Saturday, November 29, 2014
SLIFF 2014: The Bit Player
Title: The Bit Player
Country: The Philippines
The Bit Player is a day in the life of an extra on a popular Filipino soap opera. The film is surprising for the detail, dignity and compassion it holds for Loida, a single mother struggling to earn enough to pay for her daughter’s schooling. She wouldn’t mind a little bit of local stardom either.
However the majority of her job is excruciatingly dull and routinely thankless. As she says herself, crowds are important: they lend life and realism to an otherwise empty artificial fictional world. You can’t do without them. And yet extras are treated like talentless, brainless dirt. They are served lousy food and little of it. They are barely listened to, and then mostly to make sure their accents aren’t off. Even the very space they take up is resented, as demonstrated in an early scene where the extras are sent packing from every shred of shade as they mill about waiting for their scene. When it comes, they are faking farm work in the back of a cheesy bucolic romance; figures so small and out of focus that they can’t be recognized.
It’s humbling, but Loida and her friends are good-humored about it all. Their fundamental likability and fathomless energy helps keep the movie upbeat even as the story makes it clear that they will never be stars. Loida has what she would probably think of as her ‘big break,’ but it doesn’t amount to much. Her celebration of this middling just-enough-to-get-by success, tainted by an almost overwhelmed by disappointment that she bottles up inside, is what makes the film resonate as profoundly real.