A review of ‘Hustisya’
The question is what does one do with a film that only has Nora Aunor going for it?
Which is not to say that nothing in this film made sense. When Biring (Aunor) ended the film with that unjustified and decontextualized laugh, it was telling of the story Hustisya wanted to tell.
That is, Biring’s psyche as changed by her relationship with Manila as space, that one that scares her shitless and cradles her dreams, that one that she believes she can tame by throwing money its way. She knows the map of this city like the back of her hand, even as she walks clutching her bag tight, and is only certain of the same streets she traverses over and over again.
She is gopher and trusted friend of human trafficker Vivian (Rosanna Roces) who, as every other Pinoy suspense film would have it, turns out to be the person who frames Biring and gets her jailed for a crime she doesn’t commit.
Then the film moves from slow to unbearably tedious, going on this unbelievable trajectory of Biring’s time in jail having been in the hands of the higher-ups of that trafficking food chain. They wanted to mold her into the next Vivian, and they thought having her punched and kicked in jail was a means to that end.
The unfolding of Biring’s character fell upon these tired tropes, and dealt with the most stereotypical of characters. The movie quickly transformed into a bad suspense drama. It was so bad that it didn’t even try to work with what it promised and set out to do in the beginning. One wonders: who is Biring and why am I supposed to sit through her unraveling?
Alas, this movie could not even begin to tell us why, and developing Biring as character ceased to be the point. Because the directorial vision was utterly cliché and tragically decrepit in dealing with this story, deciding to use images of Manila we’ve seen before, the ones that stand for its dirt and injustice.
The characters were without nuance too: Biring simplistically wanted out and planned to escape, a daughter disapproves of her job, a priest condones what is illegal to get his share, the honest reporter (Romnick Sarmenta) who stands for truth and gets killed.
It was so cliché that the more dramatic scenes became laughable caricatures. Case in point: when Biring kept asking the reporter with escalating anger: “Nasaan ang notebook?!?!? Nasaan ang notebookkkkk?!?!?” It was hilarious because petty: any reporter would make copies of documents for an important story.
Ah, not in this world that Lamangan creates, where not much makes sense, and nothing is discussed with depth or nuance. It was a film that fell back on having Aunor do what she does best, then presumed it would be reason enough for the film to succeed. I imagine this looked good on paper, when Biring’s pyschosis was that thread that tied everything together. It could’ve been convoluted for sure, but even that can be done well.
Because there is artistic-convoluted, there is ironic and self-referential and self-deprecating. Instead Hustisya was a display of directorial vision gone haywire.
There are directors of course who do haywire enjoyably well, where it becomes the point of a film and is not its mere by-product. One is reminded that Lamangan is no Elwood Perez.