Thursday, December 13, 2012

PASCALINA (Pam Miras, 2012)

The more that I think about it, the more I see its parallels, at the narrative and character level, to a great Brazilian film, Suzana Amaral’s Hour of the Star. Each of these two films in question revolves around the story of a young, unprepossessing woman, each one seemingly out of place in an urban setting. Each of these two women -- Macabea in the Amaral classic and the eponym in Pam Miras' first feature-length film -- is portrayed with less than heroic traits: each socially awkward, each so inept at work that she faces the pink slip, each one so markedly plain and homely and each one oblivious to the treacheries and betrayals around her. Topping it off, each one’s destiny is about to be shaped by some form of supernatural agency. 

But one quick disclaimer, Pascalina is no rip-off: all the foregoing simply serves as a testament to the happy coincidence of two kindred stories, the happy coincidence of two female doppelgangers whose independent conceptions may hint at their universality. However, it must be asked, is this possible universality rooted in the real world or, rather, the narrow cosmos of cinema, which tends to construct the female subject in a uniform and limited fashion, while it empowers, valorizes and privileges the male gaze? The latter is plausible: the patriarchal interpellation of both female directors under consideration is not inconceivable. Macabea and Pascalina, it must be noted, are characters curiously prone to the harm and depredation of the men around them, a sure sign, it would seem, of the loaded dice against them. But consider their outcomes: While Amaral's Macabea seems doomed to a fatalistic trajectory in her fatal innocence, influenced by the crossed signals of clairvoyance, Miras' Pascalina is, at the end, a passionate protagonist who transforms herself and determines her own unique female subjectivity albeit with the aid of vampirism.

Here is where I admit experiencing a sort of ambivalence towards Pascalina. That her transformation into an avenging, sanguinary aswang may on the surface represent a fate far better, more seductive than her modest beginnings  -- a weak, unassertive dupe -- but is that what is paramount? Pascalina’s triumph over her betrayer, and her redress of the wrong done to her, are laudable, proactive and grand gestures, the radical feminist may declare with euphimism, but Pascalina's acts are essentially murder and revenge, for the repossession of a man who may no longer be worthy. So what next, if the film proceeded for another 20 minutes? What becomes of Pascalina with her newfangled powers but with a tampered moral compass? Maybe negate the man, too, the other betrayer, the radical feminist or Pascalina herself may aver.

Pascalina, to add to my misgivings, seems to be in the business of feeding alive on the latter-day hipness of  vampires in movies and literature, it seems to bank on the coolness quotient of it all, perhaps even among the déclassé Twilight crowd, to lend legitimacy to the monstrosity Pascalina becomes by her acceptance of an evil familial heritage. Nihilism, amorality are cool, no? Mais, oui, since vampires aren’t human.

Another fly in the ointment is Pascalina’s overt subsistence on essentialism: Pascalina’s inability to resort to means other than an appropriation of her supernatural heirloom seems to confine her in a box – and the film seems unapologetic about it and frames her transformation as a reflexive, instinctual progression. In sum, Pascalina's man is a two-timing cheat, his lover, the other woman, is a temptress, and Pascalina, the aswang, is an inherently evil vampire, according to the film's essentialist schema. Men are men, women are women, aswangs are aswangs -- all in their worst inherent aspects and limitations, all deemed incapable to act and perform otherwise from the standpoint of abiding stereotypes, prejudices and folklore.

Maybe the colliding ambiguities are the point of it all -- consider once more the simultaneity of the feminist and anti-feminist slants within the film, consider the duality of  moral and amoral undertones that might seem equally justifiable -- and certainly that is better than the soul-emptying fare in theatres these days that cannot nourish. Maybe deep down I latently admire Pascalina as much as the legion that openly swears by it. Perhaps it’s enough for a film to create a character that takes no shit from anyone (Pascalina's mettle is ultimately that of an antihero -- but antiheroes are cool, aren’t they? After all, they are like you and me.), and in this dog-eat-dog world, no one should willingly want to be a push-over, a patsy, a doormat. Forget the beatitudes, the moral cliches, for a moment. 


