Vol. 7, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Darlene Machell de Leon ESPENA

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Contents>> Vol. 7, No. 2

The End of National Cinema: Filipino Film at the Turn of the Century
Patrick F. Campos
Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2016.

Patrick Campos’s groundbreaking book The End of National Cinema: Filipino Film at the Turn of the Century tries to make sense of the complexities and intricacies of the metamorphosing Philippine cinema on the brink of the twenty-first century, interrogating the positionality of national cinema and the concept of independence within the interlocking global, transnational, and regional cinemas and trends. Grounded on the premise that

the dynamics of nation formation have been refocused and recast as the conflicted relationship between state and society, government and nongovernment organizations, and classes, races, ethnicities, and genders with forces beyond the nation encroaching at every step on the terms of the conflicts (p. 17)

the book probes into the case of cinema in the Philippines, challenging assumptions about definitive national cinematic boundaries. Campos offers a way to understand the liminality of national cinema in a way that emphasizes the nuances and subjectivities of cultural imaginaries, which are simultaneously challenged and reinforced in cinema. While we see aspects of what appear to be coherent homogeneity, border crossing, transnational circulation, and multilingualism, Campos renders specificities and contradictions embedded in historical memory and narrative vividly intelligible. Throughout the book one gets a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity, at times upholding the nationhood and at times resisting it, continually occurring within and beyond the national cinematic narrative. The outcome is a thought-provoking critical evaluation of Philippine cinema and its connections and parallelisms with Southeast Asian cinemas, highlighting how limits and boundaries tend to break down and how the notion of national itself transcends cultural and linguistic borders.

Campos’s personal dialogue with the cinematic world began long before the writing of this particular book. He laid the groundwork in the 1990s, when he was still a film student nostalgic about and navigating through the Golden Ages of Philippine cinema while at the same time lamenting on the box-office hit bomba films. As a production assistant in the next decade, Campos immersed himself in the world of films through multiple approaches. He engaged in filmmaking himself and was an avid spectator of independent films produced by Filipino filmmakers. He also found himself observing the advent of digital technology in the country and how the film industry tried to make sense of the unprecedented influence of globalization and breaking down of borders in the age of the Internet. As he admits, the developments in those two decades drove him into film criticism without his noticing it.

While the book does not follow any clear-cut divisions, the nine chapters can be read as distinct and coherent stand-alone pieces. The first chapter examines Ishmael Bernal’s critically acclaimed film Manila by Night as a “third space,” a site for imagining the nation and critiquing the modernist aspirations of the Marcos regime. The second chapter considers the role of filmmaker Mike de Leon in the shaping of Philippine cinema, emphasizing the perceptible intertwining of his films and the broader discourse of nationhood. In the next chapter Campos investigates yet another Filipino filmmaker, Kidlat Tahimik, and the emergence of independent cinema, specifically how a native filmmaker struggles to salvage his creativity, agency, and cultural traditions while confronting Western cultural hegemonic propensities. These three chapters probe into the complex role and positioning of filmmakers in the development of, resistance against, and promotion of the national in both film and politics.

The next chapters interrogate the state of Philippine cinema at the turn of the twenty-first century with the advent of digital cinema and how it operates as a platform for confronting debates about cinema and independence as well as the country’s anxieties harking back to the Marcos era. In the fourth chapter, for example, Campos explores Cinemalaya as an assemblage site for a spectrum of filmic discourses ranging from mainstream and commercial to statist and nationalist, among others. The next chapter advances this critical reading in the context of realism in Philippine cinema and looks into the dynamic space where national and transnational intersect. In the following chapter, Campos continues to problematize the construction of national cinema through the depictions of rural landscapes.

In the last three chapters of the book Campos confronts the central question: What constitutes a “Filipino” film? Resisting simplistic and narrow categories, Campos manages to identify the historical continuities in various film genres in the Philippines, often explicating the socioeconomic milieus that produce them. Chapter 7 scrutinizes the medley of factors that catapulted comedic fantasy-adventure films into popularity, such as their obvious commercial agenda and their links to Philippine traditional epic narratives. In the following chapter, Campos brings forth a critical analysis of experimental films that explore the memories of the Philippine-American War and argues that these films embody rigorous attempts to recover certain esoteric memories crucial to understanding the Philippine nation. In the final chapter the author probes into two Asian horror films: Yam Laranas’s The Echo (2008) and Kelvin Tong’s The Maid (2005). While he traces the aspects of the nation in both films, he also questions the necessity of perpetuating the notion of nation, no matter how ambiguous, vis-à-vis the global.

What makes this book stand out is its irreverent outlook toward the articulations of national in cinema and its assertion (perhaps illusion) of an “end” of national cinema itself. The book consistently makes readers and scholars aware of the uncertainties, contradictions, and ambivalent manifestations of the nation in films. Campos is able to point out the processes that draw out the connection between cinema and nation, albeit unfinished and uncertain. In every chapter he prompts readers to situate the cinema and nation within the realm of liminality. Campos attempts to unravel the transformations and future of national cinema, boldly anticipating its end. While this end, in terms of both temporal and spatial, may not come anytime soon, this book proves to be an outstanding contribution to our efforts to break down simplistic and rigid connotations on racial and ethnolinguistic lines and hardline conservative nationalisms.

Despite not having a concluding chapter that could have strengthened the connections and transitions among the nine chapters, this book remains a mine of knowledge and cogent assertions. The End of National Cinema compels us to take a step back and recognize where the nation lies amidst global forces and the nascent tendency to deconstruct boundaries and spaces. It also encourages us to look at the persistent influence of transnational mobilities that have permeated cinema, rendering complex the manifestations of the national and global and the hybrid images in between. Despite the title of the book, Campos does not seem to advocate for the obsolescence of the nation. In fact, the discussions remain to play around with the perception of the nation, no matter how obscure and malleable the idea is.

Darlene Machell de Leon Espena
School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University

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