I love watching movies. If I would limit the things I would do during my free time to five, it would be writing, drawing, making videos, sleeping and watching TV and movies. I don't want to call myself artsy but I have always been inclined to participate, involve myself in or appreciate others' art. It's just the way I've always been. But despite all that, I am in no way an expert or a credible critic of art. I just say what I know and understand and none of my interpretations are backed up by any academic study of sorts. In short, I've just been winging this "artsy" fascination of mine ever since. 

That said, I'm really very hesitant to make a review of this film I watched recently. It's an entry in the CineFilipino festival and is penned and directed by Mike Alcazaren, the husband of my ever bubbly producer, Ms. Liz. Being that this review is for someone I am within a few degrees of relation, the pressure to give a good, but still honest and genuine review, is just so high! And since I really do not have a credible background in film (just the one class I took on film language and the five years of Cinemalaya marathoning and talks), I'm afraid I might misread some symbols and give such inaccurate interpretations of the film. But as I do with all my own work, I insist that people give me their reviews. No matter how good or bad the reviews I get, it helps me better my craft (if I ever did have one!) and knowing from a very good source (yes, this is you Ms. Liz) that Direk Mike is an artist to its truest sense, I know he would welcome criticism the same way. 

Now on to the movie...

I was never a fan of horror movies or thrillers so I don't have much movies to compare Puti with. But despite my initial dislike (well, fear) of the genre, I found my eyes locked towards the screen. As with all the other reviews I've read and heard, I couldn't agree more that the film was a feast for the eyes. This is the only time I found myself not looking away from a horror movie given that my immediate reaction is to always close my eyes until the scary scenes are over. The beauty of this thriller is that it makes you want to look and face the scary truth with eyes wide open. Which, if you think of it, is a really clever way of treating the film since the main character is forced to do the same. 

Puti is a psychological thriller that follows the life of an art forger, Amir, his son and his apprentice. From the get go, the tug of war between living honestly and providing for his family is established. With very minimal dialogue and a series of beautiful shots, we begin to understand what life is for Amir and why he does what does and why he is where he is. But as we begin to get comfortable with the wonderful images, we suddenly see a shot of a blind woman in what seems to be a strange and creepy photo shoot. From that moment, attention is shifted from the pretty pictures to the increasingly eery story. It was clear that what was coming was far from pretty.

I'll fast forward to post the accident where we reveal that our art forger is left color blind. It's an interesting premise in itself but how it was presented, the struggle of this man who lost his only means for livelihood, was my favorite part of the entire movie. Amir hardly said any lines but I felt the frustration, fear and hopelessness build up inside him and felt empathy and sympathy for this man I thought I could easily condemn. I loved that there was no wild outburst the moment Amir found out about his condition. Instead, we got to follow our hero find ways to solve his problem and how he exhausted all means before he gave out a loud cry of hopelessness. 

However, I felt that a few minutes could have been chopped off after we've established the situation. There even came a point where I just wanted to find out what would happen next. I mean, I got that he was color blind and it was such a horrifying experience for anyone (even without the help of the haunting blind woman and creepy paintings coming to life) so can we move on to where he does something about it already? 

After the movie went past the establishment of the problem and speeds up to the paintings coming alive and the introduction of this mysterious nurse, things got interesting again. My brain just kept trying to catch up with the surreal cut aways and unfolding of events in this enigmatic hospital. Safe to say, I got stuck towards the screen and just let the story unfold at this amazingly directed pace. Seriously, one of the things I loved about the second half is how it becomes so eerily quiet and steady for a few scenes then so abrupt and shifty the next few. Oh, and those few minutes when Amir was stuck in a tiny black box, I swear I felt I lost my breathe and became a claustrophobe in that instant!

Before I could catch my breathe, I realize we are brought to this surreal place where everything is tied together. Although to be honest, it was a bit too tied together for my taste. The quiet, visual story telling of the entire film could have just been carried out until the very end. There were far too many lines delivered during the last 30 minutes of the film that I felt quite sad that the beautiful imagery and symbolism (goodness, the images could very well be used in a film class! So many images to analyze!) didn't get to shine as much. I felt the trees and the horse were giving Lauren Young the stink eye for stealing their spotlight. I was just blown away with how unpredictable this scary wonderland was  that I  wish for more of it. Also, having Amir wake up to a dream and showing how he changed his ways after the terrible nightmare were a few minutes that could have been left to the imagination. The way the story concluded put all the puzzle pieces together, but I felt that ending it with Amir in this surreal world would have left the audience with a more haunting feeling. Even leaving the audience to reflect on which force is stronger in the end - the pressure on a father to provide food on the table or the conscience of an artist who wants to better his craft? 

Again, I am no expert at movies so you could watch the film and come out with a totally different interpretation of it. But whatever way you end up looking at it, I'm very sure you'd agree it's a good picture at any angle. Congratulations to everyone behind the film! My senses were delighted but my nights weren't!


Lizanne Alcazaren said...

I read your critique out loud to Mike and Zoe. I was in tears by your review's third paragraph. Your film language class and 5 years of Cinemalaya marathoning has given you a broad vantage point that captures film nuances as well as a keen insightfulness into visual metaphors. Ang galing! Ang ganda! Honest.

Lizanne Padilla-Alcazaren
There seems to be a 50/50 split on how the film should have ended. For those of us (myself included) who lives and breathes redemption -- I couldn't have something open ended. I'm not mature enough that way, I guess. But I understand how cinematically that probably would have been the better route. But being that this really is autobiographical, I think Mike simply had to steer the ending towards a path that he sees for himself as well.

This was so well-crafted, Andy. You string words together so powerfully. Now more than ever, I really don't know what you're doing in accounts. Your should seriously rethink this career path.

Thank you so very, very much for taking the time to write this review. It packs such an astute take on the film. Maybe one of these days you can even shoot the breeze with Mike.

With much appreciation and love,

Mike Alcazaren said...

“The opinion of the public is sacred. The director is a cook who merely offers different dishes to them and has no right to insist they react in a particular way. A film is just a projection of light, completed only when it crosses the gaze of the audience[...]”

Werner Herzog

I'm very grateful that you had partaken of my little feast and found it flavorful. It's just an aperitif. Hopefully you will be enticed to try out more in the future:)