Violence Grows: Kinatay and the Abduction of Melissa Roxas
When I first read the description of Pilipino director Brillante Mendoza’s new film Kinatay (Butchered) I thought, “That sounds kind of wack.” Shot on HD video with a budget of $100,000, it’s a down-and-dirty, graphic representation of the rape, murder and dismemberment of a prostitute in the Philippines through the eyes of an idealistic, greenhorn cop. The controversial film just won the Best Director award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the announcement of the award was greeted by boos and gasps of shock. Roger Ebert calls it “the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival,” and extensively details his disdain for the picture in his blog.
But after I read a few interviews with Mendoza about the film, I started to change my opinion of it (though still sight-unseen; the film will probably receive pretty limited distribution in the U.S., if at all). Mendoza claims that the movie is based on a true-life event and that it reflects the rampant police corruption and unchecked military violence in the Philippines. “This is not just entertainment, these kinds of stories are real,” Mendoza said after winning his award at Cannes.
This was borne out by an email blast I received on the same day that Kinatay won at Cannes. On May 19 Pilipino American Melissa Roxas, a poet and human rights activist from BAYAN-USA, a non-government organization (NGO), was kidnapped along with two co-workers while doing volunteer health work in the Tarlac Province in the Philippines. The email I received stated that BAYAN-USA was mounting a campaign to demand the Pilipino government aid in searching for and surfacing her. Thankfully, Roxas surfaced after a week of captivity, although her compatriots are still missing. What’s interesting in light of the accolades that Kinatay received is that Roxas and BAYAN-USA have claimed that she was abducted and tortured by the Pilipino police and military and that this event is the latest in a series of abuses against political activists by government agencies in the Philippines. The New York Times notes:
“According to the human rights group Karapatan, more than 200 Filipino activists have been kidnapped and never heard from since 2001, the year President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. Others have turned up dead or showing signs of torture.”
If the claims by Roxas, Karapatan, and BAYAN-USA are true, then Mendoza’s film takes on an added significance. Most of the film’s detractors criticized it for its graphic, unvarnished depiction of violence and brutality, with Ebert in particular scorning its rough-hewn soundtrack and cinematography. What Ebert might not understand is that Mendoza is making a conscious decision not to sanitize the film’s violent events. Movie violence is nothing new, but it’s usually presented with a patina of glamour and unreality, an aestheticization that distances the viewer and sanctions the viewing of the violence, making it an acceptable form of entertainment.
By denying his film the glossy sheen of conventional filmic violence, Mendoza forces viewers out of their complacent moviewatching habits, taking them out of their comfort zone and making them realize that, as in the case of Melissa Roxas and many others around the globe, violence is not a form of entertainment but a dire part of everyday life. In this case, Mendoza is working toward the same goal as Roxas—to expose and eradicate the corruption and human-rights abuses of the power structure in the Philippines.
UPDATE: Here’s the transcript of Melissa Roxas’ June 28 press conference in which she describes her ordeal.
Entry filed under: activism, movies, Uncategorized. Tags: activism, bayan-usa, brillante mendoza, cannes film festival, human rights abuses, kinatay, melissa roxas, movies, philippines, pin@y, police brutality.