Upon first glance, Perfumed Nightmare looks amateurish and raw. It is, too, I suppose, but this works to the film's advantage. This is the semiautobiographical story of a young Filipino man (played by writer/director Kidlat Tahimik) who worships everything about America. He is especially caught up in the space program: he wants to visit Cape Canaveral, and he is the president and founder of his small (300 people) village's Werner Von Braun fan club. This might just be the only fan club in the world that worships the Bavarian expatriate who is regarded as the father of rocketry. He and his club members have ice cream sales to fund their activities, which include sponsoring the Miss Philippenes pageant.
Kidlat thinks his village is backwards; an opening monologue expresses his wry sadness over the size of his village, and he gently mocks his childhood friend, who is among the last experts in the village on the building of bamboo huts that can withstand the yearly typhoon season. Kidlat wants more—he wants buildings of brick and stone, he wants internationalism, he wants vehicles other than the hand-me-down "Jeepneys" which started life long ago as American military vehicles during the Occupation after the end of the Second World War. There are hints that he isn't completely convinced, though: we learn that his father, who helped the Americans fight off the Japanese, was killed for trespassing on what he thought was his country's land by American guards.
Kidlat gets his big chance when an American entrepreneur (he has a string of candy machines in the most unlikely places) invites him to Paris to serve as his driver. Paris overwhelms Kidlat, who gets a first taste of the dark side of growth for growth's sake when one of his few friends, an elderly pushcart vendor, dies after being put out of business by a supermall. Kidlat starts to question why the world needs supermalls in the first place, when the pushcarts he grew up with serve their purpose. In a striking act of rebellion against internationalism, he throws stones through the windows of the supermall, an event that reminded me of Spike Lee's throwing a garbage can through Danny Aiello's pizzeria in Do the Right Thing.
I was most impressed by the sound mix, which was a work of genius. The filmmakers experimented with the mix; I am not sure whether it had to do more with intent or with budget, but it was stunning. In the parts that take place in Kidlat's village and Manila, the film takes pleasure in the everyday sounds of the forest, the sound of a hammer clanging against metal, the sound of a bell. It layers the dialog with these sounds and the sound of the Voice of America radio that preaches the American way to all of the less "fortunate" listeners. When the film moves with Kidlat to Paris, the sound mix becomes more frenetic, as the pace of big city life overwhelms the young man who had never been farther than Manila.
This film is a strong statement against globalization, and I wonder if many of the WTA protesters have seen it. It is both naive and worldly, and I think that Tahimik realized this as he made what appears to be a strong personal statement. I checked all of my movie books and could find only one other film that he directed. I suppose if he had gone to Hollywood, it would have made an even stronger statement about the strength of his convictions than any film could.