Monday, May 20, 2013

TODO TODO TEROS (John Torres, 2006)

John Torres’s Todo Todo Teros is a film that will outlive us. That much this writer will boldly predict for this instant classic. Eros and terror, its twin concerns, will be relevant for the indefinite future, long after we're gone. (Terrorism for Torres is more universally quotidian, and not so much about suicide airplanes or car bombs.). But to repeat and acknowledge this film for what it is: it’s a classic. Not many of today’s films – perhaps the works of Lav Diaz and Raya Martin – will ever attain such a rarefied ontological status, but this one has it: the quality of the classic. Serendipitously shot, few films will approach the surprising and unexpected moments of Todo Todo Teros again. Not by Torres, not by anyone else.

If Lav Diaz is the moral conscience and borderline ideologue, and Raya Martin the postmodern historian among the ranks of Filipino independent filmmakers, John Torres may be christened as the confessional poet. We say that half in jest, of course: he is far from the self-destructive kind – on the contrary, he can be romantically celebratory amidst adversity – but his confessions are sublimated in literally inventive and lyrical ways. These confessions stake out a territory all their own – the intimate and the poetic – and Todo Todo Teros, a work that is prefigured by four early shorts, is the film that brings this aesthetic to a culmination.

Todo Todo Teros defies easy filmic categories and deploys many styles and forms of expression. It’s a collage of creative affinities that have shaped the director, weaving together not just home movies, film diary and other found footage but also a penchant for musical performances and felicitous poetry authored by Palanca Awardee Joel Toledo. There is wizardry in much of its editing that reveals a certain do-it-yourself ethos and a nod to latter-day aesthetics. These double-edged tonalities are far-ranging, for instance, contrasting a militarized city under surveillance with the romantic longings and inner conflicts of a pensive protagonist. Much of the first half of the film happens in the dark and restless nights of Manila, while much of the second happens in the daytime outdoors of Berlin.

To see Todo Todo Teros with traditional conceptions of what a film should be can be a trying experience. There is little to no plot to follow here: a filmmaker who leads a double life as a terrorist is torn between women and allegiances. We see him traipsing through an almost hushed cityscape as though through the stealthy cameras of state police. As a performance artist visiting Berlin, he falls for his Russian guide named Olga. There should be no trouble except that the filmmaker is a married man. Artists can be such bastards, and that is almost certainly the film’s more primal statement of terrorism, the bombed-out relationships.

What is sweet and poignant are not the mechanics of Todo Todo Teros’s plot, but the fact that it features very intimate footages from Torres’s personal archives: his romantic interlude with the real-life Olga. Constantly framed and kept on her toes by Torres’s attentive lens, she is an endearing and mesmeric presence. Everything has been reverse-engineered to feature Torres’s moments with her, and still this reality-within-a-film all works magically. No seams show at all. As the courtship unfolds, we marvel and gasp at the intimacy Torres affords us. Tantalizing is the moment when Torres tries to trick Olga into saying “Mahal Kita” (I love you) to the camera.

Todo Todo Teros has few precedents in recent memory. Torres’s tactics and thematics can perhaps be likened to those of Ross McElwee, an American independent documentarian who played out his romantic efforts before the camera in films like Sherman’s March (1986) and Time Indefinite (1993). The young Filipino filmmaker, however, stylizes the passages of documentary, his results more fictional and more artifice-laden than McElwee’s efforts. With his non-conventional aesthetic and the non-reliance on traditional narrative, Torres’s film is consciously avoiding the methods of commercial filmmaking. His fascination with found footage seems to point towards a conscientious study of film history, not dissimilar to the immersions of the Cinematheque Francaise habitues of the 1960s (better known as the French New Wavers). Torres shares this diachronic learning of film history with Raya Martin, who often references structural and underground films in his works.

Still memorable moments are rife in Todo Todo Teros. The home movies of the streets of the metropolis during New Year’s Eve exploding with the thunder of firecrackers find consonance with the specter of terrorism. The car ride where Lav Diaz, as himself, talks about passages in Pigafetta’s chronicles (in particular, those about the sexual precocities of the natives in the 15th century) is priceless and fits in well with the notion of the filmmaker-terrorist’s hold on women. Poignant and haunting is the moment when the filmmaker-terrorist’s wife, in utter despair, projects his husband’s indiscretions, the footages of Olga, onto walls and all manner of surface. And of course, there is Olga. More haunting. Beguiling. Todo Todo Teros, in the end, is a valentine of sorts, a valentine to the other, East to West, West to East, in these bigoted and belligerent times. 

reviewed: February 11, 2010

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