The Perfumed Nightmare
Germany/Philippines 1977, 93 min, color
The American literary critic Fredric Jameson referred to The Perfumed Nightmare, the debut feature by Filipino director Kidlat Tahimik in his book “The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System” (Bloomington, 1992) as a “jeepney, which crosses back and forth between the First and the Third World”. Jeepneys are mini-buses; originally American Army jeeps that were abandoned after the end of World War II and refurbished so as to replace the public transport system in bomb-stricken Manila and which even to this day represent the principal means of public transportation throughout the Philippines.
Like these minibuses, Kidlat Tahimik’s movies are adventurous hybrids and a means of conveyance between the First and the Third World. They constitute vital testimonies to a cinematic dialogue between these spheres, and make Tahimik a prominent representative of post-colonial cinema, which he expanded in highly individual facets. Astoundingly, this cinematic jeepney began its jaunt in Germany of all places, where Tahimik had been living since 1972 and where The Perfumed Nightmare was screened at the 1977 Berlinale Forum. “Refined and ironic” ran Hans C. Blumenberg’s commentary in Die Zeit on 27 January 1978, “ an original absurdity” which triggered “unanimous enthusiasm” at the Festival: “a movie as colorful as its hero’s jeepney, never predictable like a dull pedagogic-political piece, but rather a wondrous mixture of boisterous folklore, Asian mythology and surreal poetry ” which the reviewer compared to Godard and Rivette.
Not only was the world of cinema inspired by Tahimik’s debut feature, the Berlin squatter scene likewise discovered in him a kindred spirit: The mobile cinema operated by the residents of the “Kukuck” squat on Anhalter Strasse in Berlin in the early 80s was called none other than “DPA” –the initials lifted from the movie’s German title Der parfümierte Alptraum. Buoyed by its success at the Berlinale, the movie went on general release in 1978 in Germany and thereby marked a first by a Filipino director in having his work shown in German cinemas. Not bad for an autodidact, who taught himself filmmaking while making his debut work and who, due to a lack of funds, had to shoot with expired film stock that he had been given by fellow students at the University for Film and Television in Munich.
The movie focuses on the adventures of a Filipino jeepney driver who dreams of emigrating to America and becoming an astronaut there. As president of the Wernher-von-Braun fan club in his native village Balian and a devout listener to the Voice of America, he dreams of an ideal West, although the movie does also convey a loving portrait of popular culture in Laguna province. With the help of an American he finally makes it to Paris in his jeepney. His real-life encounter with the West destroys his illusions and he returns to the Philippines.
This plot is basically just a springboard for comparative reflections on life and traditions in the “First” and “Third” Worlds, about technological advantages in lockstep with human backwardness, about cultural influences and one-way streets, all of which Kidlat Tahimik expresses in virtuosic and boundary-transcending editing sequences and in imaginative visual metaphors. The movie, as Susan Sonntag wrote, “reminds one that invention, insolence, enchantment – even innocence - are still to be had in cinema”.
Director, script, montage: Kidlat Tahimik
Camera: Hartmut Lerch, Kidlat Tahimik
Actors: Kidlat Tahimik, Mang Fely, Dolores Santamaria, Katarina Muller, Hartmut Lerch, Georgette Baudry
Assistant producer: Patricia De Guia
Music: Hanns Christian Müller
16mm prints are distributed by: Les Blank Films Inc. (Englisch version), Arsenal - Insitut für Film und Videokunst (German subtitles), Cinematrix (Japanese subtitles)