'The Woman in the Septic Tank'

Current trends in Filipino indie cinema are lampooned in "The Woman in the Septic Tank," a lively laffer about cynical filmmakers planning a "poverty porn" drama solely for the purpose of scoring free travel to international film festivals.

Current trends in Filipino indie cinema are lampooned in “The Woman in the Septic Tank,” a lively laffer about cynical filmmakers planning a “poverty porn” drama solely for the purpose of scoring free travel to international film festivals. Complete with politically incorrect song-and-dance numbers and a delightful perf by local star Eugene Domingo as an over-the-top version of herself, the pic looks set for the lengthy fest run its characters seek. Unlike many of the movies it satirizes, “Septic Tank” scored a local commercial release in August and grossed an impressive $700,000. Niche broadcasters should check it out.

The irony here is that “Septic Tank” is presented by the Cinemalaya Foundation, which since 2005 has supplied funds for many movies — often dealing with poverty and violence — that have dramatically raised the international profile of Filipino cinema. Chris Martinez’s screenplay never aims jibes at specific Filipino films or filmmakers; the humor is much more about how the rest of the world sees Filipino art cinema.

Auds could be forgiven for thinking they’re watching a genuine Filipino poverty opera at first. Accompanied by a serious voiceover announcing scene numbers and settings, single mother Mila (Domingo) feeds her seven children before delivering a preteen daughter to the hotel of foreign pedophile Mr. Smithberger (Ronnie Pressman).

In a snazzy surprise, the footage just seen turns out to be all in the head of producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman) and writer-director Rainier (Kean Cipriano), young hustlers out to manufacture a fest-friendly Filipino indie. Wanting a big name for the lead in their movie, titled “With Nothing,” the boys also imagine local stars (and good sports for appearing) Mercedes Cabral (“Serbis”) and Cherry Pie Picache (“Foster Child”) in the role of Mila before setting their sights on the distinguished Domingo.

Ahead of a meeting with their prospective leading lady, Bingbong, Rainier and assistant Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) ruthlessly discuss how to make theirs the ultimate Filipino misery movie. This prompts some very funny illustrated sequences about the best configuration of crimes, victims and perpetrators to catch the attention of fest programmers. In the most daring flight of fancy, “With Nothing” becomes a musical, with Mila and Smithberger singing a duet. Some auds will find this too much; for others, it will be a highlight.

Domingo is terrific at sending up her star status when she agrees to play Mila for reasons just as cynical as those of Bingbong and Rainier. Her extended interpretation of the screenplay and inane suggestions for “improvements,” spoken at a million miles per hour, are a real knockout. Cipriano and de Guzman are spot-on as the guys with one eye on the slums and the other on travel and trophies.

Lensing is simple and effective. Music by Vincent de Jesus wonderfully evokes French farce with merry melodies played on accordion. Other tech work is fine.

The Woman in the Septic Tank

Philippines

Production

A Star Cinema release of Cinemalaya presentation of a Martinez-Rivera Films, Quantum Films production in association with Straight Shooters Media. (International sales: Ignatius Films, Mississauga, Canada.) Produced by Chris Martinez, Marlon N. Rivera, Josabeth Alonso, John Victor Tence. Directed by Marlon N. Rivera. Screenplay, Chris Martinez.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Larry Manda; editor, Ike Veneracion; music, Vincent de Jesus; production designer, Norman Regalado; art director, Michael D. Labora; choreographer, Carlon Matobato; sound (stereo), Albert Michael Idioma, Addiss B. Tabong; line producer, Madonna Tarrayo; assistant director, Melvin Lee. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 13, 2011. (Also in Cinemalaya, Hawaii, Vancouver, Tokyo film festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Eugene Domingo, JM de Guzman, Kean Cipriano, Cai Cortez, Jonathan Tadioan, Carlos Dala, K.C. Marcelo, Cherry Pie Picache, Mercedes Cabral, Ronnie Pressman, Lani Tapia, Sonny Bautista. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

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