Feature by: Raya Martin
The third and final installment of Raya Martin’s journal as a part of the Résidence du Festival de Cannes.
The following are random entries collected while in Paris and Rotterdam, except for the last one that was written in Manila.
* * *
“I left the ending ambiguous, because that is the way life is.” -Bernardo Bertolucci
* * *
Champs-Elysées is wide, especially when you’ve only had a few hours of sleep, commuting all the way north of Paris down to the center, where Le Balzac is. We are introduced to the theater’s director Jean Jacques Schpoliansky, a lively young man even at an early 9 AM. Quite early in fact that Georges would later introduce me as from Thailand. Everyone grabs an espresso and chocolate croissant. He takes us around the cinema, touring the back alleys of the theater. For the first time, I could see behind the projector, through the peephole located above the audience seats. We pass by a corner full of posters. There’s Wong Kar Wai, most recognizable. We talk about Asian Cinema, and Jean Jacques turns to me. “Philippines?” “Lino Brocka?” because I presume he would be the most familiar of the local filmmakers. “Brocka who?” Then he turns to Hee-Jung and goes on and on about Korea. Then it hit me. Where the hell is Philippine Cinema?
* * *
My mother doubts the recognition I’ve been getting lately. She thinks it might get to my head and ruin all the values she instilled in me. My siblings and I all studied in a Catholic high school that we later wanted to forget about. Anyway, my mother is also the one who refused to let me audition for a popular children’s show when I was younger. I badly wanted to be in it, but there was enough dissuasion from my mother to forget all about it. A few years later, I auditioned for a youth show, but that predictably never worked out as well.
These days, I never get to talk to my mother. My father, who can be both my best and worst companion, is always online on the instant messenger. Once in a while, my mother sits beside him and I get to say hello and tell them what’s been happening over here. But really, there isn’t enough time , and there’s not much to say to actually stir something up. So anyway, I never get to talk to her.
Back at home, my mother and I have interesting discussions about what I do. Whenever I get enough annoying comments and dismissiveness from my father, I turn to her and she would always have the sincerest insights on things. I don’t want to talk about form with people who don’t care much about form. But I always love hearing the soul talk, and everyone who puts his heart into it can speak well. The soul should be the basis of film criticism, which is why I get the best ones from my mother. And so we end up talking about family, family life, life.
I remember my mother these days because I’m surrounded by an awful lot of doubts. Everyday I see the names of previous residents most people would be quite familiar of. I know Peter Sollett from pirated copies of Raising Victor Vargas. There’s Wang Bing and his epic documentary Tiexi District. Recently I’ve seen the amazing La Cienaga by Lucrecia Martel. Then there’s Vimukthi Jayasundara’s The Forsaken Land with its story about the Sri Lankan military. Then sometimes my head flies off to space and I see Mark with his Bafta nomination, Hee-Jung with her Lods Film School education, Ben and Sameh with their award-winning shorts, Santiago’s accomplished first feature. I find myself staring at blank walls, sitting in the empty bathtub drowning myself in beer, leaning against the heater in the bathroom, stuck in moments of contemplation. I still don’t understand why I’m here at all, typing this essay, sitting on a designer chair that’s more expensive than I am, trying to sound important to you. I still don’t understand why I’m into movies, still trying to make sense of my life, my childhood, my relationship with my sister. I’m remembering a special friend, a painful moment in school; I’m dreaming about life elsewhere.
Then, the only thing I was sure of was wanting to go home.
* * *
Glamorous, prestigious. Those are the words that the new general director of the Cannes Film Festival, Catherine Demier, used to describe the festival over a lengthy lunch at the L’Auberge du Clou across the residence’s compound. She used to work for the Centre National de la Cinematographe (CNC), a public institution that regulates the film industry here in France. She’s only had three months of experience with the festival, but people are impressed with her work.
So what’s the story? Basically, she just asked the festival through Pierre Viot, president of Cinéfondation, if she could have the job. And without hesitation, he replies “Why not?” I find that most impressive, and so does she, since there is a long list of people hoping for a job like hers. Then, she mentions her impression of the festival as “glamorous and prestigious” (I see Ben make a funny face). I wanted to mention, right then and there, about my film being rejected for official selection, after they’ve repeatedly said how they’ll try their best to help us with our careers. Anyway, it was a forging of acquaintances with champagne, red wine, sparkling water, over my meal of goose foie gras and fish with crab sauce and vegetable spaghettis.
