Kinatay (Brilliante Mendoza, 2009)

“Jesus is the way, the truth, the life” – [On a sign]


Since watching this film I have become more and more positive about the experience. J. Hoberman in Sight and Sound said that this was the most hated film at Cannes – not Antichrist or Gaspar Noes Enter the Void. Roger Ebert said it is now the worst film ever shown at Cannes. Variety said the director is a fraud. Truth be told, I was exceptionally scared about watching it … especially since I watch Antichrist and then questioned the necessity of such a film … I wondered whether this film was the same.

The pictures didn’t help – the awkward lighting and silhouettes of some gagged woman. Incredibly unnerving. The director even felt that this film would not be released theatrically (hmm… we’ll see if the studios are content with that…) and felt it should go straight to schools (what???) and Universities (phew… educational institutions would sound better). For obvious reasons, Sarah wasn’t watching it with me and Jo tagged along knowing very little about the story. Seconds before it started I did mention to him that, apparently, there was 45 mins in real time of a victim being beaten, tortured, raped, sodomised, murdered and dismembered … this didn’t help his expectations. Turns out it wasn’t as bad as expected … and though I would never show this to my Mum, the links and parrallels to Catholicism and Gibson’s Passion are something that tempts me …

What I reckon …

It starts off showing our lead character, Peping (Coco Martin) with his girlfriend and young child. We see the hustle and the bustle in the Philippines – Chickens sliced and diced and food being cooked. Peping is a happy guy who is the funny-guy in the police work force. The mood is upbeat. Second act begins and Peping tags along with fellow police trainee Abyong as they conduct a night shift. They meet a prostitute who owes them money and the film literally and emotionally gets darker – she is beaten in the van. We sit, alongside Peping, for the long journey as they ‘Sarge’ and ‘Chief’ talk to each other: “put your foot on her head” etc. The whole film is shown in hand held – and the camera shuffles and moves throughout. This van experience is clouded over with the lights from outside the car and shadows – we don’t know exactly whats going on. We have a pretty good idea – but its not clear and, as Peping does, we stay silent. This direction is so personal and rough it sets the audience expectations and so, when it dos get more violent it isn’t that explicit because the film isn’t made in that style – as Hoberman points out: “No money-shots here”. Opposed to the very deliberate shots in Antichrist.

What is incredible is that – even though we are cultures apart – we are with Peping on this journey. He is an accessory to this murder but he does not kill her himself. He looks on – and like us – is unsure what to do. call the police? It is a group of police who are doing this! We are ‘along with him for the ride’ and, if I’m honest, I have no idea what I would do if I was in his position. He is helpless.

The music is percussion-led and makes us feel that much more uneasy. The clanker and slow,high-pitch noises give it an almost animalistic feel. The police are animals – treating this Madonna like the chickens cut up at the start. There are also two songs played at very specific moments – one track when Peping is on his way to marry his girl in the opening act and another when they are in the van on their way to murder this prostitute. In both cases, Peping is a part of a life changing situation and yet, in both cases, he will continue his life with these memories in his mind.

An interesting finale as Peping and the police eat, Peping vomits in the toilet and leaves early. To the police it is just a days work. To Peping, though horrified he can only go home. He is in a taxi and the tire bursts. He waits to try and get another taxi on a main road. Nothing stops – he is ignored. His crimes are ignored and people move on with their lives. We find out that these murders are regular and it is the way of life. Truly shocking.

We have to do the obvious and think about Antichrist. I state here and now that I feel that Kinatay is a stronger film. The violence is the only comparison really, but my feelings upon leaving the cinema was more positive after Kinatay. Antichrist, as I left the cinema – and wrote on my blog – frustrated me. Is there a purpose for such a film. Yes, Von Trier doesn’t care much for what the audience think of it so I think to myself, maybe he doesn’t deserve an audience. Its all fair and well calling it art – but if a work of art has no audience it has little necessary future. Can we take anything away from Antichrist? Can we use Antichrist as a starting point to explore a deeper artistic meaning? I don’t think we really can. maybe discussing its ‘right’ to be in cinema – but anything can be can’t it? In 1963, Warhol had a man sleep for a fair few hours and that was his film – and, yes, it is art. So maybe Antichrist is art – but is it any good? When I think about how Kinatay was so careful in its execution that, by the time the violence became exceptionally strong, you were involved enough with the character to appreciate the position he – and us – are in, is a testament to the director and writer. With Antichrist you knew it was graphic and, akin to cheap bursts of horror, you are suitably shocked and turn away, you have to question why. Could the issue of mourning be dealt with more … non-graphically? More subtle? More aware of the different aspects other than horror? I preferred Kinatay because I left the cinema thinking about about Peping … and the position he was in, whilst amazed that we were party to it. All aspects to the film itself. Whilst I left Antichrist disturbed by sequences and shots that felt too much – and made me question my film criticism as to what, indeed, makes a film. Something that does not involve narrative, tone and character. It is an external feature that the BBFC consider – not a film critic.

If you have watched this, I am really interested in your views on the film and the comparison with Antichrist.

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