Wednesday, November 18, 2015

BUKOD KANG PINAGPALA (Sheron Dayoc, 2015)

He awakens her, a religious devotee, from a vegetative sleep, a long-standing coma. He heals her of paralysis, festering bed sores and all, and then soon he is ravishing her in her sleep and whispering commands in her ears. Is he the real thing or some opportunistic being in sheep’s clothing? In this religious horror mystery, questions like this are asked to make us doubt our received pieties of many centuries. In this, it tries to be polemical, but in this, for better or worse, it is unsure of conviction. That, and ammunition.

It is little we haven’t heard of before, no matter how this entity in question looks like Jesus Christ according to Davinci: dark beard, a crown of thorns, and flowing hair like a Nazarenite. No, no matter how the house under seeming possession seems like a gallery of religious European artifacts, like some symbolism emanating all the way from the Quattrocento. The proceedings are as breakable as the house’s statuary.

Of course Roman Catholicism as European/Spain’s religious legacy is the target here. But Dayoc’s new film -- something atypical of his previous work -- falls short even in its portentousness: the biblical rhetoric spouted all throughout is rehashed and regrettably underwritten – to think that three heads share screenplay credits. Many of the lines sound like trite expressions of damnation cut and pasted from some unlettered forum or message board. Sure, they may be read as symptoms of postcolonial malaise, but little is done with this chestnut that is imaginatively new. It is almost already everyday stuff. To find someone answering to the name of God or something just as bizarre, you need only to peruse the news about our religious cults or the strange characters coming out of the woodwork during election season.  

Despite this film’s efforts to make itself controversial and polemical, the script is lackluster, unsubstantial, miserably wanting. The polemic it foists on us feels uneven, unsure about how to achieve the demonization of Christianity while floating the possibility that the whole shebang isn’t of divine inspiration at all. It plugs in worn-out biblical symbolism – a dove here, a serpent there – to keep us guessing. But it just comes off playing safe, too calculated and too medieval. Its real target is thinly veiled, after all, whether he shifts shape as a succubus or as flesh and blood.
In a country where the excesses and pitfalls of (false) devotion and religiosity are quite apparent – even movies have depicted this skepticism from Bernal's Himala onwards – this is not uncharted territory anymore. So much so that films -- like Miss Bulalacao, another competition entry -- have widened their scope to include extraterrestrial intervention and determinism in man’s affairs. Not that I approve of it. It’s just one deus-ex-machina for another.

For better or for worse, Bukod Kang Pinagpala’s stabs at horrifying us away from religion, in the end, are attended with laughter and tittering. No one was into it. No one in the audience was. Not the actors and actresses with their empty, worn-out lines, and half-hearted performances. Not even the subtitlists were in the know. At times the captions refer to the supernatural figure with reverential capitalized pronouns, sometimes that’s out of the window. Pity, it seems as if Dayoc was trying to do a Kleist or a Bunuel, but the latter’s humor and irony, for one, are nowhere in sight. From a familiar and therefore challenging premise, the film isn’t equal to it, but only gives way to profane reactions for the wrong reasons.      

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

MANANG BIRING (Carl Joseph Echague Papa, 2015)


Admittedly there is much in the making of Manang Biring that translates as sheer Greek to me. Until today, I had never sat through a full-length animated movie done exclusively with the use of rotoscoping. I’d once seen a few brief glimpses of Linklater’s Waking Life, but had found the film overlong for one sitting, decided to take a rain check and forgot about it. My first impression of this modality of animation was that it works to impart an oneiric, sometimes comics-like quality, sometimes painterly dimension to live action. Rotoscoped imagery might remind you of the distortions and flatttenings of modern art, from Matisse to Munch, from Expressionism to Fauvism to Hyperrealism, or it might come across as animated comics done by a skilled draughtsman. A virtue with great applications, apparent even then.
No question, there is a serious art to it. There is also the artisanal dedication in the attention to detail that it entails. These days, however, there’s also recourse to the labor-saving substitute of 2D and 3D applications (even Adobe Photoshop can do it at a pinch) not to mention more powerful gpu and cpu rendering that can be had on the cheap. Beyond being an exercise in style, however, a work like Manang Biring makes you wonder what makes an animator take the pains to essentially make two movies – one, a live-action representation, the other, the rotoscoped product, a representation of the representation -- for the price of one. 

