I spent about two hours last night with a blind porn-addicted beggar, a shirtless crack-smoking bow tie-wearing dwarf, a grey-haired one-armed teenaged rapper and a bike-riding cross-dresser who sells coal. Among others. And they were fabulous company.
Mondomanila is a high-energy, post-punk genre-bending spectacle which, much like the slum lifestyles it depicts, defies any rational categorization. Opening as a pseudo-documentary, the film speeds down a muddy highway where lanes of horror, exploitation, experimental and musical forms converge to find and spin a tale of hope from a situation that anyone not familiar with this stark and marginal world would view with nothing but utter hopelessness.
Based on the novel How I Fixed My Hair After A Rather Long Journey by Norman Wilwayco, Filipino director Khavn De La Cruz (who co-wrote the screenplay with Wilwayco) takes us on a graphic and colorful tour of what is likely a typical couple of days in the lives of a teenage street gang: it’s violent, seedy, bizarre and at times grotesque, yet remarkably tender when least expected. Even the goose scene, down to the smallest roach on the wall. (OK, tender isn’t quite the word for that one.)
“To be poor doesn’t mean to be defeated,” is how Khavn described the film and his outlook during a brief Q&A with the audience after the screening at Ljubljana’s Kinodvor last night (10-Nov).
Khavn is nothing if not prolific. He’s made 34 feature length films, more than 70 shorts, and is a writer, poet, composer and accomplished pianist. He’s also patient. Work on Mondomanila began back in 2002 but was immediately stopped; some of that was spun into related shorts before further revisions to the screenplay followed. Final work began in 2009 and the film was finally premiered in January of this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Censorship in The Philippines has meant few screenings domestically –among the exceptions was MFMF!, or Mondomanila Filmfest MotherFuckers! set up specifically for a domestic premiere– so Khavn relies primarily on the festival circuit for his work to be seen. It’s well worth seeking out.