At last! A third volume in our on-going series of articles extolling the virtues of MM's many and varied weird-movie DVD releases has arrived! This time, weird-movie blogger extraordinaire Todd Stadtman gazes into the abyss that is SILIP: DAUGHTERS OF EVE and finds that it is definitely gazing back at him.
It is for this reason that, when I see a movie that jars me as much as Elwood Perez’s Silip did, it tends to stick with me. And Silip has haunted me ever since I first watched it. So much so, in fact, that I wasn’t even sure if I actually liked it until re-watching it recently. This was in part because, as with any strong medicine, “liking” Silip isn’t simply a matter of checking in with your pleasure centers, but a matter of conscious deliberation (does anyone ever actually “like” their first cigarette or shot of whiskey without deciding it so?) – but also in part due to my fear that making the distinction would require me to answer questions that I wasn’t yet prepared to ask myself. For, while there are pleasures to be had within Silip, they are inextricably bound up with punishment. Like the punitive version of Catholicism that inspired it, its every foray into the sensual realm is infused with a guilt so leaden and toxic that it’s impossible to walk away from the film without having some of it stick to you.
It is such tensions and contrasts that make watching Silip so unnerving. Perez gives us moments of intense eroticism, but doles them out between episodes of violence, carnage and self flagellation that are as visceral and deeply disturbing as the former are arousing. Maria Isabel Lopez’s golden body, glistening in a thin layer of perspiration under a teasingly diaphanous shift, is like a fleshy monument to sensuality itself, a marvel to behold. But, in order to behold it, we’ve had to brave an opening sequence depicting the unsimulated bludgeoning and disembowelment of a water buffalo before an audience of wailing children, and thus can only do so with trepidation. Likewise, it’s not long after we’ve been given our first glance at Lopez’s body in all its naked glory that we’re subjected to the sight of her rubbing handfuls of rock salt against her pussy in a fit of deranged penance.
For me, another stark contrast that Silip provided was in how it broke so resoundingly with my previous experience of Filipino cinema. Given the cheeky but affable Tagalog parodies and goofy exploitation movies that I’d indulged myself in, I’d had no idea at the time that there was space within that cinema for something so ferocious. More importantly, the image I’d gotten from those films was one of an all-pervasive Christian piety. One could literally never predict when the narrative of any Filipino movie, regardless of genre, might be interrupted for a moment of religious instruction, be it a scene of the hero kneeling at the altar or a bluntly depicted instance of divine retribution. To my secular mind – and having yet to sample the films of Brocka – dissent from such a monolithic front seemed inconceivable. Yet here was Silip, an angry fable against zealotry, repression and intolerance that, while not necessarily anti-Catholic, didn’t really seem to care that much if it tore the whole house down in the process of remodelling.
So, in short, Silip is the rare film with a true capacity to shock, and if you’re a viewer who’s reached my level of jadedness (and given the blog you’re reading, the chances of that are high), that has to count for something. It’s also a film that will make you feel horniness, revulsion, anger, despair and exaltation in such rapid and cyclical succession that it will likely take some time to recalibrate your emotional compass after watching it. Of course, that might not be a menu of sensations that just everyone wants to sign up for, but if you’re feeling like your sensibilities are in need of a little kick start, it could be just the tonic.
As for me, yeah, it turns out that I really do like it after all.
Todd Stadtman writes about world pop cinema on his blog Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! and is a regular contributor to Teleport City.