PEP REVIEW: "Butas" employs experimental narrative technique

by Fidel Antonio Medel
Jan 9, 2009
Butas (Loophole), starring Gwen Garci and Allen Dizon, tackles the elusiveness of truth in a crime of passion.

With the introduction of digital filmmaking in the country, it is now less costly to produce movies. Filipinos are warming up to the idea of indie films as more and more of these digital full-length features are produced each year.

However, not all of them are shown in theaters. Even the movies that have received accolades in the international film festival circuit are finding it hard to land distribution deals locally. Why? Because they don't make enough money.

A huge chunk of indie films that get the chance to be shown in cinemas are sexy movies. Enamored by the belief that "sex sells," some filmmakers exploit the digital medium to make a killing in the box office, thus giving indie films a bad name.

It is easy to classify Butas (Loophole) under the bold movie category. But unlike the bomba movies of the ‘90s, this film attempts to tell a multi-faceted story that discusses the various versions of the "truth." It employs an experimental narrative technique that veers away from mainstream norms.

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THE PLOT. Directed by Alejandro "Bong" Ramos (of the award-winning Haw-Ang), Butas introduces us to three characters whose lives are interlocked in a muddle of lust, treachery, and passion. Jake (Allen Dizon) finds out that his wife, Maya (Gwen Garci), is having an illicit affair with their neighbor, Virgo (Marco Morales). Jake secretly follows them to their rendezvous, then sees for himself how Virgo and Maya satiate each other's carnal desire. A deafening shot is heard. Virgo collapses on the floor, bathing in his own blood.

According to Jake, he is responsible for the death of Virgo since he had planned to do so. Video footage retrieved from the crime scene, however, provides infallible evidence that contradicts some details about Jake's testimonial. Which version of the events can be trusted? The testimony of the suspected killer or the fragmented video footage?

THE VERDICT. The first act, Jake's version of the events, feels like an extended monologue. We see him stalking Maya and Virgo, eavesdropping on their conversation, watching their erotic encounter by peeping through a hole from the ceiling, and crying incessantly on his own. For the entire time, we hear his voice-over narration as he verbalizes in excruciating detail his angst and grief.

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This could have worked for the film's benefit, but the first act was stretched heedlessly as the monologue went on and on, refusing to end. Moreover, the score made the scenes feel too staged. Butas could have opted for a more realistic approach by employing minimal score and relying on au naturel sound to build dramatic tension at the subliminal level.

Things become interesting in the second act. Video footage, which employs a dizzying Blair Witch-esque cinematography, is then shown to the audience. Viewers are able to observe Maya and Virgo's sexual act as seen through a peephole in imitation of Jake's perspective. It's basically the same story as Jake's but this version is grittier and more graphic. The video does not reveal the identity of Virgo's killer, but it exposes a new angle to the mystery. A seemingly run-off-the-mill story of infidelity suddenly shifts gear to tackle something more alarming—sex voyeurism.

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Aside from full frontal nudity, Gwen and Marco did not really offer much for the film. Gwen needs to improve on her acting. She throws lines as if she were reciting poetry. The role demands her to be happy, angry, high, conscientious and regretful at different circumstances, but Gwen doesn't exhibit the inner conflicts of her character. She ends up wearing the same expression all throughout the film.

Meanwhile, Allen is left with nothing to do but peep through the hole, walk aimlessly, and cry during the first act. But he soon redeems himself by showing a range of emotions through effective facial expressions.

THE BOTTOMLINE. Butas stretches the fabric of truth to produce three versions of a single incident. Its efforts generally paid off but with polished editing on the first act and casting a more capable actress for the role of Maya, this material could have serious potential.

Butas (Loophole) will have a one-night screening at the University of the Philippines-Diliman on January 12 (Monday) at 7 p.m. For ticket inquiries, call the UP Film Institute at Tel. No. 926-3640. It is also scheduled to be screened in selected cinemas starting January 22.

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Fidel Antonio Medel is a cum laude graduate of the University of Santo Tomas and a member of the Thomasian Writers Guild, the literary circle of UST. He also served as the editor-in-chief of the college paper.

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Butas (Loophole), starring Gwen Garci and Allen Dizon, tackles the elusiveness of truth in a crime of passion.
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