Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Louie Ignacio's "Area" - Spiraling Down to Hell

Ai Ai delas Alas inveigles a triumphant disappearing act in this harrowingly told tale of moral degeneration amidst Angeles City's squalor.  

The story takes place in a poor man's red light district called Area, far removed from the dizzyingly pulsating atmosphere of Fields Avenue that used to play host to transient American soldiers stationed in a nearby military camp. Pubescent lads wanting to lose their "virginity"; unhappy married men, and jeepney drivers who want a dose of pleasure all troop to Area to get their kicks for a mere P250. Meanwhile, the ladies of the night get free board and lodging, and earn their P50 commission per client.

The film follows Hillary aka Teresita Santos, an aging hooker holed up in a cramped brothel with client-favorite Julie (Sue Prado) and half a dozen other girls of varying age and size. 

Hillary's back story is one for the books. When Pinatubo exploded in 1991, Hillary's son was taken away by her American lover who flew back to the United States where he was never heard from again. But Hillary is saving up for a plane ticket that would reunite her with son Patrick. Will he even accept her? Is it all wishful thinking? In fact, everyone thinks she's just leading up the garden path; that her stories are tall tales.  

Humor is occasionally infused at the expense of the women's age, physical appearance and, heck, smell of their genitalia. Though these self deprecating jabs may be occasionally amusing, they're ultimately off-putting. 
Ignacio's cinematic concoction carries an antithetical message told in episodic exposition. Set in a stifling space, the film creates an atmosphere of confinement and enslavement. One thematic artifice used repeatedly is the Filipinos' penchant for religious theatricality: the self flagellation and staged crucifixion; the pious church visits; and the ill-advised use of stultifying singing: dissonant, ugly, ear-splitting, and played out like an unending loop, Watching the film was, at best, like being punished. 

For the uninitiated, Ignacio's story seems exotic and otherworldly so I'm not surprised at all if it won Special Jury Prize at the Eurasia International Film Festival in Kazakhstan. Poverty is still the country's gold standard for "serious" film making. It's the go-to topic if an auteur wants to be taken earnestly. Even previous and recent SWS surveys have "poverty" in the top spot. 

For emphasis, the country's overreaching concern is poverty. It has to be addressed. In such state, there is meagerness of available resources and opportunities that would otherwise allow people to break out of this vicious cycle of destitution.

Nope, it isn't drugs (not by a long shot) though it would be foolhardy to totally ignore the dimension involving the drug menace. But when all the drug peddlers have been demolished, blown to smithereens and absolutely eradicated (which will never happen), we'd still be left with plodding development and non-inclusive growth. Wala ng addict, pero wala ring trabaho o pambili ng pagkain. Nganga. The only ones who argue against this are the apologists, but let's leave them with their hallucinatory amity. But I'm digressing, am I not?

Delas Alas' previous indie effort, Nick Olanka's "Ronda" was a decent experiment but Ai Ai's characterization was obviously "manufactured" to showcase the popular comedienne's dramatic chops. I didn't like it. 

This time around, she displays a nuanced performance that deserves commendation. You could feel her longing and desperation in manner, form and delivery. There were no attention-calling outbursts from her up until the climactic scene when she found out about her lost savings. That scene was particularly gut-wrenching. At that point of the story, Hillary's all spent, mind, body and soul, with nothing to show for it. Truth be told, Ai Ai de las Alas was the only reason to watch this bothersome yarn.

Allen Dizon plays the role of Ben who manages the prostitution den. His side story involves his devotion to family, but I suspect it's a mere scene extension to validate his participation in this film. Ben's story is disposable. Strike him off the plate and it won't affect the story all that much. 

On the whole, "Area" is bafflingly difficult too watch. It's dark, grimy, claustrophobic and most of the characters are morally bankrupt. More importantly, the film's use of extraneous sound - those uninterrupted devotional songs felt like ice picks shooting down the brain. If there ever were cerebral sciatica, this would have been it! 

"Area" has nothing particularly rewarding to take home to. Just pure unadulterated grief and penance.

Penance for the pimp.

An electric fan in exchange of Hillary's services.

#Area   #aiaidelasalas   #kazakhstan   #prostitution

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