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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 25, 2016

Area Movie Review: The Most Shocking, Most Disturbing Local Film On Prostitution With Great Ensemble Acting

THERE have been many local films about the oldest profession. The late National Artists Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal have their own versions: “White Slavery” and “Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules…” for Brocka and “Ligaw na Bulaklak” for Bernal. Other films in the same genre include “Prosti”, “Mga Kalapati ng Dewey Blvd.”, “Mga Rosas sa Putikan”, etc.

But you haven’t seen nothing yet unless you’ve seen “Area” by Louie Ignacio, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Eurasia International Filmfest in Kazakhstan. Written by Robbie Tantingco who wrote last year’s award-winning “Ari, My Life with a King”, “Area” is the most shocking, most disturbing film on prostitution we have seen.

The title is derived from a place called Area in Angeles City. During the heydays of the US Airbase called Clark Field, American soldiers on rest and recreation get their hired women from a notorious place called Fields Avenue. But local men who don’t have as much money as the G.I.’s go to a place called Area, where women are much much cheaper.

During its heydays in the 60s to the 80s, it’s said there were about 700 brothels in Area. In the movie, Area has already lost its appeal and there are now only 3 red houses left in it. The movie focuses on the brothel owned by Allen Dizon’s family for four generations. Their prostitutes are held like captives inside their seedy, sordid “casa”.

These lowly women of the flesh are Tabs Sumulong (the oldest one who’s in her 50 but claims her pussy remains 18 years old), Sarah Brakensiek (a grossly overweight woman you’d wonder who’d ever want to bed her), Ireen Cervantes (who looks like she’s the youngest, but is actually the former Rajah Montero who appeared in past films like “Katas”, “Langit Mo Kaligayahan Ko”, “Kamandag ni Venus” ), Sue Prado (who has three kids) and Ai Ai de las Alas as Hillary, an aging prostitute who dreams of going to America to look for the son she lost during the eruption of Pinatubo in 1991.

There are many comic touches in presenting the stories of these women that help offset the fact that they live in subhuman conditions and have such heartbreaking stories. They lead miserable dead end lives from which there is no escape. You can’t help but feel so much pity for all of them, particularly for Sue’s three little children who live with the knowledge that their mother is a whore.

The youngest child is especially pitiful for having club feet. They all have to get out of their very tiny cubicle whenever their mom is entertaining a customer. The daily meager meals of the women are just rationed to them and they all have to share whatever food is given to them.

The whole place is so hot that they’re sweating all the time as they don’t even have an electric fan. And the customers they get seem to be scums of the earth. It’s so dehumanizing and you really feel like sinking into the lower depths that make you want to gasp for breath. These local sex workers are most certainly NOT happy hookers, and are hearts are filled with compassion for them.

The film takes place during Holy Week and you can hear the chanting of the Pabasa about Christ’s Passion all throughout the movie. We are shown various flagellants undergoing Penitencia on the streets and there’s a sequence where some of them are even nailed on the cross. Allen Dizon as the lead actor is given his own penitencia scene but it comes without any preparation as, before this, he was just shown ranting against their sex workers. And let’s face it, it’s really the actresses who play more dominant roles in this kind of material as this is their show.

The film shows the hypocrisy of some people, notably Allen’s grandmother (superbly played by 84-year old Kapampangan actress Eufrocina Pena) and other family members, who always pray the rosary in front of their altar and yet have no qualms in operating a whorehouse where they exploit the women under their employ who have sustained their household for several generations.

The film works best as a wonderful piece of ensemble acting, as almost all the cast members do an outstanding job, especially the actresses who play sex workers. There is a scene where they are all shown removing their panties while on an examination table to expose themselves to a doctor who gives them an internal examination. This is played for laughs as the doctor eventually feels so dizzy from the foul smell emanating from their private parts, especially from Ireen Cervantes who has no qualms showing her clean shaven pudenda in a full frontal nudity scene with a pumping barangay tanod.

Ai Ai being the lead star is given many moments to shine and she does manage to give a compelling portrayal. She has a bizarre sex scene with real life Siamese twins who show their contorted bodies while in bed with her. She also has a touching moment with a kind customer, Francisco Guinto (the lead actor in “Ari: My Life with a King”), who gives her an electric fan but later takes it back. She’s shown always counting the money she has saved through the years, which she aims to use for her trip to the U.S., amounting to something like P30,000. The scene where she finds out that her lifetime savings is stolen and she is crying her heart out while looking for it is very moving.

The movie is often difficult to watch because of the suffering, misery and degradation the characters go through, but we are glad that the ending offers a ray of hope and the film does not end on a very depressing note. But we think that the climactic scene showing a very important reunion would have been more meaningful if it happened during Easter Sunday, a season of rebirth where Mama Mary is shown being reunited with her Risen Son in the traditional Salubong procession at dawn. It would have been a fitting ending for a film where harrowing incidents and circumstances are shown during Holy Week.