Dr. Tolentino’s critique, and Tagle’s response, is indeed an indication of how Ang Nawawala has spurred a discussion that is much needed about the contours of Philippine cinema, especially about the recurrence of attempts to make films in a different voice. (I avoid using the “i-word” here for that reason.) Erwin’s comments are telling–these debates have been going on for a long time. But these debates, much like the slogans for the posters I often see posted around the UP Diliman campus, endure, because in the eyes of some, we have not gotten to where we are about the true purpose of art. Here, Erwin has rightfully brought us back to the first question Tolentino asked: “For whom is art?”
Fortunately, Tagle’s reply did not directly address the ideological weight implicit in Tolentino’s question and critique. If art is meant for the masses, as a means of awakening their consciousness about their suffering and true condition of society and the need to overturn the status quo, then the art of Jamora and her peers have failed, and therefore should be disregarded. This is yet another example of Ricoeur’s characterization of Marx as a master of suspicion, where the suspicion is that art produced by the upper-middle, nay, upper class serves to keep the working class in their present state. (More generally, the suspicion is that the human condition is determined purely by hidden economic forces.)
Jamora’s film is remarkable because for a while there, the particular milieu of cinema from where it emerged was dominated by particularly strong voices that, implicitly or explicitly, privileged a particular understanding of society and art. For a different voice to emerge, from a different frame of reference, is to invite contention. Whether the quality of that expression is good or not is of course a matter of dispute, but whether an alternative understanding emerges to challenge that relationship, or to ask whether we should still persist in begging that question, is turning out to be a bit controversial. I think Jamora did not intend the film to deal with these questions, and I agree with Jerrold Tarog that her “agenda,” if one wishes, was quite simple–to tell a story from where she sits.
That sense of confidence that Ang Nawawala exudes, not only in how it told the story, but in the way the film’s makers compelled people to watch it, is what I suspect Tolentino is wary about. I hope that he and his fellow critics of a particular school would continue to write and criticize art, whatever its provenance. This should not stop Jamora and indeed other filmmakers from challenging the insularity of the counter-establishment that, for all the good it has done to address questions of injustice and inequality, is still singing from the same hymn-sheet of fifty years ago. Since then, the world has moved on.
In his review in Pinoy Weekly, Rolando Tolentino criticizes Ang Nawawala for not possessing any substance beyond the mere glorification of the upper class, projecting their lifestyle as an object of desire for its audience to consume. He says:
Purong pabalat at artifice—purong imahen—ang pelikula…pero hanggang imahen lang, walang substansya maliban sa transformasyon ng elitistang buhay bilang kanasa-nasa sa mas higit na mayoryang umaasam lang ng ganitong buhay.
While I agree that what made Ang Nawawala distinct in this year’s Cinemalaya is its romantic treatment of the elite (unlike, say, The Animals where the elite get their comeuppance simply for being rich), I have a lot of things to say about the accusations he has lobbied against this film, some of which come from a misguided sense of what he thinks independent cinema should be (which ironically, contradicts the very notion of an independent cinema).
To say that this…
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