By: JONATHAN CATUNAO
LESSON 1: DON’T BE TOO ‘AMERICAN’
Sweden’s Let The Right One In (2002) is a vampire movie that wanted to be faithful to old vampire lores and stick to the gore and darkness of the novel from which it is adapted. In one scene, the vampire went inside the room of her friend uninvited and came dripping blood from her eyes. During post-production, the sound editors and the directors went through a hotly contested debate on whether to remove the glaring sounds and horror music accompanying the pivotal scene. The author intervened and prevailed when he explained that the intrusion of the sound and music is not faithful to the Swedish vampire folklore because it sounds “too American”. The sounds and music were removed and what resulted was a quiet and powerful scene on acceptance and bonding between the two tragic lovers.
The Swedish vampire drama went on to become the 15th greatest film of World Cinema according to Empire magazine and went on to win accolades worldwide. Ebert described it as “a vampire drama that not only succeeded as a horror film but also as an art film” and if not for a technical controversy by the Swedish selection committee, the film could have hands-down won the Best Foreign Language trophy during the 2002 Oscars where it was a top betting favourite even before production was completed. There was public uproar but still a sensational national achievement for Sweden, simply because the writer, director and editors refused to sound and look “too American”.
LESSON 2: IDENTIFY YOUR COUNTRY
INFERNAL AFFAIRS (HONGKONG). In 2002, Hongkong produced what is arguably its greatest movie of all time – a police thriller worthy of comparison with classics French Connection and the Godfather. Infernal affairs became a monster critical and commercial success and the buzz was getting louder and louder for Andy Lau – director and actor – to receive the Best Foreign Language trophy for Hongkong come Oscars time because of unprecedented worldwide acclaim for its grit and twists.
When the announcement of the top five nominees were released, Infernal Affairs was shockingly dumped by the academy in favour of China’s HERO, a staple martial art movie set in ancient China. Shocked was the entire world of cinema but when the smoke was cleared the reason was obvious. ‘Hero’ might be an inferior film, but for the Academy voters it fits the bill needed for the category – a representation of the culture and ethnicity of the representing country.
The same attributes cannot be said of Infernal Affairs, which is set in Hongkong but could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood or European action flick with its coat and tie investigators and suave cars and gadgets.
Many years after, ‘Hero’ is nowhere the worldwide acclaim that is enjoyed furiously by Infernal Affairs. Countless international awards, wide influence in the police thriller genre and a Martin Scorsese remake with Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon. The last laugh is with the genre-twisting police thriller.
But director-actor Andy Lau must still be hurting inside, “ yes, we had everything, but not the bald golden guy.” Better luck next time Andy and remember, identify your country.
LESSON 3: SEND YOUR SUPERSTARS
What would be an Oscar without the red carpet featuring the brightest and biggest stars in the world? Ever wonder why Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and George Clooney and Steven Spielberg are constantly making it to the nominations list even with sub-par film projects while the likes of Lars Von Trier, Gerard Depardiue and other great but lesser popular talents will never ever set their feet on the carpet?
In beauty pageants they call it the sash factor – Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Philippines.
In the Oscar race, they call it the superstar factor.
And even in the arena of Best Foreign language, the more internationally famous your name is, the more chances your films will get noticed. Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Pedro Almodovar, Fernanda Montenegro, Ingmar Bergman, Sophia Loren, Ang Lee, Marcello Mastrianni, Kate Winslet. Sure, they are talented and great and deserving. But let’s face it, they get nominated again and again because they are big, charismatic stars and in Sally Field’s words, Americans love them. They really love them!
If the Film Academy of the Philippines isn’t still aware, there is one film in the shortlist that has two of the most famous Asian names in world cinema now. The director is one of the few Asians to have won the prestigious Cannes Best Director trophy and the lead actress is a revered screen legend all over the world, CNN calling her “the Golden Girl of Philippine Cinema”. The director is Dante Mendoza and the actress is Nora Aunor. Their film is Thy Womb.
These are the types of foreign stars Hollywood want in their red carpet shots. These are the stars we should send.
