Islander in the City by Pablo A. Tariman:


Christian Bables as Dharna in “Big Night.”

Watching Jun Lana’s “Big Night” is like watching a Senate hearing on the police’s anti-drug operations in the country.

You see the poor as the perennial victims while the well-off get away with murder, so to speak.

In this film, the barangay demigods are in cahoots with drug dealers while pretending to be after drug users by issuing a tampered drug list.

In this setting, Lana is master of film narrative showing the class divide among the helpless and the powerful.

In the world of a beautician named Dharna (Christian Bables), it takes very little to make him happy. He has his own source of happiness – a quiet but fulfilled relationship with boyfriend Zeus (Nico Antonio) who works as dancer in a gay bar.

One day, he witnessed a day-time killing.

He didn’t pay much attention.

Later, it turned out the victim was someone he knew.

He learned later that that this acquaintance was in the list of suspected drug users who ended up being silenced as per order from the higher-ups.

Then Dharna gets the shock of his life: he is also in the barangay list of suspected drug users.

For him, that was a virtual death sentence.

Thus begins the Calvary of Dharna’s existence.

He tries everything at his command to get to the person who put him on that list.

As the “Big Night” unravels, everything looks very familiar as you rewind the drug war mounted ruthlessly by the Duterte administration.

You recall the “quota” benefits policemen get for every drug user killed. It reminded one of an island policeman who resigned just coping with the “quota” for every drug user listed and later killed.

By and large, “Big Night” is a familiar revelation and it unmasks familiar characters in the drug war dramatis personae.

Dharna (Bables) and his boyfriend (Antonio) find out later that the authorities mounting anti-drug operations are drug operators themselves.

The big plus of this film is that the shady characters and the compassionate ones are portrayed by versatile actors, namely, Eugene Domingo, Gina Alajar, Ricky Davao and, yes, John Arcilla.

They evoke greed in every line delivered and the rest portray a real brand kindness and compassion.

Reacting with these characters, the Dharna of Bables finds enough challenge to make the best of his portrayal while interacting with them.

That Dharna and his boyfriend had to act like desperate patients in an ambulance to divert attention from drug deliveries is the stuff of black comedy acted out with dispatch.

His misery compounded by leeches in the barangay turf, the Dharna of Bables developed a kind of portrayal that is subdued but powerful.

Witness the tour de force with Bables as Antonio professed admiration for the retired action star (Arcilla). Antonio knows the dialogues of his idol’s past films and the give-and-take looks like a final rehearsal of an action movie. Bables sticks to his character, seemingly admiring but unimpressed while a bravura performance was going on between Antonio and Arcilla.

Indeed, this film has more than its share of great performances even from supporting actors like Allan Paule, Soliman Cruz and especially Sue Prado and Gina Pareno.

As for Bables, he comes up with a portrayal that did not pay attention to itself. He was reacting through his inner self and keeps the shock and fury to himself.

When he unmasks the masters of the drug war, you see utter helplessness and a quiet kind of anger.

Win or lose, Bables is my best bet for the MMFF best actor trophy.

Lana says that he leaves it to the audience to interpret what the movie is trying to say. “When I do a film, I do not focus on perceived messages for the audience. I let them interpret the film for me.  When I am done with a film, I let the audience own it. They are free to interpret what messages they found in the film.”

What one found in the film is pretty obvious.

It is a searing indictment of the anti-drug war and the scalawags in the police ranks.

It reminded me of a Senate hearing where a PNP head pleaded that he should not be indicted as he did not get a full share in the police raid loot. Just a little lang naman, came the lame answer.

As for his portrayal of the small-time beautician trying to clear himself from the drug list, Bables opines: “I am blessed to be put in a profession where I can be a voice to the voiceless. I find it hard to put my opinions in words. But let me show where I stand through my art. The world is full of hate. I think we owe the world our message of hope through our performances.”


(Produced by Cignal Entertainment, The IdeaFirst Company, Octobertrain Films, and Quantum Films “Big Night” is now showing in cinemas.)



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