Saturday, June 21, 2014

Francisco Pellicer Viri and His Metaphors of Unbroken Lines


Francisco Pellicer Viri with his paintings 
“Longing is the agony of the nearness of the distant."
~ Martin Heidegger (German philosopher, 1889–1976)


IN HIS SHOW titled “One Liners” at The Crucible Gallery in SM Megamall last February 18, 2014, Francisco Pellicer Viri draws both childlike and complicated lines in his paintings. With his developed principle of “one-liner” or unbroken line figure, he consistently treads on the pendulous themes between existential freedom and solitude, innocence and inanity, coherence and absurdity. 

The line is not just a simple line that Viri might have started as a child then continued during his formal studies (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Rhode Island School of Design, a prestigious school in fine arts and design in USA. His line is a streak of continuous line, which starts from a certain point then goes back to the same point after forming a seamless figure, thus mimicking the unbroken perimeter of a circle with no beginning or ending.

“The line,” says Viri “is the basic element that forms the figures in my works. Each composition is structured by only one line. The line is the heart of the drawing. The line is the soul of my paintings.”

In this vein, Viri proposes an eccentric artistic style that embodies the principle of continuity. Behind the opulent forms and colors of his art, lies the symbolic representation of a solitary figure, drawn or painted in a circuitous unbroken line. What is profoundly tangible in his art is the poetic rendition of solitude and, to a certain extent, his proclivity to existential soloism.  However, even in his elegiac portrayal of solitariness, Viri’s sensibility and humor emerge in some of his compositions. 


In “Linear Fashion,” for instance, Viri depicts a nude woman with left arm holding a scarf-like element flinging into the air. With both arms raised at shoulder level, the woman is traipsing in a leisurely manner as if tramping on a catwalk. Despite the semi-abstract rendition, the artist’s sensibility is deftly reflected on the free-flowing line of feminine figure: laid-back, graceful, and elegant.

THE LINEAR PASSION, acrylic on canvas  

In another painting titled “The Educated Sadness,” Viri depicts a lonely man donning dark eyeglasses. The color of the canvas is golden ochre with concentric lighter hue against the figure’s head while its body, in blue and green colors, interspersing from lighter to darker tones. The human figure is half-drawn, thus exposing the two lateral unconnected lines down the horizontal edge of the canvas. The disrupted single line, whether consciously or unconsciously intended by the artist, expresses the desolate presence of a disjointed figure, literally and figuratively.

In “The Daydream,” similar to the golden ochre background of “The Educated Sadness,” albeit lighter and inchoately textured, Viri portrays the same solitary figure, but this time with a convoluted single line. The picture describes a man sitting with his right elbow resting on the table while the palm of the hand supporting his slightly bent face. Above him are colored shapes that resemble the twigs and leaves of a tree.

Apparently, the male figure is drifting in meditative mood, reminiscent of Rodin’s bronze sculpture “Le Penseur” (The Thinker) or better yet, Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche’s main character in his philosophical novel “Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra).

Other paintings—like The Enlightenment, The Fantasy of the Magical Spirit, The Imagination, The Light of the Poetic Cry, and Linear Head, to name a few—are all but existential evocations of human condition, tiptoeing between joy and solitude, loss and acceptance, separation and reconciliation. 

Ubiquitous and recursive, the theme of Viri’s art depicts the visceral state of patrician solitude.  Every figure on canvas exemplifies either an alienated or a self-contained man or woman floundering in solitary activity. By merely looking at Viri’s figure, one can immediately feel that sense of vertiginous aloofness, which seems detached from the world akin to Albert Camus’ Meursault, the main character of his novel L’Étranger, or that sense of being resolved with the self at the end of a lonely journey of Nietzsche's main character in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”

THE IMAGINATION, acrylic on canvas


Indeed, Viri’s solitary human figure personifies Zarathustra and his cyclical quest for life and meaning. It implicitly signifies the frightening human struggle in the process of evolving and becoming. The becoming characterizes the growing tensions between the terminus a quo and terminus ad quem until the two points converge and become one, as in Viri’s one-liner figure. Once life has found its purpose and meaning, the beginning and ending are no longer reckonable, as they become one harmonic line of a fully lived and understood existence.

