Rakenrol is a lot of firsts for its director, Quark Henares. It is his first feature film to be produced and directed independent of any major studio backing. It is his feature first film to be completely free from any genre limitations. It is also his first feature film after the untimely death of his most loyal supporter and most honest critic, Alexis Tioseco, to which he dedicates the film as a partial fulfilment to one of Tioseco's famous wishes for Philippine Cinema.
Gamitan (2002), produced by Viva, was clearly bankrolled to maximize the very popular sex appeal of Maui Taylor, who pumped fresh blood and class to the waning genre of titillating films that dominated Philippine cinema in the last few years of the last century and the first few years of the new millennium. Keka (2003), also produced by Viva in an effort to launch the career of Katya Santos, another one of its up and coming sexy actresses, is a revenge film, in the same vein as Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood (1973) and Lino Brocka's Angela Markado (Angela the Marked One, 1980). Wag Kang Lilingon (2006), a horror film which Henares co-directed with Jerry Lopez Sineneng, is co-produced by Viva with Star Cinema. Super Noypi (2006), produced by Regal Films for the Metro Manila Film Festival, is a mash-up of sci-fi and superhero elements to unwieldy results.
Rakenrol evidently has all the heart a filmmaker can ever give his film, with storylines that are partly or wholly based on actual events and cameos of Henares' friends and heroes. Henares has clearly taken independence seriously, showering his film with the little things that made his previous films work beyond their respective genres. It overflows with so much heart, its humor and unsubtle odes to whoever and whatever may tend to be alienating. Absent of any real genre, of an actual framework to work with, of self-control, the film doesn't really have a story to stand on, just a flimsy tale of idealistic youngsters wanting to form a rock band called Hapipaks and in the process of doing so, form life-long friendships and romantic links with each other
It could have worked better if the flimsy tale were driven by real characters instead of just stereotypes and mockeries. It also does not help that the entire film rests upon the shoulders of Jason Abalos, who is unable to turn the character of Odie, the soft-spoken lead guitarist of Hapipaks, into anything more than the typical boy-next-door who happens to have a guitar on his hands. That Glaiza de Castro, who manages to inject Irene, the swoony Hapipaks lead singer with palpable sincerity amidst the film's unabashed caricature of everything.
Ketchup Eusebio and Alwyn Uytingco, who play the other Hapipaks bandmembers, valiantly make most of their underdeveloped and over-typecasted characters. Ramon Bautista, who plays the self-absorbed director of the Hapipaks music video, Jun Sabayton, who plays misunderstood avant-garde artist, and Diether Ocampo, who plays Odie's cocky rival to Irene's heart, are more comedic acts than actual characters you care to love or hate. The film is unfortunately filled to the brim with characters, including the famous Ely Buendia who plays an inspirational deus ex machina, who serve no real purpose other than as arguably unsuccessful attempts at irreverence or just clutter.
Logic and the advertised promises of working with full independence dictate that outside the fences forced by his collaborations with commercial film studios, Henares would be able to create a masterpiece, or at the very least, a very good very personal film. Unfortunately, Rakenrol is hardly a masterpiece. Although it is indeed a very personal work, it feels more than a little bit scattered, with the story never evolving to be either the quintessential movie about the Philippine rock scene or to be one truly charming romance. With the way it seems to slide out of more interesting conflicts with humor and satire, the film seems to delight in its manufactured weightlessness, never really achieving anything except perhaps for personal nostalgia, and needless tons of it.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)