Monday, June 05, 2017

Contemporary Philippine Cinema at MoMA: Clash

So, you think Donnie Trump is an authoritarian? Well then, what do you make of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte? This would be the former Davao City mayor who made of practice of reading lists of alleged criminals over the radio, many of whom were subsequently murdered by extralegal death squads. To be fair, the alleged vigilante killings predated the anti-American demagogue’s term as mayor, as did this searing dramatic expose. Timelier than ever, Pepe Diokno’s Clash (trailer here) screens during MoMA’s ongoing film series, A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema.

Richard is the older teen brother who wants out of the gangster life. Raymond is his younger teen brother, who wants in. Frankly, Richard may have waited too long. His gang has been decimated by their rivals and the death squad has publicly targeted him. The plan is to catch a boat to Manila with his prostitute girlfriend Jenny-Jane. However, he will have to raise 1,000 pesos for their fare. He would also like to set Raymond back on the straight-and-narrow before leaving, but his brother has already fallen under the sway of his nemesis, Tomas. All the while, Mayor Danilo Dularte Suarez’s blustery propaganda speeches blare out from every radio, like a veritable Big Brother.

Barely reaching the one-hour mark (including every last closing credit), Clash should still be considered a fully developed feature. Arguably, Diokno combines the social conscience of Brillante Mendoza with the snarling grit of Erik Matti’s noirs (such as On the Job, also included in MoMA’s series). Restless in the extreme, Diokno’s disorienting handheld hops from person to person like Linklater’s Slacker, but in need of a tetanus shot and some serious deodorant. Sometimes the shaky-cam is just too much, but the sense of urgency is always palpable.

This is a violent, predatory world, where anything could happen to anyone at any time, especially someone like Richard, who arguably has it coming. The conflict between brothers takes on almost Biblical symbolism, but they are based on real life siblings Diokno met while conducting research. Indeed, Clash is the sort of film where there does not seem to be any acting going on. Yet, that is rather a tribute to Felix Roco and Daniel Medrana, who are utterly convincing as Richard and Raymond, respectively. Eda Nolan similarly gives a brave yet completely natural and unaffected performance as Jenny-Jane.

We sort of know where Clash is headed, but not quite. There is an inescapable logic to the finale, but it still will turn your guts to ice. This is a powerful, pungent film that expresses Diokno’s rage at the dysfunctional political and legal systems that have continued unchecked since the film’s initial release in 2009. In fact, they have produced the nation’s president. Intense and unforgiving, Clash screens with the prison documentary Bunso this Thursday (6/8) and Friday the 23rd, as part of MoMA’s Philippine film series.