They sure grow up fast in Metro Manilla. Kids are born already smoking and they join gangs by the age of four or five. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but it wouldn’t be satire if it did not have the ring of truth. Brace yourself for the ruckus, perverse, Daumier-esque vision of Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember (trailer here), a film “not directed by” Khavn [De La Cruz], which screens during this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival.
Even when their ages were mostly in the single digits, the Kostka Gang was one of the most feared in the Manila shantytowns. Unfortunately, when an ambitious bank heist goes south, the boss, conveniently known as “Boss,” gets sent up the river for twenty-eight years. When he is finally paroled, the surviving members of the Kostka gang are eager to re-acquire the missing loot presumably stolen by corrupt coppers working the case. However, they have more pressing problems when somebody starts knocking them off, one by one. Just wait till you get a load of the prime suspect.
If you haven’t seen a Khavn movie before, you had better steel yourself for his aesthetic onslaught. Think of his style as the combination of the most disturbing aspects of Brillante Ma Mendoza, Sion Sono, and Tod Browning. In fact, the first forty-five minutes are more closely akin to a carnival freak show than a proper movie. Yet, Khavn sort of knuckles down and stages a strangely intriguing gangster drama in the second half.
There is no question Alipato is Khavn’s joint and most of the cast can only hang on for dear life. However, Dido De La Paz is suitably flinty and world-weary as the post-prison Boss. Granted he looks dramatically older than his old running mates, but like they say, prison changes a man. More fundamentally, anyone inclined towards pedantry should give Alipato a wide berth, or risk their head exploding in the face of such defiant lunacy.