In Manang Biring, there seems sufficient justification for a full-length feature rotoscoping: one, that no other Filipino has done it, and two, the film features apropos material (e.g. dream sequences, moments of absurdity) that is less easy to achieve with live action, and more evocative if done with the stylization of rotoscoping. My own sense is that, as this is a sort of elegy in honor of the filmmaker’s mother, a rotoscoped world affords the filmmaker a grieving distanciation, a mediation, a dressing of the wounds for something that remains fresh and unhealed in his memory. Manang Biring is further homage to Papa's late mother as well as  a sublimation of grief. If last year’s award-winning Ang ‘Di Paglimot ng Mga Alaala captured the mother's actual footage, this time, Papa swings to the other end of the spectrum with fictionalized animation.

From all appearances, Manang Biring entailed easily more time and elbow grease to put together than last year's debut, but Papa’s paean to his mother this time proves not without logical clunkiness and betrays, unwittingly, reservations about the idea of motherhood. As the titular mother, Manang Biring errs on the side not of motherly instinct but of worldly irrationality predicated on timidity and vanity, illegality and sheer lack of horse sense.

As if, in the end, after all, this mother does not want to be seen with warts and all. As if this tough Ilocana who bludgeons burglars and sells abortifacients in front of Quiapo Church suddenly grows deathly afraid (more afraid than death even) at the mention of a daughter who has gone missing for years and who now makes her whereabouts known all but too late -- when Manang Biring is battling for her life. If anything, someone faced with mortality knows no modesty when it comes to the comfort of family. One is truest at the verge of dying.

When Manang Biring receives word of her daughter’s homecoming, though, a daughter who has hitherto scarcely been a good, filial example, what does Manang Biring do with her borrowed time? She burns the candle at both ends committing one far-fetched, illegal scheme after another in an effort to make money to extend her life: teaming up with her erstwhile burglar in order to steal from an ecstasy dealer to selling the narcotic pills herself at a club for ravers. When all else fails, she conspires to put a stand-in in her place when the appointed time comes. That doesn't sound like human nature, let alone the verity about mothers. It sounds like the stuff of pure comics. Here are some of the reasons for the use of rotoscoping, after all.

If Kurosawa’s Ikiru is about how a terminally ill man tries to do his best to help his community, Manang Biring, all but to the end, is about scheming and deception, a headscratcher that even involves a male impersonator taking her place. Maybe it’s my naivete kicking in and the likes of Kanji Watanabe are a thing of the past. Cynicism, they will sing, is the ballad of the times.

Which begs a common sense question, my most nagging incredulity at this supposedly up-with-the-times world, this quick-fix world: why are the proceedings anachronistically trapped in a time warp where Manang Biring has to wait for many long months to get in touch with her daughter when she can get hooked up with latter-day telephony at an instant? And who even takes pains to write snail-mail these days? Perhaps Papa begs not to repeat himself, as videocam dialogue was the main motif of his debut film. The point of the delay of course is to dangle the specter of drama and death over the slowly-fading figure of the mother. There’s no question what obsesses Papa at the moment, there's no question about his sincerity about it, but the turns and devices of narrative should be better thought out in future projects.

Admittedly the foregoing may sound less than flattering, but let me temper that with a confession. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Manang Biring goes on to win the grand prize and subsequently make the rounds of overseas festivals. The film has virtues, I suspect, that only honest-to-goodness filmmakers can put a finger on. Papa is a filmmaker's filmmaker, full stop. He looks set toy go from strength to strength, what with all his technical wizardry to make even worthier, if not truly masterful films. His passion for filmmaking is immense. Ambidexterous in his command of the medium, even. He is like a Jan Svankmajer with his restless versatility who leaves little to chance. He is a meticulous animator who must be his own worst critic, teasing out detail after detail that may slip the casual eye. And his nods to cinema are those of a studious and devout adherent. Notice the littlest salutes to traditional filmmaking: how, for instance, a fish-eye lens effect bloats Manang Biring’s face. Note how he tries to achieve in rotoscope such cinematographic values as narrow depth of field and deep focus. Notice how timelapses of clouds swirl over Manang Biring as if ready to consume her. Pity, though, she all but cowers, even when she alternatively looks toughest. 

