Criterion Prediction #264: Jaguar, by Alexander Miller
Director: Lino Brocka
Cast: Phillip Salvador, Amy Austria, Johnnie Delgado, Menggie Cobarubbius
Synopsis: Poldo, an idealistic young security guard, gets an opportunity to be a personal bodyguard for his boss’s high-profile son Sonny after he sees Poldo’s fighting skills during a brief throwdown. As Poldo gets closer to his new boss he also gets a taste of Sonny’s indulgent nightlife, going to nightclubs, partying, and his mistress, Cristy, an actress/dancer. When Cristy’s former lover accosts Sonny in a jealous quarrel, Poldo rises to the occasion, but the cost of his loyalty isn’t matched by the integrity of his boss.
Critique: Jaguar isn’t an original film; we’ve seen it all before, “idealistic youngster gets caught up in a whirlwind of excess thanks to a shady person they look up to only to meet with disastrous results.” The story is familiar, but Lino Brocka’s direction is not. It’s not just the unfamiliarity (to most western audiences) of the Philippine locale, but there’s a scrappy veracity to the overall veneer of Jaguar that speaks out with potent reverberation. It’s a self-assured neo-noir that presses the cinematic adrenaline in its natural presentation, not neorealism but the economic intelligence of genre filmmaking that isn’t trying to fit into another ideal of expression but create its own informed aesthetic. When Poldo ( Phillip Salvador) makes his obligatory ascent in the pseudo underworld, he and his cronies jump into a neighborhood brawl they presumably have nothing to do with. This feels like the type of thing you’d see in an early Scorsese film. The crew of guys went from Poldo’s mother’s house, where she’s serving them refreshments, and then, through the living room window of their second-floor apartment, they light up when they see a streetside throwdown. The filmmaking is sturdy and straightforward, but there’s a freshness and honesty to the direction, and this scene is emblematic of the entire feature; violence unmoors you, and yet there’s a tempting excitement to it. Collaborating cinematographer Conrad Baltazar has the lowdown spontaneity that’s perfectly in tune with Brocka’s direction and the unpredictable nature that keeps the narrative on a suspenseful keel. Naturalistic settings and performances give Jaguar a rare blend of neorealist neo-noir. Still, it’s pure cinema when we reach the climactic showdown as our doomed protagonist weaves into a hellacious landscape that borders on the surreal.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Thanks to the restorations and releases thanks to The Film Foundation and The World Cinema Project, we’re presented with more international filmmakers like Lino Brocka and Philippine movies (as well as those from around the world of course) are getting the Criterion treatment and hopefully, Jaguar will follow Brocka’s other films, Insiang and Manilla in the Claws of Light. Furthermore, the only available version of Jaguar looks like a copy of a duplicate VHS bootleg that’s been kicked around since the day it was transferred from its original negative; let’s hope that negative is in a lab somewhere in UCLA getting the care it deserves. This might seem like a candidate for a fourth volume of the World Cinema Project sets, but seeing as they recently released a third volume maybe Jaguar will be a standalone title.