At hindsight, every artist undergoes the same dialectical process in the quest for the self and aesthetic meaning.  As Viri evolves beyond the empirical compulsion of art making, dramatic changes gradually occur on the themes and colors of his works. His recent paintings are teeming with pulsating colors contrary to his earlier works that were bleak and discreet. The feisty colors compensate his inherently solitary figure on canvas, a transcendent transformation from previously drab and muted world to a deeply felt existence.

A closer look at Viri’s oeuvre, the symbiotic relationship between him and his art dissolves the barrier of his private life (as an enigmatic person) and the solitary imagery of his painting. His deepening awareness of life nurtures his art, while the latter mollifies his seemingly nihilistic perception of the world through the coherent intimation of his forms and colors. Although, his subject is innately self-contained within the confinement of his canvases, that simple or circuitous unbroken line from which his figure is made of—a one complete harmonic line—unifies his vision and his being as an artist. 

“Thus spoke Zarathustra and left his cave, glowing and strong, like a morning sun coming out of gloomy mountains,” wrote Nietzsche at the end of his novel. 

Hence, the transformative process of Viri’s art is akin to the awakening of Zarathustra who transcends from the misery of his world by coming to terms with his homesick self, as a convalescing man who finally comes home and makes peace with himself and the world.

THE EDUCATED SADNESS, acrylic on canvas by Francisco Pellicer Viri (photo courtesy of The Crucible Gallery)

(For inquiry of Francisco Pellicer Viri’s works, The Crucible Gallery can be contacted at tel. no. 635-6061 or emailed at charrie14@yahoo.com.) 

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Song of Water Hyacinths along Belligerent Rivers: Lila Ramos Shahani’s ‘Boses Ng Pagbabago’

Book Cover: Boses Ng Pagbabago (Voices of Change)

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”
~ Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta

Imagine an affluent little girl who brought home an emaciated and abandoned kitten in the neighborhood, painstakingly fed and cosseted the poor creature until it restored its health and felt at home in her delicate arms.

Now, imagine that diminutive gesture of kindness as the genesis of human compassion. As that affluent little girl grows older, that tiny seed of compassion grows deeper. And by the time she turns and matures into a woman, that compassion, particularly for the less fortunate, consumes her soul and being.

In her Boses Ng Pagbabago (Voices of Change), a recently launched book at the Department of Education in Pasig last February 26, 2013, HDPRC Assistant Secretary & Head of Communications Ms. Lila Ramos Shahani passionately voices out the unspoken struggles and victories of the 18 poor Filipinos from the different strata of our society.

The launch was attended by former President Fidel V. Ramos; Sec Armin Luistro and the Executive Committee of the Department of Education; former Senator Leticia R. Shahani; Mahar Mangahas of SWS; writer and columnist Krip Yuson; writer and head of the Siliman Writer's Workshop Susan Lara; Dr. Isagani Cruz of La Salle; Dr. Rebecca Añonuevo of Miriam College; artists Mac MacCarty and this writer; contributing photographers Christian Malubag, Bing Roxas and Jordee Queddeng; Rochit Tañedo; Anita Celdran; and other members of government agencies (DSWD, DILG, PCW) and civil society.

Lila Shahani, former President Fidel V. Ramos, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman,
former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, and  DepEd Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro

             Elegantly designed by Felix Mago Miguel with arresting full-colored images by Neal Oshima and other Filipino photographers, the book is a project of the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet (HDPRC) Cluster, which covers 26 government agencies dealing with poverty and development. The Cluster is headed by Secretary Dinky Soliman of DSWD, who also gave welcoming remarks after Asec Lila Ramos Shahani, head of communications of HDPRC and the book's editor-in-chief.

The 18 brief stories of the poor, as portrayed in the Boses Ng Pagbabago, are success stories of sacrifice and struggle, of finding opportunities provided by the different government agencies and NGOs, of achieving dreams and aspirations through perseverance and hard work, thus making them self-sufficient and productive in their respective communities.

Although, the stories were written in formulaic form, i.e., ‘From penury to self-reliant and productive citizen’ plot, juxtaposed with scholarly analysis, data, and information on the government’s anti-poverty programs and policies, the book provides a glimpse of hope and assurance that the perennial problem of poverty in the country is conquerable.

