In the first of a new series of guest articles at RADIANT CIRCUS, Manila-based film writer & critic Richard Bolisay introduces John Torres’ debut feature TODO TODO TEROS (2006), Filikino’s next screening at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC 18:15).
No cinema is an island: terror and eros in John Torres’s TODO TODO TEROS (2006)
It would be amiss to watch TODO TODO TEROS, the first feature of Filipino filmmaker John Torres, and not be informed of the particular, not to mention peculiar, context in which it had come about. It first screened in Manila in August 2006 in Ateneo de Manila University, and two weeks later in University of the Philippines, both crowds consisting mostly of students and devoted cineastes. Preceded by its international recognition — winning the FIPRESCI prize in the Singapore International Film Festival in April, where it premiered, and a special mention at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in Indonesia — the film heralded the arrival of a singular voice in Philippine cinema, which in the mid-2000s was characterised by a flurry of activity, the beginning of the so-called Third Golden Age with the release of new movies by various directors in a film movement enabled by access to digital technology.
Manila’s independent scene was waving its flag proudly, brimming with confidence and energy, and some of its key players appeared in the film, directors such as Lav Diaz, Khavn dela Cruz, and Regiben Romana, as well as the late critic Alexis Tioseco. With its shots of busy cafés and dark streets, the patchy surface on which the images are laid out, the film captured the fever of the time, the itch to go out and make cinema, at whatever cost. TODO TODO TEROS was preceded by Torres’s highly acclaimed short works called OTROS TRILOGY, fondly called “Love Films” by Tioseco, whose supple poetry had gained its director a small but strong following. Torres was then in his early 30s, a bit older than his contemporaries Raya Martin and Sherad Anthony Sanchez, both of whom had been winning prizes overseas as well, their films distinct in their youth and defiance of conventions.
So, what is this singular voice like at a time when Philippine cinema has a lot of voices? As a film whose lead character identifies himself as a terrorist, and whose filmmaking is a testament to the faculty and function of resistance, what new insights can be gleaned from its design and experimentation, especially now that the Philippines and its film industry seem to be much closer to the chaotic society and noxious undertows of love envisioned by Torres? What makes this film, perhaps his least shown work internationally, so remarkable that twelve years later it finds its way to London, in a low-key screening at Genesis Cinema?
The way the length of Diaz’s movies builds muscle, Torres’s voice arms the viewer with a weapon. Half of this is his speaking voice (the one that takes command in the short film SALAT, TODO TODO TEROS, and his second feature YEARS WHEN I WAS A CHILD OUTSIDE, soft and euphonious, conveying the story and sensation) and the other his narrative voice (the one unheard but experienced, the magnetic force that keeps disjointed elements together). The combination of these two voices, not always in agreement, makes TODO TODO TEROS a unique filmmaking piece that defies categorisation: a collage of love story, political war tale, speculative fiction, video diary, emotional weather report, told with the aid of on-screen text, made-up SMS, government advisories, romantic poetry, fireworks, even gibberish. The result is a potpourri of impressions that expands, and inquires into, the boundaries of cinema and the many forms it can take.
The core of the film is its assembly, how the love and terror in the title become one and inseparable, and how, in the end, the collage is in fact a replication of Philippine society, with the film industry, and its cast of madding characters, as its microcosm. This conclusion, in 2006, may appear to be a stretch, but viewing the film now, more than a decade later, it cannot be denied how Torres has made the connection persuasively. TODO TODO TEROS concretises the links between art and society, the infiltration of the one by the other, in a manner that is uneven and drifting but nonetheless urgent and compelling.
Its strongest impulse is love. In SALAT, which partly examines his breakup with his partner for more than ten years, Torres asks his girlfriend to cry on cue. In YEARS WHEN I WAS A CHILD OUTSIDE, he ruminates on his father’s infidelity that affected his family. In TODO TODO TEROS, he tricks Olga, his Russian guide in Berlin, to tell him that she loves him. On one hand, Torres uses cinema to expose and understand himself (his betrayal and confusion, his weaknesses and struggle, his daydreams and demons) — a method that has come to define his work until present — and on the other, he questions the conventional beliefs of how cinema should be, how it must be interrogated and doubted, and how its language cannot be removed from our personal lives.
In an interview about TODO TODO TEROS, he shares: “Loving deals a lot with building and destroying things we hold dear. We can be terrorists not only to strangers but also to our loved ones. That was what I wanted to explore: the beloved as terrorist to you and your world. We have this notion of terrorists as strangers who invade from out of nowhere, this crazed criminal who sneaks in and either goes away unscathed or dies with you and you never know who he is. You are never intimate with him in the first place, but you empathize with the victims, and you are forced to hate the perpetrator of the crime. I wanted people to see that we can be terrorists in ways not as extreme or radical as those we see on CNN or BBC.”
In this digital age, when terrorism has become a familiar facet of people’s lives, it would be preposterous to say with a straight face that this film has travelled over 6,000 miles from Manila to reach London for the first time. But without nonsensical hyperbole and distortions of truth, cinema would be dull and lifeless. And TODO TODO TEROS is undoubtedly the complete opposite.
About RICHARD BOLISAY: Richard is a writer and film critic based in Manila. His essays on cinema have appeared in various publications online and in print. He is a participant of the Berlinale Talent Press and Locarno Critics Academy, and has been part of the jury of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, QCinema International Film Festival, and Cinema One Originals Film Festival. Follow Richard on Twitter and Instagram.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Filikino is a regular programme of classic and contemporary Philippine cinema curated by Anna de Guia-Eriksson. Follow Filikino on Facebook and Twitter. You can also read our earlier RADIANT CIRCUS interview with Anna about Filikino, HERE.
- TODO TODO TEROS screens at Genesis Cinema (05 DEC 18:15).
- Discover TODO TODO TEROS (2006) and director John Torres on IMDb.
- Visit Genesis Cinema and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for news about other screenings by London’s finest independent curators.
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