Film Review: HUSTISYA
By Jonathan Catunao
“Academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion. Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.” --- Werner Herzog
I am a big fan of movie critics. In fact, I owe a big chunk of my soul’s nourishment to the minds of people like Roger Ebert, Oggs Diaz, Noel Vera and Richard Corliss. Had I not discovered film criticism, I would still be a fan of Fernando Poe Jr, Sharon Cuneta and Lito Lapid. Had I not opened my eyes to the fact there are good cinema and bad cinema, I would not be bathing in the intellectual sunlight of the French and Spanish Film festivals in Greenbelt and Shangrila. Had I not joined my UP dormmates as they drag me to watch the then-obscure-to-me ‘Silence of the Lambs’, I would not have known that cannibals do not only devour people, they also look handsome and blurts out quotable quips.
But if my intellect studies cinema, it is my soul that engages with it. The moment the lights are out, everything and everyone disappear – including film critics. What is left is the big screen in front of me. The characters and their plights.
In Hustisya’s case, this is applied. I was not able to join the CCP gala night for health reasons and was only able to watch it the day after at Trinoma. Travelling on the bus from Laguna to Quezon City, I scrolled through early reviews and read some private messages from well-meant fellow Noranians who are not enthusiastic about the finished product. My film buddy Janna was getting our reserved tickets and on the way we have prepared ourselves for the worst. “Initial reviews ng ilang mga Noranians mismo eto as usual daw, hindi daw pulido si Joel”. "And unanymous ang lahat including non-Noranian critics-- napakagaling daw ni Guy for portraying evil in a humanistic way, di ko alam ibig nilang sabihin but that we have to see”. These are actual messages in our inboxes sent as I travel to Trinoma.
Joel Lamangan is what I call the most reckless Nora director ever. Gusto ko siya laging sabihang, “My idol is not a pig!” for messing up many Nora films. I know this by heart. If there is an NFF member who loathes him openly, isa na ako dun. His ‘Bakit May Kahapon Pa’ is a mash-up of ‘Fatal Attraction’, ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’and ‘Kill Bill’. ‘Death Row’ is a poor pirated version of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. It’s a good thing most Vilmanians are busy with defaming Nora Aunor on the web than researching their idol’s materials because had they been reading and watching movies enough, they would have known that in ‘Mano Po 3’, their idol was made by Joel to impersonate Meryl Streep in ‘Bridges of Madison County’.
So we went there with only one mission. Nora Aunor. With early buzz of yet another great performance from Nora Aunor, Janna and I had enough reason to get excited for the movie. After all, if we were able to endure the trash ‘Ekstra’, we can surely entertain ourselves with the Nora Aunor magic tricks inspite of the ‘trash’ ‘Hustisya’.
The movie was scheduled at 6:30 pm at Trinoma. As early as 5:45, there was already a long line. We were allowed to enter at 6:10. The posh cinema house was like a city engulfed by waves of ants as the ticket holders rushed to get their seats. There were a group of Noranians being herded by the heroic and dashing doctor Vener, but I noticed a lot of young people in the audience. Not high school young but maybe college or young professionals. Except for some giggling Noranians looking for their seats, one even surprised that, “may seat number pala sa ticket!”, there was no major commotion during the start of the screening. (I learned of the minor altercation with security guards and some Noranians outside the movie house after the screening when I met up with Doc).
The lights went off. The Cinemalaya vinta logo appeared. The title ‘Hustisya’ and Joel Lamangan’s name is flashed.
First scene was a top view of Quiapo area with the giant Mercury Drug electronic billboard and Quiapo bridge. Among the vehicles crossing the iconic bridge is a van. Inside the van is Nora Aunor as Biring, looking irritated as her boss’ lover Gardo, played by Gardo Versoza canoodles her boss Vivian, Rossana Roces.
“Baka tigasan ka na naman niyan, itigil mo yan”, Vivian warns flirty Gardo. Biring looks irritated and she is not holding back. She makes sure that with her uncomfortable wigglings and furious stares, Gardo and Vivian know she is not pleased. Biring even managed to blurt out some expletives referring to the shameless lovers. In Bicolano dialect, I think she said something like, “Ang lilibog, di na mahiya,”
There was laughter all around. From that point, from that van ride, we knew we are not about to watch the darkest nor the most tear-jerking Nora Aunor movie of all time, in the mold of ‘Condemned’ or ‘The Flor Contemplacion’. We are watching Dolphy, este Vice Ganda, este comic Nora.