The poignant story of a 56 years old blind printer, for instance, named Rebecca Arabain; her poor condition and visual impairment did not prevent her vision from achieving her dreams for a better life.

For 30 years, as a supervisor of the Philippine Printing House for the Blind, she passionately devoted her life preparing, reading, editing, and printing the braille for the visually impaired students in the Philippine public schools. Consequently, she was able to open the eyes of her fellow blind Filipinos to see the color of hope amid their murky condition, literally and figuratively.

“What is particularly meaningful about this book is that it seeks to capture and present the voices of the poor themselves,” Ms. Shahani cogently said in her opening remarks at the book launch. “It tells stories of deprivation and destitution, and of efforts to overcome conditions that are nothing short of inspirational. In this way, it attempts to humanize those who have traditionally been consigned to the margins, having been rendered almost invisible.” 

In another story, it tells how a group of Liguasan women exploits the surplus of nature, turning the ‘explosion’ of water hyacinths at the war-torn regions of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat into a productive source of livelihood. After gathering and pulling the stalks of the plant, they dry and weave them into bags and baskets for both local and foreign market. From there, the poor women’s elusive dreams blossom like the teeming water hyacinths along the rivers of their belligerent land.

Aside from the variegated success stories of the poor, the book discusses the historical aspect of poverty in the country, the government’s anti-poverty policies, and the poverty alleviation program under the Aquino administration. Equally compelling is the thorough analysis about the Philippine economy and its growth, and how the 2.3 million Filipinos fared in their destitute condition, as a tortuous scuffle to be constantly fought in the process.

Arguably, Ms. Shahani saw the paradoxical discrepancy of ‘economic growth’ in the country. For example, the reported 4.8 economic growth between 2003 and 2009 should have reduced the number of 19.8 million poor Filipinos; it catapulted, instead, to 23.1 million. “In short,” she says in the book, “economic growth did not benefit the poor as much as it benefitted corporations and families who were better-off.”

“In fact,” says Ms. Shahani bluntly, “economic growth heightened the disparity between rich and poor, across regions.”

But who is Lila Ramos Shahani, and why she gets entangled with the problems of poverty and human trafficking in the country? Instead of occupying a lucrative position in New York where she obtained her academics and clouts, what prompted her to come back: A nostalgic memory of home or a haunting emaciated call from the squalid alleyways of our society?

 Lila Shahani with her mother, former Senator Leticia R. Shahani
“Lila Shahani is an academic born into political aristocracy,” to borrow the words of John M. Glionna of Los Angeles Times, “who lived abroad for most of her life, until a natural disaster brought her back to the Philippines.”

Indeed, it was that disaster, Typhoon Ondoy, which impelled Ms. Shahani to write a moving letter, as accidental blogger, to her uncle the former President Fidel V. Ramos, expressing her disenchantment how the government poorly managed the crisis during and after the deadly Typhoon in 2009.

“Our government,” she wrote, “was as much to blame for the colossal loss of life and habitation in the country as was climate change.” 

She might have had earned the ire of her uncle and some cousins during that time, but her ardent supporters began to pour in on social networks. One reader, for example, commented: “This is one Filipina worthy of emulation. She speaks and writes the truth. The Philippines needs more people like her—women with balls!”

Perchance, Ms. Shahani is one of the most powerful female voices in the Philippines today, a controversial figure with acerbic but honest opinion as a social critic. Aside from advocating the rights of the victims of human trafficking and prostitution, she also defends some government policies and programs that are trenchantly criticized by both Filipino and foreign bloggers, political critics, activists, and intellectuals.

She sees the intrinsic benefits of government programs for the Filipinos, particularly the poor, they just needed time to take effect and yield results. But she is also critical how the government system works, laden with unnecessary protocols and bureaucracies. However, instead of being querulous over a failed system, she goes out her way, and even spends her own personal resources to offer the quality of service that she wanted for her fellow Filipinos.

“I am more of an artist that passionately pours her soul into her work,” she self-effacingly said to this writer.

In the middle of asking her questions, after the book launch right outside the entrance of DepEd Pasig, it was halted for a while when she thoughtfully asked her staff, helper, and driver if they had already eaten, if they needed money, or if they were fine. She talked to them with delicate voice and alacritous smile as if she was talking to a dear friend or a family member.

