Monday, June 4, 2012

Film Reviews of "Amigo" and "Sakay"

There is far more to the U.S.-Philippine relationship than what narrow-minded books and scholarly scrutiny have interjected onto the canvas of history. Overrated and contested literary and scholarly narratives on the relationship have provided more convenient answers than insightful questions, answers which can only take us so far in understanding the nuances and overtones of the special social, cultural, economic, political, and military arrangements linking America and the Philippines.

The nature of some of those answers are open to correction as throughout the history of the relationship relevant facts have arisen from the ashes of colonial strategies and casuistry to challenge institutionalized concepts and productions. Having emerged with this conviction are American film director John Sayles and Filipino director Raymond Red who have both made their cinematic contributions to the deepening idea that the US.-Philippine relationship has not been all that it has been cracked up to be.

Sayles’ movie “Amigo” does not make the mistake of portraying the American colonialization of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century as a wholeheartedly humanitarian endeavor. Sayles does graft onto some of the American soldiers in his film feelings and a consciousness towards the welfare of the Filipino villagers they encounter and hold sway over. However, there are your American soldiers who believe in the use of harsh methods to ensure compliance and to deter the villagers’ collaboration with Filipino rebels.

When you think about the Philippines, you think about out-of-the-way, isolated rural villages and a landscape dotted with coconut trees and nipa hut dwellings. And there they are in Sayles’ film for the viewer to see. The mayor of Sayles’ fictional village is played by veteran Filipino actor Joel Torre. The mayor is conflicted because the American soldiers occupying his village are forcing him to become a stool pigeon in their pacification efforts against the Filipino rebels whom he surreptitiously supports.

The upside of “Amigo” is that it connects with the points of postcolonial history that spike the movie with a nagging, tarrying friction between colonizer and colonized. This sense of contentiousness takes us in the direction of a historical subject that is informed by charged opposites, opposites who think of themselves as first and above the other.

“Amigo’s” downside is its languid tempo and uninspiring characterization. Not that I was expecting an action film, but Sayles’s typically-slack rhythm—a rhythm that I have respected in his other films—and reflective but generally wooden characters runs what should have been more of a potent film aground in a filter of intellectual and theatrical underperformance and obstructive slow pacing.

With the 1993 independent film “Sakay”, director Raymond Red convinces moviegoers to share his outrage at America’s colonial landing in the Philippines, something that John Sayles to his credit was trying to do as well. Macario Sakay, the namesake of Red’s film, was a revolutionary general in the Philippine-American War. The Americans regarded Sakay as a bandit even as he aspired, in the aftermath of the failed Philippine revolution against the United States, to be the liberator of the Filipino people.

Sakay, played by Filipino actor Julio Diaz, and his fellow Katipuneros yearned for the day when they finally achieve independence from the Americans. In the meantime, they conducted an insurgency against US rule. Sakay’s rebellion ended in 1907 upon his arrest and subsequent execution. Red’s “Sakay,” despite financial constraints, blazed a trail for future political films about the fight for Philippine independence.

Raymond Red successfully banked on rebalancing the historical US-Philippine colonial relationship in a more favorable light for Filipinos by pouring his time and resources into the cinematic articulation of Sakay’s vehement effort at Philippine independence. John Sayles may have done the US-Philippine relationship historical justice but Raymond Red commemorates Sakay’s effort with national pride and affected solemnity.


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