A Dark Satire About Worker Exploitation in the Philippines

“The one factor worse than having to go to work,” my father used to say, “just isn’t having work to go to.” As traditional, the outdated man was improper. Many issues are worse than having to go to work; by now, my father is properly acquainted with a number of of them. Nonetheless, I understood what he meant, and I believe that Vangie, the protagonist of Sonny Calvento’s brief movie “Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss,” would, too. Vangie (Phyllis Grande) works as a salesman at a dreary fictional mall within the Philippines that bears the tongue-in-cheek title Trendysitas. (“Stylish tops and classy sneakers / Stylish skirts and classy pants!” goes the mall’s jingle, which the forged performs as a hilariously off-kilter song-and-dance quantity, within the movie’s opening sequence.) As Vangie yawns her method by her fluorescent-lit days—generally brightly greeting prospects with the shop’s satirical catchphrase, “Dying to serve!,” and generally hiding behind a rack of clothes till a buyer goes away—she little doubt desires of, properly, not having to go to work.

Alas, that dream quickly turns into a actuality, when she is summarily fired by her boss, the abusive Ma’am Charo (Angelina Kanapi). After dressing down Vangie’s co-workers for numerous offenses (“Can’t your make-up be any thicker?” she says to at least one, and, to a different, “Too early for that crumpled face”), Ma’am Charo summons Vangie to her workplace, the place she spits out, “You’re a disappointment!” Then, whereas using an train bike with the vitality of a demon, she forces Vangie to observe a sort of lowlight reel, assembled from CCTV footage, of a few of Vangie’s worst moments as an worker. Vangie pushes again, protesting that she has completed a lot at Trendysitas, together with, on one event, promoting ten nonstick pans in two hours. However Ma’am Charo insists: Vangie will give up her I.D. card on Friday.

The timing isn’t any coincidence. “Excuse Me”—the primary Filipino brief movie to have competed at Sundance—hints that the true purpose for Vangie’s dismissal could lie not in her supposedly disappointing efficiency however, moderately, in her standing as a contractual worker. Within the Philippines, when a contract employee reaches the six-month mark, she should be supplied a extra everlasting place, with advantages and a wage. As Calvento defined to me over e-mail, that little bit of labor legislation offers rise to a heartless logic: “Vangie’s scenario is extraordinarily frequent within the Philippines. Large corporations within the Philippines discover a method, irrespective of how good a employee is, to finish his/her contract after six months.” Employers typically string staff alongside on a sequence of five-month contracts, one other method of sidestepping the six-month rule. President Rodrigo Duterte, who has introduced that he’ll go away workplace in June, after six years in energy, by no means adopted by on a marketing campaign promise to finish or reform the follow.

Does Vangie expertise her termination as a welcome liberation from a job that she despises? She doesn’t. She wants the earnings to purchase drugs for her ailing mom. So determined is she to stay employed that she goes to Ma’am Charo’s home. Within the movie’s most affecting scene, Vangie stands alone within the rain beneath an umbrella and rehearses, in entrance of a cinder-block wall, what she’s going to say when Ma’am Charo opens the door: “You at all times say, ‘If there’s a will, there’s a method.’ Now, that is my will. I shamelessly got here right here to your own home to beg.” However she by no means will get the prospect to ship these phrases. The encounter is over earlier than it begins, when Vangie glimpses by her supervisor’s window a startling, not possible scene, one which reveals the dreadful, magical secret to Ma’am Charo’s inexhaustible and vengeful vitality within the office.

It’s to the movie’s credit score—and to that of Arden Rod Condez’s screenplay and Len Calvo’s moody jazz rating—that it is ready to navigate this flip from social-realist satire to glitteringly darkish magical realism. “What if the not possible is the one method for all of us to have a work-life stability and have an improved residing?” Ma’am Charo says to Vangie, when the latter confronts her with what she has found. “Quite a lot of Filipinos who watched the movie hated the ending,” Calvento wrote to me. “They needed me to ‘break’ the contractual cycle as a filmmaker, however I really feel like there’s no different strategy to finish the movie. . . . On the finish of the day, contractual staff in our nation are nonetheless helpless and unvoiced. On the finish of the day, they’re nonetheless not handled as first rate human beings however as disposable objects.”

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