One will sit on this roughly one hour-and-a-half film by the director, Danilo Añonuevo, and will wonder why after more than a quarter of the film’s length nothing seems to be happening except some comic military drills, aesthetically pleasing visual experiments on lighting and silhouette showcasing the director’s, who also happened to be the cinematographer, dexterity in handling the camera. We are given glimpses of the family or romantic relationships a of few recruits (those who have major roles, that is) before they are separated from the people they love. The film’s ending, probably inspired by the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, is hardly as suspenseful but is definitely as chilling.
Rekrut is a story of a dozen young men who, because of poverty, as is always the case, undergo a special military training in an isolated place in the south which according to their sergeant (Emilio Garcia) will prepare them for an impending ‘highly confidential’ mission. The nature of this mission is revealed in the end but this knowledge cuts short whatever glimmer of hope the recruits have of a better life after the training.
Because Rekrut is a film by a third-world director from a third-world country with a predominantly third-world theme competing for Best Picture in an independent film festival organized in a developing country, the viewers are indirectly forewarned that this is not going to be a feel-good film despite the painfully long depiction of the deceptively rustic life in a military training camp. In fact, this abnormally long glamorization of boot camp did nothing but strengthen the viewers suspicion that something sinister is going to happen by the film’s conclusion. And the absence of the ubiquitously present pastiches of violence common among films that tackle this theme in a genre where Rekrut belongs only emphasized the inevitability of a more diabolical kind of violence. Such is the psychology this film surreptitiously leaves in the viewers’ minds, such is the brand of fear this film imprints in the viewers’ psyche.
The fatherly sergeant and his tough but amusing assistant, Palaypay, metamorphosed toward the end of the movie into blind and vicious instruments of the faceless and nameless state represented by the colonel. Their initial ‘business-as-usual’ detachment and occasional comforting presence did nothing to quell this fear that laced the film in its entirety, in fact it strengthened this fear. In the end, like fattened goats, the trainees became objects of a carnage staged by people whom they entrusted their lives.
Rekrut, tackles the familiar problems besetting Filipino soldiers–low wages, having to work far from their families, corruption by their superiors, and having to face high-risk dangers—without falling into the trap of exaggerated politicizing. It has maintained controlled detachment and faithfulness to the narrative Añonuevo identified and stuck with until the last scene. If only for this, I am at awe with the director’s impeccable sense of focus, a virtue most independent film directors seem to be always found wanting.
In the end, a review is expected to be concluded with a verdict. Is Rekrut a good film? I say it is forgettable. Is it worth the 150 pesos I paid for the ticket in this year’s Cinemalaya? I’d be happier to pay less. But for that lingering fear it has left in me, I say Añonuevo’s opus was worth my time.