Monday, September 24, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia


"I think the human face is the most beautiful landscape," Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan said in an interview with The Telegraph. "The face tells you everything. It's the only way to get to the truth because, most of the time, the words we say are not true. We have a tendency to deceive others to protect ourselves."

Nuri directed and co-wrote the film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

What he said made me think. Are the words we speak mostly untrue? My first instinct was to say no, but is it my unwavering belief in the goodness of humanity that perhaps blinds me to the truth?

“I don’t have very optimistic feelings about life,” Nuri said. “I like to look at things realistically – and with that realism comes pessimism. Man is dark. You feel the darkness inside your soul all the time and you feel the potential for evil.”

I know evil. Or, at least I think I do. It's  there, inside all of us ... inside me. On most days, it's buried deep deep below I even forget it exists. Most days it happens to people and in places far away from us. Wars in Afghanistan, repression in the Middle East. It's easy to read through the headlines and not recognize it for what it is.

And then there are times when you feel it quietly worm its way through your soul. Your anger can breed and fester into hate. It can happen to the most gentle of us, the kindest. Perhaps evil is a necessary human condition. Or perhaps, good and evil are always in a constant flux; one wanes while the other waxes. Who knows really.

I'm thirty two and these things still baffle me. Still, I seek the answers.

Click here to read the interview.
Click here to read Seongyong Cho's review of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Delight || Delirium


Note: Please play the song below before reading this story.

"When summer winds will again fly. To mountains untainted and new. Today is a good day to die," Samboy, a high school teenager in the play Bro said on stage. "Today is a good day to die," he repeated, wanting to die. "Today is a good day to die."

I could feel my body shiver. I was having goosebumps as the words resounded throughout the small theater in U.P. where the four one-act plays that comprise Delight || Delirium were staged. Suddenly, I knew I was watching something I will never forget for the rest of my life

Delight || Delirium is the final output as a creative writing student in U.P. of young playwright Riley Palanca. In his notes, Riley said the plays looks into that triggering incident that shifts the dichotomy from the pains of delight into the logic of delirium.

"This is both a celebration and a lament of that psyche of an underground, masculine, and queer subculture, with each play layering deeper and deeper into the world of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, violence, rage, angst, war, power, and memories," he explained.

Here is a brief summary of each play that comprise the festival.


When five high school boys stumble into one of their friend’s basement to engage in their usual drug sessions, little did they know how it would be the night that would change them. As they get more and more drugged, each boy zooms in on an incident in their group’s life, breaking down the barriers between individual and group, ultimately leading them to question why they became friends in the first place.

In a post-apocalyptic Philippines where the Clergy has taken control of the government and homosexuals are being massacred, Viper, a high-ranking rebel soldier, attempts to resurrect his murdered lover by kidnapping and interrogating an imperial priest about the whereabouts of a specific body part — only to find out that its discovery comes at a price.


One night that could have been typical for two people: the first throwing himself into the world in search of himself; the second, willing to oblige — for a price. Both the callboy and the client are trapped in an endless negotiation about boundaries and fetishes. When the games begin, their whole philosophies on love, sex, and relationships (the big three) might get either reaffirmed or shattered beyond thought.

Little Black Book

Who owns a memory? Who steals a memory? Is a memory a fragmentation of truth or the weaving of a lie? What are these men, are they men, are they characters, are they caricatures, or are they ultimately ideals? One man questions his present by rooting through his past, clawing through the shards that make him whole. A confession with no penance.

In Bro, we see five people discovering that sometimes, it's hardest to be truthful to your own friends. Each of them keeps a secret; some of these are revealed, some stay hidden. In Viper, the desperation of a lover clashes with his principles. What makes a man, after all, if not his word?

In Magkano, we see two strangers slowly getting to know each other and the truths and half-truths come out.

"Bakit ka nag callboy," the client Rick asked as they played truth or dare inside a motel room.

"Kasi gusto ko. Binabayaran ako para kumantot," Joe, the callboy replied. 


"Ang gusto mo atang marinig nag-callboy ako pang-suporta ng pamilya. Pwes, wala akong asawa," Joe answered back. "Na inabuso ako nang bata ako? Hindi rin."

"Manyak ako," Joe continued. "Mas manyak pa mga customer ko. Sa totoo lang, mahilig ako sa sex, mahilig ako sa pera, mag- doktor kaya ako," he said laughing.

A little later, while he was being tied up, Joe asked Rick "Mapera naman kayo. May itsura. Medyo nakakatakot nga lang. Wala ba kayong boyfriend?


"Ba't di siya ang tinatali niyo ngayon?" Joe continued.

"Nahuli kong pinapasukan ng iba," Rick said, his voice filled with quiet anger. And in his anger, we see ourselves, all the promises made to us, promises we've made that got broken.

The Little Black Book tells the story of a gay young man named R and the various men he had loved. From his high school best friend to a college jock, his stories are laced with youthful enthusiasm and ardor that perhaps only the young can fully own.

"To be seventeen and invincible."
"To be nineteen and naive."
"To be twenty and youthful."
"To be twenty one and gone."
"To be twenty two and hopeful."

And I asked myself, to be thirty two and what?

Each play explores the shift from reality to fantasy to reality in our minds, the worlds we create inside of us, places where the worst and perhaps, the best parts of ourselves exists. The demons and angels, the sacred and the profane. Who am I? Who are we? Why do we do the things we do? Each story delves into our perceptions of identity and power, with the writer carefully giving the audience enough questions and very little answers.

Perhaps those answers have to come from us.

I saw Delight || Delirium twice in one weekend. The first time, I watched alone. I came back the next day and dragged a couple of my friends along to see its final run. That night, we all went home knowing we had been given a gift. The gift of wonder, of desire, of passion. Every bit of our being was on fire, we felt so alive, conscious of the world and its joys and tragedies.

What adds to the beauty of a play is the knowledge that when it ends, they truly end. They aren't like films that you can watch again and again. Or a sculpture whose form and structure is unchanging. A play comes alive only at that place and time it is performed. And if they do ever get staged again, the actors could be different. The setting different. It becomes a whole new play, an interpretation of somebody else; it may be similar yet it will never be the same.

At the end of Magkano, as they were about to part Rick asked the callboy Joe "Maalala mo pa ba ako?"

"Siguro mga ilang araw sir," Joe slowly said.

"Ganoon kabilis?" Rick asked, his voice cracking a bit.

"Ganoon kabilis," Joe replied, as a matter of fact. He must have seen the look on Rick's face.

"Wag mo ng isipin yun sir," Joe gently said. "Isipin mo na lang, sa pagkadami-dami ng motel, pagkadami-dami ng mga callboy, ako ang nahanap mo."

And then he walked away ... out of the room, out of the play, out of Rick's life, out of our lives.

Weeks have passed and I am still haunted by the memories of Joe and Rick, of R and his various men, of Viper and his dead lover Chris, of Kevin and Samboy and Nico and Kenn and Third. I remember them fondly, with a bit of nostalgia.

Perhaps it is because at some point in my life, I have been them. Desperate, angry, happy, hopeful. They remind me of myself, and that our stories aren't just our own, but a shared human experience.

And though, happiness may have been elusive in the plays, perhaps it needn't be so in our own lives. Perhaps someday, the fantasies in our minds can become a reality. And if not, well, one can always dream right?

Riley will be leaving for Canada before November. There are plans for a re-run of the show. While interviewing him today, I asked him how old he was. And he said, twenty two ... and hopeful.

I smiled as I heard the note of hope in him. It has been said that Little Black Book was based on his own life. Well, you have much to be hopeful for, I told him. I think you can and will go far. And I will always remember where it all began.