Imburnal -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- Director Sherad Anthony Sanchez ("The Last Priestess of Buhi") joins the burgeoning ranks of epic Filipino filmmakers with "Imburnal," a 3 1/2-hour, nonlinear examination of poverty and violence and their influence on two young boys.

Set in the slums of Davao City and its nearby sewers, "Imburnal" could be considered the anti-"Slumdog Millionaire." Initially rated X by the Philippines' Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for its "objectionable presentation" of poverty (is there a pleasant way to present it?), any lingering controversy will increase the film's profile. Asian, human rights and avant garde-focused festivals are sure bets, but theatrical release is almost out of the question, even at home.

Allen (Allen Lumanog) and Joel (Joel San Juan) spend their days hanging out in the crevasses of Punta Dumalog and witnessing all manner of behavior -- some of it gruesome -- that will eventually shape their adulthood. They have a surrogate mother of sorts in Gigi (Jelieta Ruca), who half-heartedly offers advice and wisdom when they're not discovering their own sexuality. There is no indication that the disconnected segments have any relevance to each other, and in fact, nothing happens at all.

Employing extreme extended takes -- endless scenes of the area's residents listening to the radio, a motorcycle ride, a bit of sewer frottage among three teens and so on -- discordant and/or absent sound and a plethora of disturbing and striking images (for the most part nicely shot by a team of cinematographers), Sanchez's choices are willfully obscure and designed to provoke.

The images often come across as voyeuristic in nature as the camera is often static, allowing images (and the story as it were) to create themselves. In yet more attempts at high artistry, Sanchez inserts an intermission at about the 90-minute mark, with at least five minutes of black screen scored with watery music (water is the film's defining motif). That was enough to drive one viewer at the screening to ask if there were technical problems. "Imburnal" ultimately crumbles under the weight of its own importance.

Bottom Line: Trying quasi-experimental coming-of-age film isn't without merit, but it ultimately alienates viewers.

Section: Filmart/HKIFF Asian Digital Competition *first screening 3/23 market-international premiere

Production companies: Creative Programs Inc., Salida Prods.

Cast: Jelieta Ruca, Allen Lumanog, Joel San Juan, Brian Monterola, Lawrence Garrido, Maricel Rosello, Carmela de Guzman
Director/screenwriter/editor: Sherad Anthony Sanchez
Producer: Ronald Arguelles
Director of photography: John Torres, Mark Limbaga, Joel Geolamen
Production designer: Joel Geolamen
Music: Eric Gancio
Sales: Creative Programs Inc.
No rating, 209 minutes