Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Contemporary Philippine Cinema at MoMA: Gemini

If Tennessee Williams had the opportunity to write a Philippine horror movie, it might have gone something like this. Julia and Judith were always like the Corsican Brothers. If one suffered from some sort of pain, so did the other. Unfortunately, Judith is bold and curious about the world, whereas Julia is sickly and allergic to nearly everything. Due to her frail health, both sisters must live sequestered lives. As a result, Judith harbors a great deal of resentment for her sister. That bitterness and sexual repression leads to violence in Ato Bautista’s Gemini (trailer here), which screens during MoMA’s new film series, A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema.

As Manuel’s interrogation begins, the detective acknowledges the slippery nature of truth, but we have to start somewhere. Julia finally wants to come clean. Her sister murdered Anton, the brother of their tutor, with whom the more forward Judith was romantically involved. When Anton eventually showed his true colors, it sparked a bloody altercation, after which Julia helped Judith dispose of the body. At least that is Julia’s story and she is sticking to it, for the time being. However, there are plenty of reasons to doubt her veracity, starting with the fact Manuel’s partner is a dead-ringer for Anton.

Gemini is filled with doubling, including the central twins, the odd doppelganger, and the frequent use of reflections. Frankly, the film is weird in just about every way. Somehow, Bautista uses techniques and motifs of experimental cinema to disorient and thoroughly creep out viewers. It is hard to say just what Gemini is, because it is probably too cerebral to be horror and too gory to be a straight psychological thriller. Regardless, it is certainly distinctive.

Sheena and Brigitte McBride are indeed identical twins, who are eerily cold and distant as Julia and Judith (or possibly Judith and Julia). Yet, we can vividly feel the fear of the former (presumably), as her constructed realities begin to collapse. However, it is Mon Confiado who really holds the film together and carries it through its twists and turns as the interrogator.

On top of all the surreal reality-problematizing, there is also a fair spot of body horror in Gemini. Yet, despite the profoundly warped perspective, there is a very human tragedy at the film’s center. Viewers have to be comfortable with all the gamesmanship, but experienced genre fans will find it is worth the effort. Recommended accordingly, Gemini screens this Sunday (6/4) and Saturday the 17th at MoMA, as part of their upcoming Philippine film series.