LESSON 4: KNOW THE ACADEMY VOTERS
Yes. You guessed it right. Most academy voters are old-school, traditional and yes, senior people whose taste for cinema does not always enjoy the vote of progressive movie critics’ organizations who are always searching for trailblazing and groundbreaking film products.
It is no secret that in 2005, Ang Lee’s heartbreaking Brokeback Mountain was robbed of the Best Picture award because the conservative academy voters isn’t ready yet to recognize an all-out gay movie. The year 2012 saw one of the most boring line up of winners with a Lincoln bio-pic and escape fare Argo winning major awards over the wonderful yet dark drifter movie Master and the fairy tale-like Beasts of the Southern Wild.
The same ‘rule’ applies for the Foreign Language Category. In 2001, France’s Amelie was a lock to grab the Best Foreign Language trophy with its fairy-tale rendition of a young woman’s search for her happiness. This delightful movie was so endearing it is now considered a classic and is ranked number 2 just behind Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in Empire’s 100 Greatest Cinema of the World.
Delightful, original, whimsical. NO to the academy.
YES to No Man’s Land about the Bosnian war. In case you haven’t read the memo, old people still love war movies.
LESSON 5: LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST
Ang Pilipinas ang isa sa pinakamasigasig magpadala ng representative para sa Oscars Best Foreign Language Category taon-taon. Pero bakit wala pa tayong nominasyon kahit isa man lamang?
The group of important people tasked to identify the Philippine representative should take note of the mistakes of the past administrations in selecting the Philippine entry.
Imagine this mind-boggling statitistics. For 28 years from 1956 to 1984, only four – yes you heard it right, 4 films were sent. Anak Dalita, Moises Padilla, Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak and Ganito Kami Noon.
This is the period of the so-called Golden Era of Philippine movies, a time when the Philippines is the envy of the East for its seminal outputs from Brocka, Bernal and De Leon. Any one among the following Cannes, Berlin and international festival toasts could have easily locked in our first Oscar nomination way back then – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, Insiang, Himala, Kisapmata, Bona, Oro, Plata, Mata.
Question: Why where they not sent?
Two words: Marcos dictatorship. No explanation needed. Indeed a dark regrettable part of our film history. A sad way to look back at the lost chances for our great cinema.
But when Cory freed the movies, were the people assigned truly freed from politics in making the choices? Now that the selection of entries is left entirely to the movie people, is it truly, genuinely politics free?
Listen to this and prepare to be shocked:
Since 1984, the FAP sent 1 Brocka, zero Bernal, zero Lav Diaz, zero Brillante Mendoza, zero Mike De Leon and drumroll please… 2 Tikoy Aguiluz, 3 Gil Portes and 3 Marilou Diaz Abaya films. Even awful Chito Rono of that disaster Healing had one-upped the greatest Philippine film directors.
Overdriven melodrama Anak favoured over seminal Bayaning 3rd World
Political son Carlitos Sigueon Reyna’s Inagaw ang Lahat favoured over Cairo winner Flor Contemplacion
Dumb World War II drama Gatas over cinema great Batang West Side
And can anyone top this?
Despicable Ded na si Lolo over sublime Venezia finalist Lola.
THOSE WHO DO NOT LEARN
To some cineastes, the Oscars is nothing. But to many Filipinos, even those non-film lovers, the Oscars is still the most important recognition for this country in the field of movies. Think Olympics, think Miss Universe, think NBA, think Pacquiao. Win an Oscar for the Philippines today, will be National Hero tomorrow.
On September 14, the Film Academy of the Philippines selection committee headed by Leo Martinez will choose among outstanding Filipino movies shown in 2013 our country’s representative for the 2014 Oscar Best Foreign Language category.
The 8 shortlisted titles are led by Venezia winner Thy Womb and Cannes thriller On The Job. Other contenders are Boses, TikTik, Supremo, El Presidente, Dance of the Steel Bars and Tuhog.
But one films stands out as the best bet for that elusive Philippine Oscar glory.
Will the Film Academy of the Philippines send this movie and give our country the fighting chance it deserves?
An old adage goes: “Those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat it.”
To the Film Academy of the Philippines, I have presented five lessons in history. And you know what I mean.
Please read and listen.
And never repeat the mistakes of our past.