What does it take to get your film into a world class festival? That’s the question asked with gleeful irreverence by “The Woman in the Septic Tank,” which screened at the recently concluded 2012 Berlinale, one of the world’s foremost festivals. This hilarious satire of international art filmmaking finds two aspiring auteurs sitting in a Manila café, jealously regarding a rival’s Facebook photos taken at the Venice film fest. They vow to devise the ultimate movie to win festival audiences and prizes: a single mother of five suffering in the slums is forced to sell her son to a rich pedophile. But like Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” the project gets out of hand, and before we know it we’re watching a musical version with the pedophile singing “Is this the boy / who’ll bring me endless hours of joy?” It’s one of many delightful detours taken by these filmmakers seeking the road to art house glory.
Some critics find “Septic Tank’s” satire too glib and cynical of the festival scene, but much of what it mocks can be found in another Filipino film that competed for the Berlinale’s prestigious Golden Bear. Brilliante Mendoza is one of the standard-bearers of the blistering DIY filmmaking that thrives in the Philippines (and with an ego to match: his website describes him as a “living national treasure.”) His success led to a golden ticket in the form of European funding, but his new film “Captive” finds him caught in the crossroads of no-budget trash filmmaking and festival prestige picture, doing service to neither. This hyperactive re-enactment of a 2001 terrorist incident even has Isabelle Huppert along for the ride as a kidnapped missionary, but it feels more like Michael Bay than Michael Haneke. From close-ups of menacing jungle creatures to a real baby being pulled out of a woman during a firefight, no attempt at sensationalism is spared to get a rise out of the audience.
Read the rest of this festival report, including thoughts on the best film at Berlinale 2012, at RogerEbert.com.