Sunday, May 4, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW | Tulad ng Dati (2008)

Filipino films nowadays as a product of popular culture continues to entertain the mass on the surface level. At face value, it seems innocent but as an instrument with covert motives, film themes serve as oppressors of many who patronize them.

These themes instill ideologies regarding power dynamics in society – who should be at top and who should remain in the dirt, and more often than not, they (themes) are always for the benefit of those who are rich and powerful.

Cinemalaya as an independent Film Festival encourages cinematic works of Filipino filmmakers that boldly articulate and freely interpret the Filipino experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity[1], providing audiences with a different perspective on movie appreciation and show that films should not always be an agent of oppression. Like the two films I’m about to review, Tulad ng Dati and Batad, offers a paradigm shift that we can be thankful for.


TULAD NG DATI is the story of “The Dawn,” a rock band that became famous during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Featuring the band’s vocalist, Jett Pangan, together with his band members, the movie depicted how Jett accidentally lost his memory after being beaten by burglars in his house. He was unconscious for a while and when he woke up, all that he could remember were memories up to 1990.

Jett’s once plain and simple life as a vocalist, husband, father, friend, and most importantly as a human being suddenly became twisted. It was Jett’s dead friend, Teddy Diaz, who made some sense out of his entangled life. And after some time, although not fully recovered, Jett started fixing his mess and as the title implies everything went to back to normal (tulad ng dati) only this time, better.

The movie features amateur actors who played lead roles. Some of these are the band members of “The Dawn,” the daughter of Jett Pangan in the movie, and the members of Ratbunitata. On the other hand, stars who played supporting and secondary roles were Agot Isidro, Ping Medina, and Mylene Dizon.

The casting of ordinary actors as lead and stars as supporting I think was a deliberate attempt to make a statement that as an independent film, viewers would not get the usual and trite structure of a film. Tulad ng Dati is successful in this aspect.

Most of the acting however weren’t convincing enough and as an audience, I felt like the exchanges of dialogues were so artificial and scripted. For instance, the burglary scene where Jett discovers that there were burglars in his house; Jett’s reaction was disproportional for someone who found out that his house is being looted and it is so unlikely since you would not immediately plunge towards the crooks.

Jett should at least had for himself some armor like a gun or knife. These are just cognitive judgments to the actors’ performances. Nevertheless, even if the actors lack the convincing appeal, the director’s camera manipulation enhanced the performance styles. By cutting to a closer camera positions particularly the close-up shots, facial expressions were emphasized and the audiences were brought into the character’s emotional space.

For instance, the scene where Jett sits in his messy room after driving away from his family and subsequent realization that his former girlfriend was already married, was I think the best part of Jett’s acting. Using a close-up shot, the audience felt the turmoil that Jett was going through. After focusing on his gloomy face, he throws something on the mirror that resembles “The Dawn’s” icon and cutting to another close-up shows broken pieces of the material which indicates that things were not so good for Jett and “The Dawn.”

The design concept of Tulad ng Dati is generally anchored on the lifestyle of a rock band. So, the sets include small and confined rehearsal studio painted with amber, a dim-lighted bar which is also small, Jett’s medium sized house, and his messy room. Using this design, I think it was intended to evoke the small world of rock bands that always mingle with people and because they have unpredictable lifestyles, their relationship would at times be a messy and sticky situations.

One set though that oppose this symbolic association with gigs, fame, sex, and dwindling relationships is the outdoor set in the cemetery which became important in the film because this is where Jett talks with Teddy and express his dissatisfaction with life. The cemetery also is the set where Teddy, as a ghost made Jett realized how mysterious but beautiful life is. One symbolic association that could be derived from the cemetery location is the peace of mind humans seek that only death could provide.

The musical treatment was also effective. I like the director’s juxtaposition of the beginning and end of the film where “The Dawn” played their song and also ended with a song. It is like saying that life is like a song. We compose our songs and how we interpret the song composition is the way we want it to be –happy and colorful or sad and miserable.

Again as utilized in Requiem for a Dream, Tulad ng Dati has used time-lapse photography. The technique was effective on the scene where Jett is portrayed as slowly drifting into a hallucinatory stage after taking some drugs. Moreover, another shot technique visible is the quick and instantaneous change of one image or shot to another using jump-cutting with drastic change of time and place in the story. In a way, the audience were brought in a time warp and constantly solicited myriad of emotions – awe, horror, fascination. Featuring spatial fragmentation as well as radical discontinuity in time, the message of Teddy to Jett was intensified.

All in all, I enjoyed the film. I appreciate the humor that some of the actors like Francis and Ratbunitata provided given that this is a serious movie. I also enjoyed Mylene Dizon’s dialogues like, “I don’t want to make you bigla eh!" Furthermore, the message of the movie is clear – that our constant search for life’s meaning will never stop unless we accept the fact that we can never fully explain everything. What counts is how we live life, how we value the people we love and how we can be a blessing to others and not a pain in the ass.


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