No Sap, Only Blood
The competing filmmakers at the third Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival are a romantic bunch. Their cameras pan to lighthouses and seas, fields and a high school campus. All offer postcard-pretty shots, but only one has stuck his neck out—Jim Libiran, the director of “Tribu”.
“Tribu” tells the story of three street gangs in Tondo, namely Sacred Brown Tribe, Thugs Angels and Diablos. It is seen through the eyes of a boy, named Ebet, and his voice-over opens and ends the film. In between them, though, there is darkness: A member of SBT dies. Mackoy and his SBT suspect the Diablos as perpetrators. They vow revenge and conspire with the Thugs Angels. At midnight, their bloody war begins.
Other similar films enter the mind, especially “City of God”. But “Tribu” holds its own. To watch this film is to be punched in the gut. You crawl out of the theater reeling from its rawness. What is special here is that Libiran reveals to us the real face of Tondo, where sex and violence are not uncommon, where gangsters and hip-hop rule. The camera doesn’t shy away from tangled electric wires, slaughtered pigs and loud neighbors; instead, it sets a documentary style of filmmaking. The handheld shots give an authentic feel.
Casting real-life gangsters, as actors, also preserves the authenticity. In the film, they’re no longer acting; they play themselves. But more important, “Tribu” depicts them in a good light: that they’re family people, too. Makoy and his friend, for instance, chat with their parents over breakfast and do chores. Yes, the rest also smoke drugs and cuss and kill, but these do not define them.
The screenplay is also by Libiran, which bagged a Palanca in 2006. Libiran has an ear for everyday speech and writes candid dialogues. “Huwag ka nang tumuloy,” a fellow thug warns Makoy not to join the brawl, “mamamatay ka lang.” Makoy is miffed and points a gun at him. “Sige, iputok mo,” replies the other, “nang malagas tayong lahat!”
The dialogues even sound poetic when the gangsters burst into rap. But they’re neither fancy nor contrived. To them, poetry comes naturally. Just listen to their angst: “‘Tang ina, bumalik na kayo sa inyong pinagputahan/ Lahat kayo ay aming babalahan.”
Sentimentality tends to mar the other films in competition (portions of “Still Life” feel like that of a primetime soap). “Tribu”, however, never succumbs to this. Through Libiran’s direction, it doesn’t manipulate the audience. Consider the scene when Ebet has prepared dinner for his mother. Ebet calls out to her, but she lies in bed still. The boy then pulls her blanket and rests at his mother’s side. No music accompanies this scene, yet it touches a nerve or two.
Some say, the way to achieve artistic perfection is to approach a full physical reality. “Tribu” is a piece of reality. It is at times dark and touching, but always simple and true. Do catch its re-runs in UP this August.
This is a more succinct, insightful mouthful than many so-called movie reviews that appear in the papers today! (Drewrites posted his review at 6:34 p.m., July 29, Sunday. Later that night “Tribu” won Best Picture honors at the Cinemalaya awards.)
Congratulations, Drewrites! Write more, and we'll be there to read you. And thanks for supporting Cinemalaya and indie cinema. (Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions on how you can claim your prize.)
There were three other bloggers who joined this contest by writing about the Cinemalaya movies they caught at the CCP. This gave me quite a puzzle: A bigger number had joined my earlier small pakulo on the Virgin Labfest, also a watching-and-blogging exercise. I was thinking that Cinemalaya would attract more participants since movies have always been more popular, more “accessible,” than theater. Hmmm. Either the prize wasn't big enough, or the movies themselves weren't that interesting? Give me your thoughts on this one.
Yatot, Q the Conqueror and Radioactive Adobo, thank you for joining, too. I enjoyed reading your pieces as well; I'll keep them in mind when I catch the films during their UP Film Center run.
On Aureus Solito's “Pisay:” “Admittedly, 'Pisay' is not Aureus Solito’s best work. It is cheesy. At times, it is a bit cliché. However, isn’t that what high school is all about? Pisay alumni or not, you are bound to leave the cinema with an ache in your heart, a tear in your eye and a yearning for what some call the best years of our lives.” -- Q the Conqueror (Complete post here.)
On Katski Flores' “Still Life:” “Overall, 'Still Life' by Katski Flores is worth watching or worth checking out! A good movie for me is the one that I cannot guess what will be the twist of the story. There are a few of them, and I'm glad that those movies were really good! Too bad for Katski because I guessed the twist right. But despite the early revelation of the twist, I am still giving a four stars to this movie! Keep up the good work, Katski!” -- Yatot Chronicles (Complete post here.)
On Dennis Marasigan's “Tukso:” “'Tukso suffers from comparison with 'Rashomon.' Of course those who haven’t seen the latter would care less about comparisons. 'Tukso,' however, has its brilliant moments. The storytelling is fluid, almost tight, with a smattering of amusing scenes that made the audience holler in delight (like the way Irma Adlawan let loose her hair when Ping Medina agreed to spend the rainy night in her house; the innuendo is delicious and hard to miss!).” -- Radioactive Adobo, who reviewed a few other short-film and feature-length entries (Complete posts here.)
PLUS: Jessica Zafra has more on Cinemalaya. Great reads as always.