Social Commentary on Contemporary Issues

Opinion & Analysis Apr 12, 2019 at 3:27 pm

CitizenJake-posterFILM REVIEW: Citizen Jake (2018)

By Ysh Cabana

Citizen Jake is the reclusive auteur Mike de Leon’s ‘comeback’ film in nearly two decades, which makes it a landmark in itself given the controversiesr surrounding it before its release in online streaming site Netflix. He is the same genius behind Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising [Moments in a Stolen Dream], 1977; Kakabakaba Ka Ba? [Will Your Heart Beat Faster?], 1980; Batch ‘81, 1982; Sister Stella L, 1984; and Bayaning 3rd World [Third World Hero], 2000 that have become classics of Philippine cinema.

In 2018, as in his previous oeuvres, de Leon creates a social commentary on contemporary issues with filmic triumph. His gesture is to blend documentary, film noir and meta cinema, where the lead character Jake Herrera, Jr. (Atom Araullo) talks directly to the audience. Though Jake finished journalism, he becomes a teacher and blogger-slash-‘citizen journalist’ waging a personal war against social evil, including his familial relationships.

Metacinema often references its own production so, says de Leon, the line between straight narrative and fiction is blurred. Jake’s Kuya Roxie (Gabby Eigenmann), noticing how their family appears to be living out a political thriller, quotes from The Godfather movies. His father, Jacobo (Teroy Guzman), is a corrupt and mysogynist senator who is running a campaign to remain in power. “Roxie, this is not a movie,” the senior Herrera responds. Indeed, the reel is grounded as close to reality where a broadcast journalist, in fact, was featured to play the titular role.

citizen-jake-atom-araulloAs its title suggests, it references the 1941 American mystery drama Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles), which critics have often hailed as the greatest film of all time. Kane and Jake can be considered cinéma à clef, where both characters are based in part on real life; Kane is a fictional newspaper magnate and resembles Jake’s character. Both also contemplate on truth-telling and the perceptive view of the media’s role in shaping thoughts of citizens; one tackles on the mass media and the latter, the social media.

Overall, the cast of characters of Citizen Jake can be interpreted as representations of Phlippine society: Jake is the disenchanted middle class (i.e. “burgis”) and the Herreras and their cohorts are the greedy elite, while the other characters such as students and the “pony boys” are the bewildered masses.

Even the setting, Baguio, serves as a microcosm of the whole country. Early on, a history lecture is presented through a slide show of actual historial photographs. Jake speaks to the camera and utters that it has become like any other Philippine city congested with traffic jams and pollution, and riddled with crimes.

If watched even with the slightest sense of conscientiousness, Citizen Jake cannot be enjoyed without feeling rage and frustration. De Leon is unapologetic in dissing names of politicos of post-People Power Philippines. He insults Imee Marcos as vomit-inducing, throwing jabs against boxer-senator Manny Pacquiao, pokes fun on actors-turned-legislators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, calling out Senate President Tito Sotto and Juan Ponce Enrile without sugarcoating and savagely lambasts the Duterte administration.

Citizen Jake thereby provides a thread what seems to be disparate stories woven to turn the camera back to the audience and to serve as a reflection of what sorry state the country has become.
Citizen Jake

Director/producer: Mike de Leon; screenplay: Mike de Leon, Noel Pascual, Atom Araullo; cinematography: Dix Buhay; editors: Tom Estrera III, Gerone Centeno; music: Nonong Buencamino; production company: Cinema Artists Philippines. In Filipino, with English subtitles. Not rated. Running time: 137 min. Rating: R-13.

Cast: Atom Araullo, Cherie Gil, Gabby Eigenmann, Adrian Alandy, Nonie Buencamino, Max Collins, Teroy Guzman, Lou Veloso, Richard Quan, Dina Bonnevie