Singing in Graveyards: The Reality of Retributions


photo from the official website of Esquire Magazine

PLANNING COMEBACKS in real life is sometimes nothing more than a wish to return to halcyon days, and most of the time, those attempts prove nothing to be futile. Some obsess over the past and hope that they could relive it, while others keep waiting for opportunities that are never promised to them. The phantasm of retribution plagues the mind, and the inability to recompense equates to a miserable end for a lot of people.

Manila-based Malaysian director Bradley Liew’s Singing in Graveyards unfolds the story of Pepe Madrigal (Joey “Pepe” Smith), an aged man who spent decades impersonating a washed-up artist also named Joey Smith. The film portrays the harsh realities of entering performing industries filled with self-righteous people who underestimate talents and treat them with little to no worth.

The film features two eponymous characters: Pepe, an old man who is replete with ennui and rambles about how he was there on stage with Joey Smith at one event, and Mercedes (Mercedes Cabral) who is always mistaken for Nadine, a bold star. This cripples her acting prowess into irrelevant gossip and carnal stares of her employers. Visages of reality flash as these characters desperately try to reach for idols that are standing on pedestals by imitating them. Thus, making them waste their lives away by lazing around, creating lackluster productions, waiting for chances that may never come, and drinking all of their worries away.

The film gives off a vibe of a kitchen sink drama for it focuses on the problems on Pepe’s claustrophobia and desire to make it to wider arenas for his concerts. The film’s camerawork highlights the darkness of hotel rooms that Pepe and Mercedes stay in, the streets that they walk through each and every night, and exhibits to portray the weight and slowness of the different characters’ mercurial dialogue.

Abstraction of events may turn off viewers who demand to see coherence in the film because there are inconsistencies in the dialogue between the characters such as sudden shifts between seriousness and hilarity. However, there is a beauty that lies in the cascading of surreal and realistic aspects of the film. It creates a medley of the pains of life’s realities and the ways of how it genuinely reveals that some people dwell in their fruitless habits of being stuck in make-believing, as displayed in real-life inspired scenes where Pepe magically teleports to a feminist art exhibit made by his ex-wife, into a crowded party, and to his son’s house.

A great feature of Singing in Graveyards is how it scatters verisimilitude in its aspects. The viewers will learn that life ends in the blink of an eye, and that all forms of potential must be utilized to make the best out of life. The film dawns on the viewers as a reminder that stagnation leads to regression, and that dwelling too much on a happy past will bind people in place, destroying the present and inevitably removing them from the future. F

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