By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Directed by Christian Linaban

SUPERPSYCHOCEBU has been touted as the first Pinoy stoner film. It’s a wonder that it ever got made in a country with, notoriously, among the harshest penalties for marijuana possession and use. On the other hand, House Bill 180 on medical marijuana and the bill to revive the death penalty were passed practically together, one after the other. (The House approved the bill legalizing medical marijuana on Jan. 29 this year while the bill to resume capital punishment passed the House of Representatives in February 2017. Both stalled in the Senate. — Ed.)

Playing along with that Congressional joke, this full-length bisdak (very Visayan) feature, with English subtitles, has had ritual screenings every April 20 since 2016. “Four twenty” (420) is a thing in cannabis culture. This year, Super... went nationwide with simultaneous screenings on Black Saturday. For Luzon, it was shown at the UP Film Institute Videotheque, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker/screenwriter/director/editor Christian Linaban. In the Visayas, it was shown at the Turtle’s Nest on Gorordo Ave., with a live concert afterwards. The Mindanao screening at the Kidapawan City Laundry House in North Cotobato, was arguably the most bang for your buck. The P150 admission came with free popcorn and beer. At that price, Super... may never break even. Its distribution has been, to put it mildly, challenging but they will play house parties. Super... is neither a lurid, cautionary melodrama (think Reefer Madness or the PSAs of the 1990s) nor a facile comedy of the Dude, Where’s My Car? variety. The amazingly androgynous protagonist, known only as the Idol (John Dino), personifies the shaman as Pinoy slacker. He is in the mold of other classic heroes such as Ulysses and Tolkien’s Bilbo to Frodo Baggins, or even Pee Wee Herman (they have the same taste in pajamas) who are off on some kind of life-changing quest. The Idol is also reminiscent of the Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) in the Cohen Brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski, which the US Library of Congress has selected as among the 20th century films worth preserving. Significantly, Dudeism is now recognized as an established religion in the USA.

The Idol’s Holy Grail is to score the legendary and entirely fictitious SuperPsychoCebu strain of cannabis, or simply “batshit weed,” as Linaban puts it. The use of psychotropic substances such as peyote, certain “magic” mushrooms, and the nauseating ayahuasca, to alter and to expand consciousness, is widely practiced worldwide among many indigenous tribes and ancient cultures. Reciting repetitive prayers like the Holy Rosary, and Buddhist chanting are also time-honored ways to alter and expand human consciousness.

Just like Ulysses, Pee Wee Herman, and the hobbits, the Idol encounters various idiosyncratic archetypes along the way, who mind-bendingly force him to confront eternal matters of cosmic consequence, such as: human evolution with his housemate Pancho (Wes Bacareza); Christian Fundamentalism and organized religion with the muscle-bound Sexy Samson (John Mark Maglana); even the existentialist construction of reality with excitable Beauregard (Rapi Sescon). Just as all spiritual seekers strive for union with the godhead, the Idol meets his female version, a cartoonishly sexy succubus (Angelica Gamolo), but is too stoned to recall if anything even happened between them.

Like any shaman, the Idol finally sees God, or the closest thing to him: an amateur actor who has made a career of playing Hesus (Joshua Aquino). All these are but stages to the ultimate necessity of the Idol’s confronting his actual self when he faces a mirror back home at journey’s end. There’s still no place like home, as Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, another questor, wisely said. Confronting himself in his bedroom, the Idol mindfully muses upon his true motives for his quest — satisfying his libido, feeding his ego, indulging his will to political power? Beneath the yuks, Super... deals with the deepest, profoundest questions of human existence. The script was written during the short-lived Erap Estrada Administration, but the scenes with the Pangulo ng Pilipinas seal and throne, disturbingly resonate today.

Linaban’s sympathetic shots of Metro-Cebu as the Idol hops on and off PUJs along his daylong journey (all the film’s events take place during the course of a single day), show genuine affection for the Queen City’s varied array of street food and charming eccentrics, such as a hula-hooping girl, the poignantly aspirational dance crews rehearsing their moves on the crowded sidewalks. His background in advertising is evident in his well-thought out shots and the fluid pacing. It is no coincidence that similar abilities to tell stories concisely, coherently and humorously are best practiced by other admen turned serious filmmakers such as Marius Talampas (Ang Pangarap Kong Holdap) and Darryl Yap (the viral Vincentiments).

Super... was shot over a two-year period during weekends between bread-and-butter jobs. In the grant-starved provincial regions, far away from Imperial Manila, the creative communities must help one another to survive and to thrive. Linaban and his partner Ara Choudhury produced and own this film. She also managed the production design. Making sure the Idol’s costume, a T-shirt ironically proclaiming “Rocket Scientist” was consistent over a two-year period, down to his armpit sweat marks, was her job. She is making Super II... with an all-female cast.

For this one, their technical crew of six other Cebuano filmmakers was known as “The Avengers.” They worked tirelessly and selflessly for food — often just shawarma. Ninety percent of the first Super... was scripted, so the actors had to memorize their lines and stay focused. No contraband or illegal substances were used in the making of this film. FYI, the contents of those plastic baggies were simply oregano.