The Woman in the Septic Tank Ang babae sa septic tank
2011, colour, 16:9, 88 mins
Directed by Marlon N. Rivera
By Derek Elley
Thu, 19 January 2012, 11:00 AM (HKT)
Satire of festival-friendly, Third World slum dramas is amusing but under-developed. Festivals.
Manila, the present day. Three young film-school graduates - director Rainier de la Cuesta (Kean Cipriano), producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman) and production assistant Jocelyn (Cao Cortez) - are planning their first film, low-budget slum drama With Nothing (Walang-wala), about a single mother, Mila, who is forced through poverty to sell one of her seven children to a western paedophile, Mr. Smithberger. They see the film as their route to fame and fortune on the festival circuit, and have an appointment with well-known actress Eugene Domingo (Eugene Domingo) to take the role of Mila. En route to meeting her, they continue to brainstrom the idea, visualizing other actresses (Cherry Pie Picache, Mercedes Cabral) in the role, changing the child from a girl to a boy, and reshaping the film as a gritty docu-drama or musical. In a coffee bar they bump into young director Arthur Poongbato (Jonathan Tadioan), who has just returned from the Venice Film Festival with his first movie. Finally, they arrive at Domingo's home for their crucial meeting with the actress.
An amusing idea that remains exactly that, The Woman in the Septic Tank Ang babae sa septic tank (2011) sets out to satirise the whole industry of Third World poverty dramas, and the western festival circuit's fondness for them, but isn't sufficiently developed to realise its potential and lacks a true satirical edge. Ironically supported by and premiered at Cinemalaya, the Philippines' premier festival of independent cinema, Woman is a pleasant enough movie but basically made for the audience and circuit it lightly scoffs at. There are several nice ideas floating around in the script by Chris MARTINEZ, who made the body-swapping comic hit Here Comes the Bride (2010) and cancer drama 100 (2008), but the film's lack of any real core is shown by the scenes in which actress Eugene DOMINGO (100, Bride) appears, sending herself up with an energy and sharpness mostly absent elsewhere.
A good chunk of the movie, including the 15-minute opening sequence, is made up of imagined scenes from the planned production as the makers brainstorm the project in between dreaming of being feted at Cannes or Venice. Some of these are cleverly constructed — especially one in which they switch the lead part between stars Domingo, Cherry Pie PICACHE and sexy young actress Mercedes CABRAL (Serbis (2008), Kinatay (2009)) — but like the well-staged 10-minute musical version they increasingly give the feeling that Martinez and feature debutant Marlon N. RIVERA don't really have enough other ideas, apart from pastiche, to fill the already tight 80-plus minutes running time. The same applies to a coffee-bar scene in which the leads bump into another director who's still on a high from the Venice Film Festival — initially witty, the scene soon runs out of energy beyond its fundamental joke — and a later sequence in which the leads are faced with the realities of the slum world they're leeching off of.
Domingo's powerhouse appearance at the hour mark gives the film some real comic punch as she slides between diva antics and actressy sincerity without missing a beat. As the rookie producer with big dreams, JM DE GUZMAN hits just the right note of smoothness, though when Domingo is on screen he's still a bystander like the rest of the cast. Director Rivera, who's head of ad agency Publicis Manila, also co-executive produced Martinez' 100 through their same joint film company.
ContactSales: Quantum Films, Makati City (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: Cinemalaya (New Breed), 16 Jul 2011. Theatrical release: Philippines, 3 Aug 2011.
Presented by Martinez Rivera Films (PH), Quantum Films (PH). Produced by Martinez Rivera Films (PH). Executive producers: Chris Martinez, Marlon N. Rivera, Josabeth Alonso, John Victor Tence.
Script: Chris Martinez. Photography: Larry Manda. Editing: Ike Veneracion. Music direction: Vincent de Jesus. Choreography: Carlon Matobato. Production design: Norman Regalado. Art direction: Michael D. Labora. Sound: Albert Michael Idioma, Addiss Tabong. Creative supervision: Chris Martinez.
Cast: Eugene Domingo (herself; Mila), JM de Guzman (Bingbong, the producer), Kean Cipriano (Rainier de la Cuesta, the director), Cao Cortez (Jocelyn, the production assistant), Cherry Pie Picache (alternative Mila), Mercedes Cabral (alternative Mila), Jonathan Tadioan (Arthur Poongbato).