On the first Friday, we watched august


First, Ishmael Bernal’s “Pagdating sa Dulo,” which from what Jesa has gathered was named Film of the Decade by some award-giving body and then Brocka’s apparently more commercial film called ____. There were only around ten people in the cinema – parang sa Baguio lang – including Mahjeng and Jesa[1] and I.

What was august about it is Friday and its often yummy promises of weekends; but more than that, there is Manila Cinematheque, which we have visited for the first time – finally, finally, after two months of sleepwalking in Manila, uselessly uselessly denying Manila.

Maybe it was very visible, the kilig in being able to watch a film again (and in Manila, and in Manila Cinematheque!) after cram-watching the Fockers’ Trilogy and some Pinoy shorts in our quietly hysterical last days in Baguio.

Tapos si Bernal, and again from what Jesa has gathered, it was his very first film. Was I daydreaming when I saw Godard (and Truffaut too) in Bernal’s “Pagdating sa Dulo” last Friday? Am I daydreaming, fantasizing now as I affirm here that I saw Godard (and Truffaut too) in “Pagdating sa Dulo?”

We were late a few minutes for the 5pm screening, and in the first scene we saw, there was Eddie Garcia, whose character Ruben was a film director in the film. He was shooting a scene with real-life married couple Carmen and Romeo, whose marriage troubles are stifling their work. I saw both Godard’s Le Mepris and Truffaut’s Day for Night here in that all three movies involved the making of films.

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In Le Mepris, a couple in disarray also strained the production of the film within the film. In Day for Night, emergencies in the actual lives of the actors – illness, a wife giving birth – compelled the director to make some maneuvers in the film’s production lest it gets delayed.

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When Carmen walked out of the shooting, Eddie Garcia’s character had to find a replacement – and there came Ching who used to be a “taxi dancer” before dabbling in films as an extra.

Carmen and Romeo would then leave the limelight; they will be replaced by Ching, later on Paloma Morales and Pinggoy – the taxi dancer and the taxi driver; the mistress and the man. This couple is not without their rifts. Ching accused Pinggoy of being jealous when she told him of her break as Carmen’s replacement. “Naiinggit ka ‘no. Akala mo ikaw lagi ang nakakalamang.” Then Pinggoy: “Pinapaalala mo sa ‘kin na taxi driver lang ako.” And “Wag mo kalimutan na alam ko kung sa’n ka nanggaling.”

Carmen got her big break; Pinggoy continued his life as a taxi driver. In another scene in the film, there was Godard. Someone approached Pinggoy while his taxi is parked; someone is inviting him to get back to acting. The highway in that scene in “Pagdating sa Dulo” was sort of like this, or I was daydreaming.

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Eddie Garcia, Direk Ruben, was meditative in many parts of the film. Arguably Bernal’s conception of film (how do you call “ars poetica” when applied to film?) – which was included in the documentary about him produced by the Concerned Artists of the Philippines – is encapsulated in these lines by Direk Ruben: “’pag ang pelikula ‘di nagpapakita ng totoo, ‘wag na lang magpelikula.” You stop caring about grammatical flawlessness when the point of the statement is pinching you in the ass.

In one scene with Ching, Direk Ruben was pointing out how film cheats us: it is filled with “retoke,” it is filled with “daya.” In a later scene, it became apparent that Ching has imbibed the point: getting wasted hours (or a night?) before the premiere showing of her and Pinggoy’s first starring role – entitled “Pagdating sa Dulo” as well – she pointed out to the person who was talking into her how what appears as walls onscreen are actually just paint.

But they were not speaking of a complete gulf separating the two – film and reality. They were speaking of exactly the opposite: how film and reality alter, distort, complement, enlarge each other.

I guess I am pushing too hard for this presence of Godard in Bernal’s “Pagdating sa Dulo.” In “Band of Outsiders,” we see this about Franz as my favorite scene in the film unfolds:

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Can I speak finally of the terrifying other that castigates us, the other that haunts us and shatters our illusion of total separation, predicated on our idea of a unified and stable Self? Bernal’s “Pagdating sa Dulo” ends with the premiere night of Ching and Pinggoy’s “Pagdating sa Dulo” where they were startled by the legion of fans awaiting their arrival. The film ends with the frozen shot of both actors’ faces – visibly stupefied – at what they are seeing. What is spelled out in their faces is not exactly delight, and this is prompted by Jesa, but a horror that most likely surprises them as well.

The film has become reality, and reality has become a film?

In the end I see not Godard, but Truffaut, another cutie from the French New Wave movement. I see the final shot in 400 Blows, where a very meaningful confrontation is marked: a confrontation between the character and the turn of events in his filmic life, a confrontation between the character and the viewing audience.

We refuse the platitudinous: films are reality and reality is a film. We embrace the substantially violent: films inflict wounds on reality, reality births films – and as in all birthing, it is fraught with blood. Last Friday, Godard and Truffaut and Bernal killed one another and we too, Mahjeng, Jesa and I, and that is how we felt more alive afterwards.

 

 

[1] My filmmaker friends. It would be lovelier to tag them as close filmmakers, not closet filmmakers.

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