Binge-worthy: 'Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3'

BINGE-WORTHY. Eugene Domingo shines as herself in the TV series 'Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 3.' Screenshot from trailer

BINGE-WORTHY. Eugene Domingo shines as herself in the TV series 'Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 3.

' Screenshot from trailer

MANILA, Philippines — Few things are as distressing to artists as creative stagnation and withering finances. In Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3, the fictional Eugene Domingo doesn’t have to worry about money — so she frets over her artistic plateau instead. After consulting a trusted expert (a numerologist), she decides that the next step in her career is to become a film director.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3 is a mockumentary that follows the production of “Direk” Euge’s directorial debut. Propelled by Chris Martinez’ screenplay and the real-world Domingo’s superb acting, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3 is a hilarious romp full of zinging one-liners (“Star Wars was only good because of the score”) and surprising insights into creative anxiety. Thanks to its absurdist humor, the show is equal parts Monty Python and This Is Spinal Tap. 

For her first film, Direk Euge decides to tackle the complex story of Josephine Bracken. She titles it, The Real Untold Story of Josephine Bracken, and commissions Jose Javier Reyes, who also plays a fictionalized version of himself, to write the screenplay. The joke here, of course, is that Direk Euge will also star as Josephine.

When Reyes learns about this, he becomes livid. “She’s fucking Irish!” Reyes exclaims. But Direk Euge is adamant about playing Jose Rizal’s enigmatic love interest. “I’m going to play Josephine Bracken,” she tells Reyes. “And you’re going to make it happen for me.”

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3 also presents actual historical information, thanks to the interludes featuring historian Ambeth Ocampo. Ocampo reveals the truths behind the story of Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken… truths which Direk Euge totally ignores. She casts the hunky Tony Labrusca as Rizal, never mind the fact that Labrusca is way taller than our national hero.

The historical accuracy of The Real Untold Story of Josephine Bracken is clearly not one of Direk Euge’s priorities — but celebrating herself is. 

A 'Euge' ego

Buried in all the hysterics (and this series has lots of it), is a vivid exploration of obsession and ego.

Direk Euge aspires to be enshrined with her favorite filmmakers and sermonizes about overcoming creative plateaus, but her one true commitment is to her ego. The character is somewhat one-dimensional, but the series fully commits to this fact. There are no soliloquies or sudden character shifts in Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3. The series is like a freight train charging head-on. 

While the series itself is playfully self-aware, Direk Euge the character is not. She frequently gets frustrated over her crew’s creative and technical decisions — decisions that, while artistically sound, often reduce the screen time for herself. It bears noting that the real-world Domingo does an excellent job of portraying the frustration, and occasional confusion, of her fictional counterpart. Direk Euge is self-absorbed and exasperating (and maybe even a bit incompetent), but Domingo’s earnest portrayal keeps the character from turning into an outright antagonist.  

The primary conflict of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3 is between Direk Euge and Mylene Dizon, who plays Saturnina Hidalgo. Euge and Mylene are good friends, but that friendship becomes strained when Mylene learns that she was cast as Rizal’s eldest sister. She complains about the casting decision, but Direk Euge dismisses the complaints as those of a petulant child. (“I need to act,” Mylene says. “You’re acting up,” Euge counters.)

Mylene is a great foil to Euge, and provides a sharp contrast to the director. Mylene is an actress; Direk Euge is a star. The latter’s obsession with fame often hampers the former’s commitment to her craft.   

Creative tension

Direk Euge stubbornly controls every step of the movie-making process — from the casting, to the production, to the movie premiere — to serve herself. During the color-grading process, for example, she insists that her skin tone be lightened to such an extent that she appears to have had an “overdose of glutathione.” It’s a hilarious scene, but the real payoff comes later. When the film’s composer sees Domingo’s ghostly onscreen appearance, she assumes that this is a horror movie... and scores it as such. 

In spite of its director, The Real Untold Story of Josephine Bracken gets made. During the premiere, a large number of industry insiders and critics (including Rappler’s own movie critic Oggs Cruz) gather to watch Euge’s directorial debut. The reception is as you would expect. The audience is taken aback by the frequent and unnecessary close-ups of Euge — to say nothing of her strange pallor. While Euge gets a fair share of ridicule, Mylene gets a redemption of sorts. Despite her minimal lines, audience members consider her acting one of the show’s saving graces. 

A group of Rizalists, insulted by how Euge treated their object of worship, give chase. They pick up manure left by the horse that pulled Euge’s carriage to the premiere, and fling it at the director. This is the show’s conclusion — a filmmaker with manure on her face.

This conclusion feels a bit rushed and unsatisfying. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3 only has 7 episodes, and it would have benefitted from one or two more. But that said, the show is an enjoyable trip that provides loads of laughs as well as creative tension. –