The Woman in the Septic Tank ("Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank")
“A cheeky backstage farce of the poverty-film genre” — Nick Pinkerton, NEW YORK TIMES
Rainier, Bingbong and Jocelyn, well off, well meaning and fresh out of film school, think they’ve hit the jackpot. About to start production on their first feature film, they are convinced they’re about to make a Filipino Oscar-worthy indie sensation that will launch their career on the international film circuit: “With Nothing”, their exploitative detailing of the unthinkable hardships of a single, poor mother of seven living in the Payatas slums is almost ready to start production, but it might still need a few tweaks: what if they shot cinéma vérité style? As Jocelyn daydreams, what if it was a highly inappropriate musical? So many options to choose from, but if it guarantees success, no change is off the table. Furthermore, they need to secure their lead actress. After briefly considering the Filipino starpower of the likes of Mercedes Cabral and Cherry Pie Picache (briefly appearing as themselves), they settle for sitcom legend Eugene Domingo, also appearing as a delightfully exaggeration of herself and momentarily stealing the show. You just wait and see, because Filipino cinema might have found its new heroes…
A scathing satire of independent Filipino cinema, THE WOMAN IN THE SEPTIC TANK attacks the notion of “poverty porn” with its trio of disillusioned young filmmakers and their hopeful one-day pre-production journey (from script revision to location scouting). Showing the increasingly misguided decline of their screenplay firsthand, director Marlon Rivera directs film within film within film, hilarious and highly critical of his fellow Filipino filmmakers. Is the Filipinio culture, as portrayed to the outside world through its cinema, solely definable by its poverty? Is it all international festival programmers are willing to program? As per Rivera, it would seem so. A huge success upon its release, this film went on to become one of the all-time highest grossing independent films in Filipino history, perhaps proving the potency of its much-needed and refreshingly honest insight. Wearing its title on its sleeve like a punchline, THE WOMAN IN THE SEPTIC TANK is a witty, uncomfortably hilarious reflection on the workings of international cinema, where Western perspectives make exploitative entitlement pass as illuminating works of art. While never specific, it’s a literal slap in the face to filmmakers like Brillante Mendoza — or perhaps just a younger, fresher and occasionally nasty perspective of what Filipino can potentially be.
— Ariel Esteban Cayer