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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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ProBernal AntiBio is the best Filipino film book of the year, maybe of all time

December 12, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

I got my copy from Butch Perez at lunchtime, opened to page 1, and did not stop reading until I finished the whole book. So no work was done today, and it was a day very well spent.

Intelligent, wicked, sometimes vicious (Bernal did not spare anyone, especially himself), this anti-biography is presented as a wide-ranging conversation between filmmaker Ishmael Bernal and his closest friend, the scholar and screenwriter Jorge Arago. Mercifully many of Bernal’s targets are long-dead, because he murders them.

Arago started the project in the 1990s by asking Bernal to keep a journal. After Arago died several years ago, their friend Angela Stuart-Santiago took on the project, and the result is awesome.

Think of it as Truffaut/Hitchcock, except that Truffaut/Hitchcock doesn’t make food shoot out of your nose. And a bit of the Warhol diaries. I had to stop reading several times to recover my breath. (And I have a tiny cameo in the book! Proof that I read every word.)


Read Bernal’s summation of the Philippine film industry and ask yourself if things have changed.

The book comes in an elegant square format which allows colleagues and interlocutors to comment on the conversation. Pro-Bernal Anti-Bio isn’t in stores yet, but you can order copies (PHP900 each) by emailing bernalbynight@gmail.com.

Savage justice: Colm Toibin dares retell the Oresteia of Aeschylus

December 08, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books

Speaking of epic, I endured my long flight home by watching movies. The plane was so full, my coach section so crammed, that I could not write in my notebook or read a book without jamming my elbow up someone’s nostril. (Also Etihad no longer gives out toiletries and only allows one piece of checked baggage, even if it is below the weight limit.) I survived by watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson. I slept through most of the movies, but woke up to hear Theoden say this.

A message from J.R.R. Tolkien.

The long stairway to the nearest cat (can make the wretched sigh)

December 05, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Places, Traveling

According to my friend Rebecca, there is a large colony of cats living on the hillside around Sacre Coeur, and she sees some of them on the street every morning when the neighborhood cat lady feeds them. I didn’t see any of the hill cats. Whenever I missed my feline overlords at home, I had to climb the long stairway to the cafe with the resident cat extortionist, Me.

The blasted stairs even have their own song, written by Jean Renoir for the film French Cancan.

I bribed Me by ordering fish for lunch.

Andre Kertesz photographed the stairs of Montmartre many times. This picture is from his 1945 book, Day of Paris.

This is that same spot today.

Daisy Bar is now No Problemo, the nearest refuge for Calvados and charcuterie on a rainy night.

On Thursday night as we trudged back to the apartment, it began to snow.

You could be doing nothing and the story will still find you, Act III: The conclusion

November 30, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Places, Traveling


A robbery by Caravaggio

The next morning, Jessica goes off to the Louvre. Anouk sets about finding replacement locks, etc. They’re expensive and theoretically should be covered by insurance, but the fine print disagrees.

Then Anouk gets a phone call, garbled, from someone who says, “I am sanitary services.” He sounds scary and raspy. He says he found her bag with her keys, passports, cards, even her cheque made out to Cash, in a public toilet. He says to meet him on the second floor of a parking building.

When Anouk gets to the ground floor of that parking building, it occurs to her that it is dangerous to meet with strangers who claim to have your stolen things. So she approaches a beefy man, explains her predicament, and asks him to accompany her.

The man says she is foolish to meet with strangers who claim to have your stolen things, but he agrees to go with her.

The second floor of the parking building is empty. They walk and walk, and at the very end of the floor there is a truck and two guys in sanitary services uniforms. They have Anouk’s bag. Everything is in it but her cash and her phone. They apologize for having opened the bag to find some identification. Anouk thanks them profusely.

So Anouk cancels some of her notices of stolen documents. However, the embassy says that once the police have reported her passports lost, the passports are cancelled. She could try asking the police to report them found, but the police probably won’t do it.

So Anouk returns to the prefecture, where a more cheerful cop tells her that this is only the second time such a thing has happened. She tells him about how something similar had happened to her friend in Manila. (That time, a bag snatched in Glorietta was dumped in a bin full of bags in Landmark.) They laugh.

In the next cubicle, a morose cop is reading out a report. A woman says her husband is trying to drive her crazy by clomping around the house at night so she can’t sleep. The morose cop overhears Anouk’s story and says, “Good thing you got your bag back.” It was the cop who took her statement the previous day!

Why did Jessica go to the Louvre? The Mona Lisa has nothing on this.

You could be doing nothing and the story will still find you, Act II: At the police station

November 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling


Here the mood shifts from Rohmer to Melville.

The prefecture of police is in Clignancourt. Seedy. The kind where they march Jean-Paul Belmondo in wearing handcuffs, and slam his face against a table. There are four people waiting to file reports ahead of Anouk and Jessica.

The cops are kind of cute, and their uniforms are flattering, but Jessica is from Manila and her standards are abysmal.

One guy is pacing across the lobby like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown.

Finally, a cop talks to Anouk, then tells her someone will take her report in 30 minutes. Anouk and Jessica decide to get a drink.

The first bar is too seedy. The second has dads with kids. Anouk and Jessica sit and have Calvados and charcuterie. They catch up. Anouk apologizes again for this start to Jessica’s visit. Jessica says, “Are you kidding? It’s a story.”

When Jessica goes to the WC in the basement, a man emerges from the ladies’ room.

Forty minutes later, there are nine people sitting in the prefecture lobby. Apparently pickpockets love Sundays. One lady is wearing two straw hats and two scarves with five brooches. There are two large suitcases in front of her. She talks to Anouk, and then to Jessica. Jessica tries to explain that she does not speak French, but the woman just wants to talk, so what the hell. Jessica just nods at everything she says. Then the woman says, in English, “I will go out and smoke a cigarette. Please watch my bags, they are all I have in the world. I have no more home.” She is teary-eyed. She goes out for a smoke. The other people restrain their smiles. Jessica is the last to catch on that she’s probably loony.

Later, Anouk explains that the woman is reporting the theft of a suitcase containing all her bank books, jewelry, and titles to her property. She believes that the bank told her family that her valuables were in that suitcase, and so her family stole it. She also says her sister stole her beautiful brooches. “But you’re wearing five of them,” Anouk had pointed out. “These are the ugly ones,” the woman replied.

A family of tourists appears. They are Greek. The aunt’s bag was stolen when they were changing buses. Her passport was in the bag. They return to Greece tomorrow. The cop is nice enough to rush a document she can present to the Greek embassy tomorrow morning so she can get a temporary travel document and go home. Otherwise the police are taking their time.

Half an hour later, Anouk is summoned to an inner cubicle where a cop takes down her statement.

The process takes an hour. The cop is not happy to be interviewing people on a Sunday. He does not look at the photo from the CCTV as it proves nothing. He reads out the report in a morose monotone and stamps the papers with great force. So Anouk has her police report, and she can proceed with the tedious process of navigating the bureaucracy.

To be concluded with a twist