Now for a little diversion, my first ever Filipino movie! Also the first Things Fall Apart reader suggestion. 2011 is a heady time no?
“Kinatay” tells the story of Peping (Coco Martin), a young man who is starting out training to be a Policeman. We meet him on his wedding day, but we end it somewhere a lot darker. He already helps out in the Police-run protection racket, but that night he is coerced into the kidnap and murder of a Prostitute (Maria Isabel Lopez).
The opening 30 minutes of the film is an utter joy. We follow Peping and his bride to be through the streets of Manila – the streets are full of colour and life, we pass by a potential suicide, eavesdrop on a mass wedding, before being entertained by a amusing civil wedding ceremony.
Then night falls, and a different world emerges. Its a grimy, dark world. The fun and joy are drained away instantly, as we take a very long trip (literally) into the dark places in to which man can fall.
The most impressive part of the film is the soundscape, everything is hyper-real, creepy, exuding atmosphere. You are more than a voyeur into this world, you are part of it, you are complicit.
It really is a film that will divide opinion, and a search through both professional and amateur reviewers will give you a real mix. Some praise it for the realism and darkness, others find it rather dull and lifeless (especially after the bright opening). It seems to have been advertised as a horror film, but aside from a rather gruesome dismemberment, it is far more of a slice of life drama, concentrating on the horror of this life. It is not scary – it is disturbing.
The performances are good, going for a realistic approach, but no-one really stands out. Other than the first 30 minutes, the characters are shells, devoid of humanity – aside from Martin, who plays it with a wide-eyed confusion. It all makes sense, but it does create a distance from the Audience.
I have to admit the structure hurts the film. A huge portion of the film takes place in a dimly lit van, with very little dialogue. No character work is performed here, and I think the point could have been made in 30% of the time. In fact the lack of dialogue really hurts the film to the outside audience – I’ll readily admit it took me a long time to realise that all the bad people in the film were part of the Police Force (despite the characters’ nicknames making this obvious).
But it is rather engrossing – like Pepoy, although you are given chances to escape, to turn the film off, you do find yourself locked into the film. I am not sure it taught me anything that new about the human condition, but it is an interesting essay. Director Brillante Mendoza has an obvious talent, but maybe a stronger rein from Production could have made the film a little tighter – I think the whole movie would have benefited by that. I hope you know by now I don’t ache for commercial films, but there is something lacking here. Maybe also because it feels like a short story, rather than something more meaty.
I am going to give this one the mildly recommended stamp – it did not disappoint like so many films recently, as I had no expectations, but it did not inspire and entrance me.