Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank) is a Filipino comedy independent film following the story of two indie filmmakers, Rainier (portrayed by Kean Cipriano) and Bingbong (JM de Guzman), alongside their production assistant, Jocelyn (Cai Cortez).
The aspiring filmmakers face struggles during pre-production, from staccato attempts to improve their script, the apparent dangers of diving headfirst into creating poverty porn cinema, and the stretch of finding the perfect lead for their film.
Ang Babae sa Septic Tank suggests strong social commentary on a wide range of issues, such as race, gender, and class, while raising the discussion on postmodernism as its overall genre.
In the scene where Bingbong and Rainier debates on the significance of the pedophilic film antagonist’s race, the former mentions the immateriality of racial distinctions, thus seeing no point as to why they should make alterations, in contrast to Rainier’s suggestion to change the character’s race. Bingbong asserts that modifying this detail will not have any effect whatsoever to the flow of the story, and therefore should be left as it is.
This brings up the question: does race really matter? The film implies that it should not be taken as a means to classify only matter as aid to classify and order, but in terms of being, race should but a label categorizing us under a particular circle.
Bingbong however suggested to modify the sex of the child sold by Mila (the main character in Walang-Wala, portrayed by Eugene Domingo) to the pedophile, from female to male, because this, as he explains, will have been more controversial, thus earning better publicity for the film.
This claim, which is presumed to be based on current societal views in the Philippines, suggests that the LGBTQ+ community is still being singled out, thus using a homoerotic framework for cinematic purposes still considered as ‘controversial’.
It may be just to say that, banking on these ideas, the Philippines leans closer toward inequity for the LGBTQ+ as compared to racial discrimination. This may be deemed as a product of the fact that Filipinos are part of the oppressed minority in terms of race. We, as Asians, do not get enough credit simply for the reason that we belong to the third world and, thus, we are inferior to a handful of others, even neighboring countries and fellow Asian nations. However, our traditional inclination to Catholicism – and generally, religion – leads us to intolerance for those bending the conventions of conservativeness. Debates and discrimination based on sexualities have long been existing, but are yet to be resolved.
On the media portrayal of women
The mainstream portrayal of women may also be tackled through the movie. Jocelyn, Bingbong and Rainier’s production assistant, never said a single line all throughout the film. No article about the movie specifies whether she is mute or not, but whatever the case, hers is still one of the most vital roles. It is through Jocelyn’s imagination that sequences from Walang-Wala were shown (as a neo-realist film, a documentary drama, a melodrama, and a musical) as though completely shot and finalized. Although mostly leaning toward the conventional stereotypes of males and females as, respectively, logical and emotional, the film depicted a positive take on the adherence to these typecasts. The elements that made Ang Babae sa Septic Tank metafiction lies on Jocelyn, a representation of women’s mind as imperative to a man’s power.
On Philippine poverty and the accuracy of media representation
Finally, for several times in the movie, the material for Walang-Wala has been commended as full of potential to be an award-winning piece. But if thought through, this speaks for real-life independent films, as well. With this considered, why then do independent films always highlight poverty as the main essence of today’s Philippine culture? Would it be just to say that Filipino independent film makers have long been awakened from capitalism’s tendencies to veil its real intentions, that they now make it a point to stress the truth about Filipino poverty as the country’s reality as an attempt to break the false notions and rouse fellow Filipinos’ consciousness? The movie showed how Rainier and his team struggled to romanticize poverty for the sake of art, celebrating the beauty of their location and how it was too vivid and realistic. But the harsh reality that poverty is never beautiful and rather is chaotic and dreadful suddenly hits them soon as the people of Payatas made havoc from Bingbong’s car and left them renting a cab.
A postmodern take on cinema
“The film will blur the lines between reality and fiction,” said Bingbong during the scene where he defends the effectiveness of opting for a documentary drama which apparently was their initial plan for their movie, Walang-Wala (Nothing). This is in fact a twofold statement, a possible implicit dialogue between the character and the viewer, saying how Ang Babae sa Septic Tank as the main movie actually does the exact same thing. The divide between reality and fiction shatters because of the metafictional nature of the movie.
Ang Babae sa Septic Tank raises the question of authenticity. The movie has featured injections of the “real” through agents which happen to be part of the viewers’ reality. Perhaps the most emphasized of all of this is the portrayal of Eugene Domingo as herself – a representation of herself in a fictionalized dimension. This attempt to feign the presence of authenticity brings back the question as to what extent should we perceive celebrities as still being themselves when caught under the public eye. Assuming that the mansion covered in the film was truly a property of Eugene Domingo, that she was sporting her actual fashion in the scene where she first met the team, or that she was speaking in the manner that she actually talks when not confined in directives, there exists the possibility that the Eugene Domingo in the movie could have somehow been patterned to or extracted from the real Eugene Domingo.
The final scene where the title is finally justified, when Eugene accidentally falls inside the septic tank and Rainier and the rest of the team takes the chance and continues filming her with her consent, is where supposed realities and fictions of both degrees (Walang-Wala and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank) suddenly collide and collapse. Her dismay from the fall into actual filth was authentic, but at the same time, she could have been employing her “no acting” acting. This shows not only the inability of viewers to distinguish the “real” from the fiction, but rather how the fiction and the “real” melted into each other, creating a dissonance that concluded the film.
The line between what is performance and what is “real” is unclear, especially when we are conditioned to automatically associate the two with each other. This then leaves us with our own predisposition in perceiving the level of accuracy and believability of the representations.
Ang Babae sa Septic Tank encompasses a number of issues and concepts within the one-and-a-half-hour frame, from the postmodernist collision of “real” and fictional, to what society as of today stands for in terms of diversity among its members. However the case, the metaphorical sense of the movie stick sticks: the Filipinos are women stuck in the septic tank, but like Jocelyn, we are still in control. How we react, how we perform, what we do to resolve the issues we are faced, or if we even dare to fix anything at all – we are still in control.