Fight or flight? Manang Biring seesaws between the two extremes. Part of the unsettled internal conflict seems to stem from the long tradition of othering the Ilocana has undergone in screen representations. Much like the way the Waray has been portrayed as the other, the Ilocana as the other may still derive from the way Gloria Romero portrayed Manang Biday, the tough and feisty Ilocana, in the 1950s: tobacco munching, tough-talking, bellicose, armed with a two-by-two. Minus much of the trappings, Manang Biring channels this regional archetype, but dubiously extends it to naturalize an unlawful aggression, a wrong-headed means to stay alive. This defines a hamartia that is then compounded by a contradictory hamartia at the other extreme, that of Manang Biring being made to look like a timid, vain old lady when it comes to the matter of her daughter. Things don't add up. She seems, after all, not so much a more nuanced character as a confused and addled one. Mestastasis in the brain? Maybe. Maybe, and this is perhaps what the circuitous and clunky detours of aporetic feeling Manang Biring wishes to convey: everyone quakes at the prospect of death, even more so the prospect of a guilt-ridden, lonely and undignified death.        

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

88:88 (Isiah Medina, 2015)

Abstract time, a mode of temporality invoked and highlighted by Isiah Medina in this experimental sortie, might be read as a shorthand for a concept of time that runs counter to concrete, empirical, linear, historical time, a time that parenthetically encompasses the growing problems of social disaffection and precarity persistent within the film's locality. Abstract time negates the despondency of this immanent concept of time that is reified and commodified by bandyclocks and stopwatches which dictate the duration and segmentarity of working life. This open-ended, eternal concept of time seems to be the only recourse for an emancipatory possibility in the future, in a society where the regimentation of time has become the site of social imprisonment and disenfranchisement. Abstract time also repeals what concrete historical time has enshrined and become coextensive with: Philosophy, for instance, is discredited as an ineffectual tool of explaining the logic of existence. Reason, that legacy of Enlightenment, has also ceased to be a source of meaning. If it were ever useful, it has stopped to serve the purposes of the powerless and the poor. 

Set in the less-than-thriving suburbs of Canada where the sometimes angry, often disenfranchised and unemployed young folks find themselves marginalized from the socio-economic apparatus, the film subjects them to artistic sublimation, rendering them as subjects in an unusual variety of documentary, although it hardly looks like one, even if it might as well be one because its socio-economic concerns, its quest for ontological meaning, capture the fears and frustrations, the ruminations and dreams, the desperation and deprivation of its characters. In the background we hear their voices in the act of reading and engaging in rationalization. They quote and recite from books and their own writings, but sometimes the sound they make is a mundane one of blowing off steam. What is all but obfuscatory, however, is how their difficult lives are given expression in murmurs or in half-audible whispers, often disembodied, off screen, as if spoken in nascent madness, as if realizing the subversive nature of their words, as if sensing the surveillance by those who may suppress their notions of resistance and recalcitrance, their notions of revolt. What is sometimes frustrating is how much of the volume of the film is deliberately turned down to our incomprehension so that one must strain to listen and make the words out – sometimes to the point of futility -- made more confused and incomprehensible by the overlap and confusion of simultaneous voices, whether expressing a sentiment or giving voice to a personal idea or a passage in a book.

Despite a certain sense of despondency, Medina creates an atmosphere of airiness, an artifice of buoyancy, through the visual motifs of his formal and stylistic experimentation. The nature of what the camera captures could be termed impressionistic and casual and repetitive in their occurrence: we get many outdoor shots of pavements and concrete surfaces of suburbia, side by side with the private quarters and bedrooms of youthful couples. Visuals and sounds, for the most part, do not always go hand in hand, seldom complementary in an effort, it seems, at estrangement. The mechanics of montage contrast stylized frames of saturated colors with seemingly washed-out frames of suburbia: the better to declare the film's experiment and the better to show the desolation of life on the ground. But it is the human dimension that gives heart to the film for it is that which lives, breathes and aspires for better life: a brief but poignant image is that of a sharing of a sandwich sliced in half presumably for hungry couples who can't afford a square meal.   

