January 16, 2011

The Kinatay Bus Terminal, The Kinatay Carinderia | and a Few Notes on Kinatay

1. Watched Kinatay (by Brillante Mendoza) courtesy of the good folks at Quiapo a few weeks ago.  Watched it while eating one-peso chips on the mattress.  It was horrific and horrible, the movie, not the junk food.  Kinatay is not the sort of film I'd recommend you watch with your sister, or your mother, or any female loved one.  At the very least while they're watching they should have one-peso dirty potato chips on hand.

2. Suddenly, somewhere in the middle, Coco Martin is ordered to buy balut.  He walks to a distance and sees a bus terminal where a balut vendor is fortunately stationed.  The mood is tense, the shots are hand-held, and the film runs almost in real-time, no cutting whatsoever, you almost think you've stayed up from dusk till dawn co-enduring Coco's ordeal. 

3. [Spoiler alert] Coco Martin is planning his escape.  Meanwhile, his two dark friends are waiting back at the van, with their newly-bought case of beer, and they can't wait for Coco Martin to finish buying the damn boiled eggs so they can go back to that creepy old house with a basement, and have a drinking spree and rape Maria Isabel Lopez and butcher her to pieces. 

The Kinatay Carinderia
4. Coco Martin is scared shit of course.  He was just tagging along, didn't even know this paying gig involved kidnapping and potential murder.  He must go back to his newly-wedded wife and their baby and must have nothing to do with this dark turn of events.  For PNP's sake, he has a glorious budding career as a young policeman ahead of him.  So he goes to the bathroom of the bus terminal, gets his cellphone out and texts a friend.  No luck. 

5. So he tries to board the nearly empty bus, but it takes forever to fill, and the bus only budges when it's filled.  Finally, Jhong Hilario calls him on the phone, and you know how cellphones are, well.. very urgent, so Coco has no choice but to get off, walk back, and be reunited with his buddies.  Stupid, right?

6. That bus terminal they shot Kinatay in, it's somewhere in Muzon, Bulacan. 

If you have no idea where that bus terminal is, you'd think Coco was really in a jam (Always wanted to say that.) 

But it's not really a dead end.  It's actually an intersection, and damn stupid Coco could have run off anywhere in the dark and be lost and unseen and escape.

7. Of course, Kinatay is a film told in the point of view of Coco Martin, and for the film to unfold to its end, Coco has to be present in all the important scenes, in all his passive bystander just-taking-orders capability.

8. Call me a spoilsport, but I didn't like Kinatay at all.  Ok, it won the Cannes but I still didn't like it.  It's as if they thought, oh let's make a movie about chop-chop ladies, but let's be clever and give it a twist: instead of focusing on the victim, let's tell the story through the perspective of one of the captors.

9. Kinatay thus becomes an excellent treatise on Stockholm syndrome, in reverse. (In this case, it's called the Lima syndrome)The abductor sympathizes with the victim, but since Coco was only tagging along and would have cried foul if only everyone in the van weren't so powerful--essentially he is a captive too, with no choice but to just go with the flow. 

10. Coco Martin was a really good actor then in this film, effectively evoking the harrowing emotions of being trapped between life and death, entirely powerless.  This might just be his finest work to date.

11. But for all it's dark and unapologetically violent nature, I find Kinatay quite manipulative, calculated, and predictable, even transparent.  There's always a planted device that sprouts up later on in the film, a premonition. The college instructor, for instance, discusses how to enter a crime scene for the first time to the young, energetic police trainees, and seeing Coco busy with his cellphone, he asks How about if the  victim's name was--and then says Coco's name.

12. Every time a police car with wailing siren passed by or tailgated their kidnapping van, I know they're there to make the scene more intense and make Coco feel all the more helpless.

In fact, so many avenues of escape were available for Coco, but it's the script's job to make him stay put and make everything frustrating for the audience.  You make the character do the opposite thing of what the audience fully expects him to do, and bam--a tense moment.

Even when Coco is given a gun, a gift from the boss, and it's all there for him, loaded and cocked, Coco is still immobile and does not know what to do with the blasted weapon.  We, the audience, are on the edge of our seats yelling out to him, Pull out the goddamn gun and kill somebody!, but Coco, for all his police training, is spineless as gelatin.  More frustration.  Give someone a gun (or a similar element of power), but don't let him use it, and you'll make the audience go nuts.

14. Early on in the film, we see Coco and Mercedes Cabral jauntily walking to City Hall to get wedded there.  Vendors peddling all sorts of things in broad daylight--from charcoal to accessories to pirated DVDs--populate the busy streets.  It's a sunny beautiful day to get married to your loved one (there's even a mass civil wedding to reunite lovers in bulk, but Coco and Mercedes prefer the private ceremony.) 

All these juxtapose with the eventual gloominess of the latter half of the film, when Coco experiences the longest night of his life.  On the jeep Mercedes gets teary-eyed watching someone's baby.  In this way, the scene is established: the young couple likes babies, having one of their own already (they just left their kid with someone for the meanwhile), and what better way to make Coco's predicament all the more excruciating than by involving babies or kids in the equation.

15. Which is why the name of the victim Maria Isabel Lopez has to be Madonna-- appropriate since she works in a club--but in this case, it's also Madonna for mother, albeit forcedly separated from her child.  When Madonna pleads Coco that she has a son (whose elementary graduation she'll be attending the next day), Coco thinks more of his own kid and wife should he disobey the powers that be.

16. So where's the redemption in Kinatay?  The film abruptly ends in a short shot of Mercedes cooking sinangag (fried rice) for breakfast, and tending their baby.  Then cut to black, and the credits roll in.  Madonna's death is just that--over and done with.  I know, this is not a Disney film where the endings are satisfactory, but I would have wanted scriptwriter Armando Lao to put out more.

16. Margaret Atwood has a short story called Weight about a butchered woman too, but in this case it was domestic abuse.  It wasn't sappy, it wasn't gruesome, but she hits right home. 

17. One thing is clear about Kinatay: do NOT sit at the back of the van, like Coco did.

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I remember when I was a kid in the 90's, the tabloids had a story about a chop-chop lady.  I thought it was the most gruesome thing you can do to a person; chop her up and scatter her all over town like she was jigsaw puzzle pieces for someone to put back on.  Because I was a kid, I thought it was a one-time thing, a rarity, the world did not work that way.

And then another chop chop lady gets headlined.  And as I grew up more butchered women become featured in the news, entirely nameless, hopelessly irrecoverable, and I begin to accept it as a sad fact of life.

A few days later after watching Kinatay, there was this news on TV about a pregnant woman salvaged by two policemen.  They stabbed her twenty times and chucked her somewhere in foresty Laguna.  Fortunately, the woman survived, and was able to call for help.

And nowadays, with the way the news has been going, it's as if the trend is for our noble policemen to be involved in all sorts of crimes to the very people they were supposed to be protecting.

Kinatay is not so far-fetched after all.


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