Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2018 4:56 pm 
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SHIREEN SENO: NERVOUS TRANSLATION (2018) - NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS

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A childhood vision from the Philippines in the late Eighties

A meditative, and rather repetitive, but nonetheless haunting, depiction of a childhood in the Philippines in the lae Eighties dominated by what now seem quaint technologies, especially audio cassette tapes played on an aging boom box - it needs to be cured of its habit of "eating" the tapes; and VCR tapes. This is a film that celebrates the way old means of reproduction can evoke lost memories from the times when they were used. This film is a strong evocation of Shireen Seno's childhood in the Filipino diaspora focused on Yael, an eight-year-old, primarily when she is at home by herself after school and in a few family gatherings.

This is partly a secret world, as Yael (Jana Agoncillo) plays tapes that were sent to her mother, Val, by her father from a Persian Gulf country where he is working. When a tape gets broken, Yael repeats her father's words, which by now she has memorized. But Yael gets in trouble for accidentally erasing precisely the "private" part of a tape made for Val. She secretly plays and replays these tapes. And at other times she pursues "happiness" as touted by a TV advertisement. All this constitutes evocation of loneliness and longing of a child for her overseas Filipino employee father, missing during her childhood.

At other moments, in sequences worthy of the artist Laurie Simmons, Yael enters the world of a doll house, an immersive, meditative one, and works in the dollhouse kitchen. Perhaps the most memorable scenes are ones in which Yael painstakingly cooks toy meals in tiny pots and pans over a toy stove, using real, painstakingly chopped food,the stove fueled by a small candle; she pours the resulting, tasty traditional dishes into tiny doll containers. They take so much effort, but would provide only a mouthful even for a child. The mood is one of patience and loving care. The meals are prepared in response to her father's longing expressed on the tapes for traditional Filipino food. This is a labor to preserve memories of memories of memories. In another sequence of touching childish longing Yael goes to a shop looking for an advertised pen whose tagline is "for a beautiful human life" as if that can remedy her longing and resentment.

Seno sticks close to the childhood world, offering only fleeting clues of the late-Eighties turmoil in Marcos' Philippines or from the late-eighties outside world, hinting at societal turmoil following Ferdinand Marcos's ouster and complicated adult relations, in which men loom large and mysteriously.

This depiction is so faithful to its childhood point of view that it seem sometimes stunted, and above all repetitious and confused. But the vision here is distinctive, certainly.

Nervous Translation, 90 mins., opened in the Philippines Nov. 2017. It showed at Rotterdam Jan. 2018 and later at Groningen. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 edition of the New Directors/New Films series.

ND/NF showtimes:
Saturday, April 7, 8:45pm [MoMA]
Sunday, April 8, 1:00pm [FSLC]

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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