Saturday, March 20, 2010

The 1st Awake! Film Festival

On 13 March 2010, the class of Political Science 167: Political Socialization and Film held the 1st Awake! Film Festival at the University of the Philippines, Diliman campus, Palma Hall Audio-Visual Room 207, from 8:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m. In an effort to contribute to the relevance of Filipino films as part of the political socialization process, the festival theme centered upon "Identity and Representation," focusing on films that explore diverse issues which are critically important in the unfolding weave of the Philippine socio-political tapestry.

The following films were programmed as part of the festival:

Film 01: Filipinas, 2003, Joel Lamangan, Director

Filipinas (2003) by Joel Lamangan is about our country the Philippines as explicitly conveyed in the title of the film. The movie revolves around the story of the Filipinas family on which the siblings represent various sectors of our society. The film had won six major awards and had been nominated in seven others. Given the highly commercial nature of the film as an entry to the MMFF of 2003, it weakens the ability of the film to convey its political messages.

The story is narrated through the eldest child Yolanda. The story builds on by showing the different lives of the now grown up children. Their individual narratives did not unfold continuously as they were creatively woven together to make their individual stories appear very interrelated. As the movie progresses, the difference in orientations, beliefs and experiences between the siblings now become more apparent and problematic. It shows how these conflicting perspectives resulted into misunderstandings. The movie continues to show the problems experienced by the family and the death of one member even exemplified it. The movie persists and reaches a point where in their mother ended up into what was diagnosed as an irreversible state of comatose by being caught up in the melee involving Samuel and Eman. Given the cynical propensity of the circumstances, Yolanda asserted that they should not lose hope and muster everything they’ve got to keep their mother alive. At this point the movie suggests very explicitly that no matter how dire the situation maybe we should not lose hope and do everything in our capacity. Yolanda, representing the next generation took the lead.

The central theme of the movie was the Filipino family. The usage of the family in Filipino movies has been very common and is nothing new. The film tried to elevate the affections we feel for our family members into the national level by using it as a representation of the whole country. One of the good things about using the family is that everyone can relate to it since everyone has a family of his/her own. However one weakness of this is the absence of “suspension of disbelief” since the family is something we have extensive knowledge about, when something is wrongly presented we will out rightly mark it as wrong and will not give it a benefit of the doubt as opposed to something we have limited or no knowledge at all. The movie showed even the peculiarities of the Filipino family one of which is being extensive. The extensive nature of the Filipino family was highly demonstrated in the movie by showing that their neighbour was being treated as a family member. In this regard, the idea of using the family as a representation of the country’s problematic state could have been good if not for the movie’s overwhelming explicitness and ambitious intent of the inculcating everything in one movie.

The movie was very explicit in giving out its message. The thing I didn’t like most about the film was that the family in the movie was blatantly called Filipinas. It was like spoon feeding, not giving the viewers the luxury of figuring out the meaning of the movie themselves. It was very explicit to the degree that it suggests that the creator of the movie viewed the audience as to people cannot comprehend sophisticated movie making. However I cannot truly blame them since this film’s primary intention was to rake in pesos. On the other hand the movie tried very vainly to include everything into the movie. From Overseas Filipino Wokers’ to immigrants, from business to household, from activists to military personnel, the movie sure talks about a lot. It also includes the church and the satire of the priest being depended upon by their mother to have a funky looking child. It now results to a very unbelievable setting. The one portrayed in the movie is really one hell of a family. In the process of trying to consider everything, having limited screen time, the messages being conveyed become compromised. It is similar to the catch-all thesis that is being adopted by politicians to earn a lot of voters. But in this context it is being used to earn a lot of viewers.

Having a star-studded movie contributes a lot to the number of viewers and into the gains of the movie. However having such kind of actors and actresses talented as they are has its own draw-backs; viewers will find it hard to think of them as the people they are portraying. It is very difficult to perceive them as they are the “real” character, we can’t erase in our minds that they are just acting. Maybe due to their over exposure into the show business or we have very vivid pre-existing knowledge about them which are very contrary to the characters they are espousing. Another thing that makes the movie very unrealistic is the dialogues. Some of them are very unrealistic and are made in that way just to make the movie fancier. One notable err is on the conversation between Yolanda and the nurse attending to their mother. The nurse’s way of answering and the content was uncalled for.

In the end, the movie is weak in promoting is political messages. Weak not in the sense that the message are hard to comprehend but weak in the sense that the messages being evoke won’t last long.

Film 02, Kakabakabakaba?, 1980, Mike De Leon, Director

Kakaba Kaba Ka Ba?, loosely translated as Does Your Heart Beat Faster?, is a 1980 musical comedy film by Mike de Leon. It is a story about two couples who found themselves in conflict with the foreign commercial giants that control the Philippine economy, the Japanese and the Chinese. Moreover, it involved the Catholic Church which has a stranglehold on the Philippine society itself. The film shows how vulnerable our economy and our society in the manipulation of other forces whose primary aim is overall control for their own benefits and become instruments in performing illegal activities.

Mike de Leon, the director of the film, is an acclaimed Filipino filmmaker, producer, cinematographer, and producer. His awards include Best Cinematography in the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards for “Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag”, and Best Director and Best Screenplay in the Gawad Urian for “Sister Stella L.” He also won Best Director in the Gawad Urian for the film “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?”. This film is a stark contrast to his other critically-acclaimed films such as “Batch ‘81”, “Sister Stella L.”, and “Bayaning Third World”. What makes “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?” different from his other films is that while all of these tackle important social and political issues in Philippine society, “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?” presented it in a comedic, satirical way. This is De Leon’s film after a three year filmmaking hiatus and is also considered a comeback of LVN Pictures (a film studio company partly responsible for the “Golden Age of Philippine Cinema” in the 1950’s and is one of the country’s biggest film studios in the first half of the 20th century) to the production business after it stopped producing motion pictures in 1961 and shifted to post-production services.

