Brillante Mendoza’s Tirador (2007) is one of those films (although actually, I believe it was shot with a digital camera) which I think attempts to provide us with an unromantic, unmediated hence authentic day in the life of authentic slum dwellers, just going about their authentic everyday lives. Thing is, I really do not believe there is such a thing as unmediated. Even if this film had not employed actors, sets, props, the very presence of the camera in the Quiapo slum would be enough cause for the people of the slums to alter their behavior, exhibiting their preferred versions of themselves.
Actually, the more I think about it, perhaps Mendoza’s intent is not the unmediated authentic Quiapo slum experience but rather, a very intentionally mediated portrait of the Quiapo slum. It is the slum, and the state of poverty in which the people live that are really the main characters in Tirador. Deep in the slums, the alleyways that are overpopulated with all kinds of urban poor, this is what we do not see through the tinted windows of our shiny, air conditioned Japanese cars. And this is a good thing, that we are given the perspective of a community that is otherwise erased from our view. I think Mendoza does try to show us the humanity here; each person is an individual of unfortunate circumstances and subject of socioeconomic injustice, really just trying to get by, by whatever means available to him/her.
Sunny has already blogged about it here, and he uses the term, “slum porn,” to describe the lens through which we are viewing these people and their slum. The view from my tinted window is a tease, and Mendoza gives us the full spread open/spread eagle shots, and he gives us the money shots, over and over again. The high on shabu bigamist who is too high to take care of his toddler, the toddler literally shitting on the floor of the house. The shabu user’s “wife,” or one of two wives, whose thievery of electronic goods contributes to the cost of dentures to fill her toothless mouth. That’s her priority, you see? Over the toddler shitting on the floor, equally her responsibility, and who, by the way, hasn’t been fed, and is literally eating his own shit. And while this toddler is eating his own shit, the shabu user and his “wife” continue to argue; now that she is “pretty,” because now she’s got teeth, she can go find another lover (and why the fuck not? He has two wives). It’s vanity versus jealousy, vice versus vice, and here, Mendoza has turned his humanizing project into a discussion of morality.
Too neat, or in this case, too fucking much, that each and every individual soul in this place is not redeemable. Is that realistic? There is one character, a pickpocket and a stealer of electrical cables or copper wire (I think), who contributes some of his “earnings” to a poor woman and her disabled child for the child’s medications. It’s this same thief who gets short changed by his own conspirators, so is there a message here about having compassion for others of similar plight, that it’s possibly a weakness?
Sunny also references Mauro Tumbucon’s review in Philippine News, in which Tumbucon argues against an artist’s responsibility to portray the homeland and our people always favorably. I am with this; Manila is full of fucked up people, as is any of the world’s major urban centers. Oscar tells me that poverty + density = potential fucked-up-ness, where people have to make choices all the time to get ahead, and that these choices all too often dispossess, oppress, and/or hurt others, those around you, those you love.
Finally, the other major character in Tirador is the impending elections, and we see here that the city’s leadership is as depraved as the slum’s residents. In fact, perhaps they are more depraved, as the slum residents don’t front like they are good, righteous people. The politicians, on the other hand, well, they are politicians, charismatic, bribing for votes, quick to quote the Bible to prove their righteousness, making promises whether or not they intend to fulfill them.
For me, the film’s ending is a succinct statement about the entire film’s scattered narrative: even at these mass rallies, you know, the kind of rallies where everyone holds a candle (little flickers of hope), and sings a hymnal, or an uplifting patriotic anthem, amidst this collective display of hope and community uplift, the people continue to engage in their petty thievery. Closing shot: a hand reaching for the wallet in an unsuspecting rally attendee’s back pocket. Fade out.
[Another good reviewer is Prometheus Brown. You can read his review of Tirador here.]