Kubrador follows Amelita, a jueteng collector (a stunning performance from Gina Pareño), through several days of her chaotic and stressful life in the lead-up to All Saints’ Day. (Jueteng is an illegal numbers game, played extensively throughout the Philippines. It has been regularly linked with leading politicians.) The film is made in a quasi-documentary style, with a lot of hand-held camera work and eye-level shots (it has English subtitles). I felt as though I could actually smell the narrow alleyways Amelita struggles through. Given the way most Filipinos react whenever there is a camera around, I cannot imagine how director Jeffrey Jeturian managed to coax such naturalistic performances from the kids, moochers, and sari-sari storekeepers who people the fringes of his movie, but the end result is completely authentic.
Gina Pareño wheezes and sweats her way through almost every scene and carries the film brilliantly. Although her’s is the most eye-catching performance, there is a fine supporting cast, none more so than Johnny Manahan’s sleazy jueteng “treasurer”. Manahan has one of the film’s more memorable lines, when he curses a councilor who is straying onto his patch, “if it wasn’t for that greedy bitch we could be making 300,000 a day” – this to Amelita, whom we have just seen slaving all day for a measly 57 pesos commission.
As will be clear from even the cursory picture of jueteng provided in the film, far from being a social aberration as its critics claim, this illegal numbers game is in fact a note-perfect metaphor for everything rotten in contemporary Philippine society. The system rests on the hard work and gullibility of an ignorant and desperate masa. As you progress up the jueteng hierarchy the rewards get larger and larger until, sitting fat and sleek at the apex, is the “gambling lord” of popular renown, whose daily earnings are measured in hundreds of thousands, or even millions of pesos. The “work” and organization in running this racket are considerable, yet despite the huge numbers of people employed, jueteng is totally nonproductive. Its sole function is to redistribute wealth from the very poor to the very rich.
Kubrador is dominated, as are the lives of the underclass it represents, by the money-go-round. The filthy lucre is seldom absent, whether on Amelita’s bed as she counts out her day’s grimy takings, on the lips of the slum-dwellers are they chat to each other, or in the “treasurer’s” fat envelopes for the officials who permit the game to continue. Money is not be saved or invested in this world, but merely consumed on transient pleasures like the bottles of water Amelita glugs down at every opportunity or on a hopeless punt on jueteng, where the chances are one to several million, but they are only chances life is going to give you.
Kubrador won the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI) prize for best film at the Moscow international film festival earlier this year. You can read about the Moscow award here as well as see cute photos of Jeffrey Jeturian and Gina Pareño in Moscow, dressed in Filipiniana. It also won three awards at the 8th Cinefan Festival of Asian Cnema in New Delhi (best picture, best actress, and another FIPRESCI award for best film).
See also Madame Chiang’s verdict: “I can honestly say that it was the best film I have seen so far this year....”.
The trailer can be seen here on youtube, but it really reveals too much of the movie, so you might wanna give it a miss until you see the movie. And you are going to see the movie now aren’t you …