Friday, June 19, 2009

Down Memory Lane: Tikoy's Rizal Is Heavy Handed With Josephine

Tikoy Aguiluz’ RIZAL SA DAPITAN is a somber and ominous film. It utilizes many unknown actors; uses some hand-held shots quite reminiscent of Cinema Verité; a lot of tripod shots borrowed from neo-realism; dubbing of dialogues that do not match with the actors’ lips, something that reminds me of Felinni and Pasolini's films.

Most of the films about Rizal’s life that had been made before had always shown his execution by musketry.I am not blaming those filmmakers (including my favorite filmmaker, Gerry de Leon) because indeed that part had been the most dramatic scene in Rizal’s life. His execution by the Spaniards was truly a temptation for any filmmaker. It’s like the Devil in the garden on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem, who tried repeatedly to temp Jesus. Unfortunately, Filipino film directors are only human and it’s not surprising that many had succumbed to this temptation. They emphasized this part (usually as the final scene) and in fact, many of them were done in the much abused device known in the annals of filmmaking: the slow motion.

Therefore, what a relief when Aguiluz’ version opens with Rizal’s execution already carried out and his remains are being dragged by two of his executioners, los dos guardia civiles. This scene is extremely clever and powerful. Unfortunately, from this masterful beginning, the film utilizes another device that seems to haunt many scriptwriters and directors: the flashback.

We are told how Rizal, banished by the Spaniards to Dapitan, lived his life as a farmer, teacher, surgeon, entrepreneur, lover, son, brother, and even as a father to a still-born child. All these ploded on and on, that I began to wonder whether Tikoy Aguiluz is a member of of a club where Kevin Bacon and Keifer Suherland are both members: the Flatliners. Sure, there are obstacles and triumphs along the way as Rizal’s daily existence is expounded, but the whole movie is so flat, even the humor used is so dry, it would have been better if they had deleted them altogether.

In the movies (both Hollywood and Tagalog, but more in Tagalog), there is a recurring scene that seems not to go away: a leading man shoving her leading lady.

Charito Solis was shoved by Nestor de Villa in BULUNG-BULUNGAN; Marlene Dauden suffered the same fate from Eddie Rodriguez in MILAROSA; Charito Solis, once again, by Ric Rodrigo in DAHIL SA ISANG BULAKLAK; and even Faye Dunaway by Jack Nicholson in CHINATOWN.

When Albert Martinez (as Rizal) confronts Amanda Page (as Josephine Bracken) about her fidelity and veracity, I told myself, “Oh, boy! DON’T do it, Tikoy! Don’t! Please!”

But, Tikoy had succumbed to the second temptation! His Rizal shoves Josephine!

Now, I will have to add Amanda Page’s name on the list of belted leading ladies.

But the film’s trouble isn’t over yet. Even if the filmmakers added a disclaimer at the end that they had to invent many things to dramatize Rizal’s life in Dapitan, how can they explain the fact that many of the dialogues and motivations were totally UN-RIZAL?

Let’s examine some of Rizal’s wisdom here. “Sa mabahong tae ay sumisibol ang isang mabangong bulaklak” (From a stinky manure, a flower blooms).

I don’t think that Rizal would have insulted our intelligence by telling us that shit smells bad. Any farmer out there who had smelled a sweet-smelling manure, please send us some so that in return, we could send it to Tikoy Aguiluz. I know Jose "Pete" Lacaba's writing style, and he would never write such dialogue (either it was added by Tikoy, or was suggested by a leg man to add into the film). And unfortunately, the credit of the writing went to Lacaba (and this is one of sticky points in screenplay writing, everyone on the set has something to say, and the poor writers are blamed when the dialogues come out horrendous). Which reminds me of what I have experienced with Gosiengfiao in Bedspacers. I wrote the dialogue: "That's the bitch! The one we saw on Recto Avenue yesterday." During the shoot, the American actress who was playing the part said: "That's the bitch! The one we saw on Azcarraga yesterday."

I protested: "For crying out loud, Joey! No young people would even know what Azcarraga is! That name was known during my mother's time!"

"But Joey, it sounds classy!" he replied.

And, yes... the movie said Azcarraga, not Recto.

But wait, we're discussing Rizal Sa Dapitan.

How about Jose Rizal’s characterization? When one of Rizal’s sisters accused Josephine of infidelity and lying, Rizal confronted Josephine right there and then, hence the shoving scene.

I don’t think that Rizal, whose IQ was that of a genius and who was against violence and tyranny, would have listened to hearsay without investigating first, let alone resort to such violent action. I don't know if Pete wrote the script this way, but it's unlikely. The shoving must have been added during the shoot. Sure, Tikoy wants drama here, but if the character’s motivation is totally inconsistent from the personality of that character, such dramatic build up is rendered useless. Rizal, who was a very good doctor and a champion of women’s rights – would shove a woman who is also his wife and who is pregnant with a child?


Pete Lacaba had written the most sensible scripts in local movies and unless the devil made him do it, it's unthinkable for him to write this way.

Albert Martinez’s interpretation of Rizal’s characterization shows the intensity of Rizal’s demeanor. It may or may not be accurate in real life, but I rather liked the edgy touch he added into it.

Amanda Page is not Irish-looking enough for Josephine, but she’s quite charming and endearing. I just hope she refuses her director next time he asks her to be shoved by her leading man. Charito Solis, a world-class actress, had agreed to be pushed twice in her career, plus the other people who pushed her in real life as well. But that was during her time. That was then, this is now. If another director is going to use this scene in a film, he should be thrown in the slammer for being so banal.

Despite the many problems of Tikoy’s Rizal, there are some nice touches to this film. The shot of a gecko trying to crawl laboriously up the banyan tree is something akin to Rizal’s life who is facing an arduous future as an exile. The sunsets and the starless nights are like paintings done by a master. The overall dark look of this production reminds me of the Tikoy Aguiluz brand that is always present in his films, including the Boatman. If he were careful in his choice of materials, wean himself from the influence of the neo-realist movement of the fifties and used more established good-looking actors (and quit using every Tom, Dick, and Harry off the streets who can't act), stayed away from overused tableau vivants that are more recognizable than the soldiers raising a flag in Iwo Jima; and if he borrowed more from the French New Wave – he might end up yet as one of RP's better filmmakers.

Rizal Sa Dapitan is far from being a masterpiece, but its components (Lacaba's vision) have the makings of one.

Happy 148th birthday, JR.