Guest post by Heike Baird
Bio: Heike is a social media specialist for BLASTmedia. She also blogs for Indianapolis Monthly and puts hot sauce on everything.
When I imagine the Christmas movie genre, I think of chestnut-roasted classics that conclude with a loving family gathered around a dinner table, each person gazing fondly upon his or her treasured relatives, eyeballs glistening and hearts brimming with season’s greetings.
What I don’t usually imagine is a film where a family questions its togetherness and throws knives at each other after a random act of burglary on Christmas Eve. (Note: I also don’t usually imagine watching Christmas movies at all on humid nights in July, but I made an exception for this film.)
Bisperas (Trespassers) is a Filipino drama that puts a Catholic family under the magnifying glass as they endure an emotional night of betrayal and doubt within their brood—all thanks to a burglar who chose Christmas Eve to ransack their home. The film is a family drama, but the heavy religious themes weigh on you like a 500-pound Christmas tree.
Because in this Filipino town, everyone’s Catholic. No one misses Mass, and no one would be caught dead on Christmas Eve without candles and a hymnbook. This overt religiosity is what provokes the stark contrasts of the film—and these contrasts were what I found most compelling. For example, the contrast between the lifestyle of the central family members and their live-in maid. The contrast between the reverent Mary and Joseph actors in the Christmas processional and the nearby food vendors stuffing sausages to sell. And the contrast between the grandmother’s pious behavior in Mass and the way she snubs begging children on the street.
The character studies are stirring, and the director’s sparse, minimalist approach to cinematography gets the camera out of the way and lets the characters speak for themselves. At times, you might think you’re watching a documentary because the style is so understated and the acting so natural.
In fact, the acting is so raw that the film can feel a little like eating dinner at a friend’s house, when suddenly her parents get into a nasty fight, and you’re still picking at your plate feeling horribly awkward and self-conscious. This is no reason to skip the film. Rather, I found the actors to be just as simultaneously charming, funny, and sometimes unlikeable as real people, and that’s a considerable thespian feat.
If you take a seat at this Christmas table, be prepared for a unique take on what it means to be authentically spiritual and devoted to your family. Bisperas might be the most angst-filled Christmas movie you’ll see this year, but the thoughts you’ll leave with will be far meatier than the peanut-brittle-grade fare at the Cineplex.
Jeffrey Jeturian 2011
Categories: World Cinema Features
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The 9th annual Indianapolis International Film Festival features more than 100 films in 10 days. July 19-29 at IMA and Earth House. See the entire 2012 line up!