The film is about a bumbling Japanese Yakuza, Onota, after he failed on three separate occasions to smuggle contraband past Philippine customs at the airport. But on his latest attempt, he managed to slip a cassette tape into the jacket of an unknowing Johnny’s pocket, who then easily slid through customs unchecked. Things started to unwind when De Leon and his three acquaintances (Charo Santos, Jay Ilagan and Sandy Andolong) discovered that they are being spied on and followed. They late found out that De Leon’s house had been ransacked and her maid tied up but there was no sign of burglary since nothing was taken away from the house. The Japanese and his Bodyguard tried different confidence tricks (con) just to get at the tape but to no avail. The four later found out through one of their hippy friends that the cassette is actually laced with Opium. It turned out that the Japanese weren’t the only ones who were after the tape. Surprisingly, also the Catholic Church and the Chinese Mafia wanted to get a hold of it. Everyone from the Yakuza, the Chinese mafia and even the Catholic Church are all trying to get their hands on the tape. The conspiracy? A plot to use opium, distributed through communion hosts during mass, to turn the Filipino people into docile subjects under foreign control. Through this film and the technique used by De Leon, we get to see that indeed, there are many ways of which a film can be effective in communicating its messages to its viewers. Ultimately, we will realize that a director’s motivation in terms of the methods he used boils down to his perception of how receptive his audience can be, during the makings of the film.

The claims of this film being one of the finest Filipino comedy films ever made were rooted from its satirical tone, its uncanny humor, shrewdly concealed moral and social predicaments and its striking reflection of the situation in the Philippines in ways no other films viewed from this class ever did—simply because it was locally made. But that is not without any of the creativity and brilliant output from its director, Mike De Leon. For to merely claim that this film could rightly fit our society’s, consequently, the Filipinos’, predicament, because it was just made by a Filipino director, shot in the Philippines and starred by Filipino actors will render everything we had learned in this class as junk. It was the different films showed in class that enabled us to see that films are product of the collaboration of the writer’s motivation, the perspective chosen by the director, and the context from which it was made and shown.

Using this film, De Leon was able to espouse on the relationship our country had, at that time, with its neighbours concealed with a metaphor of the chasing parties in the film: the Japanese and the Chinese. During that time, they were the prime investors of our country, and De Leon masked this fact by the possible amount of money that can be involved in this story. Onota’s boss, the head of the Yakuza after Johnny and his friends, seemed to have been trying to smuggle goods inside our country for quite sometime now. This, in some ways showed the public, its viewers, how the Customs worked, and the motivation of some people in outwitting them. And this is what set this film apart—because it was shown in an unconventional manner: through humor.

De Leon’s choice of capturing multifaceted issues that still haunts our country today like the control of the Catholic Church, drug addiction and foreign control of our economy using humor was, we thought of, as a way of desensitizing its viewers to the otherwise harsh realities of life. The unimposing and light nature of the film seemed to have come from the use of music, love, and exaggeration that concealed the graveness of the issues it had tried to cover. De Leon incorporated humour in this film in such a way that it puts its viewers at ease, all the while opening their eyes to the dilemma it chose to expose. Just the cheap disguise of Onota, who should’ve been a notorious Japanese drug pusher, and his failed attempt to get away from the Philippine customs during the start of the film can make one roll their eyes heavenward in despise, but it certainly posted a light, unassuming viewing atmosphere that is more comfortable to the general public—when in fact, that first scene alone could’ve turned out as a very effective venue to impose its content in an array of ways. De Leon could’ve made Onota an extremely sinister and horrifying character that no one will ever dare to mess with him. But he did not. De Leon could’ve also shaped Johnny’s character in such a way that his eyes would’ve been focused to his goal, no distractions. That would’ve seemed like he can be someone who seriously wants to face and end an equally serious moral quandary. But he did not. For in a way, this film resembled No Country for Old Men (2007), in that they were both about a wild chase involving money and drugs, yet their techniques can be found from extremes of the spectrum. This should’ve been more than No Country for Old Men for its nationwide concern laid in the hands of Johnny and his acquaintances, but its not, and such can be attributed to the motivation of De Leon as a director, along with the issues faced by Philippines by that time.

The motivation of the director can be traced from being known for his varied experiments in directorial style, he ushered in the birth of the new musical in Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, a landmark film which spoofs a number of self-important totems of Philippine society (Kabayan Central). “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?”, as de Leon explains, was a “ibang klaseng commercial” that aimed to “tap a larger market”. He says he is aware that film is a business, and claims that after releasing his film Itim (his directorial debut) he had developed an “awareness that you don’t make a film for yourself. You make a film for others to watch” (Campos, 2006). Press write-ups on “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?”, labeled de Leon as an “experimental filmmaker”. But according to Napales (1980), he explicitly refuses the label, and says he is just willing to do something new, to try out various genres and exploit them originally.

The part played by the Catholic Church in this movie also mirrored the significant role by the Church have in the lives of Filipinos. This seemed to have been a very sensitive issue in our country for the Catholic Church had been with us for more than three centuries now and it had been undeniably a part of the state. We saw this as a remarkable way to see the degree by which we Filipinos trust on it, and how other people from different country perceived us as Christians—they see it as our weakness. It had shown us how vulnerable we are to the Church—for us, Filipinos, in a good way, but to others clearly not. The opium in the communion host can also embody how prone we are to possible addiction and the exploitation of the church by believing that they couldn’t such to us. De Leon, in incorporating the church in the film, portrayed the different forces that were bound to affect our country, be it political, economic, and even our social stance. And just like Johnny, we were clueless of those truths—as much as we are also bound to give in to social adversaries.

