Nowhere else in the world can one find abusiness as eccentric and humorously sad as "coffins for rent." Only in thePhilippines. And why is that so? Thisis one of the few questions that beg to be answered by the indie film Ataulfor Rent (international title: Casket For Hire). Directed by Neal"Buboy" Tan, this movie is co-written and produced by Anthony Gedang of ArtisteEntertainment Works International.
The story revolves around a decrepitfuneral parlor and the myriad residents of Kalyehong Walang Lagusan where the parlor islocated. In this alley of squatters with a one-entry passage, death is a joke,a seeming respite from the horrors of living.
Set in the poorest of the urban slums inMetro Manila, in a typical kalyeng walang lagusan (dead-end street), Ataulfor Rent fuses the eclectic taste of art critics with the conventionaltastes of the urban masses—social commentary packaged as entertainment. Thescenes, the dialogues, and the urban lifestyles show a niche in Philippinesociety that is seemingly devoid of morals. In the midst of it all, the viewersare left wondering how the Philippines and our fellow countrymen came to such adevastating state in the first place.
Taking the lead as proprietor of thebusiness Ataul for Rent is Joel Torre, an accomplished thespian, whoproves his acting prowess as Guido. He is the pot-bellied and scruffy embalmerof his own funeral parlor that leases cheap, used, poorly constructedcoffins. This unscrupulous owner of a morbid business thrives on the ills andpains of his fellow slum dwellers.
More societal ills are shown as the filmprogresses: drug pushing and addiction, theft, prostitution, murder, gambling,illegal water and electric wire tapping, among others. As the camera pans from one scene to theother, capturing drunkards in narrow alleys, blackened canals, rats as large ascats, and the lack of clean water and electricity in the slums, one can almostsmell the sweat of drunkards and the reek of urine in the canals. The vieweroverhears the domestic squabbles over drugs, gambling, and thievery.
Also part of the talented cast are JaclynJose, on-call make-up artist, and common-law wife of Guido, the funeral owner;Irma Adlawan, who plays an ovation-worthy role as laundrywoman and gambler whogoes insane when tragedies come one after the other; and Ronnie Lazaro, Batulthe taong grasa and narrator of thefilm.
They are also joined by Pen Medina and Nonie Buencamino, the leaders of agang of drunkards and thieves. Young stars Coco Martin, Denver Olivares, AleeraMontalla and Viva Hot Babes' Irish Contreras make their own mark in this indiefilm. Ataul for Rent was the last movie appearance of the late Ramon Zamora before he died of a heart attack last August 26.
The script uses the vernacular Tagalogstreet language, peppered with a whole lot of gossip, lewdness, and swearing. Thus, Ataul for Rent faithfully captures the speech of the slum-dwellers: it is a film about them, their struggles, theirheartaches, their dreams.
One can feel a variety of emotions whilewatching the film: humor, for the decidedly Filipino jokes that areincorporated in the script; disgust over the evils prevailing in the dark andnarrow alleyways of the slums; revulsion over their numerous vices; fear forthe danger posed by slum dwellers; pity for the circumstances that may have ledthese individuals to become a burden on society; and compassion for thestrength of spirit that each character in the film shows.
In the end, the viewer is presented withthe ills of the Philippines, and we are all part and parcel of this disease. Isthere hope? Is there redemption?
Ataulfor Rent will open in Philippine cinemas beginning November 7. It hasbeen graded "A" by the Cinema Evaluation Board, and is the official selectionto the Montreal World Film Festival in November. It has also been selected forcompetition in the 31st Cairo Film Festival and the 12th International FilmFestival of Keral this December.