Perhaps what I will take away the most, what is bound to linger long with me at the very least, is Pascalina's gritty indelibility, its retro look, its washed-out colors, its betamax quality, all its primitive charm and simplicity that may speak more volumes than the latest 48-frames-per-second atrocity out of Hollywood. Just the look that seems to say this is no time for easy voyeurism. No sir  -- no sirs -- Pascalina will not oblige.This is not going to be pretty.      


  1. I get where your ambivalence and your misgivings are coming from, but I myself was taken with how it gave the film this oppressive aura of perpetual claustrophobia reinforced by the muggy imagery, the world as one big cul-de-sac. That scene in the theater where you have to literally squint to see what's going on sums up the film up for me, the conditions of its universe, and the eventual fate of its heroine.

    Now you've made me terribly curious about Hour of the Star. :) Really really good stuff Noli.

    1. Thanks so much, Dodo! And well put, that world as cul-de-sac is the apt metaphor, complete with its air of suffocating inescapability. Hey, your brief take on the film is packed with so much hermeneutic insight that I very much look forward to reading your entire review of it. I hope to get hold of the magazine where it will appear -- or even a bootleg digital copy will do. :)

      I see that you posted my review on the Cinephiles forum on FB. I'm very humbled - especially by the accompanying words. I think I'm older than you, but sometimes I feel you are a big brother to me, shepherding and looking after a kid with a bad case of a lisp and a stammer.

      And hey, yes, I do heartily recommend The Hour of the Star. I think it belongs to my list of Top 20 or 30 Latin American films of All Time. Macabea, you will find soon find out, is indeed "a star," an indelible one. And I loved the film so much I even bought Lispector's novel. :)

  2. yep me too. i must see that film.:-)admittedly the film i consider a major inspiration to this film is Barbara Lode's "Wanda", which is still my favorite film.

    thank you for taking time to watch and write about my film in this manner. i agree that feminists may think pascalina to be a wuss, going berserk and killing her fellow woman over the love of a man. But for me she has to kill charm first in order to transform kasi charm is the "ideal" that is shoved down her throat a woman who is all at once attractive, successful, independent, popular, desired. and once she kills that (and eat it) she's ready to embrace her true self and face the world bloodied like a newborn child.

    but having something petty like jealousy as a trigger was just me, and my state of mind when i wrote it hehe. pero oks na sa kin yun.

    and you're right, the vampirism comes off as medyo "pa-cool" to some. i do have to outgrow it.almost all my short films utilize ghosts (reyna ng kadiliman, wag kang titingin), or vampires (blood bank) in the narrative. with this feature film, i hope i've exhausted this monster fetish once and for all and go on to tell stories of using only humans hehe.

    andami ko pang gustong sabihin. i hope to meet you in person and talk. thanks again for writing about Pascalina.

    1. Dear Pam,

      I'm honored and thrilled to know you've read my little review. And twice that, with dollops of new-found respect for you, for responding with graciousness and sangfroid to my review. I'm now prepared to retract the less-than-flattering portions of that dastardly write-up. (Kidding)

      I must also thank you for sharing some invaluable information about your ongoing cycle of films, and about the new directions you are about to take in the future. I wish every director was as accessible as you are in volunteering information about artistic psychology and rationale. I'm not a fan of new historicism - that we study the biography of the director to shed light on his/her work -- but sometimes it's the only way to gain access into the chiaroscuroes of a creative universe."

      If you would like to get a copy of The Hour of the Star, which I do recommend, I can give you an invitation to a place called Karagarga where you can download it for free. Just leave me a working email address where I can send you an invitation. In the meantime I must and will download Wanda, a film I've deferred watching for far too long :)

      Maybe we will catch up sometime at a festival, but I have to warn you, I'm terribly Pascalina-like. Not much fun to talk to, nor to be around.


  3. hi noli, you may email me at pam_miras @ yahoo dot com. looking forward to downloading it. :-) thank you so much again.

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