Girls, Etc.

Or, “Why Rigodon is my favorite movie in a year full of good movies”

A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others.
In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.”
— Bataille, “The Solar Anus” (1931)

A “love team” is, by definition, never a married couple. They keep us on the edge of our seats by the prospect of whether or not they can keep it together, in a culture where marriage is considered a permanent bond. Love teams entertain us through the kilig factor of perpetual courtship; but once we’ve exhausted the discussion on what girlfriends do to maintain their post as girlfriends, we begin to look at what girlfriends don’t do. And coming up with nothing wholesome on that subject steers the conversation into what non-girlfriends do.

I don’t know why the local media finds single girls just being (and staying) single so uninteresting, thus leading to the choice to dig into this can of worms/pot of gold which resulted in this fairly recent proliferation of films about “other women”. I could be writing this now because I began the year by watching No Other Woman (2011 [Thanks Tara and Edu]), which surpassed its “so bad, it’s good” tag and just went straight into being bad. Very bad. Horrible, actually, and probably the primary reason why I can never get behind anything with Anne Curtis in it.

I remember having this discussion (with a classmate) about the archetype of Jilted Woman turned Angry Ghost/Ghoul/Bloodsucker in Asian horror flicks, and wondering if the “other woman” theme isn’t just running along the same track. It’s a very particular brand of misogyny that results in an industry producing an entire genre or segment so wholly committed to marking simplistic distinctions between women and “other women”. Women are already so saddled with the baggage of having to represent their gender, thus making it easy to get worked up about anything which oversimplifies or polarizes “what it means to be a woman”.

These aren’t even women, but caricatures defending their places relative to the men in their otherwise hollow lives. A woman can have the title role and still be another body in a bed, thus propagating this Taylor Swiftian notion that women are not allowed to reflect on their subjectivities and autonomy outside of their relationships (which isn’t even true for Taylor Swift, who tours all-year round, lives in a mansion made of solid gold, and probably gets to have sex with everyone she meets with no judgment, suckers).

These aren’t even women, and yet they are; or at least they are what women are continuing to become should the “other woman” mythology be kept up. And this is what makes a movie like Erik Matti’s Rigodon(2012)so refreshing. Forget that it was promoted as a movie that will (from the director of Scorpio Nights 2) bring sexy back; forget how easy it is to dismiss as “an excuse to show Yam Concepcion’s tits”. At its core, Rigodon is a love story, but it also reminds us of how the most brutal truth in these waters is that there is no absolute, objective, capital T “Truth” about love and relationships.

In what could be a nod to La Ronde (1950), Rigodon shows instead how easy it is for people to destroy each other without actually meaning any harm. Within the first few minutes, we see Sarah getting over a break-up, which leads her into the arms of Riki, who goes home to Regine. The success of the film lies in Matti’s careful avoidance of turning any of these characters into caricatures of themselves, neither glorifying nor condemning, thus making it difficult to lay any kind of blame or even distinguish between heroes and villains. This is a far cry from the fare peddled by a film industry already buckling under the weight of the star and studio system, in which some people are evil or funny or good just because they look the part. Rigodon is not a vehicle to introduce love teams which will jumpstart careers, but a means to tell a story. This preoccupation with narrative allows these three to each tell it their own way, deftly woven together through the soft focus of Sarah’s fairy tale, the hard edges of Regine’s tabloid reportage, and the overarching Greek tragedy drawn from the fatalistic turns in Riki’s life.

I don’t know how many love stories the local film industry makes each year (a lot?), but I do know our entertainment industry thrives on the mythologies perpetuated by what love and what people “in love” look like. We’re not watching “couples” or even “relationships,” instead we have a star system fuelled by the rise and fall of “teams”, leaving out any consideration for the nuances of narrative or the ironies of emotional truth, which arise in our attempts to actually define the terms. Rigodon’s preoccupation with these terms makes it clear that even in an entertainment industry so inundated with showing couples, we still know so little about the actual dynamics of being in a relationship, thus making it impossible to turn it into anything less than a game (or in the case of Rigodon, a dance).

The fact remains that we still don’t know what we mean when we say we’ll lie, cheat, steal, or take a bullet for someone, but we say it anyway for the sake of raising a score. Rigodon serves as a retreat from aimless, manipulative competition portrayed in the typical tandem drama, and into the nuances of literature, reminding us of how storytelling (at least in mainstream cinema) is a lost art.

3 thoughts on “Girls, Etc.

  1. I really like the way you mordantly read the film and the culture it’s in; I now want to watch it because of this review, if only to validate your take on it or perhaps even argue a contrary case.

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