(Jerrold Tarog, 2010)
by Richard Bolisay
At the rate he’s going, I might as well come right out and say that Jerrold Tarog represents a lot of things noteworthy about local cinema. He possesses both the free-spiritedness of youth and the maturity of the old. Of course, that doesn’t make him the best person in his field or the one who has the least need for learning, but this assertion is given using good judgment, neither to flatter the filmmaker nor to hand him too much credit. Conversely, this is meant to emphasize the truth behind our hopes to have someone embody a pleasant characteristic of Philippine movies, one whose idea of filmmaking is not just for personal expression, and one whose nature is slanted towards improvement, that upon re-viewing his body of works, even his mistakes are interesting to examine.
So, I choose Jerrold. I don’t think it was that hard to select. After doing a couple of short films (“Carpool,” “Astig,” “Star Player”), making his first feature under Cinema One Originals (Confessional), giving Cinemalaya a try (Mangatyanan), participating in AmBisyon (“Faculty”), and closing the year with two Metro Manila Film Festival entries (one-third of Shake Rattle and Roll XIIand Senior Year), he seems pretty content moving from place to place, from one producer to another. He handles projects with impressive versatility, directing, writing, editing, and composing music for them; and he doesn’t seem daunted by the pressure of living up to any expectations aside from his own. This bodes well for the years ahead.
By saying “a lot of things noteworthy” I risk the insinuation that he only covers good things, but this is not the case. I was clearly disappointed withMangatyanan—I winced plenty of times while watching it—because the experiment on form didn’t work. I don’t even think it’s an experiment. I just consider it below average filmmaking. But to be fair, it’s a film that provokes long discussions. Personal preferences and tastes in movies will likely come up, but there will only be two sides of the coin: either you like it or you don’t. Those in the middle are wimps. After watching Senior Year, I realize that a conventionally-structured script is not for him. A humorless and stiff narrative like Mangatyanan, which dwells on domestic violence and reeks of metaphors, catches Jerrold in his most vulnerable, displaying his weaknesses the moment he starts to indulge in the heavy-handed turns of its drama.
Which makes his two other features, Confessional and Senior Year, all the more impressive. Truth be told, comedies are the hardest to pull off. Jeffrey Jeturian’s best work could be Bridal Shower, if only Tuhog, Minsan Pa, andKubrador are not as well made and brilliant. Jay borders on being effectively overdone and Kimmy Dora was killed by too much publicity. The succeeding Eugene Domingo movies, Here Comes the Bride in particular, are flummeries; and calling Ai-Ai delas Alas “Comedy Queen” is a joke too obscene. Comedies are not just meant for laughs. They also intend to hurt. Looking back,Confessional in 2007 was dropped like a bomb. It’s painfully funny; it delivered the punches round after round; and the ending made a serious blow to the head. Senior Year does just the same, albeit differently.
To plagiarize Tolstoy: “Happy high school memories are all alike; every unhappy memory is unhappy in its own way.” Senior Year takes advantage of the collective experience—the stereotypes that permeate the corners of the school grounds, the pages of a science report, the silly conversations on prom night, the slumbooks tucked away in lockers, the noisy cafeteria, the overnight practice for an English class presentation, the first drag of yosi, the first sip of beer, the last goodbye on graduation day, the stupid poses in class pictures—everything is not weighted by thinking but by nostalgia, especially this time when nostalgia is a cheap commodity. The tone is not regretful, but it’s not proud either. High school is this one big snow globe raining with surprises, rejection, and isolated showers of happiness. Jerrold takes us back with a knife pointed at our waists—like boys and girls with thorns in our sides—and it’s a journey both fun and dreadful; fun because we see ourselves reflected on the characters, as if Jerrold spied on our diaries, and dreadful because, god, we hate seeing unwelcome ghosts of the past.
Every fucking thing in high school is stupid—as it is after—and Senior Year acknowledges that. In a way, it is written and directed with restraint, aware that each character can fall any time into the chasms of self-righteousness. Here it is also obvious that Jerrold tells a story better by using short and snappy scenes, carefully cutting away when needed. He’s an effective editor too, like Beat Takeshi in some of his best works (Fireworks, Kikujiro, Sonatine, Dolls, and Zatoichi). Granted, it’s a high school movie and the pacing must imply movement—stalking, running, endless chatting, walking from one room to another—but there’s no drama being sold aside from the tragedy of everyday. After all, the most persuasive flashbacks are those that make you feel they’re happening at present, and Senior Year, while conscious of its plots, doesn’t linger on the difference. Watching it is like reading Murakami on a lazy Sunday afternoon, lightheaded and lighthearted; and without actually noticing it, you cry as you close the book, you cry as you look faraway, and you cry because you see your doppelganger happier than you, luckier than you.