Campos (2006), in his journal article about de Leon’s filmmaking, described what Kakabakaba Ka Ba? really is all about:

“Conceived in the “commercial compromise” (MDL’s words) and the absurd possibilities of the movie musical, Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (1980) is strategically self-effacing in its political intent and double-edged in its artistic intent. By treating as a joke the foreign control of the Philippine economy and the Filipinos’ blind religiosity, the film makes popularly palatable a political posturing. And by exploiting time-honoured generic closure, like the triumph of unlikely heroes and the getting-married happy ending, the film simultaneously subverts, conceals, and announces the stupidity of a nation that dreams of its own heroism and victories, unaware of its systematic entanglement with imperialism while lapping up pop entertainment.”

Through this film and the technique used by De Leon, we get to see that indeed, there are many ways of which a film can be effective in communicating its messages to its viewers. It is the choice of the director what to cover in his film, and at the same time, how he does it based on his motivation and his preferred takes on such issues. These preferences are then linked to the context from the time the movie was made, which includes the pertinent social and moral concerns, economic status, and other relevant issues. But through this film, we realize that ultimately, a director’s motivation in terms of the methods he uses boils down to his perception of how receptive his audience can be, and whether or not he chooses it to become a tool for political socialization. For today, we get to see movies that are strictly for entertainment purposes only, while we also have those films—films like Kakaba Kaba Ka Ba?—that targets a specific erudite audience with broader mindsets and respective senses of conscientiousness for our country.


Campos, P. F. (2006). Looking Over the Nation, Uneasy With The Folks: Locating Mike de Leon in Philippine Cinema. [Electronic version]. Humanities Diliman, 3:2, 35-73.
Napales, Ruben V. (1980) I Don’t Want to Be Identified with Experimental Films – Mike de Leon. Parade 2: 4+.

Film 03: Serbis, 2009, Brillante Mendoza, Director

The brilliance of Independent film director Brilliante Mendoza is proven through the numerous international recognitions his films have received. Usually his films get attention because his ingenious and no-nonsense approach to Philippine issues which garner awards, but Serbis (2008) stands out as it caused several film critics to walkout in the middle of the film’s showing due to its controversial scenes. The film is a stark account of the values and morals that the most basic microcosm of Philippine society, the family, embodies: sooty and venal, but indomitable in the face of all hardships.

Serbis, as set only in one day, gives a snapshot in the lives of the Pineda Family as they run their old and dilapidated theatre. The story touches the issue of unwanted pregnancy, sex workers, bigamy and a possible incest as seen on the stories of the different characters. But what could be considered as the main character of the film is the theatre that the family runs. The once-magnificent theatre now serves as the family’s home and source of income. Within its walls are the successes in the past, challenges of the present, and the uncertainty of the future.

As seen in the scenes of the movie, Serbis centers on the family. Here, the Pineda family was seen as an important factor in the development of the character of the family members. It was as if each member held a particular responsibility. With this, we can see how Nanay Flor is seen as the head of their family. She is the one whom they run to and give their utmost respect. However, with this respect and given authority within the family come all the pressures that she gets from them. Despite the fact that she herself is problematic with regards to the bigamy case she filed against her former husband, she is also carries the burden when it comes to problems such as the operation of their movie theatre, and as well as Alan’s unexpected marital responsibility. It was as if she has become the absorber of the Pineda family’s problems, because one way or another, she finds a way to find solutions to these. However, her actions have somewhat caused the rest of the family members to depend on her and be contented with their lives.

And with such an attitude towards life, we can see how the rest of the members went on with their personal lives. At first, you would think that the Pineda family is poor. With the unprofessional way of maintaining the cinema, to the individual character of them members, one might assume that poverty is the primary concern of the family. But as surprising as it may seem, they are all educated. They have college degrees. However, what probably restrains them from looking for a decent job is their contentment of their lives. They seem to have somewhat accepted this as their destiny, accepting any menial form of work and responsibility. What only concerns them is their day-to-day survival, such as having something to eat. But other than that, they have no drive to strive for something better. Because they were too busy with what’s going on with their lives, they become unmindful of what consequences their actions can bring about. To them, no matter how small or big a problem is, their treatments of such are all the same: somehow, they’ll get past it.

Lastly, another theme that can be examined is regarding the viewing of nudity and sexual acts as a normal thing. People tend to automatically label everything that is sexual as already being pornography. However, one must understand that nudity and sexuality can also be seen as means of showing reality, with the intention of making the viewers understand the important message that it wishes to convey. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that some may see this form of expression in a negative light. With the conservative Filipino culture that we have, our interpretation of nudity and sexuality can be relative. It all depends on the person’s point of view as to whether he or she sees nudity and sexuality as either a form of exploitation or just a means of conveying the truth.

Looking at the political aspect of the film, one can take note of the gender and power relations in here. Most films usually portray a patriarchal type of society wherein the male characters are dominant over the female characters. However, in Mendoza’s film, it is the other way around. Serbis tends to empower its female characters more than its male characters. An evidence of this is that in the story of the film, one can see that the head of the household in the Pineda family is Nanay Flor, which obviously is a woman. Thus, all the members of the family consult with her and seek her approval. Every time a problem rises in the family, it is Nanay Flor that the family members run to. In addition, one could also take note of the fact that the male characters in the film are usually the ones who do the household chores or tasks more than the female characters. A main example of this is Nayda’s husband, Lando. One can notice that Lando is the one who does the household chores such as cooking food and washing the laundry for the family. He even accompanies and fetches their son to and from school. On the other hand, Nayda manages and oversees not only the family theater, but also their family in general as well. This indicates that in the Pineda family, Nayda is superior over Lando. This is also apparent as Nayda always orders Lando to do a task. All in all, the male characters in the film are subordinate to the female characters as they are less powerful compared to them.

