Direk Christopher Martinez Invites :
Ang BABAE SA SEPTIC TANKopens AUGUST 3 in Sm North, Megamall, Centerpoint, Fairview, Southmall, Manila, San Lazaro, Sucat, Bicutan, Valenzuela, Bacoor, Mall Of Asia, Molino, Muntinlupa, Marikina, Robinsons Metro East, Galleria, Ermita, Powerplant, Gateway, Market Market, Trinoma, Glorietta 4, Sm Marilao, Baliwag, Clark, San Fernando, Tarlac, Baguio City, Rosales, Sta Rosa, Batangas, Lipa, Dasmarinas, Lucena City, Naga City, Cebu, Davao, Robinsons San Fernando, Sta Rosa, Bacolod, Iloilo, Gaisano Davao.

ADDITIONAL READING :  MAX TESSIER WRITES : THE WOMAN IN THE SEPTIC TANK, Or a semantic look at Filipino Indie cinema and slums on the screen….

ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK (The Woman in the Septic Tank)
Directed by Marlon Rivera, Scripted by Chris Martinez.
Director of photography: Larry Manda, Editor: Ike Veneracion. Musical director: Vincent de Jesus, Creative supervisor: Chris Martinez, Prodcution designer:Reji Regalado.
Executive producers: Chris Martinez, Marlon Rivera, Josabeth Alonso, John Victor Tence.

Cast: Eugene Domingo (Mila), JM de Guzman, Kean Cipriano, Cai Cortez. With special participation of Cherry Pie Picache and Mercedes Cabral.
88 min. Original dialogues in Tagalog and English .

The rave film of the 7th Cinemalaya Film Festival (July 2011,  Philippines) was certainly  The Woman in the Septic Tank (Ang Babae sa septic tank), a first feature directed by Marlon Rivera, and scripted by famed screenwriter and director  Chris Martinez, whose own version of Joey Gosiengfiao’s 1981 cult movie Temptation Island, was  a hit recently in theaters here.

Although it superficially LOOKS like a comedy/parody, this film (which took most of the major awards at Cinemalaya) is quite subversive in its own way, spoofing with a sharp humor the kind of Filipino Indie films that usually make it to the Western festivals like Cannes or Venice, by surfing on the third world/poverty wave. In that sense, the script by Martinez is terribly clever, with young “direk” Rainier, his producer Bingbong and moon-face assistant Jocelyn (who doesn’t utter a word throughout the movie…) preparing a “radical” film in the squatters’ areas, to aim at major film festivals, and even the Oscars. It is actually a commentary on the kind of “poor” low budget movies shot in the slums,  however using a local movie star, here Eugene Domingo, and (ab)using the image of third world society, to please the “rich” West.

In a very funny way, the story, as it develops,  shows how many options are available to make the film more or less hyper-realistic : the actress playing Mila, a mother of seven, could be Domingo, but ALSO Cherry Pie Picache ( another favourite actress of Indie films, as it was shown again this year in Adolfo Alix’s ISDA/ Fable of the fish) , OR Mercedes Cabral, OR a non-professional woman of the slums. The child she is going to sell to a western pedophile (an obvious reference to Brilliante Mendoza’s Foster Child…) is a little girl, but changes to a boy, because it’s a better “sell” for the awards! The pedophile himself , Mr Smithberger, is a Caucasian, but could be another kind of foreigner, or even a Filipino, and the film itself, called Walang Wala (“There is nothing”!) could even be a parodic musical set in the slums.

Progressively, the film to be shot becomes a kind of Rashomon-like parody, with as many options as the author’s imagination can meet. And, while the trio is studying all of these options  in a coffee shop, a specifically caricatured character pops in, wearing the rags of THE Indie director who made it abroad (he is just back from Venice, and is planning to go to several other festivals, including Vesoul, referred to as the “Where is it?” festival). You can think of a mix of Filipino Indie directors who made good in Cannes (Brilliante Mendoza) or  Venice (Pepe Diokno), and more.
However, the major problem for the production is to get Domingo for the main part of Mila, and they finally succeed in meeting her at her sumptuous house, in one of the most hilarious spoofs ever seen on screen. Then again, she has her OWN version of the film and how her character should be played, with yet other Pirandellian twists. She finally accepts the role, including the final sequence, which sums up the title in a comic way.

Putting tongue firmly in cheek, with a very skillful direction by Marion Rivera (who obviously made commercials before,  and knows how to lie on the screen), The Woman in the Septic Tank points out how some of the Indie films can become formulas, just as the mainstream movies. This is especially so after the international  successes of Brillante Mendoza (whose talent is not in doubt) with films such as Foster Child, Serbis or Kinatay , and other directors’ films of lesser quality. It is a brilliant semantic parody of third world cliches and images, as they ARE encouraged by most of the western film festivals in search of an IMAGE of cinematic poverty. It is therefore a healthy injection in that body of poverty’s images turned into some kind of utility. At the end, reality takes its revenge, as the team’s car is ransacked by the inhabitants of the very slum which is to be used as a mere DECOR (set). But don’t leave the theater after the first credits, because there is another surprise…

Ironically, after its triumph at Cinemalaya, it is predictable that the film will be picked by several of the festivals it pinpoints. Anyway, you do need to feed the hungry festivals monster, right?

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