100. 2008. Written and directed by Chris Martinez. Produced by Chris Martinez and Marlon Rivera. Cinematography by Larry Manda. Edited by Ike Veneracion. Music by Ricci Chan and Brian Cua. Production design by Aby Jamnague-Rivera.
Cast: Mylene Dizon (Joyce), Eugene Domingo (Ruby), Tessie Tomas (Eloise), T. J. Trinidad (Rod), Ryan Eigenmann (Emil).
Chris Martinez’s debut feature 100 was a film I avoided when I came across its plot description while trying to figure out what I would see at last year’s Pusan International Film Festival. The scenario threatened to be unbearably mawkish: a woman about to die from cancer follows a series of Post-Its that detail what she wishes to accomplish before she dies. However, after seeing the film at the opening night of the IndioBravo Film Festival, a new film festival in New York showcasing recent Filipino cinema, I am happy to report that my fears were unwarranted. 100 (the film’s title refers to both the days she has left to live and the number of tasks on her list) is a funny, heartfelt, and surprisingly tough-minded and unsentimental film. Joyce (Mylene Dizon, superb), the dying woman, is a no-nonsense corporate shark who prides herself on conducting her life with order and structure. She handles the news that she is about to die the same way she does everything else in her life: systematically, thoroughly, and logically. She makes sure to leave no stone unturned in putting her affairs in order, from the style and price of her casket to the music to be played at her wake. The structure of the film is very simple and straightforward; it follows each task written on Joyce’s notes, one by one. With the help of her best friend Ruby (Eugene Domingo), Joyce not only takes care of practical matters, but follows through on a wish list of everything she has ever wanted to do in her now very truncated life: from cooking all her favorite dishes, indulging herself with tons of ice cream and chocolate, smoking pot and kissing a complete stranger, to taking a whirlwind vacation to Hong Kong with her best buddy and “visiting Europe” (mindful of her limited time, she does the latter virtually via YouTube). She also takes care of more emotional tasks, such as breaking things off with Rod (T.J. Trinidad), the married man (complete with pregnant wife) she has been seeing, looking up Emil (Ryan Eigenmann), an ex-boyfriend she has never gotten over, and the hardest of all, telling her mother (Tessie Tomas).
Martinez takes the very best strategy possible with this material: he stays out of its way, filming with a cool, dispassionate eye, making the viewer a fly on the wall observing Joyce’s life. Martinez dials the melodrama way down, always undercutting things with sharp humor, while always keeping in sight Joyce’s ticking expiration clock. And when the inevitable draws near, the emotions this engenders are all the stronger for being truly earned, by immersing us into the details of Joyce’s existence, and not manipulating us into it. Even more impressively, the film affords its protagonist the dignity of not subjecting us to a protracted death scene, an irresistible temptation to lesser filmmakers. (There is, however, a last-rites scene that is as heartbreaking as it is beautifully staged.) Dizon delivers a marvelous performance, adept at rendering her character's prickly exterior as well as the very vulnerable person underneath. Domingo transcends her standard best friend role by being a peerless foil to Dizon; she reveals herself in many scenes as a master of the comic reaction shot. Martinez wittily draws a clear distinction between his film and others about dying women when he shows us a snippet of a tearjerker Joyce and Ruby watches on a DVD featuring their favorite actress. (“It’s great to be alive!” the woman in the film declares, right before she drops dead in her lover’s arms.) 100 is a crowd-pleaser in the very best sense; it delivers an emotionally potent and engaging story without pandering and always respecting the audience’s intelligence. Word to the wise: do not watch this film on an empty stomach. Much of Joyce’s wish list revolves around her favorite Filipino dishes, which Martinez films as some of the most luxurious food porn you’ll ever see.
100 won, among other prizes, the audience award at last year’s Pusan International Film Festival. It screens again at the IndioBravo Film Festival tonight at 7pm, at the Visual Arts Theater. To purchase tickets, visit the festival website. The festival itself runs through tomorrow.