Sunday, April 3, 2011

Film Review of "Cavite"

When Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana wrote, produced, and directed their Filipino suspense thriller “Cavite” in 2005, the world was still just four years separated from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Terrorism was still dominating headlines in every country, as well as the psyches of people forever traumatized by 9/11. It was in those ceaselessly unnerving times that “Cavite” gained international attention as a riveting and topical independent film.

Terrorism is still very much on our minds today, even as security and intelligence-gathering institutions deserve credit for improving their counter-terrorism capabilities. In “Cavite” though, the terrorists cleverly and ruthlessly hold the upper hand from beginning to end, while law enforcement is virtually nowhere to be seen.

A grotesque spectacle any way we look at the phenomenon of terrorism, it is in movies like Gamazon‘s and Dela Llana’s, and in the minds of the most fearful, that terrorists appear to be invisible, superhuman, ninja-like omnipresent phantoms that can neither be deterred or captured. Hence, the reality of terrorism tends to be lost on the public, never more so than in “Cavite”.

The movie involves a main character named “Adam” who happens to be played by Ian Gamazon himself. Adam travels to the Philippines from San Diego, California in order to go to his father’s funeral.

Upon his arrival in Manila, Adam answers a ringing cell phone that has been surreptitiously planted his bag without his knowledge. It turns out that the phone has been planted by the Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic extremist group believed at one time to have had links with Al-Qaeda.

“Cavite” is a captivating motion picture which plays on the fear and repulsion that Filipinos have of the Abu Sayyaf. Audiences get a taste of that fear and repulsion when they watch Adam learn the horrifying truth of his visit and the reason for the planted phone: the voice on the other end derisively informs him that his mother and sister are the victims of a kidnapping-for-ransom. Adam will later find out that the Abu Sayyaf are the perpetrators of the kidnapping.

There is a fair amount of social and cultural observation in the film as Adam gets an intimate, first-hand portrait of life in the Philippines when the terrorist on the phone orders him to perambulate through one of Manila’s ubiquitous shantytowns. His anxiety and confusion notwithstanding, Adam, who is Muslim, has no choice but to follow his assailant’s words to the letter, lest harm come to his mother or sister. Making it perfectly clear how much disdain he has for Adam, the terrorist baptizes him, sometimes harshly, in the world of Filipino culture and society.

Situated on the fence between a disconcerting, grassroots socio-cultural experience and the malevolent abstraction of terrorism, “Cavite” strips viewers of their socio-political innocence and introduces them to a dark universe that is notorious for its pitiless radicalism and its well-wrought justification for violence.

Yet, the film begins to decline in its later stages as viewers are subjected to what was at first, an intense venture into the bottom of the socio-political food chain, but what is by movie’s end a dragging, rambling deviation into the patchwork quilt of a destitute society.

Part of the problem in “Cavite” is that Gamazon and Dela Llana spend too much time keeping the character of Adam confined on a narrow path through the ramshackle neighborhoods of the lower classes to only the terrorist knows where. Eventually, you cannot help avoid growing bored and restless with the endless, drawn-out nature of Adam’s forced march.

Obsessing too with portraying the faceless terrorist as unstoppable, hopelessly unsympathetic, and psychologically-disturbed, Gamazon and Dela Llana, instead of wresting meaning from the terrorist as being complicit in a spiral of death and destruction, gives us a simplistic and reductionist impression about such hell-bent individuals and their reprehensible actions.


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