Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: Forever is Not Enough

Coming up with a script for their new film called The Itinerary, director Rainier (Kean Cipriano) and line producer Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) attempt to woo demanding actress Eugene Domingo (Eugene Domingo) to headline their new feature. She invites them to an all-exclusive spa where they discuss various aspects of the movie from the choice of leading men all the way down to the selection of a theme song. Director and actress do not see eye to eye and square off from time to time, causing some friction in the negotiation which Jocelyn and production assistant Lennon (Khalil Ramos) try their best to mediate. On one hand, Eugene wants her comeback to be a financial success, and thus pitches ideas based on mainstream formula. On the other hand, Rainier feels that he will lose the essence of the story, based on his very own crumbling marriage, if he succumbs to her demands.

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank went on to become the country’s highest grossing indie film, and held that recognition for a while. That is weird. Indie movies here are not really crafted for local consumption. If anything, they are adjusted to suit the tastes of film festival attendees abroad, which explains the abundance of poverty porn enough to fill your lifetime quota. What this means is that the movie must have achieved something that satisfied the curiosity of the masses. It was a movie in a movie on how to make a movie. In short, it made the indie flick more palatable to that demographic, some sort of Indie Flick 101. How do you create a sequel to such a standalone premise? Simple. Cross over to the mainstream by filming a mainstream movie on how to make a mainstream movie. And that’s exactly what they did.

It all seems foolproof on paper, but the finished product shows otherwise. Somehow, it does not feel mainstream enough, like they could have still gone the extra mile to ramp it up a notch. Eugene Domingo’s overbearing Eugene Domingo might not sit well with audiences because she comes off as rather annoying, although this is exactly the point. Even so, not everyone will get the joke. Some might not even interpret the whole thing as one big parody. If that happens, then the comedy is lost, which is a shame because this movie is such a good critique of mainstream filmmaking.

Or perhaps that is the narrative’s very Achilles’ heel. It somehow comes off as an inside joke, like the entire thing would be way funnier if you were knowledgeable of the world that these characters operate in, that is the movie set. If you have attended film courses before, then you would appreciate the film within a film element because you would have an idea about everything that they are going through. If not, then there is the risk of being alienated, as if you were listening to a conversation that you don’t really want to take part in. But then again, one can just say that the material no longer needs explaining. After all, haven’t they been consuming the same old mainstream fodder as long as we can remember? Well, it’s not really the structure that we are talking about, but rather the overall feel. In a way, it still feels indie despite the obvious attempt to be mainstream.

The laugh-out-loud scenes are not that many and most of the screen time focuses on Eugene Domingo’s prima donna concerns, which is kind of polarizing. Looking for something else to focus your attention on, you will then set your sights on Rainier’s subplot, but this element is totally eclipsed by the main story that it is just not that engaging to follow. Nevertheless, it does provide a good scenario reflective of the life of a movie director. The irony of being able to helm a film yet fail in managing your own personal life is so poignant, like watching a beautiful disaster unfold. And then there’s the never-ending debate on the merits of the indie film scene vis-a-vis the mainstream.

What matters more? Box office returns or film festival trophies? All of these are tackled, albeit not with much subtlety. The important thing is that the message is conveyed, but the question is if people would really care. It’s not really something that you can immediately relate to, unless you’ve had the opportunity to make it big abroad yet be unappreciated in your own country. Not a lot of people will be able to grasp that reality because it is just so far detached from their own. That’s where Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2 might get into trouble, because in the end moviegoers might not get the joke and just dismiss everything as the loud musings of a spoiled actress about whom they couldn’t care less.

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