Such sensitive and solicitous gesture reflects the humanity of Ms. Shahani as a public servant. A degree of incredulity and skepticism that burrowed in the mind of this writer, about the government officials in Metro Manila, was partly transformed with awe and respect, after witnessing her caring nature for the majority unnoticed government workers.

She may look like a Bollywood actor or intellectual elite with endearing presence, or she may be perceived as the privileged daughter and niece of the prominent politicians in the country. Yet, in her own right, she is just that ‘affluent little girl’ who has a big heart for the downtrodden and the voiceless in our society. 

Although, there may be other government officials like her, the Filipinos, especially the poor, abused and violated women, need a younger blood with unwavering passion that they can identify with—intelligent, intrepid, honest, and compassionate—a woman with independent voice and principle to represent their hopes and dreams.

To sum, the Boses Ng Pagbabago does not only tell the plight and the success stories of some extremely poor Filipinos, it also provides a map in a wider perspective, with critical analysis and evaluation, how to combat the daunting problem of poverty in our midst.

Given the right opportunity, the ‘fortunate poor’ can also help their fellow poor Filipinos (2.3 million) in the form of ‘subsidiary empowerment,’ ‘dialogic immersion,’ and ‘equal dissemination’ of opportunities and livelihood resources.

Hence, if the poor Filipinos have that ‘political voice’ and ‘second chance’ to live their dreams and aspirations in life, as what the Boses Ng Pagbabago implicitly suggested, they can become an effective ‘agent’ of socio-economic reform in diminishing poverty in the country.

As the old adage says, “Only the poor understands the poor!”

 Exhibited photos at DepEd Pasig during the book launch of  Boses Ng Pagbabago

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Noli Aurillo, The Portrait Of A Musician's Musician

Photos by Catrina Lee Gothong
Published in Manila Bulletin, Lifestyle: Arts & Culture, March 5, 2012


“A musician, if he’s a messenger, is like a child who hasn’t been handled too many times by man, hasn’t had too many fingerprints across his brain.” 
~ Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)


THE GENTLE WEEPING of his acoustic guitar is like a spider’s web that gradually and steadily loops and coils around his audience until they become an acquiescent victim of its transcendent melody, as if every rhythmic line or phrase that his guitar evokes is an encounter in eternity.

 “If there are mad scientists in the world,” wrote the late Filipino rock goddess Anabel Bosch (vocalist of Analog and Elektrikoolaid) in her 2007 Multiply blog, “this man is definitely the mad guitarist. He had his dark cherry Takamine and played it as if it was a cross between an electric guitar, a violin and a cello (without the bows).  His fingers flew across the fret-board and this guy never uses a pick.  It’s insane to watch and it’ll definitely blow you away.”

Former Lifestyle editor of The Manila Times Rome Jorge said in his 2008 column, “He is the greatest Pinoy rock guitarist you might never had heard of. He is one of the señors of rock and deserves as much recognition from audiences as Wally Gonzalez of the Juan dela Cruz band and Jun Lupito.”

 A fan named Carrie wrote in her 2007 Friendster blog: “He could be classified as a jazz guitarist but, perhaps, a little too eccentric for the conventional audience. But, I swear, his performance of “Blackbird” on his guitar, which lay on his lap where he plucked out notes as a pianist, made my jaw drop and moved me to tears.”

But who is this man, and why has he touched many generations (both young and old) with the riveting sound of his music?

Musical Style, Technique and Modality

Noli Aurillo’s proclivity for guitar started as early as he could skulk his fingers across the fret-board. As a young boy from Tacloban, his parents discouraged him from becoming a musician because they thought there was no money in music. However, he was stubborn; instead, he persistently pursued his passion for music despite his parents’ disapproval. He would later recall how his big brother would painstakingly teach him how to play guitar chords and melodies. Since then, at the age of seven, he started playing acoustic guitar with moderate fluency. But he never had his own guitar until he worked in Malaysia as a musician at the age of 26.

His musical knowledge and ability are raw and eccentric, uncompromised by the conventional rules of music, as confined in the academe. His instinctive and intuitive ability to create emanates from the necessity to express the creative outburst of his soul. Like running water, it has to find its course on a long and winding channel, and by doing so, it creates seemingly unending rhythms and harmony along the way.

