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

Tirador: City of God, city of man

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By Lito B. Zulueta

"Tirador" is the Gawad Urian Best Picture for 2007.

Brillante Mendoza expands the universe of independent filmmaking in “Tirador,” a multi-storied and multi-character movie that has the makings of an urban epic. Critics who have closely followed Mendoza’s brilliant career have always known that the director is someone who would not be circumscribed by the alleged limits of digital filmmaking. From gritty character studies that seem like mordant reinventions of the chamber drama (“Masahista,” “Manoro,” “Foster Child”), a genre that perfectly dovetails with digital filmmaking’s restrictions, Mendoza has widened his artistic breadth to embrace as well the varied, the myriad, and the jungle. With “Tirador,” he shows with dramatic flourish that his cinema could cope with the self-imposed limits of technology, even go beyond them. “Tirador” is simply right on target.

In Quiapo, the “armpit of Manila,” are a welter of characters that seem drawn from the darkest bottom of the pit—fornicators, thieves, drug abusers and traffickers, harlots and hustlers. When the cops arrive for a dragnet, the catch are a cornucopia of the foulest fish, the invisible net merely a metaphor for their entrapment. When the local politician arrives to bail them out in exchange for their gratitude and vote, their enslavement is certified. Theirs is mutual parasitism.

In the ecology of leeches and bloodsuckers, symbiosis is not a matter of give-and-take; it’s a matter of reciprocal cannibalism. Mendoza’s vision of Quiapo is unrelentingly bleak and pessimistic; it’s Eliot’s Wasteland without let-up, not merely April as “the cruelest month,” but every cruelest day of the cruelest year. Even the humor cannot be called merely black: when one character loses her denture in the sewers below, one can only laugh at the literalness of it all: even fluoride and every bit of sanitation is no match to the indescribable grime of the city. Everything is flushed in the cavity and trench of the city-abyss.

But there’s religion and the Church of Quiapo, promising cleansing and mercy to all who would ask for it. Quiapo is not the mecca of sinners for nothing. Mendoza recreates the Nazarene pandemonium credibly, even unctuously. There’s a Felliniesque brilliance in Mendoza’s gestural camera work, his painterly evocation. But even here, one realizes that God is cannibalized if only to provide momentary relief to criminals great and small, who after all would return to their old ways after saying their most fervent amen. Cleansed for a day, they’re free to blaspheme and sin for the rest of the year—until the next Quiapo feast.

But it would be wrong to call “Tirador” Mendoza’s version of the cinema of abjection. Although his artist’s sense gives his treatment of Quiapo a nearly unremitting corrosiveness, the documentarist in him makes him stick to a certain objective realism that provides his lower-depths characters their own share of humanity, especially their search for some mooring and purging in a city that is perennially coming unhinged and befouled. “Tirador” is Mendoza’s cinema of the razor-sharp.


Directed by BRILLANTE MENDOZA; Screenplay RALSTON JOVER; Cinematography JULIUS VILLANUEVA, JEFFREY DELA CRUZ, GARY TRIA & BRILLANTE MENDOZA; Production Design DEANS HABAL & HARLEY ALCASID; Editing CHARLIEBEBS GOHETIA; Music TERE BARROZO; Sound DITOY AGUILA & JUNEL VALENCIA; Cast JIRO MANIO, COCO MARTIN, KRISTOPHER KING, NATHAN LOPEZ, JACLYN JOSE, JULIO DIAZ, SIMON IBARRA, HAROLD MONTANO, ANGELA RUIZ, BENJIE FILOMENO, ENRICO VILLA, ALEERA MONTALLA, JEAN ANDREWS, RUSSEL LAXAMANA; Produced by CENTER STAGE PRODUCTIONS