18 Mar 2022
Conrad Dela Cruz
Conrad Dela Cruz
Louie Fuentes, Jake Montajes, Kevin Gongob, Kayle Baculi, Philip Jay Kho
With Bootleg, Dela Cruz enriches and strengthens themes of capitalist cruelty from his earlier portraits of brutal cities in Eskina and Once Upon a Time in Davao City.
Again we are thrown in the bustling world of Davao, bathed in saturated colours of warm green and yellow. The formal style is reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai’s work, with close push-ins on faces and quick cuts through the city streets around the characters. The world feels tight yet expansive. The street scenes themselves are made lively by the real individuals working on the market. Food is being cooked in front of us. It’s lived-in and intimate.
Our protagonists are Jim (Jake Montajes) and ‘The Pirate’ (Louie Fuentes), two young men involved in the business of bootlegging DVDs. One of their mothers has lymphoma and needs money desperately for her treatment. Returning to this theme of family sickness again, Dela Cruz understands that the most personal is always the most tragic. We are drawn in to sympathise deeply with their journey, understanding the riskier and riskier decisions they make.
Even in the world of bootlegging, the tension of exposure is clear, as he looks over his shoulder constantly, wary of people seeing his camera. He moves into a dark alley to follow a man, and the muted colour palette reflects his turn from recording the bright cinema screen to a back-street mugging.
The bustling world of the city streets is contrasted by the expansive vista of the beach. But even this is under threat, as a resort for rich people is being constructed. The gentrification of their space will only increase displacement and lead to further slipping conditions. The downward trajectory of life without capital is unavoidable, and the turn to drugs is framed as the only way to facilitate any financial security.
Moving from the profession of films to drugs, their sphere becomes exponentially more illicit. Chasing public desires means there’s no more money to be made in DVDs. Their switch from one illegal activity to another is merely a business-savvy pivot. The world is changing, and they’re forced to change with it. The seedy underground environment is darker and hidden away from the bright neon lights and markets we were shown at the beginning. Jim trades in his camera for a gun, marking a very clear turn from creativity to violence.
The explosive ending is to be expected; the story cannot end well for our protagonists. Yet the real tragedy is found in a quieter moment after. Despite the death of his close friend, and traumatic experience, he ends on the decision to return to DVD piracy. This frames the dangerous foray into the world of drugs as merely a failed experiment. He appears numb to the brutality of the city, even when a witness to, and perpetrator of, murder. The world is as violent and cruel as it has ever been for Dela Cruz, yet he seems more resigned to it.