The food wasn’t the best, but the lunch was certainly interesting. It was my first time to actually be with Pierre, our president. But it wasn’t the first time I met him. During the interview last year for the new residents—and they do it here in our big house—I was walking around in my boxers when this old man came out of the living room and spoke in incomprehensible French. I figured it was him, and he kept saying “little boy” and “never mind age”. Afterwards he looked at Mark and talked to him while I quietly slipped out of the area.
Bruno Dumont was there, who was head of the jury this year. Dumont, whose films are L’Humanite, La Vie de Jesus, and Twentynine Palms, is notoriously arrogant and “pretentious”, but that’s just what the other people say. In a meeting with him the other day, I found him to be a very brilliant, no-bullshit man, who was confidently talking about, well, cinema, that which I dream of, with the freewheeling dynamics of non-professionals, the approach of unpredictability and directions towards simplicity—methods that I learned from my documentary days, days with Kidlat Tahimik. Dumont speaks with confidence, like it’s something we should all try, but never in an imposing voice. This is all to someone’s dismay, someone who kept on slipping provocations by asking Dumont which cinema he prefers, then goes on to say that there’s more to that cinema. Dumont replies with coolness, “Yes, I’m not saying that…”.
Anyway, I think Pierre was most pleasant yesterday when we were all there. The last time they met together was when I was in Japan for a festival and I came back to France receiving much complaining from everyone about this old man who was talking quite weirdly, offensively, and saying that this time would be much more horrible. Anyway, the l’Auberge is quite a classy place to go to, but I wore the same Mickey Mouse tee and bright red jacket that I had on the last time I was there, while everyone had their cold dark jackets on. I was a stand-out, and it was obvious that I was asking for it, like a bratty kid, as Pierre asked me to sit at the end of the table, “like the president”. He loved everyone this time, and the lunch went on for three hours. It was because of the French obssession with eating, which starts off with a toast of champagne, followed by starters that took quite awhile to finish because we were listing down films that the residence should be looking out for. (My list includes Mirror by Tarkovsky, Soy Cuba by Kalatozov, Carpenter’s Halloween, Maya Deren, Satyajit Ray…) Afterwards, the bulk of the time is alloted for the entree, followed by wine-drinking and water to wash out the meal, then by a cup of coffee, if not dessert. Three hours, can you believe that.
It was most pleasant having meals together, especially when in between meals, a guy shows up and happens to be one of the famous French filmmakers. Earlier in the day, Patrice Leconte (Intimate Strangers, Man on a Train) was shooting just outside our flat and as I was getting ready to take a bath, I watched a scene where a guy goes out to take a taxi. And that was that. I took pictures, they’re here somewhere… So Leconte was also having his lunch at the l’Auberge when Georges approached him and on the way out he came to our table by Pierre Viot’s invitation and went ahead to be introduced. I don’t think he saw me, even if Mr. Viot and Georges repeated my country most (“Philip-pan, Philip-pan…”). He looked at Hee-Jung instead and figured that was the look of my countrymen.
I don’t want to end this entry on a self-pity note about not being recognized well in occasions like this, or being treated as more of a kid than a professional, things like that, so I’ll just end it with that.
* * *
My gums have been bleeding, and I’ve been searching the net for a remedy. Today, I found myself going through a list of practical remedies for common diseases, and at the end of my urgent search, I catch myself looking for sadness in the list. It’s funny how suddenly it has become an urge. Funny, did I say? I’m not even laughing.
* * *
Today I went to see the Dada Exhibit at the Pompidou Centre. That place is amazing; it’s become my favorite in Paris, works like a magnet. The first time I was there, I went to see a program of shorts that included a Kenneth Anger (because I’ve never seen one then, and I’ve been quoting him previously). Anywhere that’s powerful enough to make me brave the freezing winds of Paris evening is magic. The programming is excellent. Earlier there was a series of animation programs that I went to twice. I could go on and on about exploring the place, from the huge square outside to the breathtaking escalator, the amusing shops, the view from the top, colors everywhere. Anyway, back to Dada. So the exhibit was exhilarating and turned out to be exhausting as well, because it seemed to scream da, da, to look at the most directions possible. But I didn’t realize this until the end of the day, not even in the middle of seeing the centre’s permanent collection towards closing time. I’ve never been exposed to these kinds of exhibits. Most of the ones I remember in Manila showcased jars that resembled those that my mother would buy anyway. And in contrast, walking along the main highway, which is possible in Manila, would be much more interesting.
