I can already imagine the compilers and editors of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die rushing to deliberate which film to boot off their current list to make way for Inception in the book’s next edition. Now this may all sound a bit hyperbolic, but I assure you that my apparently feverish excitement over the film is not at all unfounded. I am most certainly not alone in thinking that Inception is one of the best films, science fiction or otherwise, to come out in years.
I’ve seen it twice, and my mind was no less blown on one occasion than on the other. If anything, the film becomes more and more engaging with every viewing, which, concurrent to answering some or all of the questions that were formed in one’s mind during and after the previous viewing, sprouts even more brain-teasing ones. One wonders if Christopher Nolan had the Penrose infinite staircase, a three-dimensional representation of which appears in the film during a dream (for where else can a three-dimensional version of the object exist?), in that brilliant mind of his all the while he was writing Inception. His is a thinking man’s film that does not only require multiple viewings; it deserves them. His is a story with so much daring and so much cunning that it has managed to set minds abuzz and ablaze with intelligent discussions that run the gamut from the profoundly philosophical to the tremendously technical, in-depth analyses that are, outside of the recently concluded Lost and, to a lesser degree, Harry Potter, unprecedented.
Probably the hottest topic of discussion among those who’ve seen Inception is the now famous final scene, an ending showing the protagonist’s totem or personal indicator of the fidelity of his surroundings, an object that tells him whether he is in a dream or in reality. His object is a stylized top which when spun while in a dream, filled with impossible inertia, doesn’t stop rotating, but when spun in the real world behaves as expected, bowing to the laws of physics and ultimately falls and stops spinning. The debate stems from the fact that just when one thinks Dom Cobb, the protagonist, has finally reached the happy ending he desperately wants and deserves, one sees the scene panning to his totem, slowly revealing it as spinning wildly as though stationary, until it begins to wobble, and then… the scene cuts to black. One groans, then lets out a succession of wows, then claps, then contemplates for an indefinite amount of time this feat of legerdemain of an ending.
The gravity of this final scene is augmented by Hans Zimmer’s excellent piece called Time, which is also the final track in the original motion picture soundtrack album, the composer’s best since, well, last year’s idiosyncratic and playful Sherlock Holmes film score. Like the other tracks in the Inception score, the enigmatically and aptly titled Time is, true to the film’s main narrative device, suggestive of an altered state of consciousness, underscoring the dreamlike quality of the scene it plays over, besides being an amalgam of Paul Oakenfold’s ambience and Michael Giacchino’s breadth. The track also serves as the leitmotif of the film score, lending credence to the film’s obsession with the flow of time and its attendant hopes and illusions.
Time starts off slow as Cobb nods to his colleagues who helped him succeed in his last mission and prepares to make his way home, then it crescendoes in true Hans Zimmer fashion with a rise and fall in intensity, emotional and melodic both, and then suddenly becomes soft and silent, a meditation of the titular abstract concept as Cobb is finally reunited with his family, leading to a final, jarring and vaguely melancholy fall-off that coincides with the aforementioned cut-to-black effect, in turn signifying that the top neither stops spinning nor topples, that at that exact point in time, time itself is rendered irrelevant.
For Cobb, in that moment, there is only the now. It’s his wish to be with what’s left with his once complete and happy family again, to start over. It’s where he has finally found himself in. It is, in a manner of speaking, his dream. But also, in that moment, Cobb realizes he’s finished biding his time. He’s through battling his messed-up memories, simultaneously persistent and volatile. In the end, totem or no continuously spinning totem, it may as well be, for all intents and purposes, his reality. I’ve seen the movie twice, and I could swear that right after the scene is blacked out, there’s the sound of a stylized top tottering and ultimately falling. Like a wizened character said early on in the film, “Who are you to say otherwise?”
I always find myself half-satiated when I walk into a screening of Cinemalaya shorts. Every year, there has always been one or two bad films mixed with good ones. Fortunately, not one of the five films in this year’s Shorts A was atrocious.