The fluidity of his music can be both poignant and impetuous, arising from within, that is, from the convulsion of his mind and feelings. His stylistic acoustic chill and improvisation characterize a diverse and unrestrained chord and string pitch manipulation. Most often, it has no climactic end, but a progression of another transitory phrase in between, generating a dramatic shift of ambient mood with varied tonal forms and textures.

For instance, in his 2009 adaptation of Michael Jackson’s hit songs titled “Michael Jackson Medley Solo Guitar by Noli Aurillo,” he embellishes the rhythms with contrapuntal texture of dense and supple values without losing the melodic structure of the original. Sleek and bubbly, he creates an expressionistic stratum of mood and rhythm unique to his own style and technique.

Conversely, to describe Noli Aurillo’s musical prowess based on recorded medium is an understatement, because the real essence of his music is both experiential and metaphysical. Only those who witnessed him perform live could describe how they are being touched and transformed by the phenomenological presence of his music.

“He played with such almost-painful-passion, as if he put his entire soul into bringing out his music, plucking strings with harmonics and syncopations.  His moments of genius came when he and his guitar seemed one, and his hand seemed to have a life of its own!” Thus, continued Carrie in her 2007 Friendster blog.

The power of Noli Aurillo’s music can be best relished and appreciated during his live performances. He simply shines on stage with ineffable brilliance in front of live audiences. His power is his passion to create, and his creation is his power to mesmerize and bring his audience to the magical encounter of his beautiful mind and soul.


Photos by Catrina Lee Gothong

All Roads Lead Home

Perchance, one of his magnificent opuses is an autobiographical composition titled “All Roads Lead Home.” It is an amalgam of classical and jazz instrumental music.

Here, Noli Aurillo conjures up a nostalgic journey of home and all the memories that surround it. The melancholic sound of acoustic guitar, in the beginning, slowly ascends like a full moon rising from the Eastern horizon and then, it gently perches on the surface of a serene lake. The smooth transition from somber tempo toward a jazzy beats in the middle creates a contrasting texture of mood and feeling, tepid and feisty, as though he was toying the gradual build up of his listeners’ emotion.

There is something in the song, deeper than its temporal representation, that whoever listens to its melody can dredge up his or her sentimental past. In fact, around the time when the song came out, a man who had just lost his wife named Mariel had found temporary refuge in the music.  “All Roads Lead Home,” he wrote on his YouTube post, “is a fine example of Noli Aurillo’s musical genius and deep humanity… The beautiful tune has given me something to be hopeful about.”

The melodramatic structure of the composition mimics one of Aristotelian’s principles in Poetics. There is a gradual ascent of tension in the beginning, conflict in the middle, and resolution in the end. Imagine listening to Beethoven’s Sonata No.14 or Bach’s Partita No.6 or Enio Morricone’s musical score “Once Upon a Time in America.” The musical quality of “All Roads Lead Home” is parallel to the texture and substance of these seemingly immortal symphonies, albeit Noli Aurillo’s oeuvre is told from the perspective of his own time and circumstance.

The emotive flow of the song can be strongly felt through the multifaceted layer of tonal values that it induces in the human emotion. This is also evident in other tracks of his 2006 album “Noli Aurilio’s Meanderings: The Prelude.” The songs “Rebirth,” “Your Friend” and “Ripple” have similar melodic theme and tonal values with “All Roads Lead Home” sans jazz rhythms.

Music is not just playing notes in melody; it is about translating emotions through notes, rhythms and harmony. The reason why music appeals to the human emotion rather than cognitive, because it is located within the limbic system of the human brain where the neural activities of art and emotions are.

Dulz Cuna, a professor of Humanities in UP Visayas Tacloban, aptly describes Aurillo’s music as “going into another dimension where abstraction, development, evolution and transcendence occur in a time capsule. I soak my soul in my own meanderings into Noli’s world and open up to a panorama of feelings and impulses that only Noli could ambient like magic.” (Introductory note to Aurillo’s 2006 album “MEANDERINGS: The Prelude”).

Music, therefore, is all about passion and emotion, elevating the human soul toward the metaphysical and mystical encounter of the Truth. The phenomenological experience of music can unite one’s being with other beings or the universe, for that matter, in peace and harmony. Passion and human emotion are salient elements that shape and give birth to the soul of any form of aesthetics.

