Shock as Awe

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:10

      BRILLANTE MENDOZA’S SLINGSHOT (2007) doesn’t have a central story as much as it has a bunch of beautiful images from which a couple of loosely linked characters and themes emerge. As in his most recent film, Serbis (2008)—which might very well have been the best contemporary film recently screened at the recent New York Film Festival—sensation comes before narrative logic.

    Cranking out four movies in seven years, Mendoza’s knack for finding the spark of sprawling brilliance within the most churlishly debased street scenes is in full bloom in Slingshot. In it, he uses head-splitting shaky cam like a crutch to exquisitely construct images of the pervasive corruption in the Philippines. By circuitously following the viral spread of crime throughout Quiapo, a district of Manila, he creates a jarring human mosaic that culls together every lowlife imaginable, from palm frond–bearing pickpockets to half-naked pedicab drivers.

    While it’s doubtful that any single ghetto could be crammed full of the Herculean amount of sex-crazed, illicit activity that Slingshot depicts, Mendoza never strives for reality. Like Harmony Korine, Mendoza brattily dives into the midst of the unwashed outsiders with a deceptively sophisticated one-two punch of shock as awe. The quest for the next dazzingly gross high tops the film’s bill. If anything, Slingshot is a political film that doesn’t really care for politics. Mendoza worms his camera through the church doors and around corrupt politicians as they fail to bribe Quiapo’s residents—but only for the sake of touching a raw nerve that he strips right before the viewer’s eyes.With its gritty but gorgeous visual style, Slingshot confirms Mendoza’s status as a provocateur with talent and ambition to burn. > Slingshot

    Directed by Brillante Mendoza at MoMA Oct. 23-29, Running Time: 86 min.