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Big Night

One of the Philippines' most prolific and audacious directors takes aim at Rodrigo Duterte's catastrophic war on drugs with a very fast-paced comedy - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Just two years ago, the now 49-year-old Filipino director Jun Robles Lana won the Best Director award at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival for the disturbingly realistic and finely acted Kalel-15. The movie revealed the horrors to which young Filipinos infected with HIV are subjected. Lana is a highly prolific helmer, making on average two feature films a year. He now returns to the Festival with a movie delving with a similarly serious topic: mass executions of alleged drug criminals and addicts carried out by police forces. The filmmaker opened the screening via videoconference, emphasising the severity of the issue plus denouncing the tragic complacence by majority of the population.

Kalel-15 succeeded as a denunciation because it dealt with a tragedy with a very serious tone. Big Night, on the other hand, only partly succeeds because its comedic tone both dilutes and banalises the gravity of the widespread murders plaguing the Asian nation.

Dharna (Christian Bables) runs a small beauty parlour somewhere in the hustling and bustling narrow streets and alleyways of Manila. One of his former lovers Ronron has just been murdered after having his named added to the much-feared watch list of drug criminals. This watch list is in reality a hit list: nearly every person on it gets mysteriously killed. Now Dharna’s name too is added to the tally, sending him on a quest to find the authority who mistakenly identified him as a drug criminal, and clear his name.

All of the action takes place in one single day, the titular “big night” referring to both Dharna’s tragic predicament and his lover’s cabaret performance in a local gay bar. The people he encounters are deeply corrupt and opportunistic. They are entirely indifferent to his imminent execution, their willingness to help the hapless young man entirely contingent on their vested interests. The developments are extremely fast, in an energetic and wilfully preposterous script. Dharna visits a morgue, a sauna and even meets a famous film star as he scrambles to save his life.

The outcome is a fast-paced, engaging little film that will make you laugh. However it will do very little to raise awareness of Rodrigo Duterte’s ultra-violent war on drugs. According to Amnesty International UK, such operations killed more than 7,000 people in just six months, as the president continues to encourage the bloodshed. This is no laughing matter.

Big Night has just premiered in Competition at the 25th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 26-11-2021

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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