Cinematically speaking, however, the most notable and most courageous aspect of Medina’s worthy project is its uncompromising and stubborn refusal against narrative and formal conventionalism. Apart from the added stylization in post-production -- sometimes genuinely startling and striking, sometimes simplistically conceived and executed -- there are sequences of striking unfamiliarity and and points of view that further render the unicity of technique. But what Medina does with all of it is what makes the enterprise worthwhile: the film complexifies into a poem of singular tonality expressing what it means to survive and to be alive -- a living, breathing palimpsest inscribed with the voices of the marginalized, their thoughts and feelings, their fears and aspirations. However frustrating, this palimpsest is inscribed with dehumanized articulations: unfinished sentences, bits and pieces of them, and sometimes thoughts and ideas trailing off, yet crescendoing into an accumulation of disparate voices that threaten the strictures of linear, univalent time, of a future that hangs in the balance. In the final reckoning, it is abstract time that may protect us from everyday temporality entrapping our movement and freedom. Abstract time may be a means to afford us a line of flight, a return to infinity.  

P.S. Never got around to reading the synopsis, can merely guess what the title is about, but this is my take on it. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Christopher Pavsek - The Utopia of Film: Cinema and Its Futures in Godard, Kluge, and Tahimik (2013)

No review here. Just picked it up. Didn't know about it until Sir Eric himself (aka Kidlat Tahimik) tipped me off about its publication.

Everyone must know about this already, but worth repeating is another Tahimik sighting, a brief cameo, in Werner Herzog's "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" as Hombrecito, a self-reflexive nod to a character in an earlier film, "Aguirre: The Wrath of God", that of an aboriginal flutist who accompanies the doomed Aguirre down the Amazon River. Back to Kaspar Hauser, Tahimik not only plays the flute but makes up a spiel in Tagalog. No one seemed the wiser, except that Tahimik would go on to excerpt this cameo for one of his own films, "I'm Furious Yellow."

Worth mentioning, too, is a book entitled "Geopolitics of the Visible," edited by Rolando Tolentino, where Fredric Jameson describes "Perfumed Nightmare" as an example of "Art Naif." Coincidentally, I've been calling it very similarly, consubstantially, as "Faux Naif," in reference to more contemporary films (e.g. the works of John Torres, Raya Martin, Shireen Seno) that seem to trace their roots to Kidlat Tahimik's distinctive style.  

One should also check out the magazine Cinema Scope, particularly the spring issue for this year. It contains an interview with Tahimik regarding his latest film "Balikbayan # 1." 

Monday, August 17, 2015

AN KUBO SA KAWAYANAN (Alvin Yapan, 2015)

Every filmmaker of note seems haunted by its specter: the nostalgia for our nation's lost origins. What they, and perhaps each of us, seek, however, isn't dissimilar from a Derridean trace, a reference to the past that seems elusive, ill-defined and indeterminate, "a mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present." Yet our historicist and history-conscious filmmakers persist. In Kidlat Tahimik’s “Why Is Yellow The Middle of The Rainbow?” the director-narrator recognizes the virtues of the Native American shaman and brings him to an apotheosis as an ideal parallel to our own babaylan, our own bygone version of the seer and miracle-worker. In the cinematic corpus of Auraeus Solito, it is the babaylan of Palawan that serves as the conduit of old, healing wisdom. In Kristian Sendon Cordero's "Angustia," a heroic Bicolano shaman is placed in favorable relief against a headlong Spanish man of religion. Meanwhile Lav Diaz's expansive explorations of the so-called Malay time are hypostatized examples resulting from a yearning for idealized roots. In "Todo Todo Teros," John Torres lends the soapbox for Diaz to expound on what he had read of Pigafetta's famous chronicles of Magellan's expedition, in particular the accounts of Cebu, detailing the natives' cultural precocities. Even in the already postmodern phase of his mature work, Raya Martin invokes precolonial nativism as a life-saving, albeit superstitious, talisman that finds expression in such works as "Independencia" and "How to Disappear Completely."

The attempt to locate the ideal historical substrate for our vanished civilization and culture, the attempt to retrieve it, can be vaguely read into Alvin Yapan’s latest work. As in many films that take this route, there is a crypto-mystical tonality to the proceedings. In "An Kubo Sa Kawayanan," the bamboo house seems alive, surrounded by woods also stirring with strange, enchanted animals and insects. And the inhabitant of this hut, a kind of hermit, has turned inward in the hut's solitude, in her quasi-schizophrenic state. (She speaks to herself, perhaps in response to all the decoded flows of labor, capital, and commodities that encircle her: the lure of technology, the lure of jobs, the lure of the city and the world.) The hut seems to know the past as much as the future: how its stairs begin to creak as if to forewarn its tenant of threat and danger. How it appears to tell the hermit in dreams what is about to unfold.

In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard writes: “The hermit’s hut is a theme which needs no variations, for at the simplest mention of it, “phenomenological reverberation” obliterates all mediocre resonances… Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb “to inhabit.” “ Yapan's hut is indeed surrounded by breathtaking solitude and enchantment, but it cannot hide itself as a rickety structure, a site of decay. Yet it seems to serve its sentinel as an oracular house that imparts wisdom and admonition – it communicates with her -- and extending the hut as a metaphor of immensity and cosmicity, it might be the Filipino's larger habitation. Time and place. History.

Our enchanted, indigenous history, then, as hopelessly propped up by its last, steadfast tenant. Although the hut seems structurally unsound, and perhaps untenable, Yapan constructs his locus-of-hut-as-history with something endemic, resilient and pliant: the bamboo. How he frames the primeval grass with lyricism: how it rustles and sways in the winds. How it is buoyant in water. And in seeming contradistinction, Yapan intercuts these bucolic images with those of mammoth ships, presumably of global trade and commerce. Side by side, the bamboo seems valorized, quixotically so: that matrix of our folklore, of our creation myths, from which our first man and woman emerged (i.e. Malakas and Maganda). And the mystical bamboo hut with its enchanted milieu speaks like the old wisdom it evokes.

If the hermit’s hut and its vicinity stand for precoloniality or that so-called idealized past, Yapan, however, seems confined, mostly, to mythopoetic gestures inscribed on the terrain of global and domestic conjunctures (Yapan has mined this vein of postcoloniality and globalization before in films like "Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe" and "Debosyon"). Little here, it seems, can be offered on how the course of history will have to change. If Yapan views the past with idealism, it is almost perhaps as an automatic reflex to invoke the "unalloyed" past. For where to locate our vanished origins, the “arche,” the beginning? It would be ridiculous to subscribe to the nostalgia of Levi-Strauss, who rhapsodized how man should revert to a savage/precultural stage of anthropological development. History is after all contingent and aleatory and not trapped in describing circles, let alone in primitive temporality. What lies ahead can thus not be determined in advance. Nonetheless we must not lack historical perspective -- that history is not a smooth continuum, but composed of ruptures and breaks. Instead of mystifying the originary past, we must nurture an appreciation of history that enjoins a development of a philosophy of resistance, whether materialist or not, one that can challenge a faulty status quo, whether with a syncretic horizon or not, and offer the possibility of a genuine and significant change.

Friday, March 27, 2015

VIOLATOR (Eduardo Dayao, 2014)

No causality, no teleology, but the spontaneity of evil. This is Violator's doubtful premise, or perhaps the pretended, ostensible premise. Evil happens, or in more colloquial terms: shit happens. Possibility: telos points towards hell, given how the picture ends portentously in carnage -- and perhaps its determinism, too, given how, at the start, the world is already half-eclipsed: semaphored by crushed shadows, images of rustwork and stormclouds and other minutiae of brooding, benighted atmosphericism. A world spiralling and hurtling towards apocalypse. Meanwhile, what the film considers its talismanic line -- on the order of "evil for evil's sake" -- is twice-told, repeated, spelled out with emphasis just to deny the possibility of ambiguity (Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tadhana cloyingly quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald twice for a more romantic purpose.). 

One can make, however, a case for the causality of evil, despite the disclaimer of characters: evil can be traced to the opportunism of human power, as cops with guns, as cult leaders possessed with charisma and mystique, both evident here. Throw in natural catastrophes and paranormal hauntings in the background apropos of a new millennium (It's getting late for catastrophic end of millennia, though. This smokescreen is wearing thin) and you have a universal unravelling. With regard to the syntagm of "the spontaneity of evil," it can be taken as the nervous irony from the mouth of evildoers, a denial on the eve of inevitable doom and retribution, a euphemism for those to whom what goes around, comes around.

Storm clouds, deluges threaten on the horizon, the film forebodes at the start. A reminder that Mother Nature can be not so motherly after all, but decidedly, lopsidedly evil. Conflictual Nature, we have it in spades, but a conceit once too often resorted to. After all, the trajectory from Homo natura to Homo historia has long come and gone. (Not hereabouts, one may contend, but it remains an old chestnut that should remain windfallen.) Nature here is atmospherically not so neutral, a dark expressionism. Nature is black and Manichean evil, and to mix religions, this nature basks after theodicy, if such a thing exists. In Violator's world, things are post-Christian, but the supposed benevolence of God, or a despair for his immanence, is blasted symbolically in the form of brittle plaster figurines of  patron saints and the Holy Family lined up like hapless victims of execution, pulverized by the bullets of a dying police protagonist. Another index of residual religion: men immolate themselves as in some Eastern religions. And another: assorted suicides and cultists neatly mass-murder themselves according to fatal prophesy. Entropy is order. 

Eschatology of evil, then, although Violator seems to blur, or intentionally confuse, a sense of natural calamity and paranormal or a kind of last judgment apocalypse for a precinctful of crooked cops. Well, these are all understandably obfuscatory devices of deferral in the film's process of becoming. Like retribution, like memories to haunt conscience, apparitions of dead cultists and those of other nameless spirits take their maddening turns. How much of it exists in the mind, how much is diegetically real? All part of its thesis on evil and its genre-bending slippages and machinations, one may suppose. 

As befits genre conventions, Violator tries to ratchet up horror at the end, but the picture has somehow undercut itself. The horror is all but paradoxically dissipated with its shift from the general lay of the land to the specific -- that is, from an unpredictable, and thus unsettling, first half to a second half flood-bound in a police precinct, its crooked cops spooking each other by the numbers. Not even a demonic being who infiltrates the proceedings does the trick. It hardly helps when the blacks become more and more crushed, to the point of blinking, stuttering darkness in the thick of a no-exit ending. My eyes glaze and get rheumy with this kind of exaction, this taxation of vision, as in the case of Hindi Sila Tatanda. But if nothing else, early on -- that is, the first half of the film -- Violator has cinematic moments of sheer cogency (take immolation, take videographic footage of cult proceedings) that creepily blindside you as it can simultaneously depict elements of horror Japanese-style -- otherwise the picture can get somewhat, well, dim.         

PS. Wrote this long ago when the film first came out, but I'm still wondering what a known, staunch partisan/ a bosom buddy of the filmmaker was doing on the board of judges. Ethical propriety hereabouts, I guess, is just a suggestion, not a moral injunction.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A GIRL AT MY DOOR (July Jung, 2014), HAN GONG-JU (Lee Su-Jin, 2014), THREAD OF LIES (Lee Han, 2014)

Let me say at the outset, my knowledge and appreciation of South Korean culture can at best be described as fragmentary, that of a dilettante. Yes, I’ve visited the country in the past, but it was just that, a sojourn that was always never close enough for the purposes of a full acculturation. Some aspects of what I have experienced appeal to me more than others. Bulgogi is sweet and tender, soju is bracing, but the telenovella and K-pop, no matter what splash Fil-Korean Sandara Park seems to be creating as a singer, cut no ice with me. My strongest affinity, for now, starts and concludes with the country’s art-house films.

Lately catching up on some of last years’s films, I came across this cluster of dramas, quick and random choices, that thematize what it is like to be a young Korean girl. Curiously, by some tell-tale coincidence, they seem to be performatively saying and meaning the same things with dire univocal repercussions. All revolving around young female protagonists – around the ages of 13-15 years old -- these films show an onerous subject formation that traumatizes, stigmatizes, and ultimately drives their protagonists to a point of no return. 

