Of Vagrant Souls and Wandering Identities: the Lost Character of Porno Walking through the Mist and Finding the Light (FILM REVIEW)

[Photo credit: google.com]

Directed by Adolfo Alix Jr. and Written by Ralson Jover under Directors Showcase [Photo credit: google.com]

PORNO, a Cinemalaya film entry for 2013 by Adolfo Alix Jr., examines our quest to complete our identities in the pursuit of happiness.

I can begin to suppose this after coming out of the CCP Main Theatre bewildered by the complexity of the story and dazed among a crowd of film enthusiasts who rave at once about the film and the dazzling presence of showbiz personalities in the gala event.

It was my first time to watch a Cinemalaya entry during the festival itself and it was only so because Porno has been creating persistent media buzz and I myself was already hooked on the controversial title of the film. True enough, it opens with a static camera angle that shows a couple in a dingy motel room performing a master/slave sex play. It is readily understood that the static camera angle resembles perspective from a CCTV. This creates excitement while viewing, as if the audience is actually given the rare chance to ogle the couple’s perversion. In a rather quick twist, the scene turns out horrific as the woman who plays slave dominates the man and murders him off camera, only to return to the scene with her face smeared with blood. It seems she tore at him with her teeth like a dog gone amuck. This scene carries a tremendous shock value and opens up a great expectation of what mystery lies ahead in the story.

The next scene unravels in another motel room where a man, Yul Servo, pumps into a prostitute, Rossanna Roces, while greatly endeavouring to reach orgasm. He is now and then interrupted; he jumps out of bed and plants an ear to the wall to make out the noise that he deems is coming from the adjacent room. Rosanna calls him back to finish their business and when he does, he finishes ahead of her. They start a conversation afterwards from which we learn that Rossana is a married woman and Yul is on parole. She goes out for a quick errand while the TV flashes on with a news segment about a bishop’s bungled assassination. A knock on the door introduces Bembol Roco, a policeman, into the scene showing him with a packed lunch for Yul. He inquires with Yul about his failed shoot-to-kill assignment of the bishop. Yul apologizes promising he will fix it. Bembol, seems avuncular; he exits but in a flash turns around to free a bullet on Yul’s head. Around the same time, Rossana arrives; is being met by a dog at the door and gasps in horror upon the gory sight of Yul’s dead body. We are tempted to question if the appearance of the dog in this scene is a confirmation that indeed there was a dog in the first scene.

It is apparent that this first two scenes are put together to establish a tone of mystery as the story unfolds. The reference to a dog-like presence in the first scene and its eventual appearance in the second lead us to surmise its connection to the murder of the two men. This becomes more possible by realizing that the motel rooms are adjacent rooms in the same motel. It also establishes that even if the CCTV camera angle approach is not employed for the second scene, we are further led to surmise that a CCTV camera is similarly in place in the second room.

CARLO AQUINO. [Photo credit: google.com.ph]

CARLO AQUINO. [Photo credit: google.com.ph]

The introduction of the third scene therefore smoothly lays out the progression of a digital video recording that proves consistent through the course of the film. It is about this time that Alex (played by Carlo Aquino) enters frame as a main character. He plays a voice talent together with a female counterpart for a rundown video recording store that layers in dubbed moaning and groaning for CCTV files acquired venally from local motels. (These are CCTV video clips that when published online are more commonly known in the category of Scandal Videos). The irony is that Alex is a virgin and is egged on by the owner of the ramshackle store that he finally hit it on with his female counterpart just so he can be authentic with the orgasmic groans required of him. It seems that Alex is not exactly good at his job but in the privacy of his room he is a lover boy with girls he chats with online. It will be gleaned that he chats with two girls on separate occasions. He dupes the first girl into sending him her nude pictures once he has reckoned that she has fallen in love with him, only to ditch her thereafter. The second girl who calls herself Lonely Girl catches his fancy. Alex begins to have feelings for her and tries to convince her for her mobile number but things turn around when we realize that Lonely Girl is the same girl he ditched previously. Alex is seized with fear as the Lonely Girl tells him she sees everything he does and blames her for her woes. On the computer screen we see her silhouette lifting a gun to her temple and pulling the trigger. He screams in terror and next we see him walking like the living dead on the streets. In the last part of the scene, he passes out in the midst of old women praying for his wellness. As he convulses on the ground, he foams in the mouth like a mad dog.