From that point, the entire cinema was in for the ride including me and Janna.
Yes. There was the evil crime of human trafficking. There are EDCA’s and Imperialisms. There are blowjobs on the streets and pimps peddling little girls like mineral water bottles being sold on bus stations. There are the family travails of Biring. There are dark underground mafia-like organizations and politicians as co-horts. There is even a priest expecting money from the syndicate to build a church in Bicol. Dark issues.
But then, there is that pesky illegal recuitment victim that Vivian wants to starve, "ang kulit ng isang yan, wag pakainin at baka lumakas, makahawa pa ng iba”
Then there is that obnoxious mendicant.
That petty thief stealing the show from Biring who is stealing another item too.
That sing-along inside the city jail and that jail bully who wants a perfect 100 in her videoke score or someone will be beaten or raped.
That lesbian lover who is a sabungan ‘kristo’.
That catatonic woman who murders her father for raping her daughter and finally joining the musical number featuring ‘Pusong Bato’.
The John Rendez reference. The Nora self-parody in ‘Akin na ang notebook ko!”. The Biring sexual innuendos to hunky lawyer Gerald and that sexy Rocco Nacino look.
There are loopholes as well.
But when the entire cinema is breaking out with laughter. When you can hear a humanity of feet stomping the Trinoma floors. When iphones are being dropped because people are jerking unstoppably. When the entire audience wants to be a part of Biring’s Motley Crew, who cares about loopholes?
Messy? I don’t think so. And I am not the type to insist my interpretations but for this one, allow me to give my interpretations.
The throwing of money at the City Hall tower. For me, this isn’t real. This is a dream moment. Lamangan cannot be allowed to have a dream scene? And the awful ‘Great Beauty’ who is 90% dream scenes rewarded with the Oscar Best Foreign Language trophy?
The Liwasang Bonifacio EDCA and wisdom scene. Biring is now on top of the world. She stands at the corner of Liwasang Bonifacio where an anti-EDCA rally is taking place. A van stops. Attorney Gerald comes out and ask her, “Bakit mo ako pinatawag?”. Biring pleads, “Bigyan mo ako ng libro. Nasisikipan na ako sa bago kong tirahan. Walang hangin. Kailangang magbasa ako. Kailangang malaman ko ang mga lugar kung saan natin dinadala ang mga babaeng ating kinikidnap.” – unnecessary? Unrealistic scene? Of course not. This is not real. This is a conscience sequence and this is very powerful because by the time this scene arrived, we all are already drawn into our antagonist’s pathetic life. In fact, some tears might have even come out of the audience’s eyes during that scene.
But the film wasn’t all about dreams and punchlines. Like any black comedies, the punchlines and the slapsticks moments of the good-for-nothing gang cannot totally mask the darkness. In ‘Hustisya’, comedy is a medium. Sorrow is the theme.
During the party, while Chynna was very serious with her new life as Biring’s right-hand woman, Biring is no longer the cranky Biring when she was still an assistant to Vivian. She is now the boss. She is now loose. She is now easy. Biring has everything. And nothing.
At the powerful finale, Joel Lamangan shot a close-up of Nora Aunor laughing furiously. Her minute grimaces and the swelling tears in her eyes cut across the cinema hall like a sword piercing the heart. We have been laughing all the time, but we were all dead quiet during Biring’s slow motion laugh at the end.
It is because we are all shocked and grieving for her fate. And for the fate of her victims. And for the fate of this nation.
As she began laughing, the Trinoma crowd broke in a massive applause. Janna and I were gasping and broken. The applause continues until the final frame, the frozen close-up shot of Biring’s face, her mouth open, her eyes shut, her back turned against all the people she now rule.
Great endings are not great because they are great.
Great endings are great because the movie is great.
Like ‘The Usual Suspects’.
Like ‘A Dangerous Liaison’.
Like ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.
In watching those great movies, I went inside with the knowledge of the critics and the passion of a movie lover.
In watching ‘Hustisya’, I went inside with the opinions of the critics but with my passion as a movie lover.
And like anything in my life, passion prevailed.