When camera is power
By Rianne Hill Soriano
As a brave mockumentary digging into the many terrains of people’s struggles, Cinema One Originals film entry “Confessional” is slick and stinging in its satirical motives about the issues of truth, life, and politics.
“Confessional” plays around a simple premise with a home movie-like treatment, and it works – and that’s the most important thing in this storytelling medium – if the mounting works, it will hit the right spots on its viewers. The strength of the film is its courage to find a considerably commercially entertaining treatment while being able to capture its serious realizations and transcend them in a way that more art-house films can…
The film is told in a funny and insightful way as an amateur filmmaker and editor for corporate videos heads to Cebu for the “Sinulog Festival” to join its documentary film competition; but he ends up entangled with the chronicling of the confessions of a “trapo” (traditional politician).
Directed by Jerrold Tarog and Ruel Antipuesto, the film can work for both the critical audience and the seeking-for-entertainment viewers who just prefer to relax inside the theater. Amidst the heavier themes it touches while the story progresses, it doesn’t try hard to go towards the artsy route, and yet the narrative effectively goes deep into its serious themes with a certain charm and sincerity. It fronts a story about a Philippine religious festival in a place filled with historical sites. It shows the simple things that affect relationships. It digs into the nooks and cranny of corruption and the approximate position of the so-called truth. Indeed, the film shows the many facets of being a Filipino and how the different kinds of people in the country work around their lives while contending with the issues of the society. From the moral conundrums to the cynical influences of injustice, the film’s portrait about the currents of Filipino life and the nation become quite integral to the plot.
Like Pastor’s documentary film trying to bare the unique Filipino culture of the Sinulog (a festival that has evolved from the Philippines’ Christian-colonial roots to a commercial endeavor that the capitalists take best advantage of), this film bares the bitter truths and existing lies mixing up the embellished reality as the society sees it – after the manipulations of those in influence and power. Moreover, Pastor, as a video editor from Manila, the northern part of the Philippines in the island of Luzon, proves how the said audio-visual medium can really twist reality. As a commoner in the most ordinary situations while traveling to the middle part of the Philippines in the Visayan region, he promotes innocent lies to save his volatile romantic relationship. And as a man equipped with a camera, he gets the attention of Lito Caliso, a mysterious ex-mayor from the southern island of Mindanao, and makes him his confessor to his litany of crimes and his claim of being the most honest Filipino.
The dialogues work very well with how the conversations and encounters support the convictions about the manipulative truth in media. With an opening setting a mood for both entertainment and an agreeable thought about making videos look more melodramatic, Ryan Pastor (David Barril a. k. a. Jerrold Tarog) provides a demo on how to doctor a wedding video to make it more touching. The film moves on further with handheld camera work, fast cuts and layered editing, stylized point-of-view shots, pop musical score, computer-animated visual embellishments, and photo stills. Personally, for me (being able to relate to it as a production artist myself), the best scene in the film is the gun-to-camera shot: It has achieved that force of the unknown with the camera overcoming the power of a gun.
On a personal, national, and even a global level, the film provides a convincing picture of the society and the vagueness that sips through the thin line between truth and lies. From the parody of the filmmaker-editor’s hand-to-mouth existence, the magic of romance with his girlfriend now drying up after two years of living in, the struggle to change for the better of those who work in the filthy underground, the dark underbelly of politics, and the different people interviewed for the documentary speaking with all their personal, shady, and/or showbiz intentions in front of the camera – all of them contribute to the story of how the persuasive mythmaking of what the camera captures, the machine edits, and the boob tube and the big screen show, make their own definitions of truth, lie, and the fascinating blurs in between.
The acting performances work well for the film’s advantage. David Barril as Ryan Pastor and Owee Salva as his girlfriend Monet effectively build up the story – setting the mood for what’s in stored as the film progresses. Publio Briones III as the shady politician and retired mayor Lito Caliso who confesses in front of a small-time filmmaker’s camera is quite an ambitious character for a real-life trapo figure; and yet, he delivers well in making such a not so realistic nature work for the story. The nun insisting of the religious nature of Sinulog, then injecting her short stint as an actress through her alluring pictures from way back, puts the entertainment and the deeper thoughts about many issues altogether. Same goes with the impromptu philosopher mulling over hedonistic issues while being interviewed for the documentary. Add up the female impersonator and choreographer whose queer personality is just one twist to check out in the film, and the many Filipino traits are showcased as they are in the “real” and not just in the “reel” context of things.
The film gives such simple but thought-provoking allegories. One that can be deftly pointed out is how the choreographer shares that the Sinulog dance steps are simple and clear: “Two steps forward, one step back.” In the same light, such words tend to reflect the Filipinos’ stage of progress in this age of rapid global development. Wonder why the country is starting to get left out by our neighbors? How about the idealism of the youth starting to get torn by what life experiences offer? How does religious connotations mark the definition of morality? How much casualty should be counted while people seek power for themselves at the expense of everything else? And how about the issues on truth and lies that mask both the good and bad intentions of people in their struggle to survive?
“Confessional” is simple yet with meaning and depth. As a social commentary, it has that creativity and ingenuity in presenting the Philippine sub-cultural differences aggravated by history, geography, and politics. For media, as presented here through the inscrutable force of the camera, it is truly powerful that it dictates its own equation as reiterated by the films statement: “Lies + Lies = Truth.”