Perfumed Nightmare (1977)

Perfumed Nightmare (1977)
7.0
  • 426
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release year: 1977 ()
  • Running time: 93 min
  • Original Title: Mababangong Bangungot
  • Voted: 426

A Filipino jeepney driver (Kidlat Tahimik) who idolizes America's space program comes to reject the rapid encroachment of technology.

#PersonCharacters
1Kidlat TahimikKidlat
2Mang FelyKaya
3Dolores SantamariaNanay
4Georgette BaudryLola
  • A reminder of what independent film is supposed to be... by 9

    Okay, is that overselling it? Perfumed Nightmare blew away all my expectations. Understandably, there's not a lot of expectations for Filipino cinema, and there's not a lot of expectations for independent film anymore (today, independent is anybody without studio money, and some with, making any kind of movie). But this film was a learning experience for me.

    Instead of another gritty soap opera, the filmmaker presents a story about a guy from a one-bridge town who dreams of becoming an American astronaut. Instead of trying to ape a Hollywood film, he took advantage of his technical limitations: there's no dolly shots or zooms, and the audio track's perpetually out of sync. So, instead of a strictly linear narrative, Perfumed Nightmare unfolds like the browsing of a scrapbook, while the director narrates. It helps that even the disintegrating scenery is photographed beautifully, and the narration is sharp and succinctly funny. I'm still chewing on the symbolism and politics of the film, but it's heartening that the film recognizes the contradictions of the situation. And it's heartening to see tricks from directors like Spike Lee, Sodebergh, and Von Trier in a film made over twenty years prior (apparently, this film's director knew Herzog). Of course, that may be a personal bias (I'm half-Pinoy and an aspiring filmmaker). But mostly, it's nice to see a film that could surprise me every couple of minutes. It's not a perfect film, but it's one I'll never forget.

  • A Nutshell Review: Perfumed Nightmare by 8

    Filipino filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik calls Perfumed Nightmare his "magic carpet", as over the last 30 years, his first film is still bringing him to countries and film festivals around the world, reintroducing the film to new audiences and film students when it's screened in universities. An unconventional film, it is quite hard to believe that this monumental effort is a first film, having captured life in the village, before going overseas to Paris and Munich for the latter half.

    Kidlat Tahimik stars as himself, in a semi-autobiographical way, that traces the life of a village boy, and his journey to the outside world. It's like a coming of age story with relevance to today still, with the impact of globalization more keenly felt as the modern world feels more like a global village, and with the almost inevitable assertion and influence of dominant popular cultures over traditional values.

    Kidlat (the movie character) is a Jeepney driver, who is an aeronautical buff, having hailing himself as President of the Werner Von Braun club in his village of Balian. A fan of the Voice of America radio show, he gets offered to go to Paris by an American on a botched jamboree (which was then, and still is now, a very keen inclusion of the said country's foreign policy style), to work in the gumball vending machine business. That basically forms the gist of the outline as imagined by Kidlat the filmmaker, who worked on this without a prepared script.

    The opening shot where a vehicle crosses to and from a narrow bridge, set the mood of the film - fun, eccentric, unpredictable, almost a mirror of Kidlat's character. Shot on Super 8, the special effects that he had included, and the various narrative techniques incorporated into the movie, makes you marvel at the rather innovative ways a filmmaker with a shoestring budget, gets his story told. I liked very much the fantastical sequences he had put in to tell the back story of his father, as well as the very horrific, almost documentary like style of capturing a village circumcision ritual, which must be seen to be believed, how it will actually would make you reel and feel pain (and you thought the Hard Candy one was bad enough).

    There is no doubt that his passion and exuberance shone through this charming, imaginative film, which won him the International Critics Award at the 1977 Berlinale Forum of New Cinema. For those who missed the screening tonight (on 16mm film projection), you can cross your fingers as to a DVD release, possibly as early as next year!

