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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

entry arrow6:57 PM | 100 Wins in Pusan

When I watched the film during the Closing Night of the Cinemalaya Film Festival in Dumaguete last September, I knew I was beholding something great. And now, Chris Martinez's 100 just won the KNN Award, which is given to the most popular film from New Currents section of the Pusan International Film Festival.

Here's a review of the film from a doctor/writer friend (actually a former teacher and student of mine) which was published last week in the Arts & Culture column of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee in the weekly MetroPost...

Things To Do Before You Die...
By Dr. Mel Vera Cruz

That is what the movie 100 is all about. It’s the story of a young woman’s journey—with her family, friends, her pet, and herself—after she was diagnosed to have terminal illness. The theme is somewhat similar to Tuesdays with Morrie [note: this Repertory Philippines play, directed by Baby Barredo, was staged a month before Cinemalaya in the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium], a play that tackles facing life as one is facing imminent death. But somehow this movie touched me in a way that the play did not.

It’s not because of the actors. Tuesday’s Bart Guingona and Miguel Faustman are definitely better actors than some cast in the movie. But maybe there is the factor of visual appeal; a play is limited by what can be put or conjured on stage, whereas a movie’s possibilities are almost endless.

Also this: one of my complaints about the play is the didacticism, its preachy tone. There were several instances when scenes called for mini-lectures to the audience on how one should live and what things in life really mattered. The film deftly avoids this tendency to lecture but instead brings the viewers on a tag-along trip as the main character lives her remaining days—that is, to the utmost she dreams of. It made me think: if I were in a similar situation, I, too, would probably do what she did.

I think Mylene Dizon’s physique is just perfect for the role of Joyce. Gaunt and willowy, she is grace and composure all throughout. No melodramas for her, only subtlety and quiet talking. That is the nice thing about movies: when the character needs to whisper, she really can whisper, and the camera will capture it. A whisper on stage has to be just that, a stage whisper.

Another major difference between the plots of Tuesdays with Morrie and 100 is the setting. Tuesdays is very American, while 100 is very Filipino. I almost had goose-bumps thinking, Wow, a Filipino wrote this screenplay. Galing! I think director Chris Martinez’s screenplay was able to capture very accurately how Filipinos respond when a family member is diagnosed with cancer. I have seen those exact same responses—the initial hysteria, the almost frantic search for second and third opinions, the turn to Chinese medicine, then a desperate return to religiosity, then pilgrimage to this and that shrine, then faith healing, then “pray-overs” and the like. I’m glad an oncologist was on board in the making of this movie. It makes me wince when the production people do not bother to check if their medical data is accurate and they end up showing medical bloopers on film. Thankfully, not so for this film.

I also like the spic-and-span look of the movie, so in keeping with Joyce’s personality, which is clearly obsessive compulsive, as depicted by her very neat apartment and the no-nonsense handwriting on her perfectly-lined-up-yellow-Post-Its. This is in contrast with the malignant cells growing maniacally inside her body.

There are two scenes in the movie that stand out in my mind when all the other images have begun to fade. First is when Joyce is drawing, one by one, the curtains in her apartment. Her apartment is painted cream, and the curtains are of the same hue. One scene showed her by one window drawing the curtain, and then she would fade, and then she would be by the next window doing the same thing, and then she would fade. And so on and so forth, until all the windows have had their curtains drawn. Then the next shot shows everything in reverse. She is opening windows this time.

The other scene I remember is the death scene. It is very subtle and suggestive, and very artistically done. Before this particular scene, we see how Joyce’s health is deteriorating fast, and she is feverishly finishing up her list of 100 things to do before the fateful day. Towards the end, most of the shots are focused on things going on around her bed, as those closest to her visit and spend time with her. The next scene shows these same people talking among themselves and doing common everyday things, in the terrace and in the living room of her apartment, all of them bathed in bright sunlight. From the shadows of Joyce’s room, a hint of a figure approaches these people, but the figure doesn’t go near them but only looks upon them one last time—in a gaze that lasts for a long time. The light and shadows are very suggestive. It made me think: Joyce is too weak to stand or walk in this last scene so it couldn’t possibly be her physical body that is there. After the long last look, the figure turns and crosses the front of the screen slowly and deliberately. It was quite eerie for me—that play of light and shadow, and then the sight of the figure crossing. At that point, I was actually closing my eyes, because I’m quite scared when it comes to death scenes. But each time I opened my eyes to see if the scene was finished, the figure was still there, crossing ever so slowly—and so now that scene is embedded forever in my memory.

Here are some of the hundred things Joyce wanted to do before she died—tell her mother about her cancer; resign from her job; choose her coffin and wake music; go on an overnight picnic at the beach; go skinny-dipping; eat daing and kamatis; eat ice cream (lots of it); break up an adulterous relationship; give away her material possessions; cook her favorite foods; find a new human for her cat; go to Hongkong Disneyland; go to Europe; sing karaoke in a Malate bar; drive very, very fast; organize her photo albums; spend time with her brother; visit her old high school; talk to her high school crush; plus eighty more things that make up a life.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the movie gave me a very good laugh and a very good cry. It was funny and poignant at the same time. Eugene Domingo (as Joyce’s best friend) and Tessie Tomas (as Joyce’s mother) are more well-known to us as comedians—but here they show serious chops as actors. The added benefit of their casting is that their funny scenes look and sound natural, and invites us to appreciate the laugh-out-loud hilarious scenes.

As for the crying, well, it was only natural for so many reasons. For a well-written script, that made me so glad. More movies like this, and I’ll become a movie fan all over again. When I was a kid, my fervent dream was to become a movie-house owner so I could watch movies all the time.

Kudos to 100 for the superb acting. For laudable indie filmmaking. For fine artistry. For the beautiful Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, as well. And for the idea of making my own list of 100 things to do…

How about you? You want to make one, too?

Congratulations, Chris!

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