Bring Me the Head of Jestoni Biag
by Don Jaucian
Posas (Shackled, 2012)
D: Lawrence Fajardo
S: Nico Antonio, Art Acuna, Jake Macapagal, Susan Africa
Intent on exposing the grime and the sweltering underbelly of Manila, Law Fajardo takes us to Quiapo in Posas. Quiapo holds a strange mix of fanatical reverence and repulsiveness, a reservoir of crooks, fortune tellers, and religious devotees. It becomes a playground for small-time thieves like Jestoni Biag (Nico Antonio), who play Robin Hood to their families by pickpocketing phones and selling them to sidewalk vendors for a fraction of their market price. It’s a way of life that’s already embedded in the narrow walkways of Quiapo, an unwritten truth that should appear in the margins of every Manila guidebook. But a fateful turn will find Jestoni robbed of his freedom and even the sound of the jail doors being unlocked will mean a harsher life ahead.
Posas unravels a tangled web of corruption that exists in our society in different degrees. Its characters make up the stock of its stereotypical world that burns with the myth of the bad cop that gives law enforcement the worst rap conceivable. There’s Grace (Bangs Garcia), the victim who wants to get her iPhone back lest an incriminating video showing her with a married lover turn into a viral video, and there’s the Kingpin police figure Inspector Domingo (menacingly portrayed by Art Acuña), whose office is as rife with criminals as the inside of the jailhouse is. His officers make a pass on Grace while straddling themselves with authoritarian and bureaucratic limitations, and as they crack Jess open (both literally and figuratively), the slogan “To serve and protect” that lines their vehicles dissolve into a puddle of words devoid of any of its original virtues.
Fajardo follows a procedural so tedious it becomes a long winding descent much like a day at any government agency. The film relies too much on its expose but never delves deeper into the depths of the moral bankruptcy it readily presents. Bursts of energy spike the film (like the intense chase scene in the streets of Quiapo), but they are never enough to flesh out the dark world that Fajardo has been so keen in exploring.
While it’s unfair to compare Posas with Fajardo’s better-received Amok, it’s the latter’s intense meditation on a world gone wrong that also forms the crux of the former. It’s Amok's fractured build-up that has made it such a thrilling ride, never mind its terse scrutiny that has all been done before. This is something that Posas lacks. Its tale is something we have all been familiar with and have been told in different forms.
It’s only Art Acuña’s Domingo that brings the nightmarish atmosphere into the film. Here is a man who goes through the loopholes of the system, tying ends for his nefarious ways. His case casts a greater evil that exists in the background of the film: voices that orchestrate crimes at the other end of the line. It’s this truth that makes Posas a compelling look into the chaos that surrounds us: that there is a bear trap lying in the seediest parts of the city, waiting for us to take a wrong turn so it could introduce us to a new circle of hell.