Another thing in the film that we can see as something that is political is the lawlessness in the theater. Though everyone in the theater recognizes an authority in the form or in the image of Nanay Flor, there are really no rules or laws strictly established or implemented within the theater. Furthermore, even if there are rules implemented within the theater, no one strictly complies with them. An example of this is the allowing of minors to get inside the theater even if it should be strictly prohibited.

The group would also like to take note of the issue of structure and agency in this film. Is the change in the purpose or role of the movie theater due to the behavior of the agents or in other words, of the people? On the other hand, does the change in the norms of the Pineda family can be attributed to the movie theater itself? Nevertheless, the film shows a great interaction between the Pineda family and the movie theater, and how both affect one another through this constant interaction. We see that the movie theater is indeed a character in its own, a place where secret trysts and concealed identities come to life, an alternative venue for the characters to relieve themselves of the brash reality outside the comforting darkness of its interiors. Overall, it seems as though Serbis was indeed able to explicitly lay out its agenda: to depict a typical Filipino family that is able to make both ends meet because of their business. However, just like the movie theater that they run, these characters are just as prone to the fatalistic circumstances that their situation brings. For instance, the dirty walls scrubbed vigorously that still exhibit vandalisms parallel the lives of those who attempt to conceal their imperfections to the outside world, yet give in to their carnal desires as they enter the darkened theater rooms. We thus see a clear delineation between the public and private domain that eventually crumbles, as what happens in the private would certainly affect the public arenas. In the end, we find that it is the family that endures despite the obstacles in society—both figuratively, as each character finds strength in one another despite the deeply engrained conflicts within and beyond their household; and literally, as the old and dilapidated Family Movie Theater stands despite the social and economical metamorphosis.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Orfeu: Competing Spheres of Moral Hierarchies

“It is the myth that best explains the destiny and frustrated vocation of the Brazilian nation.” That’s how Caetano Veloso describes the 1999 film Orfeu directed by Carlos Diegues. Orfeu which is a remake of the 1969 film Orfeu Negro and adapted from Vinicius de Moraes’ play Orfeu de Conceicao tells the story of a samba writer, Orfeu, and his unexpected love, Euridyce during the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. It’s actually based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice where Orpheus actually followed Eurydice in the underworld and begged Hades and Persephone to allow him to bring back Eurydice to the real world. They were persuaded by his music and thus allowed him to get Eurydice back. In the end, he lost Eurydice and spent his lifetime playing his beautiful music. The mythological background doesn’t echo much in the film though there are hints here and there especially when one of the characters in the movie said “…play with snakes and you’re gonna get bit” which echoes how Eurydice died in the myth (she was bitten by snakes). Rather, the mythological background is seen being played out in a Brazilian favela(their slums)—adapted to the Brazilian culture and mores and here we understand what the Brazilian culture is all about.

All throughout the film, we see contrasts playing about—the grandeur of the Carnival compared to their normal life in the slums, the contrasting social mores that they follow in the favela (morality and drugs), love and violence among others—and these contrasts it seems try to bring the message of the film closer to the audience. But did it succeed?

The themes that we see in the film are part of the contrasts that play a major role in the film. One of these is the theme of morality. As has been discussed in class, society’s mores is developed through a process of compromise and consensus until we reach an understanding on what the mores of society really is. In the favela, there’s a different set of rules that is being followed that is distinctly different from what we are used to. Killing other people is forgivable, and to the point of being a normal occurrence in their lives, as long as this can be justified. One scene in the film that reminds us of these is when a guy was accused of raping a teen (or child) and was sentenced to death by Lucinho and his gang. Many people living in the favela showed up and it’s as if they are condoning what Lucinho and his gang are doing. When Eurydice suggested that they bring the guy to the police, the gang was mocking. After all, what could the police do? At the end, the guy was killed and the people left, as if what they watched was a show and not the killing of a man. Mrs. Conceicao even remarked to Eurydice after that episode that “You get used to it.” Meaning, they have already compromised and reached a consensus on what life in the favela is all about. In here, we get a sense that the end justifies the means. As long as justice is served, however skewed, it is alright, and even forgivable. We also hear the Voice of the Hill which is like their conscience or god, saying what could be done, what is happening.

Related to this is the prominence of violence and drug-related violence in the film. The violence we see in the film is not really comparable to the previous films watched, e.g. The Clockwork Orange or Poison but rather this is the commonplace violence we see anywhere in the world. The people in the favela get used to this sort of violence and would rather hide than change the status quo of the area. Even the police, we could see, condone this violence and is even the group that perpetuates this belief. They have no compunction on whatever they do, as long as they do what needs to be done regardless of who gets hurt or dies in the process. Even the chief of police who regularly raids the area has no regret using violence, even threatening Orfeu that “no one really knows where a stray bullet comes from” emphasizing the fact that violence is commonplace and is used to get what they want. It’s also sad to see that the institution of the police is even corrupted in the sense that their mandate is vastly different from what they are doing. The people laments that it is only the police they see, Orfeu going as far as saying that “the only thing the government sends up the hill is the police.” We see that the people have already lost faith with the institution that could have helped them and this makes matters worse.

We also see in the film the effect of drugs in a community. We see families breaking up, friendships breaking up (Mrs. Julie leaving the favelas due to the violence there) and the eruption of violence as a result of the drug trade in the area. We also see people condoning the drug cartel in the area as long as they get something from it. People are lining up to get money for food, medicines and even shoes from Lucinho and his gang. It is perfectly acceptable to them to use drug money as long as they get what they want.