Earlier this week, I was explaining to Mark how we have a group of artists in the Philippines who have been vocal about their disillusionment with art, instead proclaiming their creations as works for the sake of entertainment. And the way I see them, correct me if I’m wrong guys, is that entertainment is honesty, enjoyment the truth.
Anyway, Mark says, “I didn’t know there was Dada brewing in that part of the world, the Philippines!”.
Why are people afraid of art? Blame it on education, blame it on the system, then blame it on dishonesty and pretension for bad art. Sometimes I’m surprised at how it’s a way of life here, the movies, reading novels in public. It’s partly economics, but partly an attitude as well.
So anyway, what’s there to be afraid of? Well, everything.
But more importantly, nothing.
* * *
Okay I’m a bit sober now (and want to drink some more tonight), so I can actually work on recollecting what happened last night. I got my cruel Friday the 13th joke when on my way to the Critics’ Week office, my entry, which was tucked under my armpit, fell in the gutter. At first I was wondering where it went until I realized I must have dropped it. And yes, I just dropped it a few meters away after realizing it, not too late, but it was fucking soaked in the cleanest of liquids. I ran back to the apartment and filled up the entry form again, worried that I wouldn’t make it in time for when the office closes. Good thing it happened, though. The original package looked like shit, a used manila envelope with crassly printed labels on it and scotchtaped like hell. Good thing Ben knew where the residence keeps the supply of clean white envelopes, so the new package looked heavenly. I don’t know what will happen to the entry, but it was still worth a try.
Then I ran back to the metro to go directly to l’Arlequin where we were having our screening in less than an hour. And amazingly, I took the same metro train as everyone else’s, even if the plan was just to see each other there.
So what happened at the screening, exactly? There was beer, not so cheap but reasonably-priced. I started drinking as soon as we got there. By the time it started I had three? Then I was drinking a bottle after every film or two. And peeing deliriously. Anyway, the last film was Mark’s, which is my favorite in the residency. Mine was before his, and it was such hell to sit through one’s own film, especially when the first screening is still a strong vivid memory of a huge audience shushing after the credits rolled. I was surprised to actually get applauded by the French, not just by my co-residents, but by people I didn’t know, people who were just there watching. Towards the end of the film, I noticed the guy sitting near us suddenly move forward in anticipation. I like moments like that, not because I’m conceited and shit, but because it keeps me warm and reminds me that the efforts I do aren’t wasted. I was flattered. I would be ten times more flattered if I weren’t so drunk. Also, it was my first time to see my film with French subtitles. It was called La Visite.
So I went out right after Mark’s film, needing to pee and drink some more. When I went back, they were all in front, and I had to come forward too and speak about myself and my film and my project, while drunk with a bottle of beer in hand. I hope someone took a picture of it ; I don’t know who, it just looked too pretentious, a beer bottle in hand, speaking in front of the French audience, bits of laughing, laughter. Cheers. Anyway, I told them that it’s only me who doesn’t have a film print because we developed it in the lab that’s a government office, and they were forced to close afterwards, and now we don’t know where our negatives are. It’s just silly, but also makes the story all the more interesting: pity them, the third world with insufficient resources, let’s give ‘em some more money. But seriously, it’s sad that we don’t have the negatives in our hands, and a good thing we got a master copy of the edited version with us.
There was more drinking afterwards. I didn’t get to talk to any producers that night, just gave out the brochures when Georges asked for it. I was too drunk to talk to anyone properly, shit. Maybe I looked scary as well; that is why no one dared to approach me.
Oh, did I mention, as I was drinking by myself while sitting on the steps of the cinema (I find it weird that because there are so many spaces everywhere in France for everyone to sit in appropriately that I don’t see people squatting or lazily staying on steps), a guy waved at me to say hello. It was Bruno Dumont.
* * *
I am 21 years old.
(I’ve been involved with someone considerably older than I am.)
Always, it comes as a shock to others whenever I reveal my age (I rather look like I’m in my mid-20s to most of you), especially when it’s about directing a feature. No big deal, I think. But the discussion about age goes on for the rest of the night, as if it were a requirement in this field to be but young.
Which brings me to ask, what is the minimum age requirement in filmmaking?
