STOP10: Carlo Catu on 'Dapithapon' and old people

When was the last time you saw pubic hair on a soap blown up to silver screen proportions? That shot in the opening scene in director Carlo Catu’s Kung Paano Hinintay Ang Dapithapon (Dapithapon) summed up the film, somewhat. An intimate gaze at the minutiae of the daily lives of three old people, Dapithapon is a masterclass in the character study of seniors that never feels glacial in its tempo.
Theresa, a role perfected by Perla Bautista, lives a comfortable life with her partner Celsio (played by Menggie Cobarrubias) , a doctor, the sort in which your biggest mishaps at home are trying to recreate that watermelon chicken dish you saw on TV by memory. That and leaving your pubes on soap too. There is even some mild flirting in bed every night as a reaffirmation of the good life.
Director Carlo takes his time to paint this idyllic life before inserting a point of disruption, Theresa’s legal husband, Bene, played by Dante Rivero.  Bene has already been introduced early in the film as a helpless, illness-stricken loner who finds some solace in cock-fighting. The narrative choice of seeding Bene’s presence in the story early is interesting, as opposed to surprising the audiences later in the film. But it is evident director Carlo has his interests on character study more than anything.
Theresa, now finds herself in a sort of triangle, splitting her time, but not affections, between Celsio and Bene, a silver-haired ménage-a-trois. The film succeeds on being able to put a finger on character instincts and this is the joint work of both the actors and director. Bene straddling between yearning for connection and resignation and even a bit of ego. Theresa eager to put Bene’s life back in order, bordering on reliving the past (with that sewing machine) yet careful to draw a line in her affections. Celsio, unsure of where Theresa’s re-connection with Bene would lead but beating back all unnecessary impulses and being a pillar for Theresa.
All these simmer in a kind of slow-burn drama but culminates with some real heartbreak towards the end, which is a testament to Carlo’s narrative craft that won Dapithapon Best Feature at Cinemalaya among other awards like the NETPAC jury prize as well as Best Screenplay. If you think about it, Dapithapon also resonates beyond the realm of seniors. It raises questions about what is true love and where to find the line between love and friendship, something Carlo, a sensitive soul by nature, seems to know a lot about. A day before his triumph at the awards, we had a deep and engaging chat.
Jeremy (J): You have so confidently brought this story about three seniors to life. Do think inside you, you have an old soul?
Carlo (C): I have many friends who are quite old. I think that’s one of the good things many youngsters do not actually enjoy, or take the chance just to listen. So in the process of making the film, I became friends with my three actors and my experience with the story…. it expanded not only with the script and but also through my connection with these three actors, three human beings. I got to see how they see life, how they see love. I remember Tito Menggie (Celso) telling me that for them, love-making or sex is not sex anymore. It’s more of touching, caressing, things like that. (pause).
J: How did you find the actors? Did you identify them right from start? Sort of like you knew these people would be ideal for your film?
C: Tita Perla Bautista, I have worked with her in a full-length feature film I wrote for direk Louie Ignacio. I saw her professionalism there and her great attitude. She may be 79 years old but she is so active on the set of direk Louie. And she is so cooperative. She is not diva at all, even though she has been in the industry for 40 to 50 years. So aside for that, she really suits the character of Theresa. She looks Theresa. I mean I did consider other actors but I always found myself going back to these three actors. They are our dream team.
J: When you started with them, how did you break the ice? Was it because of your innate ability to connect with old people?
C: There is not doubt they are veteran actors. I did wonder whether they will listen to me or see me as someone young. But, I tried to believe in myself. You are the leader of the ship, even though there is an age gap. Only then can they see the passion in you. One main job of the director is to share his passion for making this film.


