Filmmaking involves meticulous precision and planning to evoke a desired and significant human emotion. This ritual of capturing life is something that Kanakan Balintagos’ Esprit de Corps manages well.
What caught my interest in this film back in 2014 as an entry to the 10th Cinemanila Film Festival, was the fact that it is an adaptation of a one-act play written two decades ago. We all know that the process of adapting a source material from a different medium is always prone to having elements that become lost in translation.
Esprit de Corps tells the story of Private Abel Sarmiento (Sandino Martin) and Private Cain Fujioka (JC Santos), students at an all-boys only Christian school, both are aspiring top contenders for the position of Major Mac Favila (Lharby Policarpio). Who will get Major Mac’s position: the pure but pained Abel or the charming & seductive Cain?
The first shot of the protagonist, running, sweaty and obviously late for his job interview/interrogation with his superior, sets the film’s no-holds-barred tone in its exploration of the themes of power, deception, and seduction in the military.
What makes this film different, is that both the character’s actions and dialogue are mixtures of being loud and passive at the same time. We learn that behind the veneer of power or triumph is a concealed fear deep inside. Power can be felt in the machinations of Major Favila in his goal of bending Abel and Cain to his own will. Triumph is displayed in a simple scene of floating blissfully naked in a pool while mulling over what to do with new found power. And the fear is concealed, then abruptly unmasked in a moment of being caught way off guard.
Uneven as it may be, the cinematography works well in complementing the main character’s uneven situations. It even alludes to their unexpected role reversals. The Major Mac Favila’s interrogation room, where much of the action takes place, is a minimalist homage to a classic interrogation scenario: from the limited furniture down to the lonely lamps in the middle of the room.
Rife with biblical and mystical metaphors, Esprit de Corps is a blow-by-blow take on power, deception, and seduction in the military. It may as well serve a prequel as to how corruption and deceit is born.