There’s Samira Makhmalbahf, who debuted at the Cannes Film Festival at age 18, not to mention her younger sister Hana who shot a documentary about her older sister’s making of a feature, At Five in the Afternoon that premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Well, Hana was too young to attend her own screening. But also, they are undeniably Makhmalbafs. I don’t know where this thread is going, but I wonder very much how their careers would have fared under a different family, a different school.
My utmost love for cinema cannot guarantee me an instant ticket to public acceptance. It seems like things boil down to age, boil down to professionalism, and producers very much fear risking their money for a possibly too-playful youngster (than maybe a too-cunning 50-ish prankster). I don’t know. Maybe sometimes I can stare at my film like it’s a blank stream of light and wonder how people would react if I made it at 40. I’m thinking they’d be less forgiving.
Slowly, the whole “filmmaking is for the moneyed” argument seems to float away. While it will always require money (or commodity sharing and exchange in some cases), attitudes and processes have changed in recent years. I believe there are a bunch out there who fight for their own projects, with the right amount of integrity and honesty to change the world.
Years back, there was this hype about a 13-year-old American who debuted his film and everyone proclaimed him as the next Spielberg. It’s funny how every aspiring filmmaker under the eyes of guiding Hollywood goes after the title of Steven. By now, he could be the same age as I am. Back then, it must have been an enjoyable joke to everyone, but a convenient selling point for producers. But anyway, I prefer this new generation of artists who have become oblivious to previous old-school requirements. Nobody cares how young or old you are; these days they say age doesn’t matter. You can argue later, but it’s the thought that counts.
* * *
The hypocrisy of it all: I always say I hate my age, but I’m also banking on it to defend me every time.
* * *
I’ve never seen a Bergman until Mark introduced me to Autumn Sonata (Yeah, film school, I know.). It follows clearly what I want to do with filmmaking, what I want to share in life: the process of human cruelty to human redemption, correcting and acknowledging, in the end making peace.
* * *
I went to see a belated screening of The Saddest Music in the World in Paris. The last thing I was reading, in the toilet the night before leaving Manila, was a Cinemascope issue of the Guy Maddin film. Someone was supposed to lend me a bootleg, but as usual I wasn’t able to work on it since I’m notoriously known as the last-minute man. Can’t say much about the film except that it looked good and I now have a repressed seething feeling for Isabella Rosellini.
Guy was present at the screening, and someone at the audience was asking about his process of filmmaking (I never quite remember these things, need to eat some more beans for memory). He mentions something about working on a “spiritually honest” moment. Honesty is the name of the game. He went on and on about what he wanted to do with his film ; Guy’s a charming man. Charming enough for me to approach him afterwards and invite to the residence. Mark was supposed to come with me to the screening, but as usual ended up (wanting to get) stuck at writing. It would be nice if Guy could come over and we could all chat, since they’re pretty much interested in his works.
Back to honesty. What’s the measure for honesty? The liberals say we should respect everyone. Maybe I believe cinema sticks to an essence of truth, and there’s belief in films that need to be made. There’s always a yearning for a better life, to reveal what needs to be known. I don’t know. There’s a huge part of my head that’s still quite empty and undecided.
So anyway, Guy never called. Kinda like, have a nice day.
* * *
My film has premiered to a handful of audiences at the large Pathe theater, mostly older people who might have expected a short silent film in the vein of the comedic Chaplin. A few walked out, leaving only a number of interested, eager people in the audience. Yesterday, the second screening was comparatively better. The small theater was well-attended, and a number of them stayed for an interesting question-and-answer portion. This time, a considerable number of young audiences came and stayed. Afterwards, the discussion on Philippine Cinema, with critics Noel Vera and Tony Rayns and festival director and filmmaker Tikoy Aguiluz, also went well with good attendance and interesting conversation. This time I was already seriously drunk, and by the time we had Chinese for dinner with all four guests, I was already floating.
Harder than I thought, but I just have to remember that this is what I chose, wholeheartedly.
* * *
Uno, dos, tres
Is always a mess.
* * *
On the plane back to Manila, in between airline noodles and mineral water, I started to get teary-eyed. Then for some reason, I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. It was most embarassing, and I could tell that the guy sitting next to me, minding his noodles at first, was slowly sensing something wrong next to him. I could actually see him leaning my way to offer his shoulder. That would probably mean another thing though, not too sure.
