04 February 2008

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros

A patriotic Filipino song plays in the background, while you see shots of rubbish piling up in murky waters, and other scenes from the slum where Maximo, his father and 2 brothers live. We see Maximo, a 12-year-old tranvestite.

The movie centers around Maximo's crush on Victor, a policeman who once saved him from some ruffians in the street. 'Maxi' pursues Victor relentlessly, visiting him even in the police station, sometimes bringing him lunch. We've all been there as children; its more humorous when you're on the other side of the affections. What do you do when a 12-year-old has a crush on you? Victor regards this all with some amusement, is affectionate towards the boy, but only as an elder brother is. The movie was extremely tasteful in that regard, handling the very raw emotions of a pre-teen gay boy amazingly well.

Also, the movie handles homosexuality rather differently. Everyone in the slums are amazingly liberal in their attitudes towards a bunch of tranvestites running around, and homosexuality is apparently not a problem. In the words of Aureaeus Solito, the director's words:

"I always thought that I wanted to make a film where the gay character was happy for being who he is, accepted for who he is, and his being gay is just incidental or just part of the main theme of the film."

It also explores many other aspects of Manila life as well, and it starts with an upbeat tone, with scenes of family life, a fashion parade with his other pre-teen gay friends, and happy moments between Maxi and Victor. Nonetheless, it soon takes a turn for a more serious turn, and a lot of difficult issues are explored here, especially those revolving around poverty and crime. Maxi's father is a petty theft and when Victor asks Maxi what his father does for a living, Maxi is torn between his crush and his sense of solidarity with his family.

Overall, I'd say this is an excellent movie, with snippets of the painful, unavoidable decisions that people have to make in their lives. The denouement was painful to watch, but nonetheless, empowering.

25 January 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a movie set in 1987 Romania, under the repressive Nicolas Ceausescu regime. The movie is about Otilia and Gabita, who try to find an abortionist for Gabita. The movie focuses more on Otilia rather than Gabita; we see her running around getting the hotel room, Mr. Bebe, the abortionist, and it is she, who eventually disposes of the fetus.

Throughout the course of the movie, Otilia makes a lot of sacrifices for her friend. When it became clear that 3000 lei would not be the only payment required by Mr. Bebe, both girls sleep with him. There is a feeling of despondency and desperateness in the whole scene, Gabita desperate to be rid of her pregnancy, and Otilia accepting her fate - for the sake of her friend.

I can somewhat understand Otilia's sacrifice for her friend, as I have close friends of my own whom I will definitely help in a situation like this. Nevertheless, you can't help but wonder, how far would you go?

The beauty of the movie is that whilst it is centered around the abortion, it somehow manages to convey a sense of the effects of the regime at the time. The director masterfully intersperses the shots with normal Romanian life. When Otilia met Mr. Bebe for the first time, in the background, we see a long queue for the supermarket. It is not explicitly said, rather, artfully implied; the hardships that the Romanian people faced at that time. Overall, there is a sense of oppressiveness that is more believable. Life went on, people continued living and it was all captured in the grainy shots of the amazing film.

12 January 2008

Masters of Horror: Imprint

I have just watched Masters of Horror: Imprint.
That was definitely one of the most difficult, but yet strangely beautiful one-hour that I have sat through. 

Directed by Takeshi Miike, the acclaimed Japanese director of movies like Audition, Ichi the Killer and a whole host of other yakuza movies, Imprint leaves an indelible mark in your memory. Starring Billy Drago, Youki Kudoh and Shimako Iwai, it featured extremely graphic scenes that caused its premiere in American TV to be shelved. 

Set in 19th century Japan, Christopher visits a brothel on an island in search of his love, Komomo. He doesn't find her, and ends up spending the night there instead with a disfigured prostitute. 

She talks to him about her childhood, and how she ended up in the brothel. She also tells him that she knew Komomo, and how kind Komomo used to be to her. One day, the madame of the house lost her jade ring, and the other prostitutes, jealous of Komomo's beauty, accuses her of the theft. The madame orders the other girls to ''Do whatever you want with her, but be sure to leave no mark."  

And so begins the tortures. What follows is 7 minutes of pure torture, which I found extremely difficult to watch, but yet extremely gripping. The sadistic torturer (who is Shimako Iwai, the writer of the story) starts by burning her armpits with incense. She then takes long needles and gouges them into Komomo's fingernails and gums. All this is done with a look of such pleasure and perversion, the look of someone about to tuck into a plate of succulent oysters. 

She lovingly caresses each and every needle before she drives it into Komomo; then her eyes shine and gleam in delight at the sound of Komomo's screams. She does this with such joy, and even takes the time to stand back and admire her handiwork. And this is done to a soundtrack of Komomo's bloodcurdling screams. 

After the torture, the disfigured prostitute goes in search of Komomo to feed her some water, but discovers that Komomo had hung herself. When Christopher hears this story, he does not believe the prostitute and begs her to tell the truth.

Now, we hear an even more sinister story. The prostitute's mother was an abortionist, and we see a scene when she is at work. With the aid of a few roots and herbs, her mother removes a fetus from a woman's womb and places it in a tub. Then, she carelessly dumps the fetus into the river and the young prostitutes places a tiny wind toy by the bank. We see shot after shot of fetuses, floating down the river. 

After that, we learn that the prostitute has a twin sister, more like a conjoined twin. Up to that point, the story had been beautiful, perfectly crafted, dark, sinister, plausible. The most terrifying horror stories for me are those that actually have a possibility of happening in reality.

When the conjoined twin appeared, with the little mouth and eyes sticking out from a hand from the side of the prostitutes hair - I felt somehow cheated. There was no need for shock anymore, and after that terrifying torture scene, this fake little conjoined twin somehow felt flat. It was as if the director wanted the audience to get another scare, but now it just feels sad, like he was trying too hard to get our attention.
All in all, Imprint is definitely worth watching, if just for the torture scene alone. Now if only we can get Miike to get rid of that damn conjoined twin, Imprint would have been perfect.