Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kinatay (2009) by Brillante Mendoza

This Filipino/Tagalog film won the Best Director award at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival.

One of my go-to reviewers, Mike D'Angelo, gave this film a C rating while calling it "audacious".  Needless to say, I was intrigued.

The film was panned by Roger Ebert who called it the worst film that had ever been screened at Cannes, even surpassing The Brown Bunny (Gallo, 2003) in worthlessness.  Since I had definitely enjoyed TBB (as well as Buffalo 66, directed again by Vincent Gallo), I put this film on my watch-list.  It is as interesting, and important, to watch films which critics hate as to watch the ones they love.  A film evoking strong reactions is bound to be interesting.

Given the humanist leanings of Ebert, I find it surprising that he did not see more in the film.

Kinatay, which means "Butchering", is about a single remarkable day in the life of a young man.  He marries the mother of his 7-month old child early in the day, goes to his police school around noon, and then later in the day unwittingly becomes part of something horrific.

Critics were unhappy mostly with the form of the film, much of which is a jarring, hazy, darkly-lit journey in a van to and from an out-of-town house.  The film can be called minimalist, but there are certain oblique (though by no means opaque) choices made by the director which most reviews seem to have overlooked.  The film is remarkable also for its sound design, and is more of an auditory experience.  It is also a very morally intense film, but that is quite apparent.

The film is essentially the journey of an un-corrupted, naive, innocent man from heaven to hell and back.  From being a creature of light, he becomes aware of darkness.  He witnesses hell, and wants to run away.  He cannot, or does not.

And when back in "heaven", the man tainted by hell is not the same.  Religious references abound.  Paintings of Jesus, frequent sightings of the cross, and of course the victim named "Madonna".  Hell is literally a basement below the ground in this film.

The most harrowing sequence in the film, for me, is not the one critics are focusing on, but is the one towards the end of the film when Peping, the young protagonist, is trying to get back to his home.  He hires a taxi, the taxi has a flat tire, and while the taxi is stopped, he tries desperately to flag down a bus or some communal transport.  Nobody stops for him.

He is a forsaken man by then.  Back from hell, and tainted by sin, he is no longer part of humanity.  He tries desperately to again merge in the sea of light, but finds himself invisible to God.

Contrast this sequence with the sequence during the morning, when he and his wife go together to the wedding venue.  Contrast the sequence also of them having a celebratory meal with the sequence of Peping not being able to eat after being back from hell.  The two sequences are similar outwardly, but could not be further apart inwardly.  During the morning sequences, there is an understated gaiety and camaraderie.  Western viewers might find the humble wedding and the "feast" curious, but the happiness is palpable.  During the later sequences, there is a similarly understated sense of having lost one's way and of a forlorn loneliness and despair.

The taxi driver fixes his tire, and invites Peping back into the taxi.  But inexplicably, Peping is not interested in re-entering the taxi.  Does he not want to be alone with his guilt?  Does he seek admission back into the heaven but is refused?  Does he wish to be normal again, and not wanting to spend the money that he has just "earned"?

The last shot of the film is his wife cooking for him and caring for their child.  Will he find his way home?  Will he use the money to buy milk for his child, as suggested by Satan?

We never find out.

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