There are a precious few directors who are willing to jump heedlessly off into the abyss of their own imagination for the sake of artistic expression. Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of them. The Francis Ford Coppola who made "Apocalypse Now" is another. Kidlat Tahimik, director of "The Perfumed Nightmare" is one more. What is most remarkable is that he produced a film using scant resources but containing imagery to which most big-budget Hollywood visuals can barely compare.
Filled with dreams, tangents, flashbacks, breathtaking religious imagery, Tahimik's ironic Mark Twain-esque voice-overs, and bizarre visual ideations using mixed film-stocks and color schemes, the storyline follows a young primitive Filipino village jeep-driver and his journey from progressive worshiper of all things Western to dispirited critic of the West after travelling to Europe. I mention Jodorowsky here because his films are the only ones I can compare this one to: both are like pure symbolic representations of the unconscious mind.
Unfortunately, now for the bad news: the film is an unfocused anti-globalization tract. Actually, maybe it's just an anti-technological tract, I'm not sure. What I do know is that the movie does a brilliant job of portraying life - its sights, music, sounds, and small rituals - in a quiet Philippines village. This first act alone would make one of the greatest short films ever made. But as the second half rolls around and Tahimik moves to France, becoming appalled by Western technological prowess (a set of very large garbage incinerators being erected particularly irks him), the simplistic message of the movie began to irritate me. Are we as the audience supposed to view Tahimik's village as an unsullied Garden of Eden and the modern west as the First Circle of Hell? Because that is what he seems to be saying. Not only is Tahimik (correctly) against the Western colonial expansionism which made his country the property of both France and then the U.S., but he also dislikes the progressive technology of the West. Why?
What is most ironic is that Tahimik himself (his real name is Eric De Guia) had an advanced degree from the Wharton School of Business and worked as a research consultant to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - an organization committed to spreading Western technology to lesser-developed countries - in Paris for 4 years before making this movie. This makes me think that the movie is less a prophetic statement about the dangers of all forms of colonialism than a personal statement against the West made by a particularly disgruntled individual. The movie is all sound and fury, in the end signifying nothing. Why is globalization a target of derision the world over? It is such a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon that protesters are forced to make small, insignificant gestures against it (smashing the windows of a McDonalds) in order to make any kind of statement against it. It is similar to railing against the underground geological forces causing earthquakes - what is the point?
Great film-making skill is rare, and it is on display here in great splendor (Oliver Stone must have been inspired in his use of mixed-film stocks for "JFK" after watching this film), but it is only effective when its message is sound. If one discounted the hollowness of the message, this would be an unheralded masterpiece of independent world cinema, but one cannot separate the message from the messenger.
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