TULI (Auraeus Solito, Kanakan Balintagos). 113 minutes. Subtitled. Opens the IMAGINENATIVE FILM + MEDIA ARTS FESTIVAL at the Bloor Cinema, Wednesday (October 18), 7 pm. See Indie & Rep Film, page 101. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
From its opening circumcision through its homespun Passion play and low-key shamanism, Tuli brings a disturbing spirituality/religiosity to its solid twist on the traditional Philippine suffering-woman melodrama. This is a genre that's usually played as social problem drama or straight weepie.
The stark, straightforward story feels like something from the silent era: circumcisor's daughter embraces lesbian love to avoid a forced marriage and, in the process, almost destroys her isolated village. Wordless passages, low-budget video visuals, sparse location sound and score enhance the feeling of primitive cinema. At times, notably during the circumcisions and self-flagellation rituals, it's as if we're watching fictionalized ethnography.
That may be part of directors Kanakan Balintagos and Auraeus Solitos 's intent. Balintagos is a member of the Philippines' indigenous Palaw'an nation, and it's tempting to think he's filming his own people, though neither the press material nor the film spells that out.
But the simplicity and ethnography are illusions. The leads are established Philippine stars giving polished performances pitched a bit quieter than usual for Philippine cinema.
Despite their obvious budget limitations, the directors show a solid command of composition, lighting and pace and pull off complex shots when they want to make an emotional point.