Mes de Guzman’s films are deliberately situated and ethnography has become some kind of impetus to his film materials. This is not true for Sitio where topography of the milieu – I assume Nueva Vizcaya – could be just any other province. Thus, if any, this film has become a subversion of his previous works, and being so, the remaining potent question would be, is it deliberate? Aesthetically, Sitio doesn’t clearly have the authentic polish of Diablo whose every frame is exact and sure and the ethnographic details of Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, a film so particular of the setting it must be his paean to his hometown.
The first thing that comes to mind while watching the film is Haneke’s Funny Games where a family is subjected to powerplay by some whackos whose ultimate motive we are not sure of. But the similarities end there; where Funny Games’ means (to disturb) is also its end, while this one’s goes way further. The very first scene of Sitio shows us with a group of men raucously having a karaoke night and in one room upstairs the family resigns in frustration. It is one scene that perfectly sums up what we are about to see afterwards.
For a de Guzman film that is seemingly deferential of geographical representation so unlike his previous films, Sitio is actually regardful of space and the politics that come with it. The film starts with a family relocating from a city to a sitio, the stark difference of these two places couldn’t be underscored better. During the course of the film, outsiders freely go in and out of the house, thus the privacy of the property – in a way of the owned space – is de-walled, where perimeter becomes a mere concept. This deliberation of space and its essence of ownership are buttressed early on, when Jonas (an owner of a real estate firm, if this fact about him underscores the point) had the property fenced. The film starts with the family coming into a place and ends with them trying to get out of it, making that place the be-all. Worth noting is the film’s geographical breadth, which is gradually narrowed, from a big city to a small sitio to smaller house to smallest room.
Admirable, too, is De Guzman’s characterization of the four “tormentors.” They aren’t outright typical evil. Their approximation of power is not physical (you don’t see them hitting anyone of the siblings). Instead, they play, they laugh, they watch movies, they cook, they eat, they live off their new and rich “subordinate.” In other words, they are as real as the next underprivileged person can be when given a chance to dominate. They annoy rather than torment. They are more pranksters than hardcore tyrants. It is this careful fleshing out of the “outsider” that De Guzman should be lauded for, because it is so much easier to just let them go all-out malevolent.
And remember that this is a genre film. This is De Guzman winking at us, yeah, and his subversion, his going away from himself is obviously deliberate he seems aware of what he is doing than he seems lost. With Sitio, he tries something new and owns it. And the goodness of it is he seemed having fun while shooting the film. The finished product shows it.