Highlights of Noli Aurillo’s Career as Acoustic Guitarist and Musician

In a 1988 American movie titled “Saigon Commandos” directed by Clark Henderson, Noli Aurillo arranged the musical scoring with Samuel Asuncion. More than a decade later, he won the 2002 Awit Awards as best arranger with his rendition of “Dalawang Decada Ng Asin (Overture)” under Vicor Records.

During the 2nd International Silent Film Festival in 2008 held at the Shangri-la mall in Mandaluyong City, Noli Aurillo played live music with Talan, Wendel Garcia and Kakoy Legazpi to a German film “The Oyster Princess.”

In 2006, Noli Aurillo launched his first album titled “Noli Aurilio’s Meanderings: The Prelude.” It was held during this writer’s one-man show at The Podium in Mandaluyong City on September 19, 2006. In the same year, he arranged one of the songs in Mishka Adams’  “God Bless the Child” and in Myra David Ruaro’s “Skarlet: The Powder Room Stories,” both are jazz albums by two of the best female Filipino artists in the country.

The following year, the remaining pieces of his album were sold out at KC Concepcion’s 2007 Artist Fair Filipinas in Eastwood City from which Noli Aurillo was also one of the performers. Among those who bought the album were Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and KC Concepcion.

In early 2008, Noli Aurillo was included in an album “MGA Gitarista,” a collection of instrumental tracks by leading Filipino rock guitarists in the country, featuring Jun Lopito, RJ Jacinto, Francis Reyes of The Dawn, Mike Elgar of Rivermaya, Mong Alcaraz of Sandwich and Chicosci, Hale’s Roll Martinez, Rocksteddy’s Juven Pelingon, Slapshocks’ Lean Ansing , Pupil’s Yan Yuzon, Jeff de Castro of Kitchie Nadal, Ian Umali of POT, Jack Rufo of Neocolors and Barbie Almalbis. The album is a compendium of musical styles and genres from blues-rock to heavy metal, from jazz improvisation to classic “Pinoy rock.”

Currently, Noli Aurillo has three regular gigs at Skarlet Jazz Kitchen in Timog, Quzon City, Tago Jazz Bar in Quezon City, and Bar@1951 in Adriatico, Manila.

To sum, as a naturally gifted guitarist and musician, Noli Aurillo is both an impressionist and expressionist artist. The eccentricity of his musical genius subverts all genres. He is “All-in-One,” in a manner of speaking, a musician’s musician. He can play from rock to blues, from jazz to classical, from folk to pop music. He is simply an unparalleled legendary Filipino guitarist, a man whose propensity for music surpasses his own prodigious brilliance, as if no one could beat Noli Aurillo except Noli Aurillo himself.

As a person, he is a paradox of contradiction, living both a bohemian and a pragmatic lifestyle. He seizes the moment with such passion and, at the same time, reflects upon it as a lived and created moment. He can be shallow in one instance and profound in another; he can be gentle or jarring, extremely emotional or highly cerebral.  

At the end of Noli Aurillo’s music, as it always does, ‘all roads lead home’ to all of those who listen to the magical sound of his melody, literally and figuratively!

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Daughters of Eve and its Aesthetic Incongruity in Philippine Cinema


2007 DVD cover of Silip by Mondo Macabro
Published in Manila Bulletin (Art and Culture), June 9, 2008

“Deep in my heart I'm concealing things that I'm longing to say. Scared to confess what I'm feeling - frightened you'll slip away.”
~ From the movie Evita

MAN IS INTRINSICALLY inclined to invent his own reality as an indirect way of confronting the unspeakable condition of his life. If he does not invent one, others will create realities for him.

In a post post-modern world of consumerism, technology and mass culture, invented realities can be either cheap or expensive, depending in one’s capability to purchase or acquire them. The promise of youth and beauty, the promise of instant fame and wealth, and the promise for a just society by religious, political and rebel leaders is noting but a commercialized and politicized "hope" to mollify man's repulsive condition.

Most often, in a struggle to survive from an austere condition, man tends to dwell on or believe in lies and fabricated truths rather than facing his concrete reality, which is more dreadful and humiliating. But, occasionally, man must come to terms and embrace the frightening realities of his existence as precondition of his freedom to live.

