I finally found the type of comedy that I’m looking for… in the septic tank.
Venice’s Golden Lion, Cannes’ Palme d’Or, and the Academy’s Oscar. These three are considered to be the pinnacle of film-making and unfortunately, the Philippines is still empty-handed on winning any of the three. It feels frustrating that for a country teeming of artistic talents, we have yet to nab at least a nomination. Who else is more frustrated than the local filmmakers thriving for international distinctions that will stand on the dais of Philippine cinema history? While it’s still a work-in-progress, I wonder, what makes a Filipino film Oscar-worthy? Does it have to be a social or political statement, inspired by true events, or a cultural showcase? Does it have to settle in drama, musical comedy, or a documentary? Most importantly, who should play the lead: Cherry Pie Picache, Mercedes Cabral, or Eugene Domingo? These are just the important questions that three young filmmakers have to decide on helming the elusive Oscar-worthy film in Marlon Rivera’s independent comedy “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”.
It’s not until the end of the film when the woman in the septic tank is identified. But how she’s gotten herself in that shit hole, and how the Oscar-worthy film’s production rolled is a carnival of how reality can break expectations. Producer Bingbong (JM De Guzman) and director Rainier (Kian Cipriano) believe that they all have the right elements of an Oscar-worthy film which they entitled, “Walang-wala”, a controversial story of Mila, a mother who was driven by poverty to sell one of her children to a foreign pedophile. All systems go along with production manager Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) as they are en route to meet with the lead star, Eugene Domingo (as herself) and inspect the perfect location, the infamous Payatas dump-site. Bingbong and Rainier are radiating of assertiveness of how their film will be their ticket to the Oscars. They are so self-assured that they easily dismissed a fellow filmmaker who won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival because of his conceited obnoxiousness and wrong grammar. An unwanted rendezvous with him erupted to a volley of mockery at the car that further smelted Bingbong and Rainier’s desire of creating Philippine Oscar history. While the earlier montages of playful genre-swapping gave a glimpse of their cinematic vision in “Walang-wala”, it was through that car scene fueled of sarcasm that I rejoiced for these filmmakers as they embraced the youth’s tenacity of unnecessarily having to prove themselves. It was spot on in reflecting every young adult’s idealism. But the hilarious process of how the vicious reality fails them began on their first destination.
Eugene Domingo as… ‘Eugene Domingo’ in “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”
To have the Eugene Domingo on board was already a titillating Oscar prospect but first, Bingbong and Rainier have to make adjustments for the coveted star. Courteous and eager as she was, Ms. Domingo domineered on her demands that sparked creative differences between the producer and the director. Mila, in Ms. Domingo’s visualization, is more neatly dressed with slight make-up as contrast to the original famished character. Ms. Domingo opted to add dialogue to the silent scenes and asked for a double in Sequence 7. Bingbong was more lenient while Rainier soured on imbibing a mainstream-treatment to their indie project. Their second stop in the Payatas dump-site, however, glued them back to their Oscar goal… until the perfect location turned into a traumatic situation.
Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is no short of situational comedy but how effective it is in delivering a bigger theme than the behind-the-scene difficulties of film-making. It’s a well-matched humor of how expectation and reality play against each other. The leads’ unguarded idealism often falls prey to the unfair predator that is real life. In their quest to make an authentic film, Bingbong, Rainier, and Jocelyn got their doses of poisonous predicaments that threaten to sabotage their Oscar-worthy film. We don’t know if they made it on the Academy’s shortlist. Ms. Domingo got her demands granted, much to her excitement, but at least we get to know who gets the last laugh, if you know what I mean.
It is in the septic tank that I finally found a worthwhile Philippine comedy that I’m looking for and how hearty my laughter was on the intensity of hilarity that the characters find themselves in. While I find Bingbong and Rainier’s characters as relatable, it’s their preemptive Oscar ego that landed them to their misfortunes. It would be easy to find other actors to take their place but De Guzman and Cipriano were naturals as they bounce of each other as the ambitious filmmakers. Cortez was without dialogue throughout the film but it was in two scenes that her hysterics perfectly summarized the overall mood. Lastly, Domingo was all game in acting as the ostentatious version of herself and the versatile character of Mila. Chris Martinez’s script was engaging from beginning to end, enough to make up for the crude production value.
Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank was the country’s submission for the Best Foreign Film category in the Academy Awards last 2011 but didn’t make the cut. Still, it wouldn’t stop filmmakers like Bingbong and Rainier to aspire for the Oscar gold. It is typical Filipino humor to make fun of someone in their sordid state and Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank exactly ends in that manner. But the final scene is the culmination of what the film is about — the notoriety of reality that one can’t simply capture on a group selfie at Payatas, or in Ms. Domingo’s case, a dive into karma.