Monday, July 25, 2011
CineMalaya Film Festival Review: Amok
This is my final blog entry on the recently concluded CineMalaya Film Festival here in the Philippines. I've seen four films from the festival which is a record for me since I only watch like one a year but since the festival has opened screenings at a theater where I frequent, I was able to catch 4 films. This is the final one.
Amok gets its title from an area in downtown Manila, an intersection where traffic is heavy and crowds of different people going about their business is always congested. The film contains multiple intersecting storylines from various people going about their day in that area. Opening with a group of teenage boys freestyle rapping in the streets, we meet: An old blind man trying cross the street; A father meets up and has a talk with his jock son; a female street food vendor reprimands her smartass daughter; a washed-up movie star has sex with a prostitute in his flat in a nearby building; an elderly lady talks to her junkie daughter as her younger brother chaffeurs her around; a gay man and his younger lover deals with an apparently homophobic cab driver; a dubious police officer pays off an old woman to commit arson to get rid of a squatters slum village; an uncle accuses his nephew of fraud and wasting his brother's money; and most importantly, a man beats an ex-cop with a homemade gun in a pool game. These storylines will be united by an explosion of violence that will not result very pleasantly for some of them.
The film itself is an amazing feat of filmmaking. The film was shot in broad daylight, on location, in the actual streets where the film takes place with a very low budget. The fact that they got the film made at all is a minor miracle. The editing is simply pulse pounding, the way co-writer and director Lawrence Fajardo juggles all the storylines into one narrative without losing or confusing the audience is amazing. It helps that it features a huge ensemble of actors who gamely bring to life their characters. It's also pretty tight and brisk at 90-plus minutes but the script and the acting allows most of the characters to make an impression to the audience enough to make them unforgettable and make an impact. It's a testament to a tight three-way marriage of direction, acting and writing.
Though the film would draw comparisons to the works of Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Altman, I would argue that is more apt to compare it to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu. For me, this is the type of film Inarittu should be doing. Unlike Inarittu, the characters here are vivid and believable and oddly enough, it has a sense of humor and not relentlessly bleak. I would say it is definitely superior to most of his work. This film is wonderfully made, thought-provoking and enormously thrilling. It's probably my favorite of those that I've seen in the festival. (****)