THE AESTHETIC SIMULATION OF REALITY IN FILMS

Elwood Perez, the FAMAS Award for Best Director in 1989
An award-winning Filipino filmmaker, Elwood Perez, created both delusional and repugnant realities in his 1986 movie “Daughters of Eve,” originally titled “Silip,” a film laden with grotesque cinematic images.

Never had such realities been portrayed in a nauseating, savage, and hauntingly realistic manner, dissecting the human psyche and primordial issues on lust and desire, needs and repression, hatred and violence, religious belief and superstition, life and death.

The film simulated a dark and anarchic world, reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedies in the 16th century, or the Nagisa Ōshima’s 1976 film “Ai no korīda” (In the Realm of the Senses), based on a true story of deviant sex obsession circa 1930 in Japan, sans the graphic portrayal of murders and gang rape of “Daughters of Eve”.

Distinct from his conventional movies that centered on convoluted plots like “Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M,” (1991) “Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit,” (1989) and “Disgrasyada,” (1979) to name a few, “Daughters of Eve” is a character-driven film with complex ensemble of anti-heroes.

Perez, as an eccentric filmmaker, created, from the auteur’s point of view, monsters out of his characters, brought them together in a grisly-designed stage of stark reality and, like a Greek god, indulged himself at their scuffles against the atrocities of their  fragmented world.

GLIMPSES OF “DAUGHTERS OF EVE”

The Slaughter of Animal on Sand Dune: The film opens with Simon (Mark Joseph) mercilessly hammering the head of carabao (water buffalo). The children, ranging from seven to fourteen years old, are crying and protesting for him not to kill the animal. (The carabao was, in real life, slaughtered to death). One of the children, a 13-year old girl Pia, had her first menstruation at the scene: red blood dripping between her thighs.

Still photo of Silip, Mark Joseph and Maria Isabel Lopez
Gratuitous and Salacious Sex Scenes: A 14-year old boy, Tiago, is peeping through the slits of nipa where the naked Tonya (Maria Isabel Lopez) is bathing and casting away her lust for Simon. At another scene, the same boy witnesses his mother, Mona (Myra Manibog), making love to her lover (Simon) in open air in broad daylight.

Selda (Sarsi Emmanuelle), a liberated young woman and teenage friend and rival of Tonya for Simon’s love and attention, sneaks out every night into a hut provided by the villagers for her vacationing American boyfriend. They make love while Tonya, a catechism teacher in the village, secretly watches them through the holes of the nipa.

Religiosity and Occultism: Tonya, torn between her lustful desire for Simon and her religious belief, purges herself with bizarre practices. The more she prays to God, the more obsessive she becomes with Simon to the extent of rubbing her vagina with sand and salt to repress her sexual desire.

She teaches the girls that men who have large penises are devils and should be avoided. Her deviant behaviors and excessive religiosity have created a dangerous cultic belief, imbibing the children with false teachings.

Escaping from the irate villagers due to her bizarre cultic practices that involve the children, Tonya seeks the help of Simon. This results in a wild sexual encounter on top of the sand dune. Pia, the 13-year old catechism student of Tonya, silently witnesses the couple’s activity; she bursts out, venting her anger on Tonya for letting her believe that Simon is the devil. Tonya hurriedly leaves, leaving the naked Simon and Pia in an uncomfortable situation.

This time, Pia slowly advances her steps toward Simon and, in a naïve and awkward manner, touches his dangling penis. But the latter pushes her away toward the slope; she hits her head on the rock and instantly dies. Simon, petrified with disbelief, carries the body of Pia toward the seashore.

The Murder of Simon: When the children suspect that Simon killed Pia, they cunningly plan their revenge. Headed by 14-year old Tiago, who was earlier angry with Simon for hurting his mother, the children take turns by stabbing Simon’s back with a knife. Finally, Tiago cuts off the head of the lifeless Simon with an axe and brings it to his horrified mother, Mona.

Still photo of Silip, Ma. Isabel Lopez and Sarsi Emmanuel
Gang Rape and the Burning of Two Women: Always envious and jealous on the two women, Mona spreads the news that it was Tonya and Selda who killed Pia and Simon. The villagers become incensed, as they desperately search for their whereabouts.

