The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Ekstra: Claiming Spaces for the Unheard and Unseen

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

Ekstra is the putting on the big screen what goes on in a day on the set of a soap opera production. Together with its many bits and pieces of narratives that create a complex montage mounting into a gamut of sounds, voices and images. The successful shifting of the lenses masterfully directed by Jeffrey Jeturian as it focuses on what goes behind the popular-glitzy-celebrated mainstream menu for millions of Filipinos, makes us stop… and think of all those who are unheard of and blurred by the engaging sparks, glamour and frenzy cranked by the busy production processes of a humongous television industry which in many ways is a dehumanizing system of production.

There are neither heroes nor villains in this film. Everyone is caught in this cycle of production but losing of self, dignity and soul seem to be there in varying degrees for both the privileged and the oppressed. Even the director is just a numb and pathetic giant pawn going through the routine of exaggerated rage and sharp hyperboles. Those around him become callused robots doing their daily work. They are the staff and crew that are like automatic mouthpieces of usual instructions surfacing the devalued bit players and winding up as whipping boys and girls when things go wrong.

The only privileged one is the producer, who can just sit around, nonchalantly dictate and recite the litany of the realities of the trade. What is seen in this film is the hierarchy of production. This is reminiscent of all industries where labor is given the most miniscule remuneration. In the entertainment industry, their contribution to the production is the atmosphere… the almost intangible but an essential part of the whole process. What is a party scene where there are no faceless guests wearing fancy clothes in the crowd? Or what is harvesting the crops in the hacienda where there are no farmers? Or what is a scene where there are no stand-ins when the stars are not available or walk out of the set?

Such a well-crafted screenplay by Zig Dulay, Antoinette Jadaone, and Jeffrey Jeturian is a sharp commentary on the television industry and the advertising industry from the start to end credits. It is embedded with wit and irony very close to what really happens on the set and what happens before getting to the set.

The characters have been painstakingly stitched into a formidable ensemble. The cameo appearances of stars like Piolo Pascual, Marianne Rivera, and Cherie Gil as bit players in the movie within a movie goes well with what the film wants to say. Marlon Rivera as the director on the set is credible as a soldier pressured to shoot scenes for an episode to be shown the next day and at the same time insert products within the frame for not-so-casual advertisements. The efficient assistant director, Vincent de Jesus plays it hot and cool. Another noteworthy performance is that of Ruby Ruiz as the talent coordinator managing to parry the blows directed to the bit players. Tart Carlos is certainly believable as the best friend of Loida.

Casting Vilma Santos as Loida Malabanan, a bit player (ekstra) in the film within a film, is brilliant. Loida’s character is unassuming, honest and has the talent to liven up the long waiting hours that all bit players have to endure. She tries to help those who are start-ups in the trade and sympathize with those who are weeded out from the list of wannabe bit players. Vilma makes an outstanding performance as she glides and blends into the flowing narrative with spontaneity and natural punctuations, with moments of authentic inner tensions. In the last scene where she silently sits with the crowd watching the soap opera on television’s small screen, her face projects a complex moment of sadness, disappointment, realization, and empowerment. Only a seasoned actress like Vilma Santos can bring this image to the big screen with such eloquence.