Friday, September 13, 2019

Circa

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Renowned film producer Doña Atang (Anita Linda) fast approaches her 100th birthday. The movie matriarch’s daughters: sister Rosa (Laurice Guillen); blacksheep Susan (Elizabeth Oropesa); and balikbayan Maria (Gina Alajar) all come home to the childhood mansion where they grew up to celebrate their mother’s milestone. Her grandson Michael (Enchong Dee) is a budding filmmaker himself and would like to surprise his lola by contacting many of the industry greats that she has worked with both onscreen and offscreen through the decades. The task proves to be a difficult one given how much the landscape of cinema has changed since she was last active in the business. With the help of nanny Meding (Jaclyn Jose), he goes through their family’s collection of film negatives rusting down in the basement, uncovering some memories both good and bad as well as some mysterious truths that he might never fully understand.

Well, yes, I guess I did not fully understand the narrative. This is only the second Adolfo Alix Jr. feature I’ve seen, so I am not really that immersed in his style and film language. The story seems to be a simple tribute to Linda, who is the very epitome of a bygone era in Philippine cinema. She also appears to be one of his muses, as described in some blurbs and reviews that can be found online. If that’s the case then Circa succeeds in bringing us on a trip down memory lane.

A trend I’ve noticed based on Madilim Ang Gabi, though, is how Alix seems to have a lot of friends in the industry willing to do a cameo for him. Such is the case for both films. In Circa, we get to see the likes of Perla Bautista, Liza Lorena, Alessandra de Rossi, and the late Eddie Garcia to name a few.

I also appreciate how the director shows how cinema has evolved through the years from the perspective of the people involved not just in acting but also behind the scenes, like how film bikers have gone obsolete or how local theaters have been forced to rethink their strategies and reuse their space for other sidelines as cinema relies more and more on a more digitalized form.

It’s definitely not for mainstream appreciation, though. When one tackles a country’s golden age of cinema onscreen, the general public usually expects something grandiose and nostalgic, full of glitter and splendor that can no longer be matched nowadays. You don’t see that in Circa. Instead, you are treated to a mellow analysis of the preservation, or lack thereof, of film as a cultural medium. On second thought, the movie appears to be an ode to Philippine cinema, a mellow chronicle of its decay personified through the character of Doña Atang herself.

There’s also a supernatural twist involved, although the film does not really seem to be aspiring to cross over to the horror genre. If anything, it feels like an allusion to something that only industry insiders might get. While it would be fun to speculate and analyze, perhaps such interpretation is better left to enthusiasts of Philippine cinema who are more knowledgeable of the topic. A simple analysis seems to point to the themes of sacrifice as well as life and death, if you try to make sense of it.

In the end, Circa is not really the kind of film palatable to mainstream audiences. It refuses to spoon feed you with the message that it is trying to convey. In lieu of that, it invites you to peel off its many layers for a more satisfying analysis, something that not a lot of people are willing to do. On the contrary if you are a fan of film, Philippine cinema in particular, then this is worth watching if only for the social commentary it offers regarding the evolution of such medium.

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