  • A sweet/sad odyssey told with great charm and imagination. by 9

    Tahimik is the delightful narrator of the story of his dream to become the first Phillipino in outer space. With elements of ethnography, history, biography and travelog this story is assembled from home-movie quality footage and radio snippets (plus Tahimik's voice-over) with great imagination and tenderness. From bamboo village to modern Paris and back, this a sweet/sad tale of clashing with the modern world, and the need for home.

  • A Beautiful Nightmare by 10

    Kidlat Tahimik's direction in "The Perfumed Nightmare" expresses an expert craftsmanship, particularly within the realm of filmic symbolism. As was the case with his 1981 film "Turumba", Tahimik's involved, yet un-intimidating, style of story-telling shines in a tale of the painful conflict of cultures.

    The notion behind the plot of "The Perfumed Nightmare" is nothing unprecedented. The mise-en-scene however, as manipulated by Tahimik, is a vibrant expressive mode in telling this story. The way in which it and he break the concepts of capitalism, modernism, imperialism, cultural identification, civil society and the western world down into elemental forms and strategically place them visually throughout the film is masterful and the true story is expressed artfully.

    "The Perfumed Nightmare" is great place for any movie-watcher to start a foray into Third Cinema or just enjoy a beautiful, powerful film.

  • A Hallucinogenic Cross-Cultural Journey by 7

    There are a precious few directors who are willing to jump heedlessly off into the abyss of their own imagination for the sake of artistic expression. Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of them. The Francis Ford Coppola who made "Apocalypse Now" is another. Kidlat Tahimik, director of "The Perfumed Nightmare" is one more. What is most remarkable is that he produced a film using scant resources but containing imagery to which most big-budget Hollywood visuals can barely compare.

    Filled with dreams, tangents, flashbacks, breathtaking religious imagery, Tahimik's ironic Mark Twain-esque voice-overs, and bizarre visual ideations using mixed film-stocks and color schemes, the storyline follows a young primitive Filipino village jeep-driver and his journey from progressive worshiper of all things Western to dispirited critic of the West after travelling to Europe. I mention Jodorowsky here because his films are the only ones I can compare this one to: both are like pure symbolic representations of the unconscious mind.

    Unfortunately, now for the bad news: the film is an unfocused anti-globalization tract. Actually, maybe it's just an anti-technological tract, I'm not sure. What I do know is that the movie does a brilliant job of portraying life - its sights, music, sounds, and small rituals - in a quiet Philippines village. This first act alone would make one of the greatest short films ever made. But as the second half rolls around and Tahimik moves to France, becoming appalled by Western technological prowess (a set of very large garbage incinerators being erected particularly irks him), the simplistic message of the movie began to irritate me. Are we as the audience supposed to view Tahimik's village as an unsullied Garden of Eden and the modern west as the First Circle of Hell? Because that is what he seems to be saying. Not only is Tahimik (correctly) against the Western colonial expansionism which made his country the property of both France and then the U.S., but he also dislikes the progressive technology of the West. Why?

    What is most ironic is that Tahimik himself (his real name is Eric De Guia) had an advanced degree from the Wharton School of Business and worked as a research consultant to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - an organization committed to spreading Western technology to lesser-developed countries - in Paris for 4 years before making this movie. This makes me think that the movie is less a prophetic statement about the dangers of all forms of colonialism than a personal statement against the West made by a particularly disgruntled individual. The movie is all sound and fury, in the end signifying nothing. Why is globalization a target of derision the world over? It is such a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon that protesters are forced to make small, insignificant gestures against it (smashing the windows of a McDonalds) in order to make any kind of statement against it. It is similar to railing against the underground geological forces causing earthquakes - what is the point?

    Great film-making skill is rare, and it is on display here in great splendor (Oliver Stone must have been inspired in his use of mixed-film stocks for "JFK" after watching this film), but it is only effective when its message is sound. If one discounted the hollowness of the message, this would be an unheralded masterpiece of independent world cinema, but one cannot separate the message from the messenger.

#PersonCrew
1Hartmut Lerchcinematographer