Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kit Oebanda's "Tumbang Preso" - Obstacles in Yarn Spinning

Carlo (Kokoy de Santos) dreams of pursuing college education; to become an architect and move his impoverished family away from provincial squalor. When a teacher offers an opportunity (he'll work and get paid P200 a day and, more importantly, he gets a scholarship), Carlo joins his younger cousin Jea (Teri Malvar) to try their luck in the big city.

They instead find themselves working long hours for a sardines canning factory. Once work is done, they, along with other young folks, are kept inside a dark stockroom where they sleep on the floor. What's worse, they are padlocked inside until 5AM when they have to resume work.

They get paid P50 a day (after "placement fee" has been deducted). Conditions in the factory are harsh, what with stern overseer Jose (Ronnie Lazaro) breathing down their necks. They occasionally get reprieve from the owner Miss Liz (Star Orjaliza), a deceptively kind "boss", and her happy-go-lucky nephew Vito (Kean Cipriano).

But Carlo has dreams to realize so he starts planning for an escape. On one such occasion, he falls down a wall and sprains his leg. Unable to work properly, Miss Liz takes him to see a doctor (Jaclyn Jose) who, not long after her examination, realizes the dilemma Carlo is in. The kind doctor hands him a piece of paper with numbers written on it. Carlo then plots another escape, this time for cousin Jea who can call for help. You actually wonder why the good Samaritan in Jaclyn Jose couldn't make the call herself. She wanted to help, didn't she? Isn't it standard procedure that doctors (and caregivers) who suspect abuse on their patients should alert the authorities (Social Welfare, police)? They should do the calling, not the perceived victims - because if they could, they would have done already.

Cocoy De Santos adequately coaxes necessary empathy from his character, making it easy to root for him. He registers well on screen thus this film should rightfully help open doors for the young actor. Teri Malvar, the child who beat Nora Aunor in the Best Actress category of Cinefilipino for her role in "Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita", provided good support, though her character was sorely underwritten. Kean Cipriano, meanwhile, turns in a comfortable performance.

The rest of the cast dove into their characters perfunctorily - Ronnie Lazaro, Jaclyn Jose, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, and Star Orjaliza who romps away with the film's most meretricious role. However, the greater injustice was in not giving Dominic Roco enough to "play" with. What a waste. If you edit out his character, he won't be missed.

Kip Oebanda's "Tumbang Preso" ("In the Can") is well intentioned, but it is hobbled by so many shortcomings, both narrative and technical, you eventually end up with a lot less sympathy. Carlo (Kokoy de Santos), our teen protagonist, is an intelligent young man who, just barely two months after he started working for the factory, has forgotten his mother's "face", "how tall she is", "how bad her pedicure was". Two friggin' months in a bright teenager's mind and he's on the verge of expunging all traces of his mother's memory? Maybe he's afflicted with Nora Aunor's "Dementia"? Scary, if you ask me. Give him his share of extreme close ups then. :) If that isn't an illusory bid for sympathy, I don't know what is.

What about Kerbie Zamora's character Don who has been working at the factory for 5 years - he must have forgotten everything, including what he wore when he went to the doctor for circumcision. Tsk tsk tsk! Moreover, what kind of mother would indulge in bad pedicures while his underage son is desperate for tuition? (sniff sniff)


When Carlo was taken out for medical consultation, the physician (Jaclyn Jose) took one look at Carlo's hands. She declared, "Incision... due to sharp objects". Huh? Any physician would know that an "incision" is a cut on the flesh using a blade/knife, usually from a surgical procedure. Butchers, for example, don't make incisions; they cut and slice. Wounds with clean cuts, on the other hand, are called "lacerations". Where did this physician get her education? University of Recto? Anyway, the doctor (Ms. Jose) then takes Carlo to an Xray room. Then she performs the procedure all by herself! I was amazed of course. General Practitioners and clinicians NEVER do X-rays on their own. Heck, even radiologists will not perform the actual procedure themselves. X-ray technicians do! So Jacklyn was essentially the epitome of medical wizardry.

But we're not done with Jacklyn Jose. The first time she saw the child's hands (full of cuts from manually packing sardines in razor-sharp cans), her first impression was classic, "Galis!" (scabies) I almost fell off my chair. So funny.

Some of the lines in the script were flimflammed from random imagination. When Dominic Roco finds Kokoy awake and waiting by the shackled door, he asks him, "Ano bang ginagawa mo dyan at gising ka pa?" Kokoy replies, "Hinahanap ko ang aking mga lata." Roco then shrugs and goes back to sleep, saying "Buti naman." Huh? What's good in finding tin cans? Such writing is feckless and non-contributory to a tighter story. The scenography and the blocking of scenes don't mostly slide as naturally as they should, thus a number of them feel concocted.  

Some scenes are way too stagey or awkward, i.e. Kokoy's "dream sequence" - or was it a "flashback", you're never quite sure. And why was there confetti thrown at Kokoy? Were they celebrating the Edsa Revolution? I never had confetti for my scholastic medals in the past. Poor me!


At the police station, Kean Cipriano's character rats out on his aunt (Miss Liz, the factory's operator), and does a long-ish monologue. Ronnie Lazaro follows suit. All this time, the lady police officer just looked perplexed, as though a snake bit her at the vulva. Didn't she realize it was her job to ask more questions - or document their confessions? This floundering scene stretched on while the police officers just gazed at Cipriano and Lazaro - in sheer bewilderment. Starstruck probably? No further investigative work needed since the culprits were voluntarily spilling the beans without getting asked. How convenient. The aforementioned scene was essentially an anticlimax after the build-up towards a suspenseful third part.

The movie could have been an effective cautionary tale about ambition and trusting strangers, but it ended up into one predictable yarn spinning. Requisite happy endings tend to teach less, not that I am advocating the nihilistic approach of Gino Santos' "#Y" which was, thematically, one of the most irritating films I've seen this year. But to imply that one can just as easily switch back to a simpler life (the last scene) after a harrowing experience feels like a sham. Artificial.

"Tumbang Preso" is a product of 2013's Manila Film Financing Forum where it won "Best IFC Pitch". Real Florido's "1st Ko si 3rd" was among the 17 finalists. The movie's subject matter brims with contemporary pertinence. After all, a voice that speaks against child labor and human trafficking deserves to be heard and circulated. Unfortunately, a noble cause doesn't a great cinema make. No amount of A-grade labeling, courtesy of those clueless dingbats from the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), can sugarcoat the film's middling artistry.

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