Behind two lenses

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Maine Manalansan (The Philippine Star) – June 1, 2018 – 12:00am

The film ‘Citizen Jake’ offers an interesting view of media and politics.

MANILA, Philippines — When the news about Mike de Leon’s new film Citizen Jake broke, movie fanatics were excited. It’s been almost two decades since we last saw the renowned filmmaker’s full-length features in local cinemas (with the last one being Bayaning Third World in 2000) and those who are tired of the political circus happening in this country were looking forward to his return. His films often mirror the state of the country with such rawness, and perhaps he couldn’t help but look for meaning in these times of fake news, history revisionism and political drama.

And those who got excited were right. Citizen Jake is a movie we need right now. (Note: Minor spoilers follow.) Co-written by Mike de Leon, lead actor Atom Araullo and Noel Pascual, the movie shows a retelling of a crime as told from the perspective of Jake Herrera (Atom Araullo), a journalist (or blogger, if you want to be technical about it). Jake wants to get away from his family of dysfunctional politicians, in the belief that they drove his mom away. His brother Roxie Herrera (Gabby Eigenmann), a congressman, makes his life a living hell with threats and endless references to The Godfather, and his father Jacobo Herrera Sr. (Teroy Guzman), a senator, exercises his power in every situation much like your stereotypical corrupt politician.

From time to time, I found myself questioning the credibility of Jake’s reports — and in effect, his intentions — because of a) his family background, and b) the movie’s unique point of view. In Citizen Jake, he exists in two different worlds: the world he’s actually in, and the movie he wrote to retell his story. Behind-the-scenes footage of Jake’s movie is actually shown in the film, which pushes you to view the whole situation through a different lens. Is it a documentary? An exposé? If he’s a blogger, is this his vlog? The movie Jake made within Citizen Jake feels almost too personal, and that tarnishes the credibility of his story.

One morning in Baguio, he and his girlfriend Mandy (Max Collins) receive a phone call from the police, informing them of a murder in the nearby town. As it turns out, the victim was Mandy’s student and she was listed as her emergency contact. This is where the head scratching begins. For about five minutes, Mandy talks Jake into writing about the crime with only a few bits of unverified information as a form of retribution. Of course, as with any logical journalist, Jake refuses.

This whole scene got us thinking. When crimes happen, which is more important: urgency or accuracy? If you’re looking for answers in the movie, you’ll never find them because in every argument involving a couple, it’s usually about Something Else™.

If there’s something you can take comfort in when you start to question its honesty, it’s that the lead character really f**king hates the Marcoses and his family (save for his mother) of Marcos cronies. So with Jake the filmmaker calling the shots, he really drags the sh*t out of them. He reminds us of the atrocities that people faced and are facing in the name of filthy politics. It’s a discussion that needs to happen outside of the Twitterverse, and an essential reminder for the older movie-going public who might have already forgotten the past.

Before the movie, I had hoped that Jake would spill the beans and send a beacon of hope for those who are tired of reading questionable news. He proves that he’s anything but that. Contrary to his own belief, his judgment is still muddled because of his privilege and upbringing. No matter how much he wants to expose the country’s dirty politics and to get to the bottom of the crime, it seems like he is still acting to fulfill his own intentions, which is to get back at his father for pushing his mother away. Things didn’t end well on that front, and that’s why he made the film within Citizen Jake. This is his urgent reporting; accuracy not guaranteed.

In the beginning of the movie, Jake makes a convenient little disclaimer: “Take this with a grain of salt.” And we do. Whether Roxie is an annoying brother or if his father really is corrupt, we will never know. But what we do know is that these stories exist not just in Jake’s cinematic universe or his actual universe, but they also exist in ours. Crimes happen, political dynasties still run the country, and unfortunate situations weaken the credibility of the media. And with this, we can find our own truths.