[Analysis of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: Forever is Not Enough]
I know I am joining the conversation a bit late. Awards have already been given out, many reviews have been published, the film fest is almost over. I thought that I could just let my review of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverisNotEnough pass, but even now, I feel the need to discuss this MMFF 2017 entry.
I’ve read quite a number of reviews. Most writers have already emphasized the pitfalls of mainstream Filipino films as embodied by the character of the fictional Eugene Domingo (fictional as opposed to the actual actress). Some underscored the dilemma of the Filipino film industry: to be mainstream, formulaic, and funny to the point of escapism or to be gritty, literary, and “realistic”.
I put quotes on the word realistic because, remembering the theme of the first Babae sa Septic Tank, one needs to question the realism of the gritty, indie, award-worthy works that some filmmakers create.
The subject matter of de la Cuesta’s latest story is his crumbling marriage with wife Riza. Through the scenes with or about Riza, we learn that their marriage reflects the disillusionment, pollution, and commercialization that de la Cuesta wants to depict in The Itinerary, a theme which he painstakingly tries to maintain and guard against Domingo’s over-the-top, out-of-place suggestions.
Unfortunately, Domingo, as she explicitly states during on of their discussions inside the spa, wants to star in a film that would sell and make its audience happy. This doesn’t suit well with de la Cuesta who, even when emotionally invested to narrate a truth about his marriage and love, crafts an award-worthy, indie-like piece. This tension between mainstream and indie in relation to reaching out to the Filipino audience has been pointed out by many viewers and critics.
But perhaps we can also talk about Riza, the director’s wife, who I believe is the embodiment of the subject matter of both The Itinerary and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, that is, love. She is, after all, the basis for the character of Romina.
Here we can go back to the “realism” that de la Cuesta aims to create. His narrative for The Itinerary is real for the most part, but in some significant areas, the story is only real from his point-of-view.
Take note of one of the sequences that Domingo and the production team discussed and imagined several times over: when Romina and Cesar are packing their bags in their hotel. Cesar is portrayed as having been left by his wife without a chance to make things up to Romina. Now, if Romina is based on Riza, well, after whom could Cesar be based on? Probably, the director subconsciously designed Cesar’s character after himself. Not very unlikely since Joel Torre is apparently some kind of an idol for de la Cuesta.
However, if that is the case, it becomes worrisome to hear Direk Rainier describing Romina as nothing special so he envisions her wearing plain, earth-tone colors. And for Romina to be portrayed as not giving Cesar a chance only shows that, while the director grasps the metaphor of his situation, he sadly cannot wrap his head around the reason why his wife is not happy anymore. He doesn’t realize that he is taking for granted even the cries of their baby, leaving Riza to attend to their child. Given the look on Riza’s face and their text exchange, this situation has persisted for quite some time already. This leaves her with no time to meet her friends and thus the lack of BFFs to confide in as shown in The Itinerary.
Ironically, it is Eugene Domingo who points to us the obvious. Maybe Riza is actually more colorful and special than what Direk Rainier thinks. Maybe she would enjoy having a theme song or being serenaded. Maybe it would do her good to see Camp John Hay this time around. And, most of all, the wife wants to discuss things. As Domingo points out, most of the scenes are silent. Romina and Cesar don’t talk to each other in Baguio, in the taxi, and in the restaurant. But perhaps the woman wants to discuss things. Indeed she does. She even begs her husband to respond to her texts and says “pag-usapan natin ‘to.”
All these show that the director somehow misrepresents his wife in The Itinerary. His gritty, indie, award-worthy film is a misrepresentation of the supposed love interest, Riza. And while getting this film out in theatres would prove that he is doing something worthwhile, it definitely will not save his marriage.
This is not to say that Eugene Domingo is right. Her suggestions remain cliche, formulaic, and out-of-place. By making the story such, Domingo stereotypes Riza and strips off her complexity and gravitas. In essence, Riza is just an instrument that Domingo believes she can shape after her own image and likeness.
Poor Riza. Her control over her representation in the film is as little as her appearance in Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2. She’s caught between two gods who believe they can control how they want to portray her in film. At the end of the day, neither gives her justice.
So, by film’s end, both gods get their due.
Riza leaves so Rainier de la Cuesta comes home with no hope for The Itinerary and with only his trophies waiting for him. And, Eugene Domingo, who got the nerve to steal de la Cuesta’s idea and give it to a different director, gets a karmic irony, which, by then, the viewer should be delighted to see: the real-God-sent septic tank which nulls all the cleansing treatments she underwent to beautify and repackage herself.
Truly, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2 is a rich text and, therefore, still worth watching despite there being more well-made entries in the MMFF. There are many layers to Chris Martinez’ story and I have only tackled one. I haven’t even delved into the director’s psyche or the Jericho Rosales-Joel Torre rivalry or the carelessness of Lennon that led to the accident with the septic tank.
Or maybe I am just imagining things that aren’t there to begin with. Because…what do I know? I am not the director, I am just a critic.