Monday, August 4, 2014


Movie Review: HUSTISYA


Hannibal Lecter: Hello Clarice. Have the lambs stopped screaming?

Clarice Starling: Dr. Lecter!

Hannibal Lecter: I do wish we could chat longer, but... I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye.

(Lecter hangs phone.)

Telephone conversations that are as horrifying as the finale of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ doesn’t come very often in films. It took almost a quarter of a century for me to find another movie where the phone conversation is the very central core of the terror that is happening.

In a riveting scene in Joel Lamangan’s highly engrossing Cinemalaya X entry ‘Hustisya’, Biring (Nora Aunor), after realizing what had just transpired, took a phone out of her bag, dialled a number and said, “Hello Chief”.

In the 'Silence of the Lambs', a cannibal psychopath makes a phone call and warns of more horror and deaths to come. Terrifying.

In 'Hustisya', a mob queen calls a top ranking military official and ensures the cycle of corruption and crime is unabated. Terrifying.

Terror is the name of the game for Vivian (Rossana Roces), the queen of a syndicate who hijacks young men and women to be sold into prostitution and Biring is her trusted right-hand woman. Initially, Biring did not approve of the nature of her distant relative’s business but eventually grew deeper and wiser into the criminal organization and like any former apprentice, she becomes a threat to her master. In both ‘The Departed’ and ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, Leonardo Di Caprio and Zhang Ziyi respectively play protégées to powerful mentors that eventually became their rivals after the mentors have gone out of control while the apprentices grew deeper in the tricks of the trade.

But if ‘The Departed’ and ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ have Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee on the helm to create world-class dramatizations, ‘Hustisya’ is bound to be crippled by a director who has the reputation for wrecking havoc on otherwise brilliant materials because of his excessive self-indulgence. “Sidhi’ was a Palanca winning play about gender inequality before it became a barren melodrama that resembles that of a cheap teleserye than a serious Nora Aunor starrer. ‘Bakit May Kahapon Pa’ was a serious attack on the militaristic excursions of the government before it became a trying-hard Brocka wannabe.

Then Ricky Lee introduced humor.

While critics will definitely be blown away by yet another above-genius delivery from Aunor, the real star of the film is Ricky Lee’s funny screenplay and dark undertones. Talk of Coen brothers. Talk of Alexander Payne.Talk of comedy as a tool to tackle the darkness in the human heart. Yes, Sir Ricky you took us there.

In fact, 2 hours into the movie about human trafficking, moral depravity, drug abuse, imperialism and all the social maladies you can think of, there were no tear-jerking melodramatic moments ala-'Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan' and there were no violent repeated stabbing scenes ala-'Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan'.

And you’re tackling the decadence of Manila? Not full of drama? Not full of violence?

Full of comedy. Yes. From Biring offering Vivian’s ‘pangkamot’, to Shunshine Dizon asking ‘paano ang asawa ko’ after having shattered their entire china, to Biring telling her grandson about his drug use, ‘alam na ng Nanay mo, di niya lang alam ang gagawin’, Ricky Lee was at his most brilliant.

But then the screenplay cannot stand on its own alone without the swift rendition of great actors. And as it turned out, the entire cast is a comedy riot. Nora Aunor, Rocco Nacino, Rossana Roces, Chynna Hortaleza, Sunshine Dizon, Gardo Versoza,Tony Mabesa and Miles Kanapi in a scene stealing turn, together created a terrific acting ensemble of remarkable characters all benefitting from the blood of innocent young men and women. Unfortunately, the weakest characters are that of Romnick Sarmenta’s idealistic journalist and his equally idealistic polio-stricken son. There is something really wrong when the most exciting character in a movie deploring moral decay exhales to the sound of ‘hindot’ and ‘libog’ while the most boring are those that insists, “Gusto kong ipagmalaki ng anak ko na hindi tumatanggap ng suhol ang ama niya.”

I can’t think of a more ostracized director than Joel Lamangan. To many, he is a visual assault to the senses especially when pitted against the subtle works of Jeffrey Jeturian or the meticulous rituals of Lav Diaz. In fact, this writer personally thinks Joel should be charged with crimes against humanity for such atrocities as ‘Sidhi’ and ‘Bakit May Kahapon Pa?”.

And like the gathering dark clouds on the horizon, the bad Lamangan threatens. The snatching scene while Biring was eating at a turo-turo was awful, awkward and yeah, puke-worthy. So Lamangan back at his wayward ways in Hustisya? For the most part of the film, NO. He was able to properly tame his elements, creating sufficient drama while maintaining humor in the air as prescribed by Ricky Lee’s script.

And there is the coup de grace that could finally end the mockeries that have hounded Joel Lamangan’s reputation and make critics rethink their regard on the infamous Arnofzky of the Philippines. A glorious slow motion close-up shot that will not easily be forgotten in the annals of Philippine Cinema history.

In the film’s finale, Biring, now the syndicate head is celebrating her birthday in a lavish party attended by the mob bosses, their political sponsors and business partners. In the middle of entertaining guests, Biring was interrupted by Atty Gerald, played with suave and danger by Rocco Nacino, and whispered something to her ear.

Biring laughed uncontrollably but the slow images show miniscule grimaces between wide grins.

“Ano ang ibinulong ni Attorney kay Biring?”

I do not need to know. Because one thing is sure and the grimace betrays the truth. That for choosing a life of crime, no matter what comes in her way, no matter what she hears, no matter what she says, from hereon, she will forever be unhappy. Filthy. In need of a cleaner.

In need of ‘Chief’.

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