|Actor Nico Antonio plays a petty thief caught by the police in the Cinemalaya entry "Posas" from director Lawrence Fajardo
Lawrence Fajardo’s "Posas" (Shackled) opens with shots of slogan-bearing stickers tackily pasted on a police van. “To serve and protect,” the weathered sticker boldly declares. A cop, finished from cleaning the van, cheerfully walks into the station to do his rounds, randomly throwing jokes to his fellow cops, readying himself for another day of crime-fighting. The station’s jail is filled to the brim with criminals and other lowlifes, all of whom casually greet their erstwhile nemesis either a good morning or witty retort. It certainly appears the police is doing its job very well.
However, Fajardo’s film does not seek to revere the police. It does the opposite. It attempts to break the propagated myth of the police. It makes use of the most obvious of ironies, juxtaposing slogans and symbols with acts that blatantly betray those symbols’ meanings.
In a way, "Posas" can be considered a brave film. By tackling issues that are normally and traditionally shared through whispered blind items and urban legends, it exposes corruption in the very center of the institution that seeks to eradicate it.
Fajardo manages to craft truly engaging moments in the film. The chase scene between the cops and the pickpocket that has Fajardo’s camera rushing along busy alleyways and tight corridors of rundown buildings is a showcase of formidable directing and editing. In the film’s climax, Fajardo drowns his visuals with a cacophony of sighs, pleas, and other animal sounds, heightening the suspense and terror, and more importantly, breaking the tyranny of real time with something both imaginative and cinematic.
Unfortunately, the film is wanting of the very ingredient that could have rendered its intentions effective. Despite its efforts to viscerally depict the harrowing experiences of petty crooks under the unforgiving hands of their uniformed captors, it still lacks the requisite emotions to complete the circle and to deliver the message fully. While there is anger and frustration, it is only perfunctory to what is happening onscreen. The emotions are limited to the drama that is depicted, reserved only for the characters that get victimized.
As a fictionalized exposé, it gets shackled by its narrative method, trapped within the term of the story, unable to break-out, to scream, to raise fists in fury. There is only so much one can witness and experience within a day in the life, no matter how conveniently plotted that day is.
That particular day "Posas" is set in would have a pickpocket (Nico Antonio), uncharacteristically naïve in the police system despite being very crafty in his thievery, steal an expensive cellular phone, get chased in the crowd, suffer police brutality, tearfully plead with his mother, get dragged through the initial stages of criminal prosecution, get educated about the loopholes of the country’s criminal laws that would allow him to be released but with particularly terrifying repercussions.
The story is designed specifically to pinpoint the wrongs of the system. There is simply no room for subtlety. Yet, with all its intentions to shock and alarm, the film still feels timid, inert and benign. There is just that inexplicable disconnect that prevents the material from transcending the boundaries set by its chosen form and framework.
Francis Joseph Cruz is a lawyer and critic. You can follow his blog "Lessons from the School of Inattention."