Through all of this we see a glaring comparison to Philippine culture today. Given that both the Philippines and Brazil have almost the same history (Spanish and Portuguese occupation 300-500 years ago), this is not surprising. Their favelas are equivalent to our squatters area where violence and drugs are commonplace. We see that the glaring poverty in the Brazilian favelas rivals the poverty we see in the Philippines. One of the most surprising things in the movie is the grandeur of their Rio festival and the poverty of their favelas and these are parallel to the squatters in Manila and the grand way with which we celebrate our fiestas. Another parallelism is the fact that the culture of violence, drugs and fatalistic thinking about poverty is almost the same in the two countries. The favelas and the squatters area are full of drug dealers (rarely do we see a place that does not have drug dealers) and other nasty characters.

But in the end, we need to ask ourselves, what was Diegues’ goal in this film? For me, it was not really evident. It seems that Diegues was trying to use contrasts to show his message. The contrast of the grandeur of the Rio Carnival to the stark poverty of favelas as well as the love story of Orfeu and Euridice which was supposed have a light take contrasted to the culture of violence and drugs which could be considered a dark spin in the story. But in the end, it seems that Diegues message was lost in translation. Was he trying to show that a person can succeed like what happened to Orfeu? Or are you supposed to see this as a morality movie? In this, we can say that contrasts that Diegues used was not effective in bringing his message to the audience. Either Diegues used too much contrasts or too little contrast so that the end result was a movie with an undecipherable message. What I see in the end was that it was only a love story—and adaptation of a Greek myth and nothing more. In order to see more in the film, a deeper analysis is needed and that is what I think should be avoided. I believe that a direct message (or even a bit more direct message) is needed so that the audience could immediately understand what the movie was trying to say.



Rohter, Larry. “Orfeu (1999) Film: The Stuff of Legend in a Brazilian Sun.” NYTimes. 27 June 1999. 8 March 2010.

Orfeu is one of the most unforgettable products of the Cinema Novo in Brazil. Directed by the legendary icon of the Cinema Novo movement, Carlos Diegues, the film Orfeu had won a lot of awards and had gained recognition all over the globe. This 1999 film adapted from a play written by Vinicius de Moraes entitled Orfeu da Conceição is a depiction of the Greek mythological tragedy about Orpheus. Orfeu is already the second movie adapted to the play; the first one was entitled “Black Orpheus” made in 1959 by Marcel Camus.

The story circled around the life in the Carioca Hill of the greatest Samba writer in the whole of Brazil, Orfeu de Conceição. His talents and skills made way for his Samba school in the slums to win the best carnival participation twice in a row. This made him a legend not only in Carioca Hill but also in the whole Brazil. Several conflicts arise because of the nature of the area in which Orfeu lives in. His bestfriend, Lucinho, is the drug lord of the area and his rule made the Carioca hill into a labyrinth of dirty streets inhabited by drug addicts and drug dependent population. In addition to this, the police being deployed to the hill were all power abusive and biased in serving justice; especially for Lucinho who happened to be the godson of the police chief, Pacheco. Troubles also brew because of the rivalry between women of who will be Orfeu’s woman and be crowned the “queen” of the carnival. Orfeu was admired by each and every single woman in the hill and each lady has her story to tell. Nights before the carnival, Orfeu’s world turned upside down because of the arrival of the lady called Eurydice. She just moved from remote untamed land of Acre, located near the Amazon. Orfeu fell in love with Eurydice immediately after they met, but Eurydice’s indifference to the carnival and samba music made their love story a little more complicated; but eventually, because of Orfeu’s perseverance and charms, the two fell in love with each other passionately. Another conflict arises when Lucinho took a liking over Eurydice; this led to a tragic accident that burdened Orfeu and his love for the lady.

Black Orpheus versus Orfeu

Several critics always differentiate the two adaptations of the play by Moraes. The first adaptation was made by Camus in 1959 entitled “Black Orpheus” and the second was by Diegues in 1999 entitled “Orfeu.” Critics point out the difference in the portrayal of the slums where Orfeu live in. In “Black Orpheus,” it was said that the slums, referred to as the pavelas, were dark and a place of exuberant primitivism. It was also depicted as a realm of pure folklore. It is so different compared to the depiction of the Carioca Hills in the film “Orfeu.” In the 1999 movie, the hills have already modernized that even if it was considered a slum, it was filled with colors and decorations. Modern gadgets have already entered the community and art was also included. The cinematography was also compared due to the difference in how lighting was used to portray the different emotions felt by Orfeu. Critics say that a great improvement was done in the 1999 movie also because of the new technology in lightings readily available during this time in comparison to the technology available back in 1959.


The movie used extreme disparities to portray its messages. It can be clearly seen in the way people in the hill were living. They were poor and obviously needy but the preparations they do for the carnival was much more than what they can provide. It is like they are living every single day just so they can survive for the next carnival. The people’s lifestyle were problematic enough that the y would depend on the local drug lord Lucinho for their daily needs but the amount of money and effort they put in for their costumes and dances in the carnival were unthinkable. Extreme disparities in viewing life were also shown in the film. Lucinho, the cynic and pessimistic drug lord of the hills view life in the slums as the end of everything. He saw the illegal drug business as the only way for him to get out of the unending cycle of poverty occurring in his community. On the other hand, Orfeu is the hopeful and optimistic side of the hills. His belief that the whole community in the hill can actually break out from poverty by using their talents showcased during the carnival will lead everyone away from their current lifestyle.

