Film review: Pepe Diokno's 'Engkwentro'

by Leilani Chavez, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Aug 06 2009 07:11 PM | Updated as of Aug 07 2009 03:21 AM

MANILA - Dark, dirty, and dangerous would be the words to describe Pepe Diokno’s "Engkwentro", the only Filipino film in the lineup of the 66th Venice Film Festival.

"Engkwentro" focuses on two brothers and the choices they are forced to make in a night's square-off.
 
Literally translated as "an encounter", "Engkwentro" narrates the story of Richard (Felix Roco), the embattled gang leader of "Bagong Buwan" (literally meaning "new moon" who is hiding from the City Death Squad (CDS), a group of government-supported vigilantes known to gun down delinquents in the streets.

As he struggles to earn money for his escape to Manila, Richard’s younger brother Raymond (Daniel Medrana), was being initiated into a rival gang called "Batang Dilim" (literally meaning "child of darkness").

As the two gangs clash in an evening square-off, Raymond was given the inhumane task of killing his older brother.

Acting and sound
 
The acting was surprisingly engaging even though most of the scenes were drenched in darkness. The viewers can feel Roco’s helplessness, trying to take matters into his own hands, then failing miserably.

Roco's acting here was a complete jump-off from his usual teeny-bopper roles in mainstream television. In some parts, his acting was reminiscent of his father’s, Bembol Roco.

Another good character was Zyrus Desamparado who plays Tomas, the gang leader of "Batang Dilim", who was every bit the annoying type of "kanto boy."
 
Part-documentary, the film was shot in a notable continuous hand-held fashion, sometimes too washed-out, but oftentimes dark and shaky enough to trigger a headache.

However, the sounds were good - crisp and clear enough to make up for the darkness of the scenes.

Considered as the strongest point of the movie, the sounds established what the visuals would not give away and literally kept the adrenaline high.

Viewers can either get irritated or find amusing the detached all-knowing voice of Mayor Danilo Suarez (played by Celso Ad Castillo). But either way, it reminds Richard of the bigger problem - whether he resolves his personal issues, the CDS is roaming the streets, hunting him down aboard noisy motorcycles.

Deeper issues
 
Although the film raises human rights issues such as the existence of death squads, the film does not totally delve into it. Instead, it introduces the issue through superimposed facts at the beginning and end of the film.

But it chose to show the life behind a possible victim. It shows a typical scenario of youth struggling with the society they are in. One can either choose to escape like Richard or stay like Raymond, but either way, every step, every movement is a struggle.
 
As the film takes the audience to the labyrinthine alleys of the characters’ internal battles, they are also exposed to the daily life of the slums, where paths are filthy and narrow, drugs and guns are sold like candies, parents live without care, and inhabitants’ lives hang like strings waiting to be cut.

As the "engkwentro" ends and the affairs of the night gently meld into the stillness of the coming day, viewers only have the faintest idea of what will happen to the brothers, but are still as shocked and troubled as it comes to pass.
 
A riveting drama of inner demons and real evil in the world, "Engkwentro" is worth watching and sitting through until the end. Photo taken from http://engkwentro.multiply.com.