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Cannes 2009: Night, I Love Thee and Thy Darkness ("Kinatay," Mendoza)

Dedicate a movie to one thing, respect the singular attention of the camera, and a film should be rich enough to overcome just about anything.  Brillante Mendoza gives almost half of his film Kinatay to the nocturnal drive of a group of policemen out of Manila to its suburbs, and another half hour of night awaits them at their destination, a police black site.  This rich vision of so much gloom, dim suspension, no action, no spectacle, no drama is a beautiful thing, something out of an avant-garde film dedicated to textures, subtle shifts in color, and spatial uncertainty of a sunless world.  There is a story of course, of a young police trainee just married (that very day!) taken along on an off -he-books mission to torture a drug addicted stripper, and for a long time Mendoza plays the story like Haneke’s Funny Games (or a Park film), building up the audience’s desire for his hero to act violently, here to lash out at his sadistic superiors.  And some of Kinatay is that tasteless, with its handholding music (riffing off of Kubrick’s synth scores for A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket) and artless, didactic cutaways That Explain Motivation by showing the cops’ horrific acts, the home that must be thought of.  But, as with Mendoza’s previous film Serbis, the rest of the movie is given as a handheld dedication to space—there, a porno theater, here, a sinister, anonymous police van traveling great distances at night for the purpose of terrible things, and later a torture house.  But it is a space of obscurity, of uncertainty in a morally certain situation, and so the space, covered and run over again and again by the roving camera, takes on an abstraction nearly outside the story itself.   A palette of sleek grays makes a death grip on this film that started—again, didactically—in daylight with a marriage, and Kinatay’s immersion into nightfall stands strong, splendidly, as independent force.

Hmm…Roger Ebert’s blog (“Day 4: Cannes”) paints a much bleaker picture of the film. He calls it worse than the original and unedited version of The Brown Bunny.
Why can’t this site take a page from “Film Movement” and give us the oppourtunity to buy thewse films on DVD? I’m not going to watch a film on my monitor
Steve: it’s very bleak, which is why I reference the Park and the Haneke film. But that’s the movie’s weakest element, which is why I focused on something else. Paul: The whole point is to be able to watch them online!
Woohoo! The Philippines is on a run.
Some Westerners are so into poverty porn. They mistake Mendoza’s “grittiness” for art and audacity. Mendoza is such an inept filmmaker. He and his French producer probably make a checklist of the most awful highlights supposedly depicting the underbelly of Philippine society and build a sensational movie around them. Mendoza ain’t no Lino Brocka. Brocka’s best films were intelligent and were more subtle than Mendoza’s heavy and heavy-handed posturings.Mendoza just gets into Cannes courtesy of his well-connected French producer. Raya Martin’s “Independencia” would have been a better entry. I haven’t seen “Kinatay” . But based on “Serbis” and Mendoza’s earlier “Tirador” and “Foster Child”, Roger Ebert was probably right on the money to call “Kinatay” worse than “Brown Bunny”.
Jackstone: thanks for the comment. That’s how I felt about Mendoza’s Serbis, the only other film of his I’ve seen. I also have similar problems with the material of Kinatay, but as you may have noticed, I wasn’t talking at all about this material in this piece, as I was interested in other things. Also, “Westerns” is a bit of a questionable phrase; perhaps you mean “film festival market/industry.” Independencia is also playing here, and has different problems that also pander, to a degree, to festival audiences. But it is quiet beautiful nonetheless. Double also: The Brown Bunny gets a bum-rap, it’s quite good.
European festivals, namely Cannes, defines the universal standard for art cinema. The trend these days is shock art frankly gore posing as art and misogyny to some extent. Mendoza obviously wanted to get attention and he did. I admired Serbis but that was also an attention getter. I guess Mendoza is using the violence in his country to glorify it whilst pretending to criticize it. Pretty smart but hardly original…

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