Filled with a dynamic ensemble of quirky, off-beat characters and an unapologetic screenplay possessing subtle hints of satire and over the top humor, Victor Villanueva’s Patay na si Hesus proves to be one of the year’s revelations.
Set in Cebu, heavily written in the laid-back, homey diphthongs of the Visayan language, the film follows the story of Iyay (Jaclyn Jose) together with her 3 sons (no more inside jokes) – Jude (Chai Fonacier), Jay (Melde Montañez) and Hubert (Vincent Viado) on their way to their father’s wake in Dumaguete.
75% of the film is a literal road trip, where spaces and infrastructures play a big role in the growth and development of the characters, recognizing Michael Foucault’s theory on geocriticism where all of the characters are transgressive to their surroundings. It started in Cebu City where the setting is almost too contrived as the environment of the characters are paraded with shooting flyovers, buildings and concrete; thus, the characters are still cold — almost impossible to really know them other than their hard exteriors. Slowly, the urbanization wears off and the family van goes to more rural areas, where the greenness of the fields and the blueness of the sea are visible; the characters are now more relaxed, gradually shedding off their layers of veneers. This is very much transparent to the character of Linda (Mailes Kanapi) who was once confined in the portals of the church as a nun, but is now free in the rawness of the wild, feeling herself being one with nature as she takes a dump, strips off her clothes, feels the breeze in the open window of the car. The film now establishes that, as the car enters the space of a more organic environment, the looser their emotions become. One by one, their personal issues spew out, and we now learn the rationale behind every character. Finally, the family arrives at the most raw, most grounded setting: seeing the dead. The characters no longer hold back; their veneers are completely gone. Iyay, as the matriarch, with a stone cold front as a display of strength, finally melts and explains to her children that she is, after all, vulnerable to the fact that she took away the chance of their children having a father.
The general story of the film is a juxtaposition of thin and sharp; as slim as paper sheet, but can simply papercut you in a beat with its unexpected humor of black comedy and bits of sociopolitical and religious satire. The humor is so awkward, but it’s just so good. It makes you cringe, but for all surprisingly good reasons.
Moreover, the screenplay is playful to the characters as it is playful to the audience, too. It showers so many undertones, it’s almost open to everyone’s interpretation. “Patay na si Hesus” can be a religious commentary on how today’s people respond to the crucifixion of Christ. Notice how every character’s behavior vary when they are mandated by their mother to go to their father’s wake, where age, gender and social status determine their reactions. Iyay, as the matriarch and the oldest one, the most traditional, is the most eager to go and see Hesus for the last time. Jude, on the other hand, is the educated, rational one, who thinks that going is the right thing to do. Jay, as the naive, penniless, jobless one, is the most stubborn to go. This is a sociopolitical commentary on our own behavior when it comes to our response when religion practices arise; that could simply transpire in acts like going to church, etc. Traditional people see it as something mandatory; educated people see it as a form of respecting the household beliefs; whilst, the ignorant would simply see it as an unnecessary practice. On the other hand, Patay na si Hesus can literally just mean that their father is dead. Playful.
See everyone’s fascination with Hudas, the dog? And the irony of naming a prized, adorable little shih tzu after a most rebellious apostle, in a movie named after Jesus Christ. The undertones of the screenplay become witty when one realizes that the entire concept of the film is a journey towards Christ, but moments in between, temptations and misfortunes are met. Most notably, when Hubert, Iyay’s eldest with Down Syndrome, is led to the wrong path and becomes lost on the road. What’s interesting is Hudas was with him during those moments. And perhaps the most apparent — the ending — when Hudas dies, the entire family gives this long scene of emotional meltdown, but shows absolutely nothing when they saw the dead body of Hesus. If we break it down technically, it is irony of having the emotional attachment to an animal (Hudas), versus the apathy and indifference to their own father (Hesus). This, perhaps, is a commentary on how detached the world is to religion today, and how slanderous and blasphemous acts in our culture are more celebrated than actual faith and spirituality. Then, the camera becomes steady, contrasting the people who followed the casket of Hesus were wearing white; the ones weeping for Hudas were wearing black. Religious satire? Maybe. But as playful as it is, it could be just an ordinary dog very much attached to the family for being physically present and more involved in their dynamics, in comparison to the relationship of their father, which pales in a distance, after having a tarnished reputation to his ex-wife and children. After all, one of the major themes of the film (if you opt to see it literally) is emotional connections, where blood often does not matter. For example, how Jude is very much attached to her girlfriend’s daughter and is quite established in the story that she loves her as her own, even though they are not related.
Moreover, it comes to no surprise that Jaclyn Jose has, once again, delivered a very easy, effortless performance amidst a chaotic setting of firecracker characters and lunatic narrative, which I find quite stellar. The balance of her realist performance in the middle of the film’s post-modernist elements is something only a seasoned pro could do. Moreover, the rest of the cast blended beautifully in place like a meticulous painting by a mad artist. The acting ensemble is crazy good.
The only negative critique I could give is perhaps the haphazard editing of the film. You may convince yourself that it may be intentional (being an independent movie), but at the end of the day, rough edges can only give you rough edges. It wasn’t smooth, and the clunky transitions and awkward mise-en-scenes are quite amateur-ish to my liking.
Overall, Patay na si Hesus is so lightweight and thin, but its layers are deeply microscopic, only magnified by the audience to decipher, which makes it debatable. It is volatile and crude, and it shows no remorse for the acts it portrays, which gives credit to a very brave direction by Victor Villanueva. There simply is no other film like this in Philippine cinema in recent memory.