Neck Deep in Shit
by Don Jaucian
Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (2011)
D: Marlon Rivera
S: Eugene Domingo, Kean Cipriano, J.M. De Guzman, Cai Cortez
Ang Babae sa Septic Tank starts with trash, or specifically, shit. There’s a shot of a girl pooping in a dumpsite while a poor kitty strays just beneath her bum, smelling the package that she just unloaded. For the film’s entire running time, we see a lot of shit happen unfold on screen. But it’s not the kind of shit that you think. And just by the number of the word “shit” in the first paragraph of this review you’ll probably get the notion that Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is all about shit, and it’s pretty much true.
To ambitious filmmakers Bingbong and Ranier, making a film with a decent narrative and clear cut directing is not enough. It has to be an international film fest bait. (“Ang indie filmmakers ngayon parang tourists!” says one of the film’s characters.) That’s why for their “ambitious” film, Walang Wala centers on squalor so gritty it clings to your skin. The houses are so close, they almost collide into each other.
In a way, the entire setting is the sea of poverty porn films in today’s film industry. They’re too many you can’t even distinguish them from one another. They also almost use the same actors, something that Septic Tank showed when the filmmakers were discussing who to cast for their lead actress, choosing among the three most in demand “indie” actresses: Cherry Pie Picache (“Too mestiza!”), Mercedes Cabral (“Is it believable that she has seven children?”), and Eugene Domingo. Of course, they pick Domingo, on the basis that she looks dirt poor.
Hinting on the pedigree and make of numerous poverty porn films, especially the ones that have garnered attention abroad, the filmmakers in Septic Tank exhausts all the possible treatments, the cliched ones anyway, to make their story, in the words of poster blurbs, “hard-hitting,” “poignant,” and “gripping.” The movie turns into a badly lit neo-realist film (“The shakier the camera, the better!), a musical, and a vehicle for product placements and endless overacting (which Domingo calls “TV Patrol acting”).
Septic Tank warrants an extensive discussion about the state of independent filmmaking in the country. They use the word “indie” too many times you’d think it’s a mantra that will magically qualify their film for the Oscars. Is it a topic too taboo for the entire film industry that the only way to talk about it is to make fun of it? Martinez and Rivera succeeds in this light, armed with a script (written by Martinez) so hilarious your lungs will probably do a, to quote Thysz Estrada, J. Lo (On the Floor), from laughing at pretty much everything that these bastards say.
But despite the numerous gags and witty one-liners you know it has something to say about independent cinema and filmmaking itself that makes you uncomfortable your only resort is to laugh at it.