Film review: Kinatay


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CANNES -- Festival darling Brillante Mendoza's "Kinatay" is a long night's journey into the Philippine underworld of casual corruption and nauseating cruelty, seen through the eyes of a greenhorn police cadet. Featuring shooting violence, rape and mutilation extensively in real time, from camera angles that make the audience feel like they are watching a snuff film, this full-on experience of forced voyeurism is certain to incite strong (most probably offended) responses.

The deliberately rough-hewn art direction adds to the blunt force of Mendoza's moral outrage, but it won't help "Kinatay" (which means 'slaughter' in Tagalog) make a killing in theatrical business. Unlike such other Mendoza works as "Foster Child" or "Serbis," which capture with warmth or exotic social phenomena distinctive to the Philippines, "Kinatay's" sketchy slice of crime world nastiness can be found anywhere. This makes it a hard sell even to art houses, as their target audience often looks for stronger cultural flavor.

Newly married Peping, who attends the police academy, receives an offer via text message to make a fast buck with a shady friend. By nightfall, he is in a van with a group of vicious gangsters who have kidnapped a bar hostess to demand a loan repayment under orders from an elusive general. From then on, Mendoza switches from the 35mm used for daytime scenes to HD, wrapping all the action in a deliberately ugly, sooty hood of near darkness.

The real time pacing, feels like being stuck in a traffic jam, but the dramatic thrust is relentless as one hears through the muffled darkness, the woman being gagged and beaten mercilessly. The horror escalates to rape, murder and dismemberment. None of this is left to the imagination, with the men's verbal sexism being equally distasteful.

With the artistic choices he has made, Mendoza achieves a singularity of purpose in hammering home his message, and the experience compels one to watch even as one wishes to turn away. He deplores this human treachery with almost Old School, religious morality. He preaches it unequivocally -- at the climax of the slaughter, the subtitles "If you lose your integrity once, you lose it forever" appear. Laying on the Christian symbolism, the woman is called Madonna, while the camera occasionally cuts away to a picture of Jesus on the wall. She keeps screaming she has a child, which new father Peping is supposed to sympathize with.

The irony that Peping has a vocation in law-enforcement cannot be missed.

The camera regularly pauses on some sideway or other odd-angled closeup of his anguished, conscience-stricken face, accompanied by a twangy score that sounds common to horror flicks, implying that these are turning points where he could have stood up to them, or at least walked away. Images of him standing in an empty carpark, brooding inside a public toilet or stranded in screeching traffic symbolize he is at a moral crossroads or labyrinth.

Festival de Cannes -- Competition

Sales: The Match Factory
Production company: Swift Prods.
Cast: Coco Martin, Julio Diaz, Maria Isabel Lopez, Mercedes Cabral
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenwriter: Armando Lao
Producer: Rodel Nacianesco
Executive producer: Didier Costet
Director of photography: Odyssey Flores
Production designer: Dante Mendoza
Music: Teresa Barrozo
Editor: Kats Serraon
No rating, 116 minutes