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Silip: Daughters of Eve
One need look no further than the subtitle of Silip to guess a central message to the madness. It's not the only message, but taken with the others it foments an environment ripe for cinematic exploitation. Which in fact is what Silip is being sold as - an exploitation picture. While there are exploitation elements a-plenty (and to list them would only further ghettoize the picture) the question remains, why was Silip committed to celluloid? Is Silip a high-minded excuse to shower the screen with a little sex and violence, or a trash epic for the penitent? I'm afraid I don't have the answers, but I can assure you that Silip is not your usual empty-headed sleaze show.
The Daughters of Eve in this case are Tonya and Selda. Tonya is a sort-of interim Catholic Priest in a tiny Philippine village in a desolate, desert-like coastal region. Selda, Tonya's sister, is the prodigal daughter, returning from untold iniquities in the big city of Manila. The villagers object strenuously to Tonya's brand of Catholic teaching, they believe she's leading what little flock that will listen straight to hell. Tonya was happier minus Selda, whom she believes stole Tonya's only love, Simon the village butcher, and a bit of an outcast himself. Though Simon lives on the outskirts doing unclean work, still he delivers the meat - in more ways than one.
Sultry Simon's propensity to fling a bit of sausage about when he's delivering the loins is just one leaf in this lexicon of lust and bloodletting. But as far as exploitative elements, it's not the only thing going. The bounty of bronzed Filipina/o flesh on hand must contend with a bit of brutality here and there; rape, murder, and sexual torture of young and old are all foreshadowed by the brutal onscreen slaughter of a live ox that opens the movie. For many this will put paid to any notion of watching the movie - it's a cruel and disturbing sight. But as Simon says, the animal's die was cast when it was born, and everything must die.
Connoisseurs solely of crusty cinematic corruption won't get Silip, however. Other reviewers have complained of the long boring bits in between each scandalous act, completely missing the point. Blunt though its potentially disagreeable message may be, Silip delivers it in small-scale epic fashion, with a lyric beauty that's hard to argue against. Using the desert-like scenery to maximum effect, nearly every shot is beautiful to look at, fostering a meditative, sweaty atmosphere that's truly unique. Among many gorgeous shots is a standout sex-scene on a dune framed by the copulating couple in the upper right middle ground and a sun-struck ox in the foreground on the left. In this milieu a bizarre morality play of biblical ilk is played out, as the entire village is eventually swept up into mania and mob violence that points at two disparate themes.
Theme one, of course, is the one hinted at by the title, and supported by the huge influence of Catholicism on the Philippines. In the minds of the villagers - and erroneously so, for the most part - all of the evil in the village is down to Tonya and Selda, the daughters of Eve. For those looking, there may be another more important (and empirically true) message to Silip; without clear, honest communication amongst people, and even in their own hearts, we are reduced to savage beasts. Yes, our die is cast on the day we are born, but how we go out may just be up to us.
Silip looks spectacular in anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. It is a new digital transfer from negatives (a few of which - very few) show slight film damage, and is something of a rescue job for a movie that - while successful in the Philippines - was an outrage elsewhere. In general this is a great showcase for the stunning scenery and cinematography of a sun-drenched film that was shot entirely during the day.
You are given the choice of watching Silip with its original moody and evocative soundtrack and Tagalog language dialog (with English subtitles) or with a bogus dubbed version full of inappropriate temp-track scoring. The dubbed version is probably what gives people the idea this is just a stupid sexploitation romp, with poor translations, flat performances and some children's voices dubbed by adult actors. Skip it for sure. Presumably both audio versions are presented in Dolby Digital Stereo and certainly the subtitles track sounds excellent.
Silip comes with a pretty small ox-load of extras for a double-disk special addition. Yes, one might question whether double-disking it wasn't a way to just boost the price a bit. First off is an 18-minute Interview with the film's Director Elwood Perez. We hear the voice of Andrew Leavold, Phillipines B-movie scholar, (www.andrewleavold.blogspot.com) questioning once in the interview, but mostly it's Perez covering a fair amount of ground quickly, with lots of abrupt fades-to-black interspersing questions. Topics range from an overview of Filipino cinema (and the 'Bold' genre of Silip) to Perez's background and ethos to the real meat, the behind-the-scenes story of Silip. Perez comes off, earnest, realistic and entertaining - the type of guy you'd like to have a beer with. But things go deeper. The next 13-minute Interview is with star Maria Isabel Lopez, who hits the usual background marks before outlining her experiences on the 'set' of Silip. She seems to remember some hardships among the rough scenes she had to film - hardships borne of Perez's desire for realism - as well as bemused confusion with how aspects of the filming process and script seemed to change daily. The last 8-minute Interview is with Art Director Alfredo Santos. Aside from being amusingly located in an art gallery in which an assistant is loudly sanding the walls in the background, this interview gently dissects how Santos had such a hard time with Perez and his gonzo style of direction that he quit the business for a time, and eventually went back to work in commercials. An insightful trio of interviews. The aforementioned Toombs contributes an Essay (maybe 2500 words?) on Filipino and Bold cinema that fleshes out why this movie is significant, and not just exploitation. There are also Cast and Crew Biographies for the three stars and director, nothing too weighty here, but interesting to learn about the actor who played love interest Simon, an actor who can do soft-core and butcher an ox in the same movie! A seven-minute reel of Previews for other Mondo Macabro titles will have you drooling for the outrageous sleaze and slime of the seven seas that is the company's stock-in-trade.
With enough sensationalistic, brutal and over-sexed scenes Silip seems a perfect fit for Mondo Macabro. However stretched over a two-hour running time, with awesome cinematography, impassioned performances, haunting music and a powerful (and powerfully disturbing) message - later disavowed by director Perez - Silip is much more than your average foreign geek-fest. It's more like a Japanese art film - to my eyes a mix of Woman in the Dunes, In the Realm of the Senses and a Spanish/ Catholic soap opera -that will hypnotize viewers who go in with an open mind. With a boatload of bronzed nudity, sex and violence to attract the masses, Silip is strong, thoughtful filmmaking intended to trick its audience into thinking. While the 'women are the root of all evil' message is ultimately distasteful, the truths exposed, and the path we're lead down in getting there, consists of quite a sumptuous, sensuous journey. Bold viewers are Recommended to check it out.