Communal Hope

One of the issues tackled in the film was the concept of communal hope. Orfeu was the epitome of hope for everyone in the hills. It was almost considered that he was a property of everyone living in the slums, both literally and figuratively. This view on Orfeu made it troublesome for the people of the hills when Orfeu was planning on leaving with Eurydice to go away from the hills. Even his mother stated that he should not marry for he was not meant to be owned by anyone but the whole of the community. This setup made it a heavy blow on the community when Orfeu died in the last part of the movie. Everyone in Carioca Hill was devastated when their hope perished making them unable to foresee what future they will have given that the bringer of hope was gone. This leads to question of whether there is such thing as a communal hope; a hope for the whole community. An entity that will cause a whole community to collapse if he/she/it would be gone. In conclusion, how we view things are all dependent on the culture we live in. Whether or not we see things as positive or negative depends on our acceptance or cynicism about reality. The film was trying to convey messages by showing the audience the extremes of positive and negative aspect of living in the community. The effectiveness depends on the viewers’ acceptance and understanding of the events occurring in the whole movie. Whether or not it affects how we look at life and the circumstances of it is still dependent on each of us.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Clockwork Orange: Social Order Within the Moral Perimeter

“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.”

In what may be perhaps Stanley Kubrick’s most controversial feature presentation, A Clockwork Orange, an adaptation of the Andrew Burgess novel of the same name, is one of those films that provokes our deepest comprehension about ourselves and challenges our well-established notions of what is moral, and what makes us free, and what makes us human.

Revolving around the story of a young hoodlum living in a not-so-distant dystopian future where violent crime is not only rampant and commonplace, but where the government of such a society is willing and capable of inhuman repression in order to stop the anarchy.

In its initial screening in the United States, it was slapped with an X rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for its graphic depiction of “ultraviolence” – rape, murder, and torture which for even today are still regarded as taboo imagery in films. Nevertheless, the film is celebrated as one of Kubrick’s masterpieces, garnering both popular and critical acclaim, having been nominated for four Academy Awards and scoring well in the box office. The film remains to be cult classic and is even touted as one of the greatest films of all time.


At face value, what really made this film stand out and made it gain so much public outcry and controversy is because of the very explicit portrayal of the crimes committed by the main character on screen. The film explores the deepest and darkest recesses of human nature and one way for us to be able to explore and experience it is for the film to really incite our senses and perceptions, and to very well mirror reality – that man in his most primal and base nature is capable of doing such atrocities to his fellow man, and that very nature is inherent in everyone. Arguably, the film is trying to show us that the fact of the matter is, there is only but a thin line that separates us, the audience, from the main character, and perhaps this brings us towards the discussion on morality.


Of what is good and what is evil, and of what is just and what is unjust, is also examined in this film. Morality, as established clearly during our class discussions, is and will always be critically intersubjective, heavily relying on the context of the environment and the specific behavior of the actors. As such, it is indeed difficult for the viewer of this film to make a fair value judgment on whether or not the acts committed by the main character could be considered as moral. Obviously, for us who have watched this film, we are understandably disgusted of the things that we see and consider such acts as evil and immoral. We live in a society that clearly decries such behavior, and we have the law and the fear of societal banishment which prevents us from committing such acts in the first place.

Do the same standards apply in the society where the main character resides? I don’t think so. If you look closely, it becomes increasingly apparent that the main character’s disposition towards sex and violence is not so much uncommon in that society. He isn't so much an anomaly in an entire society that takes glee in depravity and debauchery. His own urges and behavior are equally displayed by people all around him; the homosexual undertones of many of the characters, the seeming acceptance to hypersexuality as seen in the motif and backdrops of the residences of the people, and the violence both state and non-state actors engage in order to achieve their interests. Putting all these together, it is easy to see that the main character is a product of a decadent society- both present in its highest echelons down through its entirety. How then could we say that the main character is “immoral” and “evil” if upon this context, he is clearly doing what is expected from him? Again, we must question ourselves on what really constitutes morality, and more importantly, who gets to decide what is good and what is evil.


While the film did not explicitly advocate or condemn a certain political ideology or agenda, we could say that it is a critique of the two extremes in the political spectrum – the idea of absolute liberty for individuals against absolute order for the state.

The first part of the film clearly shows the perils of absolute liberty as we see the main character giving in to his most primal nature – he rapes and plunders merely because it provides him the highest pleasure for himself. On the other hand, the latter part of the film portrays the complete opposite. The state, in its bid towards absolute order, does whatever means necessary to bring law and order in that society, even going as far as to dehumanize its citizens to become mere drones incapable of making a choice.

We could clearly see that Kubrick is making a stand against the unfettered use of power, both at an individual and state level. To that end, perhaps, Kubrick is speaking out against the destructiveness and dangers of both anarchy and totalitarianism.


Finally, another important aspect that we must look into in this film is the notion of humanity and what makes us human in the first place. The prison chaplain puts it plainly:

“When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”

“Choice. The boy has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.”

The prison chaplain raises an important point regarding this issue. The only thing that separates us from being mere animals driven by our primal instinct for self-preservation is the fact that we are capable of making choices. Humans, we could say, exist a cut above animals because we are not driven by instincts alone, but rather have the intelligence and the capacity which enables us to decide the paths that we take.

The main character’s cruelty is a choice he made for himself. The same way the other characters in the film also had the choice to be good or to be evil. When the treatment eliminates his ability to do evil, he becomes less of a threat to society, but also, less human. He is not truly good because he didn’t choose to be good, and that choice we have to make is vital to being a complete human being. Free will is indeed what makes us human, and as we saw in the film, if devoid of that essential nature we become lesser than humanity – a clockwork orange.

Ultimately, the film raises some fundamental questions regarding the way we envisage ourselves and reality. Beyond its provocative and polemic nature, and its graphic imagery and content, the film not only challenges our well established norms and standards, but also provides us a more critical assessment and snapshot of the true state of society as well as our humanity.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

No Country For Old Men: A Valuation of Humanity Within Desolation And Despair

“Whatcha got ain`t nothin new. This country`s hard on people, you can`t stop what`s coming, it ain`t all waiting on you. That`s vanity.” –Barry Corbin as Ellis, No Country for Old Men,(2007)

Adapted from a 2005 novel of the same title, No Country for Old Men is an award-winning masterpiece of the Coen

Brothers about drugs, money and violence. This movie, set in 1980 on West Texas, tells the story of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a welder and Vietnam War veteran, who came across a drug deal gone wrong. He found several dead Mexicans and dogs, a stack of cocaine and $2,000,000 while he was out in the desert hunting pronghorns. He took the money which automatically set off a wild goose chase between him, the local town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), other Mexican drug dealers and hired killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Moss sent his young wife, Carla Jean, away and tried to evade the people hunting him and instantly put his life and his wife’s life in danger. Another hitman, Carson Wells, offered Moss his help in exchange for some portions of the stolen money and yet both got killed by Chigurh in the end. Chigurh walked away free and Bell retired from his career.

