Friday, December 6, 2013
By DENNIS PERKINS
"I won't kill myself, I won't kill someone else, and I won't look for trouble -- then I'll survive the whole day. If you want to give up, tell yourself, 'I'll give up tomorrow.' "
“Give Up Tomorrow” is showing Wednesday as part of Portland Public Library’s Summer Documentary series.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
FRONTIER CINEMA & CAFE (BRUNSWICK) (explorefrontier.com)
Thursday: "The Welcome."
Documentary about a group of returning veterans engaging in a radical healing program, where they process their traumatic experiences through poetry.
NICKELODEON CINEMA (patriotcinemas.com)
Friday: "Safety Not Guaranteed." Indie goodness at the Nick this week with this comedy about a magazine writer (Aubrey Plaza, "Parks & Recreation") investigating a classified ad placed by a guy (Mark Duplass of "Your Sister's Sister") looking for a companion to travel with him -- through time.
As a strategy for getting through your day, that might seem a bit dramatic. But then, since you're lucky, your name's not Paco Larranaga, the subject of the new documentary "Give Up Tomorrow," screening Wednesday as part of the Portland Public Library's Summer Documentary Film Series.
In 1997, Larranaga and six other young men were arrested following the disappearance of two sisters, Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, in the Philippine island of Cebu. A decomposed body suggested that the young women had been kidnapped, raped and murdered, and Larranaga, the well-off son of a political family, was quickly arrested and charged with taking part in the crime.
As in most crime stories, Paco was hardly an angel -- he'd had some trouble with the law and, according to one source, made racist comments about his Asian co-defendants. But, as the film unfolds, any faults the young Paco may have had are overshadowed by the sheer hard-to-fathom depths of injustice he is subjected to in the course of his Kafka-esque, 12-year (and counting) ordeal.
Bowing to a variety of social and political pressures, the police from the start engage in questionable activities, just the beginning of a series of jaw-droppingly shady actions and suppositions in every step of the case. Let's count them off (SPOILERS AHEAD):
Political connections of the Chiong family brought the office of Philippine President Estrada (eventually deposed and arrested for corruption) to pressure the police. Public sentiment, easily whipped up by sensationalist, biased coverage, demanded a quick conviction. Alleged torture of a surprise cooperating prosecution witness. The fact that the girls' father was scheduled to testify against his boss, a notorious drug lord, before their disappearance.
Wait, there's more: Multiple witnesses (including photographic evidence) that Larranaga was 350 miles away on the night in question. An erratic judge whose blatant malfeasance eventually led to him throwing the entire defense team in jail for objecting to his handling of the case. Lax, bordering on nonexistent, forensic analysis which, among other un-"CSI" behavior, could not even categorically confirm that the body found was actually one of the victims(!), and the eventual suspicious death of the aforementioned judge after the case's conclusion.
The increasingly frustrated, impotent rage of Paco's family and former lawyers as they relate the mounting ludicrousness of the prosecution's case and conduct is palpable. As the mountainous evidence of the defendant's almost inescapable innocence and the state's seeming complete imperviousness to that evidence is revealed, there's simply no end to the mounting outrage that the film provokes; It's like a nightmare where every door you open is the wrong one, leading to an even worse, more irrational outcome.
Even though the film opens with Larranaga on death row, explaining that all his appeals have been exhausted and he is simply waiting for death, the film successfully builds suspense, introducing one ray of hope after another, only to smash that hope again and again.
If I have a criticism of the film, it's that there's little in the way of ambiguity. The viewer is left with nothing but a rotten feeling about the Philippine justice system, and people in general, and perhaps the closing words of one of the journalists on the case: "It's so easy to manipulate people. To exploit drama and tragedies and calamities to favor selfish interests."
"Give Up Tomorrow" screens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Admission is free.
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.