Angry and Acute, VERDICT Boldly Condemns the Red Tapes of the Justice System
Abused and battered wife, Joy, stands up for justice against her alcoholic husband, Dante, in a turmoil process of the justice system.
Director: Raymund Ribay Gutierrez
Cast: Rene Durian, Max Eigenmann, Kristoffer King, Jordhen Suan
Runtime: 126 minutes
Verdict begins with a steel punch in the gut — suffocating and uncomfortable. Beginning with a shot of a clock, a foreshadowing of the ticking time limit imposed by bureaucracy, the film starts off in a cramped home, quiet and foreboding. A drunk Dante (Kristoffer King) saunters in, picking at the forlorn Joy (Max Eigenmann) who silently endures his rough bullying. Time passes with Dante getting more and more aggressive. When his violent outrage leads to blood and serious injury, hurting their young daughter in the process, Joy scoops up the injured Angel (Jordhen Suan) and scampers out of the house.
The theatre is silent and everyone breathes a little easier when Joy rushes into the police station. Unfortunately, that is only the beginning.
Verdict is angry and frustrated, and it definitely wants the audience to feel the same. Winning the Special Orrizonti Jury Prize, Verdict was also the only Southeast Asian film to be screened at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
Exposing the long tedious process of the justice system that Joy seeks help from, director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez carefully makes us undergo every hurdle and emotional burden that a victim of domestic abuse has to go through. When administrative staff asks Joy for the third time if she really wants to make a charge against Dante (while having both of them face one another) and remarking that things usually work out after a bit of talking, groans resounded through the cinema hall.
It’s tiresome, it’s unfair, Verdict shows, and this is only one case out of many, as shots of endless paperwork recur in the film.
Cast in dark shadows, Verdict is a bleak film that shines light on every ugly aspect of the bureaucratic process. Whether it is aloof police guards or apathetic attorneys, Verdict uncovers all the frustrations at red tapes with rhythmic urgency. Conversations flow naturally, ranging from monotonous responses of people in power to the fast-paced court proceedings peppered with strong bellows of “Objection!”
The film is not complete gloom though, portraying moments of ironic humour resulting from blatantly indifferent characters. Even in its humour, Verdict takes apart the problems and discrimination Joy faces as our laughter becomes uneasy.
Submerging us into the scenes and emotions of Verdict, cinematographer Joshua Ryles pointedly chooses to remain at level angles with stylistic use of a shaky camera. We are peering over the shoulders of the characters as they fill up administrative forms. We are the curious bystander, looking back and forth at the subdued Joy answering questions about the abuse as Dante sits behind her, watching and reacting. We are seated with Angel as a straightforward lawyer drills her about her dad. While the immersion effectively gives the audience a taste of the mess and disorder, and the accompanying distress, the consistent use of the unstable camera can be slightly dizzying.
By the end, I’m quite sure everyone pretty much hates Dante with a burning passion. Awarded the Best Performer in the 30th Singapore Film Festival Asian Feature Film Competition Awards, Kristoffer King should be given all the credit for portraying a frustrating sense of flippancy while skilfully exhibiting all the entitlement Dante has received from society.
Verdict has a strong message and announces it loud and clear: seeking justice is difficult and wearisome, and not the easy solution or the shining force of hope that it is often touted as. Verdict is a well-paced film that knows how to take its audience through emotional highs and lows, manoeuvring seamlessly through a recognisably Filipino environment while touching on a sensitive and universal concern.
Verdict made its Singapore premiere as part of the 30th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). Catch the trailer here: