by Michael Guillén
If you don’t live in San Francisco, or for some reason can’t make it to the third annual “New Filipino Cinema” series at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, you can still celebrate the advent of Filipino Cinema in your own home by streaming Benito Bautista’s Boundary (2011) at Vimeo On Demand. For a mere $2.99, that’s world cinema at your fingertips!
A half hour into Boundary (2011) and you’ll be mesmerized by Bautista’s orchestrated sense of foreboding, McCoy Ternate’s neon-stained and vehicularly claustrophobic cinematography, and the grating disquietude of Coke Polipata’s anxious violin score. This is Manila neo-noir, darkly beautiful and atmospheric with distrust, uncertainty, desperation and pathos.
As synopsized by Joel Shepard when Boundary screened in the inaugural edition of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “New Filipino Cinema” series back in 2012: “Boundary is set in the crowded urban roadways of Manila during Christmas. A nervous taxi driver picks up an easy-going businessman as his last passenger for the night. Their journey together to a far-flung suburb takes a wrong turn in more ways than one, and becomes a wickedly tense portrait of urban anxiety and shifting identities.”
Winner of the NETPAC Award at the 2011 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival as well as a special mention in that festival’s South East Asian competition, it’s easy to understand how Boundary ended up on Oggs Cruz’s “Top 15 Feature Length Filipino Films of 2011” at Lessons From the School of Inattention, where he praised a storyline “that unites top-level corruption with bottom-level criminality.”
Co-authorship of Boundary ‘s urban narrative deservedly goes to talented screenwriter John Bedia who, as Richard Bolisay describes, has a tendency to create a scriptural denouement that is a “gala of predictable outcomes and unpredictable victims.” Bedia likewise seems drawn to the interior world of vehicles, momentarily safe from but ultimately encroached upon by the menace of Manila. He scripts the permeability of this boundary.
Bautista’s command of the film’s stylized mise-en-scène within the confined vehicular sequences demanded by the script posits a fascinating consideration of the auteurial conversion of word to image. Bautista, Bedia and McCoy Ternate have collaboratively envisioned Boundary in a lustrous nocturnality, awash with vivid oranges and greens bleeding from the city’s neon lights, as well as the Christmas lights strung up within the cab’s interior. Ternate’s containment of so much color and movement within the constraints of the vehicle is downright masterful. I found myself frequently intrigued by his shifting camera placement and wondering how even one more person could fit into an already crowded cab?
In the role of the guilt-ridden cab driver, Ronnie Lazaro—who I last saw in Affliction (Yanggaw, 2008)—exudes the sweaty desperation of Manila cab drivers. His fare, the ruggedly handsome Raymond Bagatsing, suggests a different temperature of menace. Together, within the confines of the cab and the guarded limits of their conversation, they reflect in microcosm the shady ways of their outer world.
Photos courtesy of WanderLustProject Films.