The fourth and last part of the film introduces the scene that begins with Club Mwah where a transgender played by Angel Aquino is one of the dance entertainers. Her co-entertainers cackle about her being lucky for finding a white man for a lover. The following scene reveals that this time the CCTV clip that shows Yul Servo and Rossana Roces in a sexual act is already a finished product and we see it played back in the living room as Angel Aquino and her lover watch. Her tablet buzzes with a message from an online chat and it will be revealed that she is the same Alex (played by Carlo Aquino) from the previous scene.

ANGEL AQUINO, played a transgender role. [Photo credit: cinemalaya.org]

ANGEL AQUINO, played a transgender role. [Photo credit: cinemalaya.org]

As the story unfolds, it can be gleaned that Alex is hung up about not being able to catch up with a boy he sired before she became a transsexual. The boy, Justin, lives overseas with his mother and Alex’s desperate effort to emotionally connect with him deeply disturbs her. In another scene, Alex’s loneliness becomes even more emphasized as her attempt to achieve orgasm with a dildo proves futile. It is apparent that her change of genitals does not include being able to consummate orgasm and we are led to question if Alex is truly happy at all, given that her longing to be with Justine and her inability for sexual climax both stem from her change of sex. In the end the camera freezes on a close up of her as in a delusion she chases Justine like a mad dog in a winding tracking shot through the narrow and maze-like corridors of Club Mwah.

Porno is nothing like the mainstream films that I am used to watching. The story does not move along a thread of plots and characterization where a protagonist is immediately identifiable and his journey to defend the good against evil is played out. Instead, Porno offers a new way of storytelling rich with visual patterns and a theme that is more felt than followed by our tendency to understand a story by logic. It is tempting to put a label to it and describe it as experimental in an effort to understand it from that label but what stands out more clearly is that questions are asked as we feel through visual patterns and a theme emerges as we move along. This makes the film peculiar and novel, knowing that we are getting something essential from the film after all. It is the mood of the story that guides us through the theme and the visual patterns until we clinch what is actually happening. We realize that the filmmaker is directly talking to us as if the characters are a sentence, a thought.

The four major scenes seem to be loosely connected by the video editing of the raw CCTV clip and the unpredictable appearances of references to the presence of a mad dog that punctuate each scene but I gather that this does not happen without purpose by the filmmaker. It is deliberate to create not only form and style but also to complete the message of the film. The seemingly unrelated objects and incidents actually intimate life itself, where everything seems to occur at random until we understand them to bear meanings related to our own existence.

The film is commendably adventurous to try this mode of storytelling but I may be adventurous to a fault to sense coherence in the story that might only be my own perception and not shared by many who have seen the film.

Just the same I am convinced that there is a palpable parallelism between the video dubbing and editing of the raw CCTV sex clip and the change in sex of Alex. On one level, the story leads us through four stories that seem loosely connected and on another it leads us to feel through Alex’s search for identity and happiness and the film poses to us its sense of doubt and despair.

"“PORNO” is a powerful story about individuals linked by pornography.  Three souls, one explicit illusion. To find the ultimate joy in their empty lives.  A safe haven, where passion and love mean humanity, ecstasy means enlightenment; and the soul is the ultimate arbiter of the truth."

““PORNO” is a powerful story about individuals linked by pornography. Three souls, one explicit illusion. To find the ultimate joy in their empty lives. A safe haven, where passion and love mean humanity, ecstasy means enlightenment; and the soul is the ultimate arbiter of the truth.”

Porno likens our desperate search for identity to the myth and lie involved in editing a CCTV sex clip and doubts to the point of despair finding happiness in a world enmeshed in the superficialities that advanced medical science and the digital world offer. We see how the raw CCTV clip is a lie in that it is a selected clip that does not include the gruesome murder that transpired in the motel room and only to be further embellished with moaning and groaning done in the recording room by Alex, himself ironically a virgin. Alex is lost and confused. He cannot try out his virginity with the easy offer of sex by his workmate but he tries out his confused desires messing around with lonely women online. When in the last scene we discover that he transforms into a transsexual after siring a child with a woman who lives overseas with their child, Alex’s loneliness becomes emphatic. The itinerant references to the mad dog in the earlier scenes disappear and reappear in her person as the transsexual. Alex in the end becomes the mad dog, lost and wandering. Her delusions of seeing Justine and chasing him through the corridors of Club Mwah is her ongoing and unending search for identity and happiness.

Porno takes us back to the pristine and elemental, to the wild dog in us that has gone lost and mad.

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