The Main-die Malady
Director: Argel Joseph
Cast: Mon Confiado, Maria Isabel Lopez, Pen Medina, Chris Martinez, Jao Mapa
Pilantik’s poster describes it as “an Argel Joseph first main-die film.” Main-die? I was stumped. Is it because the main character dies or something? I wish some filmmakers would just focus on the material and stop fussing with outlandish labels.
I enter the cinema mulling (in annoyance) why Pilantik’s filmmakers chose to set themselves apart from both mainstream and indie films. What is an indie film anyway? What makes a mainstream film mainstream? With the boom in digital filmmaking, the subject of “independence” has been a continuously contested ground, evading both definition and encouraging debate.
After seeing Pilantik, however, the mainstream versus indie debate had long been flushed out of my mind. The film will make you think, for sure, but not quite in that discursive direction. (Among those inevitable questions: what the hell happened to Jao Mapa?!)
Pilantik is supposedly a gay suspense thriller. Its basic problems are so rudimentary, however, that I think it’d have been more effective as a comedy. It was more laughable than funny.
Take Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Take out some—fine, a lot of—scriptwriting skills and directorial brilliance. And don’t forget to cast Norman Bates as a cross-dresser; it’s a gay film after all. Somehow, you will arrive at Pilantik.
The transitions and curious/poor editorial decisions almost act as cue cards for the viewer: “feel tense here,” “important flashback here,” “hey this explains the earlier scene,” “I’m so clever, ain’t I?” Which, of course, kills the suspense altogether.
Not that the plot is so riveting and unexpected. Pilantik goes where many, many filmmakers (and television creatives) have gone before. And so poorly, at that. The dialogue is so literal, for one. A shot of dark clouds and very CGI-ed thunder will cut to a character saying, “Mukhang uulan pa.” And so forth. Even the characters are literal. The killer is slightly deranged and laughs evilly while staring into space. The villains are crude and stupid and hateful. The gays love their sequins. In fairness, may budget for prosthetics.
Logical fallacies are the story’s norm rather than the exception. The town’s two policemen do their surveillance using an open-air owner-type jeep. The killer runs around town in high heels, with a large axe and a bloody severed arm in tow, and gets home without anyone noticing. Super-homophobic straight men hang out to plot against faggots—in a gay bar. Oh, and macho men in skimpy trunks pop out of nowhere to escort your exit frame. What a town!
Pilantik makes it easy for a viewer to ramble on about its incredibly negative and inaccurate gay representation. I did my best to become a good person, says the anguished lead character, who, ironically, happens to be a merciless serial killer who keeps skeletons in her dining room and axes in her closet—because gays are vindictive like that. He is named Maela—because duh, gays are promiscuous. His best friend Frida is a literally screaming faggot, because, you know, all faggots are like that. Maela hates straight men because they’re all abusive and discriminating and stuff. And the gays die because, you know, even though they’re good souls, they just, um, have to.
Moreover, the disgruntled mother and gay son seem to take pleasure in clinging to their grudges as if their oppressors, the homophobe patriarch and sibling, haven’t been dead for decades. They could’ve moved on and been happy eons ago. Why didn’t they? Is it because homosexuals are simply irrational, crazy and murderous beings? Or was it just a flimsy excuse to have an interesting premise for a film?
All said, though Pilantik makes it easy to think about gender representations, its shoddy craftsmanship prevents me from taking whatever readings I gathered seriously. Perhaps what it says about filmmaking is more important than what it has to say about gender and society.
Main-die? Mainly disastrous, my friend says. Mainly dissolves, says another. Mainly dumb, I say. Or mainly disgracious. Whatever this main-die thing is, I hope the first film to hurl itself under this category is also the last.
The closing title card of the end credits says it all: “This motion picture is prohibited by the laws of the Philippines.” I’m not kidding. See for yourself. #
Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Filipino films, Full length films. Tags: argel joseph, flick, gay, gay cinema, gay film, gay representation, homophobia, horror, indie, jao mapa, main-die, mon confiado, pilantik, psycho, psychological, serial killer, suspense.