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Boundary: Transport, Communication Problems

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By Tito Genova Valiente

Transport and communication problems—two issues that can, with tongue in cheek, render succinct a film called Boundary.

Benito Bautista’s film rides in a cab with a driver who is so morose you can feel the wayward morality in his eyes. In the taxi is a passenger whose values he displays shimmering like the parol, a Christmas lantern, he buys, we assume, for himself, but, later, gives to the taxi driver who is more surprised than thankful. Indeed, even in the spirit of Filipino Christmas it is not common for someone to buy something expensive and give it to someone who needs more the money than something symbolic.

The circumstances in the film are extraordinary. This is no issue, however, knowing how unpredictable and crazy the taxi drivers in this island are. The arbitrariness of choosing passengers, however, sets the tone of a tale that reeks of the scent of a demented destiny. Well, we like to believe we know where the taxi is going given the air inside, redolent of the Yuletide air and at the same time threatening to crush whatever love and joy are there in the clime outside.

The story as in any taxi ride is regular and not special: a passenger who looks at distant horizon for lack of an appropriate thing to do chats every now and then with the taxi driver. The conversation is also regular, humming with a rhythm in sync with the regular speed of the cab. This is an ordinary trip with no attempt to do some trip-cutting. The cutting will occur elsewhere.

At one end, the taxi driver is restless and seems unfocused. At another end, the passenger, despite the quiet he assumes, is polite. But communication crisis and transportation reforms are the farthest from the mind of this filmmaker, Bautista. He seems to know more about the psychology of the streets than what he really cares to tell. He keeps many things up in his sleeves. When he decides to display those anguish and pain on his sleeve, we are not quite happy about it. We cannot complain because all throughout the ride, the filmmaker has been giving hints that enable us to sense something not quite correct inside that cab.

Benito Bautista’s taxi does not follow an approved route. While the beginning of the ride belongs to the ordinariness of life, its progress is where this film succeeds. Remember that harmless adage, which says it is not the destination that matters but the journey? Well, this film is the subversive version of that quote.

For Bautista, routes are not a matter of geography but of philosophy and psychology. It does not harm this unusual cautionary tale of f_ ck_ d up brotherhood and charity that the routes taken by the passenger and the taxi driver he enlisted are regular if only that they could be charted. Existential and devoid of the essential, the taxi ride threatens us at many points, charms us with the daring that rides are equipped with when it is taking so long to reach its destination, and, finally, kills us with the possibility that anything, anything at all could happen.

Who is to blame? We don’t know. What we know is that the signposts were there but we chose to ignore them. The filmmaker hints of the danger but we are naïve and not serious enough.

The ride, the long ride, would have been boring and long if we did not take them with actors like Raymond Bagatsing and Ronnie Lazaro. No pairing has ignited with such troubled intensity as that sparked by Bagatsing and Lazaro ever since Alfred Vargas and Lou Veloso, the most unlikely pair, entertained us in the black comedy, Colorum. But where Vargas and Veloso contrive an accidental partnership in their trip to the South, Bagatsing and Lazaro are bonded only by the delimitation of the transport vehicle and get released into the open spaces of streets. It is to the credit of the filmmaker that when the driver and his passenger step out of the taxi, one can almost smell the food and the smoke in the city. There is almost tourism in this trip to the bountiful unknown.

Bagatsing, elegant and fashionable even in his beefiness, is a natural when it comes to playing a passenger whose destination seems destiny and hidden agenda. One can never be at ease with his character, not even when that person gives a Christmas lantern to Ronnie Lazaro’s taxi driver. This is no gift of the magi but a magic trick, as we will soon find out.

Ronnie Lazaro has made a cottage industry out of losers whose timidity is armor to an otherwise vicious mind. When Lazaro’s taxi driver looks at his passenger, all the designs of evil and good are caught in that act. This taxi driver can go to hell and back without his operator knowing he has made those trips. When a passenger intercepts his navigation, then all hell breaks loose and we have fun with a film that is infinitely daring without the uncomfortable didacticism.

If we are going to record the ride, it is apparent that safety is there in the taxi. The door left open lets in other elements from the street—the usual scum and lowlifes entering this remarkably curious company. This is expected. What is not expected is the scenario at the end of the road: brutality without creed, acts that are ultimately violent because they are done without fun but with the focus of a truly objective mind.

Boundary, for the taxi and jeepney drivers, refers to the targeted amount that should be given to the owner of the vehicle. It has nothing to do with maps and borders. The taxi driver’s boundary depends on how much he can breach limits and borders.

In his Boundary, Bautista forgets all maps of moralities, disrespects physical boundaries, and has enough courage to talk about concerns that the local Land Transportation Office will never have a mandate over.