Encoding right now T. Valentino Sitoy's definitive history of Dumaguete [it is soooo good]—and I am persuaded thoroughly by his argument that the origin of “Dumaguete” does not come from “dagit” [meaning, to seize] which has become our popular version of that history. This is the thing about the lack of heritage awareness, and the published history that go with it: we are always enamored by the legend that we have, and take that as history. So where did the name “Dumaguete” come from? You will have to wait for the second volume of Hugkat Journal to come out...
This amazing interview with Greta Gerwig by Annette Insdorf on the latest screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (2019) singled out a line Alcott wrote in her diary when Henry James [what a pompous rich prick] gave a harsh review of one of her anonymously written potboilers: "I fell back on rubbishy tales, for they pay best, and I can't afford to starve on praise, when sensation stories are written in half the time and keep the family cosey” [emphasis mine, a phrase that actually becomes a line in the film].
Reminds me forever not to look down on whatever one writes in order to make a living. I know one Filipino writer -- one of our best fictionists -- who wrote porn because it paid the bills best for her.
This link is a 1976 New York Times review of a collection of Alcott's "rubbishy tales."
Reading this article in The Hollywood Reporter, and it answered a question I had while watching the Oscars Monday morning. Just like I was, many people were confused what to make of the second woman who gave an acceptance speech after Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars.
"Who was that woman who professed to loving Bong Joon-ho's hair and how he talks?" mostly in dismissive mocking tone.
Turns out she is Miky Lee, one of South Korea's richest women, whose family built Samsung—and whose love for movies and pop culture almost single-handedly led to the two-decade rise of Korean film, and music. [Yes, K-Pop!]
Two things I'm taking from this article:
 Is there a Pinoy equivalent of Miky Lee, an insanely rich individual who built multiplexes all over the country in a long-term belief that the only way to make a robust film industry is to strengthen its movie-going base by providing sufficient film distribution, and by nurturing filmmakers who delivered quality content—educating a mass audience in the process, instead of coddling them with formulaic fare?
 Isn't it fascinating that for all of Parasite's anti-rich rhetoric, it wouldn't have been possible without chaebol money? Is this another instance of capitalism consuming everything—including, paradoxically, criticism of itself—for profit?
There are so many ways to believe no one can love us. I think of our breathing as autobiography of unvarnished intimacy, and in this we know our fraught frailties, our dark moments, our tendencies to be the worst of our selves. How can anybody love any of this? we breathe and ask—and the mirror, blind and blunt, nods and says yes. I know this to be true. But also untrue—something we find ourselves comfortably believing, perhaps to cope with a difficult world, always spinning out of reach. Truth: someone can love you. Our gift in turn is believing it, and loving back the best we can in our imperfect, spinning, difficult ways.
For the Valentine season, Renz and I, in front of Federico Alcuaz's Filipiny XIV. Photo by Urich Calumpang.
3:00 PM |
Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Subject, 2019
With Bong Jon-hoo's Parasite and Seung-jun Yi's In the Absence, we truly see a Korean ascendance in world cinema -- and both have so much alike, to be honest, including their unsparing critique of contemporary Korean society. In this documentary short, we navigate through that via the ineptness that attended the botched rescue of the ferry MV Sewol, which sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014, killing hundreds of passengers, mostly high school students in a field trip. It's a gripping and unsettling fly-on-the-wall documentary, and we are made to witness the hours tick by as the ship sinks slowly, while its passengers patiently await rescue, to their deaths.
I don't want to say much about Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas' Life Overtakes Me, except that in this documentary, about refugee kids in Sweden falling into a form of sleeping sickness bordering on coma triggered by PTSD over their plight, something feels and smells fishy.
Perhaps the most feeling-precious of this year's bunch of documentary short subject nominees is Laura Nix's Walk Run Cha-Cha, a love story about Vietnamese refugees re-bonding over ballroom dancing in New York in their senior years. You see, they used to be lovers in Vietnam, but were soon separated by the vagaries of war. Meeting once more in America, they try to rekindle their romance by dancing. Awwww. It's cute, but it's shallow -- and not even the sentimental production number at the end can truly save this film.
Carol Dysinger's Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) is your standard "people in perilous places" documentary, and while its narrative arc and subject matter -- about a school that pains to teach Afghan girls basic school subjects, plus skateboarding -- no longer surprise us, it doesn't disappoint in putting heart to the heroism it depicts.
In Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra's St. Louis Superman, we see a strange hybrid of black lives, politics, and rapping. It mostly works, and I like it, but this film was not made for me.
VERDICT: In order of preference, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) > In the Absence > St. Louis Superman > Walk Run Cha-Cha > Life Overtakes Me
3:00 PM |
Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Short Films, 2019
Truth to tell, Marshall Curry's The Neighbors’ Window feels so much like a nincompoop's idea of a good short film, I cannot actually believe it survived the culling of the Oscar long list at the expense of other contenders like Rémi Allier's gripping Little Hands. It's a morality tale about a couple who regularly spies on their neighbors across the courtyard they share in their adjacent apartment buildings -- and have come to believe these people lived better lives than they do. Of course it becomes a "the grass is greener..." story, which as an insight feels a little too on-the-nose and obvious. [Didn't Blake Edwards cover this already in 10 in 1979, and better?]
