KINATAY (Brillante Mendoza, 2009)
I have seen Brillante Mendoza's SERBIS (At Your Service) and liked its take on Philippine cinema vis a vis family as intertwined; I have also seen his TIRADOR (Slingshot) and admired it for its wit and ferocity; so when the first few minutes of KINATAY (The Execution of P) unfolded, I wasn't certain where Mendoza is headed, until I realized that what seemed as random events are actually metaphorical devices for later events in the film; the mass wedding at city hall, the classroom discussion about police procedure, and the image of a child so innocent- all have ripple effects for later occurrences.
KINATAY, as the second half begins proves to be a difficult experience to go through. Coco Martin plays Peping, a criminology student suddenly pitted in the shadowy underworld of unspeakable violence. Throughout the film we see his transformation from optimistic to disillusioned, from confident to fearful. Via carefully mounted stylistic shots, especially during that lengthy van scene, Mendoza was able to transfer his lead character's paranoia into the viewer's psyche. Having just witnessed his companions kidnap and brutalize a prostitute (Maria Isabel Lopez), Peping grows weary with every mile of road taken, every police siren heard, and every moment of that deafening silence inside the limited confines of a van. Claustrophobia and paranoia are the desired effect, and thanks to the superb sound by Albert Michael Idioma and score by Teresa Barrozo, both intentions are well-achieved.
The story is plain and simple: a bunch of cops kidnap a prostitute who's run afoul with them (the vivid reason why is anybody's guess) while an aspiring policeman becomes an unwilling accessory to crime. As the woman is beaten, tortured, raped, and hacked to pieces (hence the title), the onlooker becomes a part of her degradation. The viewer (that's me and you), once just mere observers cannot help but be consumed by what's going on. We become accessories as well.
KINATAY, more than just a mood piece and a haunting depiction of law enforcement, is also a peek into humanity in general. The film enables us to see what man is capable of, and in traditional Mendoza style of humor, we see the bastards order lechon kawali after performing the grisly murder. The chopping of the pork and the image of the cops hacking the prostitute come together. Moreover, Mendoza has defined these cops as a bunch of pigs based on the image itself.
The film also challenges us what to make of the scenes presented: will we become a part of the problem, or the solution? Armando Lao's script takes quite a bleak, but maybe realistic perspective: the final scene where Peping is torn whether or not he should return to the cab which had a flat tire earlier is a very powerful image of his choice if he should descend into darkness, or remain in the light.
On a footnote, any self-respecting Filipino who's well-versed with Metro Manila can tell that the journey taken by the van during the second half leads nowhere. They start at Roxas Boulevard, went to Paranaque, then later at EDSA Guadalupe, then Aurora Boulevard in Cubao towards Marikina, then back at EDSA only to arrive at North Luzon Expressway. It's either they are shaking a tail, or the driver is lost.
But then again it's just a movie, and I know it had to be done for dramatization purposes. What Brillante Mendoza did with our sense of orientation in FOSTER CHILD I will not forgive, though.
OK enough about the location inaccuracies.