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Review: Estasyon (2009), directed by Cesar Apolinario

Estasyon. Dir. Cesar Apolinario. Perf. Mon Confiado, Klaudia Coronel, Christian Galindo, Diana Alferez. Huge Screen Small Pictures, 2009.

*

Directed by GMA-7 reporter Cesar Apolinario, the film is an exploration of the lives of two men who first encounter each other at the Feast of the Black Nazarene, an annual event that revolves around a wooden image that was brought to the Philippines on May 31, 1606 by a group of Augustinian Recollect missionaries. Opening with an awkwardly deployed comparison of life to travel by train (“Parang MRT ang buhay natin, maraming estasyon.”), Estasyon is unable to traverse the often considerable distance between intent and outcome—stuck, as it were, on its way out of the station due to lack of craft.

Martin (Mon Confiado), who provides the narration—or perhaps “pontification” would be more accurate—is a director making a documentary on the feast. While reviewing some footage in his van, he meets Christian (Christian Galindo), a young criminal on the run who has arrived in Quiapo all the way from Laguna. Christian, bearing a towel imprinted with the face of Jesus, wants to wipe the Black Nazarene with it, an act by which his sick mother, Hermie (Klaudia Koronel), might be miraculously cured.

Martin takes an interest in Christian’s quest, and offers his help in exchange for an interview, which establishes Christian as a central figure in the documentary. Some time later, wanting to round out his project, Martin goes to Christian’s hometown, and discovers what have befallen Christian and Hermie since the day of the feast.

The narrative seems to assume a highly credulous audience over the course of its development. For instance, when Martin and his crew, guided by Hermie, set off to find Christian, they leave their van behind and trudge for hours through fields and over hills, because Hermie knows no other way. It turns out later that the location of Christian happens to be along a busy street. The useless journey is embarked upon merely for expository purposes.

The allegorical pretensions of the story are apparent as early as the opening credits, and the trials of Christian are not so much parallel to the Passion of Jesus as they are forced to be parallel. That his surname is “De Jesus” is the very height of contrivance and condescension: Does the audience need to bludgeoned into understanding and appreciation?

In addition, although ostensibly a commentary on the futility of Filipino folk Christianity, Estasyon has several bad meta-filmic moments: Martin regularly expresses bitterness and frustration at the stifling, because profit-oriented, demands of the movie industry, as if profit and merit were mutually exclusive. In one melodramatic scene he is shown breaking apart discs of what he considers inferior work. Such a judgment does not appear to be based on considerations of artistic excellence, however: Martin just takes the much-worn moral high road and condemns both “bold” movies (i.e., soft-core pornography) and gay movies as meaningless—the silent assertion being that the two are might as well be interchangeable—while valorizing the documentary, as though genre were a guarantee of the significance of the final product.

Why Estasyon has been touted as subtle is, to put it frankly, incomprehensible, unless one believes that a runaway freight train hurtling off a cliff and into a canyon with several resounding explosions, which then cause the mountainside to blaze up in a conflagration that only goes out after several hours of dedicated firefighting, finally resulting in thousands of deaths, not to mention severe damage to wildlife, is subtle.