In Fajardo’s Posas, two strangers are pulled together not by a cupid, mind you, but by an incident that prefigures a cat-and-mouse story. It happens in Lacson underpass where Jess Biag, a small-time thief, snatches the cellphone of beautiful passerby, Grace Rosuello. As early as this point into the story, Posas offers a revealing characterization that is unlikely in Philippine setting but as effective. Instead of going hysterical, like most characters would in her shoes, and shouting, “snatcher,” Grace stays alert and resolved, follows the thief up the stairs and out of underpass where she finally loses him to the sea of crisscrossing people. This resoluteness, most probably borne out of the desperation to protect incriminating sex videos, becomes her unwavering mindset throughout the whole day where she willingly goes through the lengthy process just to retrieve back what she lost.
Such characterization is admirably sufficient throughout the whole film. John Lapus becomes effective here because his role doesn’t call for a caricature to provide levity just for the sake of it. Lapus is funny despite any effort because the humor is anchored on his helpless situation as a victim of modus operandi, where he is allowed to be both forlorn and desperate as a result. Even the subordinate cops are not totally evil here. They make a pass, whenever there is opportunity as all horny men do, at irresistible beauties, and when they need to pull a trigger or do vicious thing, it is because of a call of responsibility, or that they are merely trapped by a superior into it — who knows while there is an imaginary cocked gun pointed to their temples. Writer, Zig Dulay, puts in meticulous attention to such details, and then some more.
Caught and positively identified, Jess Biag is coursed through the process where he needs to stop by the Hall Clinic, Police Precinct and Fiscal’s Office. Save for that one scene in the Police Station where truth is ferreted with brute force, the procedural sequences are not there as a commentary to the bureaucracy – it doesn’t show corruption along the steps – but as facts. And more than that, as a tool to lend authenticity to the whole story. Try glossing over those parts and what you are left with is a mere storytelling without texture. The whole steps to Fiscal’s Office are so factually accurate that they make Dulay’s story, and its telling, rich and credible.
All performances here are effective; from the bit players to Art Acuna as a villainous Inspector whose mere opaque disposition can send shivers down your spine. Acuna’s Domingo smolders even when he is not angry, and his cunning is revealed by his fearlessness to do evil. And then, there’s Nico Antonio’s interpretation of Jess Biag. His Jess is fine until he gets caught and begins to play meek, drawing his brows together more than necessary. Antonio should have subdued it a bit so that it would not call as much attention. As is, his Jess appears as a sore thumb from a generally fine performances. To say that his timidity is so obviously fake is to tell what is apparent. Until I realize from watching too much police reports on TV that thieves, rapist, holduppers and the like are generally gentle lambs once caught. And from there I get the point of Antonio’s performance; his challenge being to graduate from faking meekness to being a real one. And if it is any indication, he truly appears empathetic by the film’s final sequences. Does he acquit himself? Yes, and he acquits himself well. He is not the sore thumb after all. No one in Posas is.
And tellingly, Fajardo does a commendable work here. He deliberately disappears into the material, confident that regardless of everything, the material is strong enough. The only director I can think of who is as selfless is Jeffrey Jeturian, who is incidentally the original director of this film — I wonder if there is a consensus for the treatment between them. In toning down his helming style here, Fajardo emerges respectful of the written page! The only time Fajardo shows his presence is when it is necessary: the chase sequences where the camera work, in an attempt to go after the thief through the maze of alleyways and rusty buildings, becomes shaky and urgent. For the rest of the film, Fajardo remains sober and mature, just documenting the mundane goings-on of what usually is just another ordinary day.
It is not all hits for Fajardo. When he points his camera to survey the place, he sometimes captures telling messages, slogans, such as, “To Serve and Protect.” And when he does, his camera lingers longer than needed. How I wish he could use a little restraint with what “messages” he thrusts his camera on. Because it is already like spelling out what is pretty obvious.
Posas is a companion piece to Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay. Not better – no, it doesn’t have Kinatay’s radical treatment (the long and unbearable trip, that deliberate darkness that begs viewers to fill in the blanks, therefore getting them more involved) – but worthy, nonetheless. Truth be told, the stakes here are higher. The continuum is not as simple as from innocence to guilt, from broad daylight to pitch black, from good to evil. The contrast is blurred. A snatcher, therefore bad, is put through a downward spiral to hell. The range is shrunk. It is not from one end to an opposite end, but from bad to worse, from callousness to pure evil.
Because the person to be corrupted here is not good, it therefore poses moral ambiguity which is by no means harder to depict. It does not ask you to empathize with Jess, because you won’t. Rather it takes on the challenge by giving you an abhorrent character and checking if it can change if not your perception of him then your understanding of him. In short, it does not take the easy road.
I like it that it tries to desensitize our perception of an unlikeable person by examining what is lying in his dark heart and trying to find a spot there that is still manipulable by more evil outside forces. This is dog-eat-dog world, and, Jess, you small-time crook, you are not the villain-est, it says.
In the end, when Jess Biag succumbs to a deeper shit, you suddenly find him helpless. And your initial abhorrence for him is swayed by universal feeling for a fallen man. When he finally walks out from the precinct, hands finally freed from cuffs, his silence is deafening it is already surreal. In what to be the film’s finest moment, Jess proceeds to walk forward. But now he looks lost and uncertain of what lies ahead.