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Among Lino Brocka's works, I think "Jaguar" is, above all, the perfect companion piece to "Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag". They both feature protagonists clinging on some undeniable hopes of tasting some of the sweeter sides of life, yet too puny to fend off social denigrations they face in the very process of attaining it. We emphatically looked upon Julio Madiaga's dimming dreams of love and aspiration in the night lights of Manila and wondered how we can even cope up to the follies of his naivety. Now, here in "Jaguar", a film that is not a necessarily weaker approach to the similar theme of an individual's social alienation and subsequent transformation, those themes were then combined with the similar elements of a city's absolute, misleading promises with the idea of opportunity and ambition.
Phillip Salvador is perfect as Poldo, a security guard hired as bodyguard by his boss (played by Menggie Cobarrubias, one of the great local character actors whose name you probably would not know, but whose face you probably have seen in a gazillion Filipino movies. Google him, if you may) after being impressed with his fisticuff abilities. Unconsciously influenced by his own gullibility towards a temporary bliss of nightclubs, liquors and women, he went on with the flow. Little did he know that it will transform into a flood that will consume what is left of his simple sailboat unexpectedly adhered into a yacht of sin.
I do not want to delve into Phillip Salvador's scenery-chewing habit nowadays, but before, he was a damn great actor. And reflected by this film and "Bona", he is the most convincing of all Filipino actors to portray, then contrast, the transitional qualities of a house authoritarian (his character Poldo's erratic behavior in their house) and an idiotically-treated guard (just like how his complicated character in "Bona" changes effortlessly from being a dominant household slacker into a faceless action movie extra). Aside from the naiveté which he depicted perfectly, there's one key sequence in the film which screenwriters Pete Lacaba and Ricky Lee have written with precise behaviors and wordings, and handled by Lino Brocka with an impeccable attention in mood-heightening.
It's a scene where Poldo's boss and his other rich friends visit their house located in the filthy slums for the fiesta. We see Poldo talking and acting frantically, ordering for the foods to be prepared, even shouting to his mother to move faster. Then he looks to his high brow visitors with an apologetic look and a controlled smile. Brocka emphasized Salvador's character to appear very diligent, not as a host, but as a lowly 'waiter'. Brocka caught his character's splitting persona (that of a house authoritarian and a servant) and enclosed it in the said sequence. To put these in such a brief moment in the film is truly masterful in the sense of how it was handled without such a simple scene looking over-treated.
Of course, "Jaguar" is primarily made for us viewers to care for Poldo the guard, but on the other hand, the film also reverses its focusing lens to glare at the obviousness of his numerous moral shortcomings. Do we sympathize with his predicament despite his initial patronization of the decadent glamors of the rich? Do we still care for him even though he has unconditionally bowed down to these people's ways? Those which led to his moral bondage? These questions were continually raised throughout the film, but again, like almost all great films, "Jaguar" never settled for any closed answers or absolute closures.
Poldo leaves his house straight-laced and seemingly looking for nothing but a steady pace of income. He crosses a plank slightly elevated from the filth of the dark waters of the sewers. Halfway, the plank falls down. Apathetically, he jumped the remaining distance into dry soil, without looking back, and into his work. If that's not foreboding, then I do not know. But only if he knew...
(Review originally published at www.ivan-thoughts.blogspot.com)
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