‘Damaso’ review: Monster of a film
Joven Tan’s Damaso is a monster of a film.
I am not referring to its scope, size, or ability to inspire awe. It’s a monster in the sense that it’s a serial shapeshifter, a creature that refuses to decide what it wants to be and what it wants to be about. Think of it as something like a three-headed dog with the body of water buffalo, the tail of milkfish, and the singing voice of a talent show reject.
The film is undoubtedly horrendous and undoubtedly intriguing.
If anything, Damaso is proof that Tan is not the creative hack that films like Tatlong Bibe (2017), Petmalu (2018), and Wander Bra (2018) would suggest. It is evidence that the invaluable insights of his arguably nonsensical works like Echoserang Frog (2014), Pansamantagal (2019) and And Ai, Thank You (2019), about the creative and capitalist processes of the entertainment industry's segment that is either marginalized or frowned upon, is a persisting obsession.
In a nutshell, Damaso is a story about socially-conscious creatives struggling to be both socially conscious and creative amidst the reality that it doesn’t pay to be both socially conscious and creative in a morally beleaguered society.
A director (Nyoy Volante) has recruited a screenwriter (Marlo Mortel) to write a script for a new film he will make for a producer (Aiko Melendez) who has been desperately searching for financiers. In a way, the film’s meandering manner of laying out its narrative about the unsexy details of movie-making opens up a lot of avenues for discourse, from the struggles of overseas labor agencies as bluntly relayed by the agency-owner (Irma Adlawan) who laments of precarious position of her business to the balancing act that has to be done by artists to ensure that their art is in line with the business interests of their investors.
There are definitely a lot of ideas in Damaso.
Its only problem is that the ideas are so scattered that they are inevitably lost in the fray of everything else the film endeavors to do. Tan decides to be a show-off here, populating his treatise on the complexities of creative life in a very capitalist society with treacly songs that do not do anything to deepen the discourse. The show tunes are irritating distractions to Tan’s most serious bid for dignified filmmaking.
Film within the film
Then there is the lousiness of the actual film within the film.
Aside from the unwieldy songs, the other needless gimmick of Damaso is that it stubbornly diverts attention from its walkthrough around the conflicted process of making films from the perspectives of its many players. Half of Damaso is a confused reimagining of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. The intent is supposedly to humanize the novel’s most visible villain (Arnel Ignacio) but the result is absolutely nothing close to the novelty it endeavors. The film within the film is a lazy adaptation, one that is again rendered absolutely problematic not just by the song numbers that lazily telegraph the film’s message but also by the frustrating lack of focus.
Clearly, Tan bit more than he can chew.
The film is overburdened by ambition. It wants to be current with its conflicted position in the ongoing debate about the urgency of the drug war and the humanizing of society’s so-called villains. It also wants to be a period piece that is made relevant by its supposedly clever twist on a familiar and well-regarded piece of literature. It wants to be about artists and their compromised art. It also wants to be the quintessential showcase of Tan’s positioning as an underappreciated renaissance man who not only writes and directs films but also composes songs.
It wants to be so many things but ends up an incomplete puzzle. It is really quite a pity.
Sort of worth it
It’s more than obvious. The film’s a grating mess.
Surprisingly, despite its overt ugliness, its laziness, its absolute lack of structure, the film’s still worth all the pennies one has to pay to see it and the moments one spends pondering what it is all about. – 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.