Meryam Joobeu's Brotherhood is deftly told, socially conscious, and remains gripping from beginning to end, easily making this the best of the lot. It's about a Tunisian farming family who has to contend with the sudden appearance of a prodigal son, newly-returned from fighting for ISIS in Syria, and a new wife in tow clad in a burqa. The father does not trust the son's intentions, and is fearful for the possible influence he might have on his younger brothers -- which is the key to the ultimate tragedy in the film.
I do not get the humor, and the praise it has been getting in, of Yves Pia's Nefta Football Club. I can accept it as dark comedy, but it overreaches with its quirkiness and resolution that nothing remains believable at all about this story. It has cross-borders drug smuggling, Adele's "Someone Like You," mules, and soccer all intertwined in its conceit, and never quite pulls off everything. I eye-rolled all throughout this film
We are made to feel that what Bryan Buckley tries to do in Saria is "important." And it is: the film largely dramatizes a real-life Guatemalan tragedy -- about orphaned girls trapped in an institution that is supposed to take care of them, only to be regularly abused, and eventually losing their lives in a fire. All good, and the young actors are committed enough to make this film works. I couldn't help but feel though: is this Bryan Buckley's story to tell?
The set-up of Delphine Girard's Une Sœur (A Sister) is simple: we have a young woman in a car, driven by a man we assume she knows, and then she makes an ordirnary call, ostensibly to her sister -- and then the film flips on us: she is not calling her sister, she is in fact secretly calling the French version of 911, and asking for help. The tension occurs when the operator slowly realizes the call is coded, and she must do all she can to send help to the woman and rescue her. We don't know exactly the nature of passenger's relations with the man, and what has happened to them that led to this -- but we are on her side all the way, until the end when the film flips us one more time and unsettles us once more.
VERDICT: In order of preference, Brotherhood > Une Sœur [A Sister] > Saria > Nefta Football Club > The Neighbors' Window
I can feel the bustle of Dumaguete coming back. It's still quiet, especially for a Thursday, but the streets are humming again, and I see people. We have never been on a lockdown, despite what some people believe, and despite some hysterical missives on Twitter and apparently some DMs. People just took necessary precautions and spent most of the past two days indoors. I don't wear a mask; the proper reports say it is unnecessary -- but I do have a small bottle of alcohol with me wherever I go. I'm sure Dumaguete is safe, and with this kind of awareness and height of precaution right now, perhaps even safer than most places. TIPS: It's all about touching surfaces, so wash your hands regularly or bring alcohol with you. And most of all get your information from the right sources. Our local journalists are working their asses off. Get it from them, and not from some stupid DMs.
3:00 PM |
Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films, 2019
In Daria Kashcheeva's contemplative Dcera [Daughter], the titular character watches over her father who has been taken ill, and slowly her mind wanders through scattered memories of life with him which are not always bright and sunny, painting her father as someone who was not always there for her. But the short film's more than this; it's poetic and complex, and does not give easy answers -- which makes this the best of the lot among the nominees.
We meet a painter and his wife in Bruno Collet's wonderfully affecting Mémorable. He is slowly suffering through the effects of dementia, and she struggles to keep up with the challenges that come with her husband's condition. That we see his struggle rendered in painterly, impressionistic mode makes this tale transcend its grounding sadness.
Song Siqi's Sister is told in stark greyscale that reminds you immediately it is in the territory of retrieved memory, and it is: it is a man's recollection of growing up in a Korean home, with a younger sister who was born to exasperate him. Except that the sister takes on a surreal existence, and the film backtracks with its revelation in Joker-mode, which is frankly disappointing.
In Rosana Sullivan's Kitbull, a cantankerous kitten finds a home in a junky backyard, only to realize she is sharing it with a downtrodden bulldog. Enemies soon turn friends, giving us a film that finds comfort in its utter mediocrity.
In Matthew A. Cherry and Everett Downing Jr.'s Hair Love, a very young African-American girl tries to deal with the everyday challenge of her natural hair, and enlists her clueless father in the task. Hijinks ensues -- but it's so blandly told, it's quite forgettable. And then there's that twist of an ending that's so on the nose with its sentimentality, it's pretty much eye-rolling.
VERDICT: In order of preference, Dcera (Daughter) > Memorable > Sister > Kitbull > Hair Love
Dumaguete is almost a ghost town. There are still people about, of course, like me. I'm in Bo's Coffee now to finish a task, and this place should be full at around this time in the evening. But it is mostly empty. I passed by the Chinese restaurant around the corner at around 7 PM -- bustling dinner time normally -- and it was closed.