Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bradley Liew's "Singing in Graveyards" - Life Under Scrutiny

Scene opens. Sixty eight year old Pepe stands in front of a mirror naked. He's wrinkly all over, a roadkill of life lived as a silhouette of somebody else's greatness. As the story unravels, we realize that director Bradley Liew has a metaphor to tell. Pepe has been working as an impersonator of legendary rock star Joey Smith for 30 years. And his life goes under scrutiny as he struggles to make ends meet. He navigates his solitary existence playing gigs in clubs with an audience that mostly ignores him. His occasional visits to his married son (Ely Buendia) endures similar fate. He even pays struggling starlet Mercedes (Mercedes Cabral) to sleep "beside" him, but she refuses to be touched. Forget the cash; no way is she allowing him to touch her flesh. This scenario left me with a strange feeling of desolation. I couldn't help it.

"Singing in Graveyards" is an existential exposition that examines the value and dignity of life in the twilight years of a man's existence. When we're reduced to a pitiful and unwanted state, do we surrender to despair? It is admirable how the protagonist doesn't easily give up despite the overwhelming odds. Are we mere reflections of the greatness of others? Louisa May Alcott ("Little Women") once wrote that some people seemed to get all sunshine, and some all shadow. Surely, Pepe has monopoly of the latter. In fact, Pepe's existence is a personification of Alcott's statement.

The film has several scenes that left me breathless, not the least of which was Pepe's visit to the graves of the rock star's former band mates (Sheron, Paolo and Eric of "The Jeeps"), as he implored on their souls to help him compose a love song. But even the dead have no answers for him. When Pepe is offered to open for the comeback concert of rock icon Joey Smith, he suddenly finds his deliverance, one that shall sum up how much his life is worth, 30 years later. 

In a scene that offered a slice of magic realism, the "real" rock star is set aflame inside his van while Pepe looks around the singer's posh house. It was the perfect time for Pepe to claim the life he deserved. He takes a chair by the roadside and sits contentedly, watching from the periphery.   

"Singing in Graveyards" is one of the year's best.   

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