Film Diary: “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”

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”.

Movie poster.

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.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

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Film Diary: Cinemalaya X (Part 2 “K’Na the Dreamweaver”)

K’NA THE DREAMWEAVER is an authentic design of romance and tradition, if you give it a chance.

“You have to look at the bigger picture. The pattern is always there, even if you cannot see it.” – Bey Lamfrey

Beauty, nowadays, is seen myopically, thanks to the availability of content underneath our fingertips. Aside from snapshots of photogenic dishes, the online album is populated by breathtaking sceneries and glitzy fashion deities who are worshipped by every likes and shares. Not digressing how K’Na the Dreamweaver comes into the picture, but first-time director Ida del Mundo offered Cinemalaya X a beautiful yet rare design that weaves the enduring stories of duty, love, and tradition from the often overlooked expedition of the vast Philippine ethnicity.

Across Lake Sebu in South Cotabato lives the indigenous tribe, the T’boli, who are renowned for their traditional clothing. But behind every design is the mythical inspiration of a Dreamweaver and for every Dreamweaver is a story waiting to unfold. Like the dyed abaca fibers strewn to create the unique T’boli cloth, K’Na the Dreamweaver was seamless in stitching its numerous themes into a pattern that dresses the film’s ‘beauty in the ordinary’. Among its many designs, it is a coming-of-age story of the youngest Dreamweaver who had to choose between her people and her true love. As a princess, K’Na must either submit to the proposed marriage to unify the T’bolis or follow her heart. The many aspects of love pierce K’Na because not all loves (young love, love for the society, and love for one’s dream) can make the final cut. Mara Lopez is luminous as the titular lead, as she embraced well the naivety and grace of a young T’boli princess under pressure.

The ceremony. 

Secondly, the film is a sporadic reminder of how rich the Philippine culture is. K’Na the Dreamweaver is a solemn immersion to an exotic community that is rarely seen onscreen and often taken for granted. The unadulterated, serene landscape of South Cotabato is a refreshing escape, along with the sweet-sounding T’boli dialect that fosters the film’s authentic look (it won Best Production Design in the New Breed Category). Lastly, it’s a tale about dreams and traditions that stood the test of time. The T’boli patterns have been part of the tribe’s identity but in the film, they symbolized K’Na’s ultimate dream and the tribe’s age-long customs. K’Na the Dreamweaver preserves what remains to be known in the diverse Philippine ethnicity which has not been much explored cinematically. Interestingly, the growing number of young Cinemalaya participants was able to see this unfamiliar society through K’Na who had her own share of heartbreak and responsibilities, making her no less different from her urban audience. Her personal struggles, along with the mysticism of a Dreamweaver and the invitation to the T’boli way of life, make the film an enriching and emphatic experience.

Young K’Na and Bey Lamfrey.

There is something magical and chaste about the film that echoes to the epic of Princess Urduja. Despite the film’s thematic richness, the beauty of K’Na the Dreamweaver will only be appreciated, if you give it a chance. The viewers’ tolerance for such subject matter is a bit testy as some may quickly dismiss it as ‘boring’ and ‘plain’. If only they look past their prejudice and see what makes K’Na the Dreamweaver a modest ethnic treasure. From the sweeping river shot in the beginning to the ingenious T’boli designs throughout, Del Mundo conditioned an exotic look in one of the country’s most colorful and thriving tribes. As what K’Na’s grandmother encouraged, viewers should “look at the bigger picture”. It may not be cinema’s grandest look into cultural life (the T’bolis live simply but were never short of history) but K’Na the Dreamweaver opened a new world rarely seen; it further justifies the beauty of Philippine culture, and the T’bolis are just a slice of it.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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UP NEXT: The kids are not alright in ‘#Y’ and ‘Children’s Show’.