Outside, there was a view of dawn approaching. We were somewhere over the huge expanse called Russia. In my mind, there’s everyone at the closing party a few days back. Everyone I’ve grown close to in the past four and a half months were there. I couldn’t imagine that Emmanuelle, who I was first just emailing since the news of getting shortlisted in the summer of 2005, has become one of my trusted friends in Paris. I remember the time when I decided to do something about my bleeding gums because of my blood-filled bed whenever I wake up in the morning; Emmanuelle was ready to call for dental assistance.
Georges, who everyone loves, is the guy I turn to for just about anything and everything, film-wise, life-wise, being away from home. I don’t think I’ll meet a character like him anytime soon; he was a father, a brother, a kid, for goodness’ sake. In the last week, he visited the residence for one last personal meeting. He was always light with me, not asking too much about any progress, and sometimes I think he was disappointed in me because it seemed like I was playing too much in life (although that would most probably be just me worrying about myself). I told him I didn’t want to do this project I had submitted to them, the one I had been working on for months and had started pitching to producers.
“It happens, don’t worry,” he said.
I know he knows these kinds of things, but there was always this sense of comfort from him that everything will be alright and that no matter what decision I’ll make they’d be supportive of it. He told me what he thought of my situation, and was very much surprised that he took the exact words out of me. The world needs more people like Georges, not just in the cinema world, but the world in general.
There’s Ben Hackworth, who came with me to Lyon to see Sigur Ros. I don’t think the residence will be the same without him, because he pretty much organizes the group as a whole: dinners, watching films, going to events, even just walking around the neighborhood. I owe one of my most memorable Christmases and New Year’s Eves to him and his boyfriend Peter Savieri, a very talented artist (and cook as well).
Then there’s Sameh Zoabi, who I had a bit of reservation about at the start. I think Sameh’s proven that I’m a tricky person to deal with and that it takes time for me to get comfortable with a person. He’s also proven that I’m a judgmental and presumptuous person, and that I should learn more about people not being what they first seem to be. It saddens me that I only got close to him towards the end of the session, partly because he’s been away most of the time (the infamous Sameh trips) but also because I have these trust issues that need dealing with soon. It’s been great to live with Sameh, who complains about my mess every now and then, but cleans it up anyway.
Santiago Palavecino is the most sophisticated person you’ll ever meet. The last great talk I had in the residence was with him, in the middle of whining about what to do next in life. His is the only door I dare to knock on properly (I just crash into Mark’s and Hee-Jung’s), probably because he’s the one guy I respect the most. So I sit down with him to talk, and he’s a very level-headed guy. I love how I hear the things I need the most, without any personal objections. I tell him I’m done with the script I’ve written in the residence, done as in I’d like to shelf it for a while, and he tells me, yeah sure, as if it’s a shortcut to “Go ahead and follow your heart.” I’ll miss bumping into him in the kitchen and greeting him every morning.
Kim Hee-Jung is my sister, neither older nor younger nor of the same age. I owe very much of my experience to her, because I’m the sort of person who clings to someone when I get lonely. Either that or I drift away. But she insists that I join in, so she’d drop by my room every morning to ask me to join them for breakfast. Otherwise, she checks if I’ve eaten already late in the day. She was the one who recommended one of the best film experiences I’ve had in the residence, Katsuhito Ishii’s The Taste of Tea. I miss her when she goes out to lunch or dinner with Korean friends, and everytime she comes back I’d crash into her room and we’d have tea or wine or just some late night joke-cracking. Mark Walker would join in afterwards, once he hears the slow progression of giggles turning into annoying laughter. Hee-Jung retires to bed early, and your best bet for late night drinks is the Brit down at the 24-hour pub. Once we stole some space in a construction site at the back of the compound. I ask Mark what’s in store for us. “We’ll just have to know,” he says. We still couldn’t believe we were there, sharing drinks, when the day before I would have just been sitting idly in the tropical heat of our suburban house. His girlfriend, production designer Sabine Hviid didn’t want to say goodbye. We just toasted to wine the night before she left. That best sums up how I want to keep my friendship with them. I will see them tomorrow, 5, 10 years from now and we will greet each other warmly as if we didn’t miss any days. Once in a while I message Mark about how’s it been, and these short ones I keep because it reminds me that somehow, somewhere there’s a recognizably useful piece of me out there that I’ve shared to people. And I feel better knowing that once in my life I’ve lived with worth.
But now I’m back in Manila and staring into space.