In a society that preens itself on a long-held claim of modernity, where phallicism ostensibly has for many generations not excluded female genitalia, is there really a legitimate whisper for help regarding the brutalization of young adolescent girls? Do these films suggest the groundswell for the return of the repressed -- that is of the need for authoritarianism once experienced in the country's history? Or is it the other way around, given the wayward adult figures in this film? Or are these perhaps mere coincidental fabulations of cinema in a country so progressive it's run by a female president? (Having said that, female president notwithstanding, it doesn't necessarily invalidate the premise of these films either. One has to ask incredulously again: Where does the sudden topos of beleaguered adolescents come from? Is it just a manifestation of presentational, that is, prioric art?)

A Girl at My Door features a young, adolescent Do-Hee who suffers corporal and verbal violence at the hands of her step parents. Han Gong-Ju tells the eponymous story of a teenager who is, this time, gang-raped by several dozen teenagers right in her home. Thread of Lies weaves the affecting tale, told in mixed tones, of Cheon-Ji who is driven to suicide by school bullying and the seeming neglect of those nearest to her.

In varying shades of desperation, they reveal, if they are based on the empirical and more than just anecdotal, the issues that fissure the upbringing and makeup of young Korean girls. Young male teenagers seem to act with entitlement and impunity -- abetted, it seems, by permissive parents.

And the invariable response seems to be a drastic one. Although she is shown to be a free spirit who enjoys to dance by the breakwater, Do-Hee, always bangs her head, irrationally, against the wall as if wanting to atomize herself whenever she realizes her situation in life. There is little succor for her, unless a deus-ex-machina is mercifully inserted into the proceedings.

Cheon-Ji is a thoughtful young girl who is made the butt of jokes, the butt of hectoring and psychical violence, alternating with being an object of indifference. As all this unfolds, told in flashbacks that immortalize her, she is all too introspectively aware of her problematic milieu that she checks out volume after volume on self-help and psychology from the school library. Preparing her suicide carefully, she has the most courteous and dignified reproach to her family and tormentors.

Not with dissimilarity, Han Gong-Ju realizes early on -- although she is whisked away to a more silent town, seemingly a more insulated place away from the juridical proceedings -- that the situation will only come to a head. She ineptly practices swimming lessons for the denouement that she foresees for herself. At a crucial moment of conjuncture and desperation, she will be made to choose whether to throw herself into a river. 

Two kinds of unduly privileged men and young men become apparent here. Those who are quick to inflict violence – the step father (along with her step grandmother) of Do-Hee who make her black and blue all over and the young gang-rapists of Han Gong-Ju. But the presence is just as apparent as the absence. Do-Hee, Han Gong-Ju and Cheon-Ji are all but without father figures - - fugitive or merely absent -- with Do-Hee all but an orphan who will latch on to the kindness of strangers. The majority of the other parents and adults posited by these three films, meanwhile, are all neglectful and thus enablers of a dangerous vacuum by their absence. The mob rule of the gang-rapists' parents that almost lynches Han Gong-Ju is also disinhibited and telling here.

Present-day surveys indicate that South Korea is fast becoming a decidedly atheistic society – the numbers range from 40-50 % of the population -- and these three films seem to attest to a growing measure of anomie and nihilism, presumably filling in the void left by religion. They seem to ask for a spiritual ballast, a guiding direction beyond the blind and desperate anti-solution of self-annihilation. It makes us wonder what Slavoj Zizek, who visited the country last year, had to say about the psychoanalytic imaginary of  the country and the seeming dialectical condition between the sexes -- a dialectic, not an alternation, between yin and yang, if you will -- faced by Korean women had he been asked on the urgent subject. Then again psychoanalysis, of which the Slovenian philosopher is a master juggler, has always been centered on oedipalization – the formation of male psyches from boyhood into adulthood. No room for the distaff side at all. Small wonder then they invited the Elvis of Philosophy over -- maybe even, in the process, to win over the womenfolk to oedipal hegemony.