A scene from "Rekorder." Photo from Cinemalaya's website
Mikhail Red's "Rekorder" is the story of Maven (Ronnie Quizon), a tragic drifter who with his old camcorder records movies currently showing in theaters to sell the footage to pirates. The parting image shows Ronnie in the movie theater without his camcorder in hand. For the first time, he isn't asleep while the movie is playing. He is just there, sitting alone and motionless, completely engrossed by the movie he is watching. As it turns out, the movie is not the commercial features he has been recording throughout the years for the enterprising pirates, but security camera footage of a robbery that culminates in violence.
The footage plays a key role in the narrative, explaining how Maven turned into the unsettled character that he is now. Yet, viewed against Red's stubborn indulgence in depicting the overextended role of sensational acts caught on video, the image of Maven sitting in a theater, completely enthralled by a video of real and actual violence instills an observation of a society that has become so indifferent to evil that it appreciates as entertainment the recorded sight of it.
"Rekorder" seems to be a reiteration of themes already explored by Red's father, Raymond, whose films like "Kamera Obskura" (2012), "Himpapawid" (Manila Skies, 2009), and "Anino" (Shadows, 2000) feature a singular character who awakens to the ills of society. The younger Red does not hide his influences, displaying prominently the senior Red's "Manila Skies" as the movie Maven attempts to record in the theater. Fortunately, the younger Red, unburdened by memories of a glorious era where film was king, is less hesitant to experiment with the digital medium, exploring the varying textures and impulses of high definition video and other formats.
Maven is in fact a fallen filmmaker who has resorted to illicitly recording these movies to earn a living. He talks languidly, walks passively, and relates to other people with more than just a hint of disconnect. It almost seems that he does not belong in the same time and space as the rest of the world. He finds sanctuary only at night when he is at home, being comforted by grainy videos of his wife and daughter; relics of a foregone happier life. When he becomes an unwilling witness to a crime by following a compulsion to capture a violent rumble with his camcorder, his drab routine is disturbed, forcing him to finally participate in the same society that has betrayed him, the same society that grows noisier whenever a recorded video goes viral for the simple reason of brazen sensationalism.
The proliferation of media into the routine lives of a consistently bored and hungry populace, jolted into a mad rush by rapid advancements of technology the past few years, has quickly changed moral perceptions. What would have caused reactions of shock and disgust decades ago is now commonplace and welcomed with undivided attention. With the public's conscience being consistently pounded by random acts of depravity and violence that are captured and spread by anonymous recorders for various reasons, society has been rendered utterly callous to wrongdoings of whatever extent. Guilt has been rendered obsolete. It has been replaced by pleasure and escapism, by-products of those depraved acts whose sensationalism has turned them into convenient pieces of entertainment.
Maven, in all his exaggerated expressions of self-inflicted alienation, represents the extent of such modern apathy. It is only when the noise has become too close and near for peace and comfort that he acts, breaking down into a frenzy of self-preservation. "Rekorder," even with all its fundamental excesses and obvious faults, succeeds in painting an alarming portrait of a man hesitantly living in a world that is much like ours, a world that gladly suffocates on its own filthy crap, perpetuated by our little recording gadgets for all eternity.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Lessons from the School of Inattention."