I spend a lot of time talking to them, especially during the dinner. I talked to Tita Perla and Tito Dante Rivero (Bene), who is also from Pampanga, like me. So we speak the same dialect. So, there was already connection. And Tito Menggie is very funny and very easy to be with. I love listening to old people.
Also, I realised one thing - that they really like it when I am directing them. There are moments after ‘cut’,  I will ask them if they can do it in a way that I wanted it, and you will see in his eyes, they brighten up. To them, the director knows what he wants. They get very happy because there is a collaboration between you and them. One more thing, I was a theatre actor before I became a director. So it has helped me understand things a little better without them telling me. Also, I know the language of an actor. So I just really enjoyed shooting the film.
J: Are there any boundary-pushing or provocative scenes?
C: There are few shower scenes for Tita Perla which I never thought would be so hard to shoot. Not because Tita Perla cannot do the scenes but because as a director I still want my actors to feel comfortable and secured while doing this kind of scenes. Not to mention we were shooting inside a tiny bathroom with an almost naked showering tita Perla. Another one is a bed scene between Tita Perla and Tito Menggie the idea is to show that old people like their characters still enjoy the magic of love making, however this was revised before the actual shoot.
J: How did you handle those scenes?
C: For Tita Perla's shower scenes we made sure that her private parts are well covered. We angled the camera to get the illusion that she's the character taking a bath without showing any of Tita Perla's sensitive parts.
For the love scene of Tito Menggie and Tita Perla we shoot it in a suggestive and poetic way, because we realized that sex was not the point of the scene rather it is more about the deep and intimate love connection of Celso and Teresa.
I am so grateful that my cast is so open and willing to go the distance. Another example was when I ask tito Dante to jump off the window from the 2nd floor with only scaffolding waiting for him. He asked me why I needed the scene. I explained that it is a dream sequence that shows his character's current state of being. It is important, I told him. After that, he did not ask any further questions and we proceeded in shooting the said scene.

J: What inspired the story ?
C: The screenplay is written by John Carlo Pacala. It was inspired by the story of his parents. I also should state here that it is a product of Direk Jun Lana's Cinepanulat, a screenwriting lab where John Carlo and I were both workshoppers and became friends.
J: The film opens up many questions about true love. Any interesting lessons you picked up about love in the process of making this film?
C: All throughout my journey in making this film I know that I am telling a story about love. Love defined as companionship. And as we were about to finish the film I learned to appreciate the simple moments of life. The things we cannot bring back. The many opportunities we can take to better ourselves. I learn to see more the importance of family, friends and love ones. That at the end of the day, we may be strong enough to live on our own but no one will ever want to die alone. I learn to be more appreciative and enjoy every moment of my time.
Actually I recall an incident with my current partner. We’ve been together for two years and sometimes it gets boring. Then there was once my partner went back home and I realised I missed seeing his back, because that was what I saw on a daily basis. So it made me realise the ordinary moments are sometimes the most extraordinary. And I hope that comes across in my film.
J: Your house in the film looks interesting. How did you find this house?
C: Finding this house is a long story to share. We started looking for the house of Bene in Pampanga. We spent almost a month searching for the right house. I want it to be a character itself. A house that shows the backstory of Bene and somehow represents his current situation, dying, alone and forgotten. We were about to settle on a 80 year old ancestral house in Pampanga when my Production Designer, Marielle Hizon suggested the Bahay Tisa in Pasig. We were all tired and unexpecting but we decided to give it one last try. So we traveled all the way from our ocular in Pampanga to Pasig. The first time I saw the house was love at first sight. I just knew that it is the house of Bene. My producer was hesitant at first because it was used in many other films mostly horror but I swear that it is the house we needed. At the end my producers and I were so happy because Bahay Tisa shown us a different character away from its usual horror side.
J: Was there a flooding scene? How challenging was that?
C: Yes there is a flooding scene and to tell you the truth, It was not as challenging as it looks like. Or maybe it is because I have a very capable production design team. I remember telling them to delete the flood scene to lessen the production cost but Marielle and Rashim told me "kung kailangan mo 'rek, lalabanan namin 'yan". And so we pushed through. It's really overwhelming having a very supportive team at your back. This may be cheesy but they really served as the wind beneath my wings.
J: What genres interest you? Or what type of films are you interested in making ?
C: It depends on my mood or what I need at the moment. I like dramas and comedies. I usually don't watch horror until recently. I easily get scared and I don't like the feeling I get whenever I finished watching a very scary film. I love watching world cinemas. It kinda gives me a glimpse not only of the filmmaking process of those countries but also the life on the different part of that world. I want to travel the world and experience different cultures. Somehow watching films from different countries makes me feel like I am travelling without literally travelling. I am still exploring the types of films I want to make. As of now, I am inclined more into realism and slow burning stories but I am open to trying new way of storytelling as well as making commercial movies in the future.
J: What do you think are the greatest challenges filmmakers face making films in the Philippines?
C: Filmmaking is a tough job and it is even tougher in a third world country like the Philippines wherein cinema culture or culture in general is not highly prioritized. I think the greatest challenges filipino filmmakers face are funding and distribution. I believe most of us (filmmakers) still do not give time, effort and importance in these stages of filmmaking. I hope in time we see it as important as the other stages of filmmaking.
Interview and photos by Jeremy Sing

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