'Area' review: Hope in misery
Louie Ignacio’s Area revels in the unflinching squalor that the film’s eponymous setting represents. It often dwells too long in misery, almost to the point of making its bleak imagery insignificant and pointless.
All warts, no virtues
Area opens with a montage of snippets from the Angeles City neighborhood, which has become famous for being the home of several low-rent brothels. These brothels service those who can’t afford the pleasures from the city’s more upscale red light district. It’s a chaotic sequence, one that borders exploitation in the way it depicts the community with all of its warts and almost nothing of its virtues.
The plot only picks up when the film finally withdraws from its attempt to immerse its viewers into the deplorable world it wants to explore by following Ben (Allen Dizon), who traverses the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood to end up in his home to eat dinner with his family. The scene is tender, laced with conversations that blend self-deprecating humor with the apparent poverty they have come to accept.
After their dinner, the leftovers are then brought to another compound where women of different shapes and ages are patiently waiting. They are rowdier, with expletives often exploding out of their mouths. They are prostitutes, women kept by Ben and his family, who have run the brothel since before Area wasn’t synonymous with cheaper-than-cheap sexual favors from aging women desperate for clients.
Kind-hearted Hillary (Ai Ai delas Alas), one of Ben’s prostitutes, has been saving all her earnings to buy a plane ticket to America, where she will finally be reunited with her son. Her jaded colleagues don't buy her story. There could simply be no room for hope in their abjectly hopeless place.
Insists on realism
Ignacio meticulously establishes the pecking order of his chosen milieu.
He acknowledges the absurdity of his film’s world, but insists on realism. He uses the same methods that filmmakers like Brillante Mendoza and Eduardo Roy, Jr. have used to give their films a documentary-like feel.
Unfortunately, the film tends to be too obvious in its intentions. It foregoes subtlety, making some of its attempts to sustain realism within a parable fumble.
There are long stretches in the film where Ignacio indulges in this rickety mix of documentary footage and overt fiction. For instance, when Ben and his family members flagellate themselves alongside real penitents in an effort to enunciate the folly of religious rituals in the midst of sin and godlessness. Another instance is when Hillary morosely falls in line to receive her blessings from the statue of Christ.
They don’t always work.
Perhaps it is because there is a clear disconnect between truth and fiction. Allen and De Las Alas stories, which are told in a dramatic fashion and are starkly distinct from their staged interactions with real life, do not really cohere well with the film’s stubborn attempt at realism.
However, there is merit to all the film’s intentions, no matter how unsubtly and clumsily presented.
The film evidently avoids judgment, with Ignacio and screenwriter Robby Tantingco carefully painting its characters as acceptably flawed human beings no matter how dehumanizing their jobs are. In all its efforts to display a damning world that seems bereft of salvation, the film was still able to keep its characters defined, not by their pathetic lots in life, but their pronounced humanity. The film depicts them as sons to ailing mothers, mothers to missing sons, and friends with imperfect friendships.
Area rewards right in the end. It surrenders its grip on a spectacle of harsh reality to showcase an affecting portrait of humanity being rewarded for its undaunted embrace of faith and hope – very human virtues that are most apparent in a setting characterized by vice. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.