La La Land

No doubt about it, La la Land was pure escapism. I was smiling all throughout the film, especially during that waltz among the stars. But mainly, I think it is just the chemistry of the actors that made the film so captivating. There wasn’t much story here but the way that little love story was told reminds me that all great stories aren’t really great, they were just told with a heart that felt them to the core. And this was one of those stories.

The director’s (Damien Chazelle) love for musicals is so apparent in this film that his references for all the movie routines can easily be recalled even if he did not provide the stills. See this link.  I’ve seen four of these musical references, and there’s a reason why all of them are considered classics.

So what can i say about this LA LA Land movie experience? I’m so glad i watched it. As for those saying it is overrated for the Oscars….Well, it had me at its soundtrack (all that jazz) and at the original theme song “Fools who Dream!” (Plus, I really like the idea of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as lovers.) Those who voted for the film are probably all “fools” since they are in the business of “movie making.” So this is something they can perfectly relate to.  Let them give their loudest applause.



Once inside the cinema by 12:00 PM on January 2, I was sleepy and had to fight my sleepiness until the end of the film “Die Beautiful”. Do I like the film? I don’t know enough film vocabulary to articulate  why the film did not meet my expectations. But I realized that I have no idea what those transgenders go through in real life until this film. The fearless head-on fight for transgender definition and existence gave me something to puzzle about: Is Patrick’s (Aka Trisha Echaverria)  father the only one feeling weird  and hostile toward transgenderism? When does one merely patronize such difference and when does one genuinely acknowledge and accept that there aren’t just two genders? Clearly, this movie had me thinking about my own attitude about transsexuals.

At 3:00 PM, I watched “Babae sa Septic Tank 2 (#forever’snotenough)”. This satire did not make me laugh as much as I expected since the first Babae Sa Septic Tank film in 2012 was so funny. But it made me weigh the extremes – Pop or Indie? What’s wrong with Pop, Uge asks, and there is precisely what’s wrong with it. Nobody asks questions about it is what’s wrong with it. But why poke at pop when Indie isn’t totally innocent of sometimes similar schemes of profit and escapism, although on a lower budget?

There are four characters in this film, representative of film collaboration hierarchy – the actress, the director, the producer, and the line and staff assistant. Who calls the shots? In making movies in the Philippines, the actress isn’t just an actress. And many directors have compromised their visions in exchange for more mainstream jobs and popularity. The visionary director who gains recognition for the quality of her films and who doesn’t want to compromise her vision is asked, for whom really are the awards? Who gains if an Indie gets international recognition while a great number of local moviegoers won’t see it? People forget their problems when they watch their favorite actors act out even dumbly thought out roles. Why should they crave for other than entertainment in the movies? For most of us, that’s the point of going to the movies. What’s wrong with escaping reality for about two hours?


But in fact, the motivation for any formula movie isn’t to meet the problematic’s need for escape, but to ensure maximum profit for the film producer.  At the end of this film, the prized actress, who for the whole duration of the film was in a high end spa, was doused with human wastes from a septic tank. The statement is loud and clear – “we’re for the visionary Indie films here” and this statement damns everything, from soap-acting, commercial casting, cliche cinematography, predictable plotting, and profit-driven moviemaking.

Curiously though, in both these films  I missed some real laughter and tears. I missed the catharsis.

My best film is the documentary – “Sunday Beauty Queen”. The domestic helper’s beautiful way of coping with loneliness and isolation made me cry for every Filipino family waiting for an OFW relative who is unable to come to occasions of intimate bonding and kinship. I cried for every home broken by the stupid economy.

(As of this writing, I still hope to see ORO and Saving Sally).

Soledad Reyes on “The Romance Mode in Philippine Literature”

Soledad Reyes writes* that Philippine literature favored by more Filipino readers belong to the Romance mode. Preference for this mode, she argues, is consistent with the people’s desire to make sense of their lives as they consume literature with conventional formats. Yet most literary works in the Philippines are evaluated against their closeness to reality. Those criticisms measure literary works using catch phrases such as “texture of lived life” to give them a stamp of critical acclaim.

Criticism’s upholding of literature that mirrors reality dismisses works which are created for entertainment. Reyes says that this focus on the relationship of the writer to social realities tends to diminish the reader’s contribution in giving multiple meanings that enrich the text. The masses who consume more of the Romantic works become marginalized.

During the Spanish occupation, the awit and corrido which are local versions of European medieval romance were popular entertainment. Most early Filipino Romance novel’s structures are close to that of the awit and later novels repeated the same pattern. One of the earliest novels in the Philippines, Pedro Paterno’s Ninay (1885) projects a vision of a perfect society. Meanwhile, Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (1887) and El Filibusterismo (1891) reflect the social ills of the time. Further in their Romantic mode, these novels apply what critic Gillian Beer calls, as quoted by Reyes, a “peculiar vagrancy of the imagination.”

Romance mode stories are explicit in their depiction of motive and intention. The “idyllic or demonic” frame of such journeys involves highly stylized characters and supernatural beings. Character types abound, mostly two dimensional. There is always the polar good versus evil, poor versus rich, and ugly versus beautiful. A “symbolic view of the world” considers reality as simply the beginning because the unseen world exists. The relationships of animate and inanimate beings are legitimate concerns of the author-creator who expects a reading that is other than literal.

In medieval times, readers found allegorical associations and many layers of meaning in the narratives. But while they looked for deeper meanings in  tales of chivalry and idealized characters, around them, flawed beings perpetuate every imaginable evil. Thus Romance stories somehow also “reduced” complex realities “to the spectacle of the honor of princess and the virtue of knights.” Out-of-this-world romance tales also encouraged nostalgia for the “idealized setting far back in time” and “subverted the reality it could not reflect.”

As for Philippine realities not reflected in Romance novels, Reyes notes this may be the case on the surface. But she adds, “The text is never free for it is determined by the writer’s historical conditions and is therefore not to be banished into a realm outside time… the people who responded to the texts, and who were themselves producers of meaning are also bound to a definite historical moment.”

For the reader, escape is not for long, because the Romance mode will also force them to a new appreciation of reality.

Read Soledad Reyes translations of Filipino Classic Novels and  Other Translations.