psychological stressor that stimulates Angel’s aggression? She is, for Pete’s sake, the best friend of our protagonist! Her presence is supposed to provide quiescence and sobriety to her friend’s psychogenic dilemma. When psych patients “panic”, doctors call on their family and closest friends. Does Mercedes look like a bandit for Angel to actually consider her foe? She is, after all, one of Europe’s loveliest, debah? She couldn't be scary.


After Angel’s threesome dinner with Cesar and Mercedes, Angel went berserk and acts up at the restaurant. She throws plates and bolts out the door – then she drives to her tita, looking for her son Buboy! Then the flustered aunt calls on Cesar and Mercedes warning them of Angel’s state. Why would Angel look for Mercedes when she just left her at the restaurant? She could easily do that by going back to the restaurant. In the following scene, a hospital bed was shown vacated, and the nurse scampers to report the escape of a patient. Was Angel actually confined? How can she join her husband in a restaurant traipsing like a model while being confined in a hospital? Did Cesar help her escape from confinement for a sumptuous dinner out? There’s a stark disconnect here, obviously. Someone got confused. The editor? The story teller? The director? All of the above? 


The film has thankless cameos by Lloyd Samartino as Fred, the Liberation Organization’s contact; Ricky Davao as Officer Bondalo; Mark Lapid as leader of the kidnap group, Disi Alba (a doctor by profession) as Auntie Jean and Sunshine Cruz as Jane, lovely but otherwise miscast as a television station’s news chief. The production values are a hit and miss. One scene (Cesar takes his child to bed, then the scene cuts to a birthday celebration) runs without sound. And the visuals, dark at times, could be better. The cages where “kidnap victims” were kept look like school play set, I could probably kick a branch and it would fall off like Lego pieces.

Biktima” is mostly a rendered version of an incipient idea not fully threshed out into a coherent fictive . It is undecided, befuddling and psyched out (no pun intended). I was mostly left disaffected, stolid and phlegmatic for the remainder of the cinematic sprawl. For a flick that’s supposed to conjure high drama, thrill and edge-of-your-seat suspense, “Biktima” drove me to ennui. That can’t be good.

Philip Anthony as one of the hostages. He also co-wrote the story with director RD Alba.

Ricky Davao (right) as Officer Bondalo interrogates Alice.


Alice and son Buboy

No Other Woman, anyone?

Angel Aquino as Alice, Cesar Montano as Mark and Mercedes Cabral as Sandra

RD Alba

4 comments: said...

I think you also got confused. :-)

When Alice drove to her tita, she collapsed on the floor.

She then waked up on the hospital bed, where Mark tells her that he intends to bring their family back together.

Later on, Alice catches Mark hug Sandra in the hospital.

Next scene, Mark is in Sandra's house to pick up his son.

The the scene with the nurse running.

Then Alice returns to the Tita's house to kill her. You know the rest.

This movie was plothole-driven it was actually funny. Parang unintentional dark comedy.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Mark:

For me to completely agree, I have to go watch the darn film again, and that is fate worse than being fed to the ants of Africa. I think I've paid enough money to be duly punished. :)
Paying again for an admission is akin to "Insanity". I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

I wanted so much to see the film's ending, but simply fell sound asleep.

I'm I sooooo sorry?


Cathy Pena said...


It's more of a big headache to me than a snooze, but yeah, I'd have joined your sound sleep if I didn't have to write about it here. Haha