The film, like any other Coen Brothers film, contained a lot of messages and themes that one had to uncover first in order to be able to understand it. All through-out the film, you can see repeated scenes of gore and mayhem all across the town as each one became both the hunter and the hunted. People were unstoppably murdered like animals (including Moss) all for the sake of the $2,000,000 that was taken. The film was full of vivid images of flesh, bones and blood gushing out of every man’s body like an endless crimson river and lives were extinguished one by one until there was nobody left. It also used very minimal musical score which surprisingly added to the tension that the movie was slowly building as the plot progressed. Only gunshots and rapping sounds of heavy metals can be heard as well as footsteps that made the film creepier than ever. It was disturbingly brilliant and will surely make a big impression on any viewer that tries to watch it.

The character development of the film was well-thought out that the viewers are not made to question the reasons behind the actions and attitudes of the main roles in the film. There was no clear delineation between the protagonist and antagonist, good and evil as well as morality and immorality. It was only violence, death and chaos.

The movie revolves around the theme of nihilism. Nihilism is a philosophy that was popularized in the late 19th century and was associated with a loose revolutionary movement in Russia (1860-1917). It emphasizes on the idea that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. A true nihilist believes in nothing, have no loyalties and no mission at all aside from the desire to destroy. This philosophy was mostly associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history”*.

Nihilism, which was also one of the common themes in most of the films made by the Coen brothers, was very evident in the numerous bloody scenes in the movie. The most prominent thing that can be associated with it is Anton Chigurh, the creepiest character ever created on screen since Hannibal Lectern. Chigurh, who was literally death personified in the movie, is a relentless psychopath armed with a compressed air gun and kills people just for pissing him off or as he terms it “inconveniencing him”. His ridiculous hair cut and witty blunt lines made the film all the more gripping and electrifying as viewers sit breathlessly wondering about the fate of the person who had the misfortune to meet him.

Chigurh symbolized destruction, destruction that may soon take over us given the rate that our society is going right now. With the proliferation of material things like drugs and money, people are starting to lose all sense of morality and are stopping at nothing just to get what they want. It was a critique of the current status quo and a reminder of how alarmingly chaotic our priorities have become due to innovation and scientific discovery. As Sheriff Bell said in the prologue of the movie, he missed the days when policemen and sheriffs didn’t have to wear a gun and crimes were at the minimum. The changing world has brought us a lot of convenience and yet it also brought a lot of ways to hurt and inflict pain to other people.

The movie showed nihilism at its apex, men killing men; it was basically open season for everyone, morals and values set aside and disregarded. It was alarming in a way because if we look at the setting of the story, it happened on a desolate island where people rarely see each other, let alone talk every day. If something as horrible as this can happen in a vast area where people are free not to interact with each other on a daily basis, how much more possible is it in a dense developed city where all people are cramped into small spaces while dealing with the battle for modern survival? It talks about how complex socialization can be and how complicated it is that we are all entangled in these overlapping webs of interaction that results often to conflict and competition.

Another important theme in the story was the concept of free will and destiny. The simple flipping of a coin decides the fate of the life of Chigurh’s victims. His remarkable line “Call it...” can send chills to your bones and makes you realize how important decisions are and how they define one’s life. The contrast between the stories of the gas station owner and Carla Jean emphasized the message more that whatever happens, it is still a choice. The gas station owner’s life was spared because he chose “head over tails”. Carla Jean on the other hand chose not to choose but by sampling opting to not make a decision, she still made a choice and technically, decided for her life. It sends us the message that in this life, we have to pick whichever we want and “call it”; own it. Despite the uncontrollable circumstances that we encounter in our life, it still boils down to the choices that we made.

Lastly, the film tells us at how inevitable changes are and how fast and unstoppable life can be that even if we stop, it wouldn’t hang around the corner and wait for us to grow up. Instead, it will continue to go on and we have the choice whether to go with the waves and stay afloat or give in and drown ourselves in the ocean of challenges that life has to offer.



  • Internet Movie Data Base.
  • Keough, Peter. Quiet Men. November 6, 2007. (accessed February 25, 2010).
  • Pratt, Alan. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Nihilism . May 23, 2005. (accessed February 25, 2010).
  • Tobias, Adam. 'No Country for Old Men' is brilliant filmmaking . November 23, 2007. (accessed February 26, 2010).

Garnering four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem); two Golden Globe Awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Javier Bardem) and Best Screenplay – Motion Picture; and three British Academy of Film Awards for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor, No Country for Old Men is a 2007 American crime thriller film which was adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. Directed by the Coen brothers, the film begins when Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a fortune left from a busted drug deal. When he took the money, this stared a series of violent events similar to a cat and mouse chase, with three men hunting and being hunted by each other. No Country for Old Men talks about the ideas of the capriciousness of fate and the pessimistic view on human nature.

