Mondomanila, Or: How I Fixed My Hair After A Rather Long Journey


Reviewed by: David Graham

Mondomanila, Or: How I Fixed My Hair After A Rather Long Journey
"Khavn always remembers to lace his anarchic jamboree with socio-political concern as well as a vibrant affection for his subjects."

Prolific Philippine upstart Khavn's latest 'squatterpunk' sensory assault has been nearly ten years in the making, with several aborted attempts to adapt Norman Wilwayco's novel culminating in an alternately joyful and harrowing experience. It's a psychedelic/apocalyptic musical tour of a carnivalesque slum, seen through the warped perspectives of a band of young antiheroes that make Harmony Korine's cat-killing kids in Gummo look like angelic choirboys. The amphetamine-fueled style and disjointed narrative will limit its appeal, but anyone willing to take a ride through perhaps the grottiest gutter ever to explode like diarrhoea onto the cinema screen will find humour, heart and even beauty in this unforgettably grim and grimy netherworld.

Tony D spends his days getting wasted with his teenage delinquent gang, who sell various wares around their cramped shanty ghetto and each have their own special skills to go with their perverted predilections. His best friend Muse is always getting the pair into scams, while local fairy Naty perpetually fawns over him, much to his chagrin and the group's amusement. Various trials lead to Tony plotting a raid on the house of an ex-pat bigot, a con that could help his family out of the dire poverty they're stuck in. In the over-crowded slums of Mondomanila, however, anything can and will happen; with many of the residents reaching boiling point, it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

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Introducing the viewer to Manila through a toothless circus-barker/beat-poet, the film presents a scathing Claire Danes quote with a sense of warped pride ('a ghastly and weird city... The people do not have anything - no arms, no legs, no eyes'). With an illustrated credit sequence that immediately paints the characters in larger than life broad-strokes - Tom Of Finland's adulation for his fantasy figures crossed with Robert Crumb's feverish etching of their neuroses - Mondomanila flies its freakshow flag high, fusing documentary-style footage of the cast in their home environment with staged scenes of disarmingly naturalistic banter.

The restless visual sense and hyper-kinetic editing may put off some, but Khavn always remembers to lace his anarchic jamboree with socio-political concern as well as a vibrant affection for his subjects. The 'barely Asian, barely human' street-dwellers are examined making the most of what little they have; running businesses washing clothes in puddles, inventing new break-dancing moves to incorporate lost limbs, free-style rapping to purge the anger of being born a thalidomide victim. These people are as heart-breaking as they are inspiring. Although the loose 'story' and polemic rants run the risk of alienating the audience, the integrity of the images is too strong to ignore.

In such an outlandish environment it's often hard to tell what's real, in terms of the sentiments being expressed as well as the situations being depicted; half-naked infants chase each other through cave-systems of garbage, while Tony naively asserts that even when they're hungry at least they're happy. Succinct messages sometimes jostle with childish shock tactics, as when the kids discuss masturbation in a matter-of-fact manner that neatly belies their constant lack of privacy, before the director cuts to a John Waters-style gross-out set-piece depicting the rape and slaughter of a goose. Similarly, heartfelt scenes can occasionally be compromised by Khavn's incessant punk-rock irony, simple observations and sincere intimacies often deliberately undermined by the need to keep the viewer on their toes.

Overall, Mondomanila is a vulgar delight, fusing the anything-can-happen energy of Takashi Miike's wildest trips with the compassionate innocence-almost-lost feel of Harmony Korine's best work. Even for lovers of out-there cinema, Khavn's latest will be a challenging proposition, and it will surely attract accusations of the director exploiting his young ensemble from more conservative viewers. Everything arguably falls apart towards the end when plot takes precedence over the madness, while the climactic song-and-dance number feels hollow despite the best efforts of the amiably game cast. For all its faults though, Mondomanila is a twisted treasure that could develop a considerable cult following and could even have positive political repercussions for the disadvantaged people it portrays.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2012
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Mondomanila, Or: How I Fixed My Hair After A Rather Long Journey packshot
A gang of friends get in and out of trouble in Manila's vibrant and bizarre slums.

Director: Khavn de la Cruz

Writer: Norman Wilwayco, Khavn de la Cruz

Starring: Timothy Castillo, Marife Necesito, Jim Rocky Tangco, Jonathan Reyes, Stefan Punongbayan, Alex Tiglao, Tony Hunt, Palito, Rodney Aquino, Whitney Tyson, Dante Perez, Paulo Vicente, Raymart Tangco, Manuel 'Bonbon' Valerozo, Rey Miyano

Year: 2010

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Philippines, Germany


EIFF 2012

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