Locarno Film Festival 2020 Revisits Kidlat Tahimik's "Mababangong Bangungot" (Perfumed Nightmare, 1977)
An unconventional film that has launched Kidlat Tahimik to monumental success, Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare) returns to the Locarno Film Festival with its virtual edition this 2020.
The 1977 film has earned an award from critics at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) when it premiered and has since then toured the world, showcasing a glimpse of old rural Philippines and the struggles of a common Filipino man against globalisation and neocolonialism.
With the aid of his friend Hartmut Lerch, Kidlat Tahimik's filmmaking style was established in this film—a fusion of documentary and fictional narrative, with a narration by the filmmaker who speaks in an observational tone, giving a glimpse into his own personal story enmeshed with local folklore or pop culture.
It proved to be a successful experiment that encapsulates popular Hollywood independent filmmaking of the '70s and '80s but still true to Filipino identity. Indeed, with this film and his succeeding works—not to mention his conferment of the National Artist title—Kidlat Tahimik cemented his reputation as the "Father of Philippine Independent Cinema".
Similar to his following films, Kidlat Tahimik starred in, wrote, and directed Mababangong Bangungot. It follows the eponymous character Kidlat, a young Filipino jeepney driver from Balian, Laguna, who is very passionate about space travel, a burgeoning trend since the '60s. As the president of the town's Wernher von Braun club, which was named after the renowned pioneer of rocket and space technology, he dreams of becoming an astronaut someday. But for the meantime, this "master of the vehicle" has to first understand the unofficial national car of the Philippines.
With sequences shot as cinema verité, Kidlat Tahimik shows audiences how a jeepney is made—where we credit its origin and efficiency (most especially for passengers riding with livestock going to Manila). The film also tackles the importance of bamboo and why houses in the Philippines were built using this material.
Amid the naïvete of the lead character, the film effectively depicts Filipino culture, sensibilities, and struggles. Through Kidlat Tahimik's lens, audiences were introduced to "Third World Cinema" in the Philippine setting and context. The country was going through an economic and political crisis in the late '70s and yet the people continued to be captivated by the glamour of beauty pageants, fiestas, fashion, and cinema. But most significantly featured in the film was radio, as Kidlat regularly listens to The Voice of America radio show.
With the US and then-USSR's space race in the '60s, the character Kidlat grew up dreaming of someday being on the moon. Unfortunately, he missed the worldwide telecast of Neil Armstrong taking "a small step for man, and a giant leap for mankind". Throughout the first half of the film, we see a young Filipino man drawn to the economic and technological progress of America. Backed with the character of an American scout living in the town, the filmmaker makes a satirical depiction of Western supremacy in the country and the perennial question of 'what makes a man'. Though some townspeople close to Kidlat relentlessly remind him of the excellence and craftsmanship of the Filipinos, he refuses to stay in Balian and follows the American to Europe.
By exploring the so-called 'brainwashed generation' of the '70s, Kidlat Tahimik mirrors his experience as a young Filipino sent to a prestigious American business school. The fascination, gleeful smiles, change in wardrobe and manner of speaking are evident in Kidlat's first steps in Paris. And just like the thousands of Filipinos who resorted to working overseas just to make ends meet, Kidlat brings his jeepney with him and becomes an assistant to the American for his gumball vending machine business. The kid in Kidlat gradually grows into a young man, exploring the world and other races.
But in his awakening comes disillusionment. He then realises the consequences of progress, the importance of true human happiness, and the hideous effects of innovation in humanity. Seeming like flashbacks and streams of Kidlat's consciousness, the filmmaker presents juxtapositions of the Philippines and Paris: the constructions, the marvellous architecture, its peoples and their values.
Kidlat Tahimik's debut film reminds audiences of the importance of the connection between countries—the developing and the superpowers. Its opening sequence focuses on the Balian bridge, the only way in and out of the town. This imagery represents the mutually beneficial relationship among nations throughout the film. And yet, we cannot ignore the fact that personal interests greatly influence these relationships and as masters of our own fates, we have the divine duty to uphold the moral values we grew up in and not let capitalism, greed, and lust for power get dismantle our 'bridge'. The reality is, we are living in a perfumed nightmare—horrific phantasms shaped by our subconscious desires which reek with fragrant words and colours.
The irony of this film continues with the many international film festivals it has been featured in. A humble film shot in Super 8 camera, made with a shoestring budget and the assistance of a whole town, directed by an unknown filmmaker... it still proved to be a global masterpiece and timelessly relevant. Embodying distinct Filipino humour and an endearing reflection of a Third World country, Mababangong Bangungot champions the Filipino spirit and nationalism. It pushes Filipino audiences abroad to rethink and look back at their country of bamboos and coconuts, temporarily left behind.
And just like the birth of Kidlat Tahimik's firstborn with wife Katrin depicted in this film, Mababangong Bangungot rests on the hands of the young generation the fate of the nation, and in extension, the world.
Read more: Movie Review of Lav Diaz's "Ang Hupa" (The Halt, 2019)
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- Images Mubi