J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

New Filipino Cinema ’14: How to Disappear Completely

In a bit of a departure, cinematic provocateur Raya Martin’s latest outing has a Twin Peaks flavor. Frustratingly though, it best corresponds to Fire Walk with Me. A disturbed teenager becomes increasingly preoccupied with a malevolent local legend in Martin’s How to Disappear Completely (trailer here), which screens on the opening night of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ 2014 New Filipino Cinema series.

Eventually, her terrible home life will have tragic consequences. Constantly evading her father’s inappropriate attention, while her hyper-religious mother sternly passes judgment on them both, the young girl has become obsessed with the tale of a distraught ghost eternally searching for her children that were washed away in a typhoon. Like the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster in Ghostbusters, they might sound like a fitting match, but bringing together could be dangerous. However, the vengeful specter may or may not be out there watching them.

Disappear is at least two films uneasily joined together, if not several more. Frankly, it is surprisingly effective in the early going. Martin’s narrative can safely be described as fractured, even at the nest of times, but he crafts some genuinely creepy moments, even as he deconstructs the supernatural genre. Sadly, the film unambiguously jumps the shark around the point the girl’s school stages a pageant so virulently hostile to America and Western democratic capitalism, even the Bread and Puppets agitprop troupe would find it didactic.

If Martin wants to make his points in the clunkiest manner possible then so be it. Yet, he takes things even further in a bizarre, apparently unrelated coda. To make his point about the dehumanizing effects of colonialism (or is it globalism now?) he follows a pack of rabid punks desecrating the village’s cemetery and then abducting and terrorizing several young school girls. It is a sequence most viewers will wish they could un-see. Whatever Martin’s obscure intentions might be, the further desensitizing influence of Disappear is entirely on him.

Ness Roque is impressively expressive as the slow burning girl. Even though her parents are shopworn stereotypes, Noni and Shamaine Buencamino commit to them admirably. Had Martin maintained his focus on her and the mad ghostly woman, Disappear would have been a far more dramatically unified film. Instead, it leaves the audience angry at Martin rather than corporate colonialism or any related bogeyman. Not recommended even to the most ardent anti-American ideologue, How to Disappear Completely launches the Yerba Buena Arts Center’s annual New Filipino Cinema this Wednesday (6/11) in San Francisco.

Instead, patrons should check out Sean Ellis’s excellent Metro Manila. It is a gritty noir heist film, boasting a highly developed social conscious, several good twists, and a charismatically villainous supporting turn from John Arcilla. Shot on location with a Filipino cast and crew by the British Ellis, Metro was the UK’s official foreign language Academy Award submission, giving it unusual bragging rights amongst the New Filipino Cinema series. Enthusiastically recommended, it screens this coming Friday (6/13) at the YBCA.

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