Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
New Filipino Cinema ’15: Esprit de Corps
the cadets of a Marcos-era military academy would probably prefer to be water-boarded
than endure Maj. Mac Favila’s Hell Week interrogations. It would be quicker,
cleaner, and less complicated. Ritual, abuse, and seduction intermingle in
uncomfortable ways throughout Kanakan-Balintagos’ Esprit de Corps (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 edition of
New Filipino Cinema at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
his tribal spirit-name, Kanakan-Balintagos (a.k.a. Auraeus Solito) has adapted
his play for the big screen, but its stage roots definitely show. Arguably, the
central showpiece interrogation scenes would better function as short, discrete
one-acts than as building blocks for a larger narrative. However,
Kanakan-Balintagos strives to boast their cinematicality with his impressive
long takes. There is also an ambiguity to them that is rather intriguing (but
also a little disquieting).
turn, Favila will haze the living daylights out of Pvt. Abel Sarmiento and Pvt.
Cain Fujioka, two cadets who “aspire” to his position. It starts out with the
basic basic-training dressing-downs, but matters soon take a sexual turn. It is
not entirely clear whether this is about power or sex. In fact, the clear implication
Maj. Favila experienced similar treatment at the hands of his Commandant ought
to suggest the former, but he might take things too far. The not so subtly
hinted attraction between the two Privates further muddles the picture.
Esprit nearly vindicates pre-“don’t
ask, don’t tell” arguments against gays in the military. After all, Favila’s
attraction to cadets Cain and Abel certainly manifests in problematic ways. Regardless,
the significance of the Biblical name-checking is not readily apparent.
Symbolic appearances of a diwata and the Tree of Life further muddy the waters
late in the third act. Frankly, the film works best when it simply lets Favila
duel it out with the overmatched Privates.
the Major, John Carlo Santos is commandingly hard core and appropriately pumped
up. He is like an R. Lee Ermey teenage girls would want to pin up on their
walls, were it not for his predatory sexual behavior. Sandino Martin is also suitably
intense as Sarmiento, the shier striver, but Fukioka’s les well-defined
character and backstory leave Lharby Policarpio with considerably less to work
usually leads to good things when filmmakers lose control of their political
messaging. That sort of happens with Esprit.
Still, it works best when Kanakan-Balintagos anchors the film in Avila’s
subterranean office. The verbal sparring crackles even if the big picture
remains somewhat murky. Recommended for those who seriously follow Filipino
film and theater, Esprit de Corps screens
this Saturday (6/13) as part of New Filipino Cinema 2015 at the Yerba Buena
Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
Labels: Filipino Cinema, New Filipino Cinema '15