“You can’t stop what’s comin’. It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” is one of the more memorable lines from the film and this line encapsulates the idea of the capriciousness of fate. Spoken by one of the characters, it gives the notion that sometimes, the lives of the people can be changed in the blink of an eye and those changes may not necessarily be predictable and fair. This may then lead to the never ending debate on whether destiny or free will guides the course of the lives of the people. The film can be considered to advocate both, that a combination of both fate and the free will of an individual will eventually determine what will happen to him/her. True enough, this was shown from the very start of the film. It was fate which led Moss to discovering the money from the drug deal but it was his own choice to get the money. He could have called the police, reported what he saw and returned the money but instead of doing that, he chose to take the money for himself and this eventually changed not only his life but even the lives of those around him.

The flipping of the coin can also be considered as a symbolism for the idea of destiny vs. free will. As Chigurh was fond of, the decision on whether to kill or let someone live was dependent on how a person will “call” a coin. Although what will appear on the coin (whether it will be heads or tails) is beyond our control, it is up to us to decide on how we will “call it”.

The second theme of the film, on the other hand, has something to do with the line “The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure.” The line fosters the idea that there is a pessimistic view on the human nature, what is emphasized is the evil or the more imperfect side of the humans. This encourages the idea that humans are creatures who are capable of doing evil things and given the freedom to do what they want, they may not choose what is morally right. In the film, we are presented with a character who is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way and another one who is willing to sacrifice a peaceful and comfortable life in order to achieve material gain. These two characters may represent the evil in our society, the first kind of evil is such an extreme one that we may even be surprised on how harsh his acts can be and the second kind of evil is the one that is only developing, an evil which is not really inherent and that there is still a chance for it to be curtailed.

In a way, this is somehow related to the idea of nihilism (which can also be considered as another theme of the film). Nihilism is the belief that nothing is worthwhile, that life is pointless and human values are worthless. It also refers to the total rejection of the social mores, rejecting the established social conventions and beliefs, especially of morality and religion. True enough, Chigurh is someone who does not care about whatever rules and laws may exist in the country. He is content with following his own rules, although those rules are clear to him alone and to no one else. He is also someone who does not put importance on the lives of other people, not thinking twice about killing anyone who might come his way (although in some rare occasions, he decided to let the coin choose whether he will kill someone or not). Also, we are presented with a country wherein crimes are committed left and right, with the citizens of the country breaking the rules that were agreed upon in their society.

Another example of a pessimistic view on the human nature is the scene wherein Chigurh bought the shirt of the kid. Initially, the kid was willing to give the shirt to Chigurh for free, seeing that he was badly hurt but he eventually accepted the money that was offered to him. In a way this can be interpreted as a sign of how easily corrupted humans can be. At the same time, it implies how humans do not necessarily always understand each other. Chigurh was oblivious of the fact that the child wanted to help him out and he insulted the kid’s act of charity by offering him some money.

After focusing on the themes of the film, it is also important to discuss its technical aspects, and to explain how each of these technical aspects has been effective in furthering the message that the film wants to convey. The first thing that can be noticed about the film is its characters. Although we are presented with a psychopath, the characters are shown in such a way that we would not think of questioning why they were acting in a certain way. The viewers are made to accept the characters simply as the way they are and to focus on what the characters are representing. Chigurh, in the movie, can be said to represent evil, chaos and even death. He represents how evil may sometimes prevail over good in the society and how this may lead to death, not just literally, but also the death and the destruction of the values and the norms of the society. In an extreme, it can also result to nihilism.

Another noticeable element of the film is the lack of the musical score and sound. Minimal sounds were used in the movie and most of the time, large sections of the film were devoid of music, something which the directors had carefully planned. By providing “silence” to the viewers, the viewers are given the chance to focus on the story itself. At the same time, it gives the audience the chance to have more room for interpretation. The audience is given the time to reflect on their own and to think about what will happen next and what their possible implications might be. Furthermore, by leaving something out, the unspoken gives the idea that there is a deeper meaning to what is really happening.

After all has been said, it is important to consider why the film is given the title “No Country for Old Men”. If we consider the sheriff to be the “main” character of the story, or simply to take his perspective, then it really makes sense. From the very start of the film, the sheriff has already compared the events in the past and in the present. For him, the past was much simpler when people did things simply because it was the right thing to do. The sheriffs at that time did not even have to carry guns but in the present times, crimes are committed everywhere. In a way it is implied that the country is not really a safe place to live in for the people, let alone for the old men. The world is such a rough place to be in and survival is something that is hard to achieve, especially for the old.

The ending of the film though, is something that has been subject to many interpretations. At the end of the film, the sheriff is shown to be recounting his dreams to his wife. The first dream has something to do with lost money while the second dream was about the sheriff’s dad who was at the end of a tunnel, waiting for him while holding a torch in his hand. The first dream can be symbolic to the retirement of the sheriff. The lost money can signify the hope that he had lost. “I always thought that when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn’t.” was a line that the sheriff himself said. In his line of work, it is important that one believes that there is still a good side in the people. Unfortunately, the sheriff felt that he was unmatched by those around him and eventually gave up. The lost money can then signify the hope that he had lost, his hope that there is still a good side in the human nature. His retirement can then symbolize not just the retirement from his work, but also his withdrawal from certain positive ideas.

No Country for Old Men can be considered to be effective in trying to convey its message to the viewers. Unlike other films with similar themes, the movie is not preachy. Instead of presenting the viewers with the ideas of what they should do, the film showed the viewers what can possibly happen when one is tricked by Lady Luck and if one makes the wrong moral choices. By presenting a quite exaggerated version of a man who thinks that killing other people is a routine and that the lives of others are dependent on the flip of a coin, the viewers are shown the possibility that men may become merciless creatures someday, creatures with nihilistic characteristics.

The film is an important way of showing that although fate can sometimes control our lives, we still have the freedom to choose how we will let fate dictate our actions. At the same time, it emphasizes the idea that whatever horrors we might be experiencing are really because of our own doing. The challenge is then not to let the negative side of human nature take over, and to avoid nihilism before it actually gets worse.