Boca, Chavacano for mouth, is a study of oral fixation. It follows a jaded telemarketer named Charlemagne who is well on his way to 500,000 sticks of cigarettes smoked in his lifetime. His addiction, Charlemagne explains, is just a transference of his fixation from his mother’s breasts when he stopped drinking milk when he was 12 years-old. Director Zurich Chan’s use of visual metaphors and the Chavacano language give the film a suave, sexy, Wong Kar Wai-esque quality which piques the audience’s sensibilities.
Breakfast with Lolo is on a league of its own. Part tribute and part advertisement, Steven Flor’s short tells a delightful anecdote of a grandson taking his grandfather out for pancakes… and what glorious towers of pancakes they are. After viewing the movie, I had the sudden urge to check out Trigo Café in Diliman.
Janus Victoria’s Dalaw plays like a long diary entry in the life of a woman (Che Ramos) going back to stay with her grandmother. Both women are stricken with grief, which they briefly remedy with distractions such as the little hanging trinkets that bring them no true consolation. The women are much like the film’s other character, the Pasig river, as its steady current depicts their ebbing of emotions.
For his sophomore Cinemalaya entry, Borgy Torre’s Despedida seems a tad bit contrived. The film is technically superior on top of the poignant performances of its cast. This time, Angel Aquino plays a quirky muse to Michael, a guy chained to nursing his bedridden parents. Although Torre’s twist on a person’s dilemma between rationality and lust is both shocking and humorous, it somewhat lacks the compassion and humanity that his previous film, Bonsai, possessed.
Despite having protests against Jerrold Tarog’s ANC Ambisyon entry Faculty being included in this year’s roster, I will digress for the sake of the film’s impact. Tarog’s commentary on the nation’s crumbling educational system—shown through the divided polarities of teachers—is as sharp and as piercing as the brilliantly written dialogue thrown by the actors. Though the film takes no sides, its biting last line gives us a hope that changes do result from good education reinforced by strong values.
When Cinemalaya started back in 2005, the short films were vastly underrated. Instead of being grouped together and presented as the main attraction, they were used as primers for the films in the main competition. But mind you, this did not take away the intensity and the beauty of the stories told. In the past five years of Cinemalaya, I’ve seen some of the Philippines’ best, weirdest, most intellectual and downright absurd short films ever made. I laughed my butt off to Enrico Aragon’s Nine Ball, a tribute to the once popular Pinoy past time. I let out my share of smitten sighs to Milo Tolentino’s Andong, a story of a little boy and a television set. And I stared in shock at the last few minutes of Lawrence Fajardo’s Kultado, a grim crime flick set in a meat market.
Yet among all the shorts previously screened, these three stood out for me:
Babae (2005) Two girls from the slums grow up into two different individuals. One is a looker and the other is a lesbian. Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Babae is a film that celebrates the Filipina. The movie is feminist and yet it doesn’t shove its principles down the viewer’s throat. For something that’s barely an hour long, it was successfully able to showcase several of the facets and struggles of the everyday Filipina with much intensity, flare, and fun.
Doble Vista (2007) Who can deny the fact that Doble Vista is amateur cinematic pastiche at its best? Emphasizing style over substance, directors Nicia Alicer and Nix Lañas’s witty use of self-referential pop and alternative film tricks give life to the potentially idle story of a writer investigating the affair of his lover. Though claustrophobic with absurd amounts of pulp and style evident in its use of music, visuals, and dialogue, the movie breathes all thanks to a fresh twist so cunningly set up by the filmmakers.
Bonsai (2009) Borgy Torre’s Bonsai is a subtle charmer. Its glacial pacing creates an ample leeway to establish rapport between the audience and its lead—a chubby security guard who does his best to get the affection of the girl of his dreams. Just like the titular plant, the film is simple yet intricate. The light-hearted banter of the characters played by director Richard Somes and Angel Aquino, not to mention the pleasant mise en scène, serve as excellent veils for this short’s jaw dropping conclusion.