Ang Babae sa Septic Tank – Berlinale Forum 2012


Ang Babae sa Septic Tank | The Woman in the Septic Tank
Director: Marlon N. Rivera
Cast: Eugene Domingo (Mila/Herself), JM de Guzman (Bingbong), Kean Cipriano (Rainier), Cai Cortez (Jocelyn), Jonathan Tadioan (Arthur Poongbato), Carlos Dala (Mila’s Son), K.C. Marcelo (Mila’s Daughter), Cherry Pie Picache (Mila/Herself), Mercedes Cabral (Mila/Herself ), Lani Tapia (Documentary Mila), Sonny Bautista (Security Guard), Aaron Ching, Buddy Saramat, Carlon Matobato, Cheeno Macaraig.
Philippines, 2011

Fri Feb 17
Cubix 9 (European Premiere)

“With this film, we go to the festival in Berlin!”

Written by Chris Martinez and directed by Marlon Rivera, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank) is the most successful independent film in the history of Philippine cinema, winning best actress, best screenplay, best director and best film at Cinemalaya. Very rare for a home-grown indie, it was picked up for a commercial run by one of the country’s biggest film companies and became the highest grossing independent Filipino film, the Philippines’ entry for the 2011 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, and was short-listed for the Oscar.

The title may be a sly reference to Mario O’Hara’s Babae sa Breakwater (Woman of Breakwater), one of a legacy of fine movies dealing with poverty in the Philippines, which rightfully garnered festival screenings and critical praise in the first decade of the 21st century, but also inspired lesser efforts dubbed as “poverty porn” and “cinema of misery”. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, which takes deft aim at these preconceptions of Filipino film and society, was my favorite of the 2012 Berlinale.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank begins with a film-within-the-film Walang-Wala (“Have Nothing”), a stereotyped portrait of Mila, the destitute mother of seven children (or maybe nine) who dolls up her pre-teen daughter (or maybe son) to pimp her/him out to Mr. Smithberger, an elderly Western sex tourist (or maybe Asian, or Filipino).

We learn that three young film-school graduates – director Rainier de la Cuesta (Kean Cipriano), producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman) and production assistant Jocelyn (Cao Cortez) – are planning their first film, engineered as the ultimate in poverty porn, as their route to fame and fortune on the international festival circuit, and ultimately to the foreign-film Oscar.

In the course of one day, they brainstorm possible treatments of their project as a gritty no frills neo-realist film, a glossy musical, an over-the-top melodrama, and a docu-drama. On a scouting expedition, they visit the Payatas dumpsite, whose denizens expertly deconstruct their car.

Wanting a big name for the lead in their movie, the team imagines Mercedes Cabral (Serbis) and Cherry Pie Picache (Foster Child) in the role of Mila before setting their sights on the grand diva Eugene Domingo.

First-time director Marlon Rivera’s crack comedic timing showcases spot-on performances by Kean Cipriano, JM de Guzman, and Cao Cortez and notable cameos by Mercedes Cabral and Cherry Pie Picache. But the film’s backbone is Eugene Domingo’s generous, affecting, and wildly funny performance, including a manic master class in the three acting styles of a Filipina diva. Vincent de Jesus’s accordion-inflected score is perfectly at one with this brilliant farce.

Berlinale Section: Forum

Film website:
Film trailer:

Update: Ang Babae sa Septic Tank will be screened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 23-28 May 2012.