Panoorin para sa visual appeal ang ‘Esprit de Corps’; maganda ang camerawork nito, and it doesn’t hurt na easy on the eyes din ang mga leads. Speaking of acting, panoorin para sa raw performances nila. Panoorin kung nag-ROTC ka, or kung gusto mo lang sumilip behind-the-scenes sa ma-intrigang mundo ng military training.
SYNOPSIS: Cadets Abel Sarmiento (Sandino Martin) and Cain Fujioka (Lharby Policarpio) are top contenders vying for the position soon to be relinquished by their corrupt training officer Mac Favila (JC Santos). In their respective interrogation/interviews, Abel and Cain must prove to Mac just how bad they want to get what they both aspire for.
DIRECTOR & WRITER: Kanakan-Balintagos
CAST: Sandino Martin | JC Santos | Lharby Policarpio | Garry Lim | Abner Delina | Sue Prado | VJ Mendoza
Fun Fact: Esprit De Corps is an adaptation of a one-act play also written by its director, Kanakan-Balintagos (formerly known as Auraeus Solito, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros), back in the 1980s. The film version expands this play, transforming what originally is a game of seduction and power play between two characters into a more complex—for a lack of a better term—threesome. The result is a visually-appealing and technically-sound movie with great performances from its leads actors.
Most of the scenes take place in a prison-like interrogation room, as each cadet answers questions, does push-ups, and performs other types of question-answer-punishment routines that those who are familiar with Philippine CAT/ROTC/NSTP know all too well (for those who aren’t, the movie immediately throws them front-and-center of the intriguing and sometimes disturbing world of student military training). One should note that Esprit De Corps has been teased/marketed as a game of seduction, and indeed, it goes into that territory, thus further establishing the idea that the cadets are willing to do whatever it takes to get the position they both aspire for.
[The] scenes in the
interrogation room best
capture both the
technical merits and the
great acting in the film.
These scenes in the interrogation room best capture both the technical merits and the great acting in the film. The shots are done in one long take, as if homage to the play it was based on, and this technique, for one, showcases good camera work. Imagine a single camera moving in and focusing on one character then doing the same thing to another character in one smooth swoop. This requires good blocking and a good hand. The film was able to competently do both.
For another, the long takes also showcase the strength and stamina of the lead actors, all of whom have to exert efforts both physically (do push-ups while saying long lines) and emotionally (act the parts convincingly). The result is a very arresting performance from each of them. Santos plays into the part of an antagonist really well, and Policarpio was able to juggle Cain’s dual roles of both the best friend and the worst enemy to Abel. Meanwhile, Martin does deserve some commendation for playing a conflicted and vulnerable cadet. (As of this writing, Martin won the festival’s Best Actor award for his performance.)
The weaker aspect of Esprit De Corps is the scenes outside the interrogation room. These scenes—in the campus pool, during outside training with other cadets, etc.—are meant to provide back stories for each of the three leads and their previous/current relationships with one another. In these scenes, the shots are still very good (the swimming pool scenes are notable), but story-wise, it may confuse the audience. Is the scene a flashback or a flash-forward? Perhaps it’s the editing, but the timeline/continuity is not clear. Then again, maybe it was intended as such, of which a deeper analysis from the viewers is required. That may not be necessarily a good thing.
Esprit De Corps is good, mostly because of its artistic merits. It is raw, exploratory, sometimes titillating, and oftentimes confusing. Interestingly, the same traits are also reflective of adolescence, something the characters are portraying. ♦