Esprit de Corps: Rigors of power and ambition

Esprit de Corps: Rigors of power and ambition

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 m10155051_346530538860408_5831320264702661425_ny 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 i1780894_339513692895426_3312131006860408199_nn 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.

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Life of Pi: Breathing life into survival

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I first read Life of Pi half a decade ago, in college and frankly the story didn’t strike me as much then as it does now. Life of Pi is about, Pi, a boy who lives in a zoo. In the course of his formative years, our hero goes on all existentialist mode and sees himself exploring religions beyond Hinduism and finding himself in love with the girl next door. Time goes by and his father decides to close their zoo and migrate to Canada and sell their animals there. The story goes into, literally, rough waters when their ship sinks in the Pacific and Pi finds himself stuck in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. What follows is an unusual story of survival amidst the threat of ominous and sure uncertainty. And its supposed to make you believe in God.

We all know that filmmaking is never an easy task, but what do you call a film that spends a bulk of its running time on heavy CGI, heavy themes and explores the relationship between a boy and adult Bengal tiger? Those elements are one of the reasons why this film was deemed unfilmable. To the audience that would be an interesting output, to a director that will be a challenging nightmare.

And this film is in no better hands that those of Ang Lee, who’s made films about gay cowboys, Woodstock, British classics and superheroes. With a wide mix of films, Life of Pi would surely be something in the trademark of these films but in a different level. And the film delivers well with its story and use of effects to drive it forward.

The problem with CGI is that too much gloss distracts the attention away the substance of the story and less gloss makes cancels out the suspension of disbelief, resulting in aesthetic awkwardness. What’s a relief about the use of CGI here, is not only is it life-like and next enough to real, it propels the story and characterization and humanistic experience forward resulting in a somewhat profound sense of life wonder.

The best ways to tell stories is to show, not tell. Through showing, we give strong visual meaning to an idea, be it through the physical and aesthetic sense or simply by using ordinary body movement. As they say actions speaks a thousand words and this film is more on actions, humanistic actions specifically.

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Visuals complement the journey of our hero; from the lush, vibrant paradise of the zoo to the calm, hopelessness of being alone in the Pacific and all the way to the green toxicity of the pseudo-sanctuary provided by the mysterious island. The visuals constantly feed awe and wonder; add to that a certain nirvana feel into the perfect angles that gives an idea on what the shot is about, its relationship to the narrative and how it helps in pushing the story forward. Mixing colours is not an easy task, but coming up with something simple and striking is something else altogether.

Never has there been such a computer-generated animal with movement that perfectly mimics human emotion. Such is the case of Richard Parker, the way his eyes twinkle and how his face moves visual communicates his emotions unlike any other computer-generated animal that has been seen so far.

There’s something unusual about the sound design in this film that a few might have noticed, not everyone knows how a suffering Zebra sounds like or how Hyena’s laugh can so utterly annoying. And it’s not a question of authenticity anymore. There’s some in the animal’s cry for help and completely panicked screeches that resonates emotion, in a sense that those sounds are no less different than from those that humans make when they’re emotionally high.

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All the film elements, from the magical visuals to the striking sound effects and even to the characterisation, are interwoven perfectly to complement each other as it brings us on a cinematic journey of survival and self-enlightenment.  From the rich vibrancy of the first scene until the monochromatic parting shot, this may well just be journey of life’s ups and downs and endurance as well.