Today’s recco is Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (Butchered… literally!), a film that won Prix de la Mise en Scene for the director but was also trashed by Roger Ebert for reasons somewhat beyond my comprehension.
When one’s only previous experience with Filipino cinema is exploitation softcores made in the 80’s, it is easy to have misdirected expectations. But at the same time, Kinatay’s Cannes triumph led to conflicting expectations on my part. For a film that deals with familiar themes of corruption, poverty and crime, it had to offer something more to impress and thankfully Mendoza’s dark, gritty, minimalist and overwhelming realism achieves that objective effectively.
Kinatay shows a day in the life of a police academy student. He desperately needs money to marry his girlfriend and hence accepts a lucrative assignment for good money. As the night progresses he gradually discovers the actual motive of that assignmnet that involves abduction, rape and eventual murder of a prostitute (Please don’t consider it as a spoiler, there is more to this film).
To be honest, Kinatay does test the patience of its viewers. A lot of people walked out during the screening. First due to slow and tedious progress and extremely dark lighting and later on due to sex and violence which was considered explicit by some. I personally did not find them explicit but build up was definitely tiresome to an extent. Besides, the lighting, or the lack of it, can get into your nerves although no one can deny its realism.
In any case, Kinatay is a bold attempt simply because it does not compromise with its stark and bleak vision. There are no heroics and no preaching, just pure helplessness of a common man in a decadent system. Also, since I started by mentioning 80’s Pinay sexploitation films, here is a random piece of trivia, actress Marial Isabel Lopez, who plays the pivotal role here, was one of the major stars of that genre in the 80’s. You can check out Silip to see more of her along with one more favourite of mine, Sarsi Emmanuelle.