Wednesday, September 13, 2017

TIFF ’17: Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month (short)

Life in Metro Manila is social Darwinism at its worst. For Ms. Dela Cruz, her sudden unemployment is the least of it. Small eruptions of violence threaten to flare up around her on her last night pumping gas at a foreclosed service station. By the way, this is a comedy. Needless to say, the humor comes in fifty shades of pitch black in Carlo Francisco Manatad’s short film, Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

That would be her face we see dominating the Employee of the Month chart. That was then. Tonight, Dela Cruz is trying to sell RC bottles filled with gas, while her co-worker scratches off all the lottery tickets. Unlike her, he probably never really cared, but she will try to make up for lost time in one night. Unfortunately, some of their Clerky antics will not be taken in the spirit of Kevin Smith.

In terms of tone, we are talking really gosh-darn dark here, but it also funny, in a ruthless kind of way. Yet, we have to say, Manatad manages to capture that wistful end-of-an-era, last-day-of-school vibe. As a result, we can identify with Dela Cruz and her slacker shift-mate on an acutely personal level, even though we have (hopefully) never had a final day on the job like this.

Angeli Bayani (a well-established thesp, known for prestige pictures like Ilo Ilo) is a marvel of understatement as the quietly simmering Dela Cruz. Her bracing work is a perfect example why there should be more awards for acting in short films. Ross Pesigan also plays off her well as the more outspoken Randal to her Dante (another Clerks reference).

Although Employee is not explicitly political, it certainly serves as a withering indictment of Philippine social malaise in general. Regardless, it looks great. Manatad keeps it gritty and grounded, but he and cinematographer Teck Siang Lim still drench it in noir style. Very highly recommended, Jodilerks Dela Cruz screens again at TIFF this Saturday (9/16), as part of Short Cuts Programme 06.