Finally, they catch Tonya and Selda and tie them naked inside a nipa hut. In the meantime, while the villagers are still deciding what punishment that they will inflict on the two women, some men sneak into the hut and begin to rape the naked Tonya and Selda.

After the gang rape, the villagers throw their torches into the nipa hut. Inside, the two women are crying in terrible pain until their voices slowly vanish amid the blazing inferno.

THE FILM’S BRIEF HISTORY AND ITS SOCIO-POLITICAL MILIEU

Still photo of Silip (Daughters of Eve)
Created in 1985, during the advent of anarchy against the oppressive political system, “Daughters of Eve” is the remaining film of ECP or Experimental Cinema of the Philippines in the 1980s.

In 1986, at the height of People Power Revolution that resulted in the downfall of Marcos regime, the film was shown at the select Philippine theaters. But the historic political event obscured the powerful presence of the film; it slipped unnoticed from the prying eyes of critics and morally upright religious groups.

Later that year, however, the film created uproar at the Chicago International Film Festival because of its macabre and revolting images. And, then, it slowly fell silent for several years, but its silence was about to explode like a time bomb.

Two decades later, the film would resurface when it became part of the 2005 film series on Television aired by BBC in London, based on a documentary by British author and film critic, Pete Tombs, on the "Wildest Cinemas in the World." So that by 2007, the film returned as if with a vengeance in a high definition DVD form, distributed under a British film company Mondo Macabro.

Prior to its 2007 release in DVD, “Daughters of Eve,” within the span of two decades, was given several titles in several countries, dubbed in different languages, and circulated underground in the Middle East, Europe, US, Latin America, and some parts of Asia. Never before that had a film, by a Filipino filmmaker, stirred worldwide interest and attention with mixed critical reviews 22 years later.

Today, the film has been eyed for viewing in a wide screen in Africa and Paris. Ironically, the film will remain elusive at the local Philippine theaters because it is still ahead of its time, needless to mention the religio-cultural sensitivity and conservative consciousness of the Filipino people.

A PEREZIAN FILM

Filmmaker Elwood Perez
The film and its characters, with ambiguous beginning and ending, is the antithesis of all the Hollywood-like romantic and tragic stories in the Philippine cinema. Its fragile characters are left wallowing within the mire of conflicts with no redeeming value or meaning toward the end, but a mere presentation of good and evil.

As told in a linear narrative, traditional salt makers populate a small nomadic village, set against the backdrop of surreal landscape: bare mountains, sand dunes, blue sky and undulating horizon of the sea.

The time and place are blurry; the villagers seem to be rootless as if they had just emerged from out of nowhere and, then, created a story and plots within their characters with no flashbacks whatsoever, as though the filmmaker deliberately let the characters form the cinematic narrative based on the their actions and dialogues.

The plot of the film is dissolved within the characters, the characters are dissolved within the plot, and both elements of filmmaking have become one entity. The time in the movie is inconsequential, a mere device in cinematic motion to signify night and day, morning and afternoon. There is no indication of season or year or epoch.

There is no clear beginning or ending, no gradual build up of the film’s perspective, but purely theatrical scuffles of the characters to resolve the conflict within the cinematic plots. Whether the characters resolve the conflict or not the film is already a completed work of art from the auteur’s point of view.

A convergence of Filipino taboos and shocking images, “Daughters of Eve” is a crossover between film noir and baroque cinemas. It explores the darkest recesses of human psyche and primeval instinct within the repugnant human condition. It uses a natural backdrop (carabao or water buffalo, sand dunes, the sea and blue sky) as a setting to superimpose the gravity of feelings, emotions, and cinematic images.

The resultant mise-en-scène is uniquely Perezian: morbid, dark and haunting, capturing the essence and timelessness of the film, literally or figuratively.

© Danny Castillones Sillada 

Filmmaker Elwood Perez, the author (Danny Castillones Sillada), 
American lawyer Paula Brillson, and surgeon Dr. Tito Garcia
(during the author's 2005 one-man art exhibit at The Podium, Philippines)

------
*How to cite this article:

Sillada, Danny Castillones. “Daughters of Eve and its Aesthetic Incongruity in Philippine Cinema.” Manila Bulletin (Art and Culture) 9 June 2008: F 1-2. Print.