We’re barely into the year and a Khavn De la Cruz’s two new films Mondomanila and Pusong Wasak are already getting world premieres.
Take a closer look at the films and their respective journeys to the screen after the jump.
You could say the timing of my re-acquaintance with Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie was touched by the serendipitous, if you believe in such things, given how it happened on the same week I would help with the subtitling of what was then a rough cut of Khavn’s long in gestation Mondomanila. There are almost inarguable parallels that run between the two films. But the twist here is that Khavn hasn’t seen Makavejev, and prefers to boil it down to something like John Waters by way of Tod Browning by way of Gualtero Jacopetti, which makes sense, too.
Loosely adapted from the Palanca-winning novel by Norman Wilwayco, Mondomanila, which stars Marife Necesito and Whitney Tyson and Palito, is like some exploded depression musical slash dysfunctional family comedy: obnoxious, risque, surreal, funny, vigorous, alive.
“Glee on crack” was/is my spot-on blurb of choice. It is also quintessential Khavn. Only with a grander sense of culmination. And it comes as no surprise how many are positioning the film, which is having its world premiere this week at Rotterdam, as his magnum opus, a coming to a head of his wildly prolific career, which in many ways it is.
Five years ago, in that transitional airlock between corporate slavery and freelance poverty, having only seen Khavn’s higher profile work, his pop stuff, if you will, The Family That Eats Soil and Squatterpunk, I found myself digging deep into his filmography, partly out of curiosity and partly out of comradeship.
It was an indoctrination of sorts, a staggering, exhausting , eclectic, sometimes frustrating and often cathartic body of work, even if you’re going by sheer volume alone. But it was also the process that stuck to me, and gave me, at that time, as a novice loitering just outside the entry level of the so-called scene, the necessary dissonance I needed to assure me I was straying off the beaten path, which was precisely the point of independent cinema and what made it so intoxicating, and precisely the point why I was immersing myself in it. And that whole ethos and energy, like shooting whole features sometimes in a single day, felt kindred with the punk scene of the 70s and the B movies of Roger Corman and the underground cinema of the 60s, from Andy Warhol to early Godard, in the way it flew in the face of established protocols and dogma, in the way it kicked against the pricks, if you will.
Khavn, of course, was not the only one doing it, although he may be the only one who was doing it as quickly as he did. But as independent films become more and more closer to mainstream films in terms of structure and procedure and alarmingly even in terms of aesthetics, it’s become more and more imperative to keep this spirit of almost reckless disregard and this velocity of production alive. Mondomanila, of course, took five days to shoot and over two years to edit. And it’s possible his other big, unrealized project, Edsa XXX, might be doubly rigorous and time-consuming. But Khavn isn’t through shooting films from the hip.
After premiering what I think is his career high, Breather (Pahinga), at the 4th .MOV, Khavn went straight to making his new short film, Pusong Wasak! (Ruined Heart!), which he calls a love story between a criminal and a whore, and has since become one of four local independent films, together with Brillante Mendoza’s Captured, Marlon Rivera’s Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank and Rommel Tolentino’s Nono, to be invited to this year’s Berlinale, making it Khavn’s second world premiere of the year, and it’s still just February. Of course, equally prolific filmmakers like Mes De Guzman and Adolf Alix work almost as profusely, if not as quickly. It’s the same indie work ethic: shut up and do your shit. Only Khavn does his faster.
Kalakala, for example, was borne from a trip to storm-ravaged Cagayan De Oro, a feature-length opera that would process the recent tragedy through zombie movie tropes and TS Eliot’s The Wasteland re-interpreted by Bienvenido Lumbera. I remember Khavn telling me about the unspeakable devastation and heartbreaking conditions he witnessed in Cagayan and what he planned to do about it through this film, during a gig in mid-January. A couple of weeks later, I ask about it and he tells me he’s already editing it. Kalakala, officially Film No. 32, premieres sometime near the end of February. Right around the time he’ll be prepping Film No. 33.
Editor’s Note: Dodo Dayao is a writer of many things: film essays, reviews, and comics. He is also a stalwart film festival organizer and enthusiast. According to his website “mataba. mahiyain. dating pogi.” Out of personal bias we’ll disagree with the last one; he’s still pogi. Check out his other writings on Piling Piling Pelikula and follow him on twitter.