A Bewilderment of Lies and Half-truths

I Confess

“A clever person could easily negate a testament of truth.”

And it is. That’s why I won’t dare watch this pseudo art film again. This would only leave you with nausea, preaches of shallow ideologies and an insulting epilogue. Confessional is one of the films in exhibition in last year’s Cinema One Originals 2007. I have watched all five films. The films’ outcomes as well as the panel’s decision were disappointing. Although, it is totally understandable why many critics praised the film’s exploration of truth and how it conveyed a raw and intense brand of energy; that’s probably why it is hailed as one of the best pieces of contemporary cinema in the Philippines. But for me, the film’s message of truth was more of hype.

Frustrated and obsessed in seeking for the truth in work, relationships and society, Ryan Pastor, a documentary filmmaker made some time-off to look for it. Together with his girlfriend, he decides to join a documentary contest regarding the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City. Before he arrives in Cebu, Ryan had a quarrel with his girlfriend Monet and was left alone. Events suddenly took an awkward turn when he got to interview a former politician, Lito Caliso. Lito reasonably wants to confess important matters to the filmmaker. But Ryan shows reluctance.

Then, we get to see a showcase of the film’s sidelight: The Sinulog Festival. The narration of the protagonist is very much enmeshed in the entire film. We are being overwhelmed with his reactions, personal insights, and discomforts. Towards the end of act two, there is a back-story in a town in Mindanao. This is greatly connected to Lito’s personal decision to squeal all his sins. A school building project of Lito Caliso collapsed due to a weak foundation. Many people died, mostly children. We get a melodramatic side story from one of the victims, a teacher. The teacher is pregnant while her husband is being sought to kill a known politician. He certainly doesn’t want to do it. Not until the school collapsed burying his wife and unborn child. There is a total blackout in the screen, the audience only hearing the sound of children screaming and crying for help. The husband decided to seek revenge. Then we are back again in Cebu where Lito recounted all his mistakes in front of the camera. There is a threat to his life; will he be able to tell-all before his time is over?

Overall, there is nothing fresh in this film. These are recycled ideas from some of my favorite lists of films and poetic jazz music. From the dark humor and shock value created by American Beauty, to the mockumentary and gutsy style of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, mixed with a similar voice over of Lourd de Veyra’s never ending rant about politics, society and drugs. And now we get a paranoid and discontented filmmaker searching for the truth in a plausible Utopian Society. Are we reaching for a paragon of selfish ideologies? My intellectual capacity was devalued to its dehumidified depths by the films’ expositions. Everything it was trying to show is already common knowledge. Politicians might be corrupt. Politicians do murder. Liars are everywhere. Relationships tarnish. These are all possibilities and truths.

I don’t want to argue about Confessional’s deflationary theory of truth. That the proposition ‘Lies + Lies = Truth’ is ‘true’. But when I viewed the film, how could I submit myself with their proud proposition? This is why I detest Confessional because of the entire message. But we cannot argue, as the film implies so. Confessional believes we are that indolent and accepting. Are we are in some sort of Spanish Era Part Two? Like we are in dire need of enlightenment? Confessional insinuates to us all the horrifying truths about life but in the end we would hear it say: What the heck! You know, it’s all smoke and mirrors. The entire scenario itself does not require such grandiose exhibition. This film deserves no praise for its foolishness.

I believe films are the wrong medium for truth. According to Wikipedia, truth is subjective, relative, objective or absolute. This difficult material is better written and published. I personally have no distaste for self-ideologies or political convictions. As a matter of fact, I personally liked Ayn Rand’s statements on Objectivism, Jose Saramago’s subject matters on human condition and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn revelations on Soviet Communism afflictions. These artists were hailed in their respective fields. Given that the film was written, it still does not level to these literary compositions, neither does it approach the edge of it. But one thing I did like in this film is its musical scoring. It is pleasing and could be of a quality soundtrack.

Confessional is by far the most illogical and ridiculous film made in previous years. It’s merely the first mockumentary film made in the Philippine shores, nothing more. Within its genre, let’s compare it with Borat, which I did like. Borat tries to find levity in a subject that is difficult and politically taxing, the subject of racism. It tried to illuminate the truth through humor, or at least tried to poke fun at it through racial slurs and outrageously detestable situations. It made people say, “Yeah, the world is like that, haha.” Through the film, people saw something primal, and they laughed. As for Confessional, what did this film try to accomplish? Was it being too ambitious or self-indulgent? Why was the audience initially captivated? Humans have a theoretical affliction towards the truth. Once we encounter artists who supposedly proffer it to us in a form wrapped and decorated for our viewing pleasure we naturally applaud. But once confronted by the truth, without embellishment, without ornamentation, will humans really be that pleased. One might say that vomit is too polite a response.

When the closing credits rolled, I swiftly leave the theatre as I was experiencing a minor headache because of all the ‘fine art’. Much to my expectation, the audience was so amazed. They clapped and cheered. Was it a sarcastic gesture towards my departure?

Charlie Koon's Rating:

• Confessional won 7 awards in Cinema One Originals 2007.
• Confessional won 5 awards in 24th PMPC Star Awards.
• Confessional won Best film in 10th OSIAN's CINEFAN in New Delhi, India.


Jerrold Tarog said...

thank you for this well-written negative review. the critics who liked the film saw the bright side, you saw the dark. right from the start, we knew there will be a few people who will look past the flashy technique and the words and call the entire thing a sham, or a bluff.

maybe it is, maybe it isn't.
that's the whole point.

"the trick is in what one emphasizes."


- Jerrold Tarog

Charlie Koon said...

enough of this.. :)

i'll be waiting for your 'money film'.


chard bolisay said...

i greatly enjoyed the film more than you did, charlie, but i did understand your point. i don't find it illogical or more so, ridiculous, just because it is not fresh according to you. sadly, the films you mentioned and compared it with are foreign, which probably accounts for varied things. its bravery is enough for me - - and laughing about its mockery of politics is gratifying, it's the probably the best reaction in the world.

Charlie Koon said...

noted. :)

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