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18 Mar 2008

The scene is a blur for a moment, before everything comes into focus. This is how Bien (Robin Padilla), an assassin afflicted with astigmatism, sees the world in Jon Red’s experimental film, Astig. The inconvenience of his condition is apparent as we view the entire story from Bien’s unfocused eyes.

This visual disability is used to highlight the concepts of vision and focus, something which Red’s characters are in a constant and often, vain struggle to realize. For instance, Doc, a former gangster turned optometrist, tells Bien, “Sana hindi magdilim paningin mo…sa buhay.” However, through a peep-hole in his office, he is discovered to be handling illegal transactions, unable to escape the life of a gangster.

The film also attempts, although ineffectively, to extend the plight of the characters into a critique of our national situation by reading Amado V. Hernandez’s poem “Kung Tuyo na ang Luha Mo, Aking Bayan.”“Sisigaw ka ng buong giting/ Sa liyab ng libong sulo/ At ang tanikala mo’y lalagutin mo ng punglo” is a resounding call to action.

Initially, Bien is in charge of every situation. He also determines our point of view, such that watching becomes experiencing. Pauses for focusing and blinking are incorporated into the movie. However, the characters in Astig are unable to control their fate because they are entangled in the complicated web of the underworld. Eventually, Bien loses his grip (and control over our visual perspective) when a prospective victim takes over and shoots him.

In contrast with commercial films, which require the flow of images to be snappy in order to hold audience attention, in this case, the delay increases interest. This is only one possibility introduced by the experimental nature of alternative filmmaking.

This digitally produced film was shown at Cinemanila and entered at the Hong Kong International Film Festival before being available on VCD. It belongs to the growing roster of lauded independent films in the country. Digital technology, a relatively new medium in the Philippines, is proving to be a much cheaper alternative for “indie” filmmakers like Red who are not signed with large production companies. Lower production cost encourages Filipino filmmakers to deviate from the formulaic filmmaking used in commercial films.

In the case of Astig, not only was the vision of a person with astigmatism approximated, but bold images and colors also produced an appropriately disturbing effect. After all, digital, or “filmless” films, provide limitless possibilities for visual and stylistic experimentation, being much easier to manipulate than celluloid films. With such potential, filmmakers in third world countries such us ours are faced with an exciting prospect: a relatively inexpensive medium which allows extensive experimentation of visuals and introduces radical developments in filmmaking. In a word, astig. # Noelle Angelica M. Seña

ASTIGmatism | 2004 | dir. Jon Red | 75 min | video

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