HYPERMANILA, INSTANT MANILA.
Ariel Esteban Cayer
Some filmmakers simply aim to tell a story: from A to Z, or maybe in reverse. Others seek to look deeply into the tortured, complex, inscrutable souls and recesses of their characters. Some have been concerned with capturing mood, texture and colours, while others have sought to make us travel to incredible, fantastical worlds. Amok, for the best, falls somewhere between these categories: a hyperlink narrative that is more of a pressing, instantaneous portrait of Manila and the Philippines as its most contemporary, frantically captured yet no less brilliantly orchestrated; Amok as a state of mind reflected in a sensory overload and complete odyssey into an exotic, tangible urban landscape one goes through like a lived experience, a bolt of energy to the spine. Like being sky-rocketed into the bustling, busy streets of Manila with no parachute – and in the midst of a heat wave to boot, Amok is the realistic counterpoint to Mondomanila’s fever dream and captures the primary violence, grit and unpredictability of daily urban life like few films have done recently.
When Alissa Quart coined the term “hyperlink cinema” in her Film Comment review of Don Roos’ Happy Endings , she meant to qualify an emerging trend of films (at the forefront of which were filmmakers such as Robert Altman and Steven Soderbergh) that would weave intricate and interconnected storylines, often told simultaneously or out of sequence, about a multiplicity of characters. And more often than not, hyperlink narratives, through their complexity and sprawling scale, would offer, as a result, a complex portraits of their given situation, the parts and the characters coming together to form a web, a whole, a heightened form of layered storytelling. And while Amok definitely fits this category, it operates a different affective level, eliciting a much more…instantaneous response. Fajardo opens his urban synecdoche on crowd shots. Hundreds of people are going about their daily lives in the traffic of the Edsa-Pasay Rotonda intersection, one of the busiest in Manila. Three children, like a Greek chorus, are rapping of the overbearing heat and commotion of their day-to-day. Director Lawrence Fajardo, in a few, brilliantly edited shots, introduces us to hundreds of people, livelihoods, and situations, all relentless. Taxi drivers, food vendors, designer clothes resellers, retired actors or homeless people are shown indiscriminatingly. He shows us Manila at its most essential, vital and dangerous, like a frantic ant hill about to be consumed by a chaotic flood of violence. And slowly, he zeroes in on few individuals. And while one could expect them to cross path, as often is the case with so-called “hyperlink” narratives, they will serve a different purpose: the viewer will collect their experiences, be completely transported…in order for the chaos, when unleashed, to hit harder.
Amok functions in terms of a sun-scarred, overexposed and jittery snapshot one rips out of an instant camera with ferocious anxiety, using a palette of characters organized against a major, chaotic event of unpredictable violence. And like imperfect photography, Amok has a unique quality that makes it all-the-more important. A film about lawlessness and about the unlawful nature of a world where people are left to their own devices, Amok is a heart-wrenching, hot film about survival.
Amok won Fajardo Best Editing and Sound at the 2011 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. Take the trip yourself on July 24th at 19:50, in the J.A. De Sève theatre.