Highlights of 2008 March 1, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, European Films, Indie Sine, Noypi, Yearender.
Like a Mike de Leon film, contemporary Philippine cinema is moving from fairly interesting to diversely brilliant
BEST FILM: Now Showing
The Raya Martin paradox: he is not for everyone; he is for every one. What surprises me is the obvious difference in taste. While European audience is easily proclaiming him a genius, local viewers are dismissing him as an artist incapable of telling a good story. Now Showing runs for five hours and it makes you feel every second of it. We are not anymore in the age of brevity, when punch lines are the best element of fiction. This is the age of tedium; the painful wait describes our lives. For what I believe is an impressive feat on Martin’s part is dividing an audience, not only into camps of believers and non-believers but also into minute groups, the tiniest being the intellectual farters who argue his lack of connection to his audience, his pseudo-highbrowism, and his unabashed insensitivity, but that discussion I reserve for boring blogging days. For now, borrowing Kael’s statement on Godard, this is what I think: it is possible to hate every single film by Martin – – or find it pretentious – – and still, at least in terms of cultural duty, be shattered by his brilliance.
BEST DIRECTOR: Richard Somes (Yanggaw)
Somes’ eye for visual details remains his handsomest trait, but the synergism in Yanggaw all points to his remarkable sleight of hand. First features are the most interesting because they calibrate their filmmakers’ futures, not necessarily determine their fates but their chances and their following. It is also the beginning of every filmmaker’s luck or depression. Somes not only gives you the price of the ticket but he also gives every director in the field a resounding slap on the face. A horror that makes you think will surely eat your brains. A word of caution to Rico Maria Ilarde: better watch out.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR: Ronnie Lazaro (Yanggaw)
In an article that is definitely one of the best odes ever written to a Filipino actor, practically because we only have a few biographers, Lourd de Veyra believes Lazaro’s “most powerful virtue” is his eyes. “Those are eyes of strange, uneasy, existential depth, a hunger that transcends the physical.” You can change everything in him but not the eyes; ask him to play any role and those eyes will adapt to anything; they will always bring out the best, the unspeakable greatness, from him. In Yanggaw, Lazaro plays the father of the aswang, a principled man faced by the horror of his daughter’s inexplicable disease and torn between killing her or letting her kill the townspeople and, eventually, her own family. Lazaro has perhaps given the character more depth than Somes and Gaston have intended in their script; his skill in delivering every possible nuance in his character, as always, is perfect. He is never calculated, predictable; the only thing you can predict is his overwhelming effect on you (thus the term “The Lazaro Effect”). We, writers, will grow old and die but we will never get tired of recognizing an actor this great; that’s the least consolation we can give to such deity on earth.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS: Mylene Dizon (100)
Who can embody a strong woman better than Mylene Dizon? She who, in real life, can have a child with a man whom she already left, and still be happy? Dizon is the femme fatale, the fighter, the alphafemale. She has gone a very long way after that breakthrough film of hers where she plays a young woman who wet-nurses a son of a Japanese who has set her husband free. Chris Martinez shifted gears for the good; his writing style undiminished. While there are some lapses that Martinez has not able to stitch and patch properly, 100 still shines because of Dizon’s effortless whip, her supporting cast amazingly letting her shine. She downplays sentimentality in exchange for graceful prowess; one can easily write a novel out of her piercing stare.
BREAKTHROUGH FILM OF THE YEAR (for first films): Yanggaw
Yanggaw has the feel of a film that has been made a long time ago, yet it possesses a hypnotizing vibe of newness and originality. It reshapes the genre, disguises its stereotypes, and turns them into an impressive reassessment of our values. It is uniquely Filipino, no matter how it becomes difficult to qualify something as such these days, the difficulty even in defining what constitutes our own, what really is Filipino. That to uncover the myths and practices of rural people, Somes relies on popular belief and adds his own, enabling his aswang not only to fly above roofs and trees but also to fly as the most richly-examined horror film in recent years.
BEST SHORT FILM: Anomi
Richard Legaspi’s Ambulancia and Joaquin Valdes’ Bulong, if press releases and recognition abroad should be considered, are the finest but following that idea brings substantial room for debate because both of them lack the spunk that this category requires. Even Antoinette Jadaone’s latest work, Tumbang Preso, fails to match her classic Salingpusa. Sasha Palomares’ Andalusian Bitch almost bowls me over but this year belongs exceptionally to Renei Dimla’s Anomi, a six-minute painted glass animation whose holism accounts for its vision of social stratification, that no matter what happens decay is the fate of every one, of the rich and the poor, of the young and the old, of greedy presidents and ghoulish congressmen. Its intentions aside, its mighty visuals and terrific sound design turn every short film this year into mediocre.
BEST HOLLYWOOD FILM: Wanted
The imports are still doing a great job in American cinema. Back when Marlene Dietrich and Fritz Lang were in Hollywood, these foreigners were on top of their game. And they still are. Mark Millar and James McAvoy are Scottish, Thomas Kretschmann is German, and Timur, as we all know, is Russian. Wanted fires like a speedbullet in the brain; it cuts every line connected to reason, which leaves us with only a little breath to grasp. This is total entertainment; one side of cinema absolutely fulfilled. (And Wall-E is cutely narrowing his eyes for me to add him; so I promised.)
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE (NON-HOLLYWOOD) FILM: California Dreamin’
The sadness of Nemescu’s untimely death in a car crash, along with sound engineer Andrei Toncu, is not only felt after the news came out. His first feature, which turns out to be also his last, speaks of that impairing loss, of that uncomforting truth, that he can never make films again, that he can never make fun of his country’s political maladies ever again. It has loose ends and blank spaces in between, the pitfall of dying while your film is still in the editing room, but Nemescu has stood by the saying that one is only as good as his final work and made sure that by that standard, he is leaving an impressive mark not only in the towering features of the Romanian New Wave but also in the ever-exciting landscape of world cinema. If Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days has knocked you out, California Dreamin’ will certainly leave you underground, waiting to be unearthed for several days.
Schnabel finally comes in full metamorphosis in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, cementing his aesthetic and transforming a moving life story into a devastating two-hour viewing experience worthy of eternal remembrance. While almost every acclaimed film in the Oscars last year delves on the darkness of the human heart, his latest work breaks into the most inspiring virtue of existence, that living is not anymore a question of life and death, but the necessity of making sense in the world where words are not enough to fuel one’s spirit. What could better describe its effect than the experience of seeing it with people who cannot force themselves to stand up from their seats minutes after the credits rolled and the lights went out. That’s something I would call “communal bereavement.”
Meanwhile, only few had seen When Timawa Meets Delgado when it premiered in Cinemalaya and was shown commercially in Indie Sine. So much for lacking big-named stars and a clear point of interest to speak of, its obscurity can easily account for its regional background but it is also its strongest trait that sets it apart among the films released last year. Funny, intelligent, and downright affecting, When Timawa Meets Delgado is in the ranks of indie classics.
BEST FILM SEEN IN PIRATED DVD: Blissfully Yours
You get it, then you don’t, then you get it again, then you don’t. In such fickleness, how can it be so astonishingly beautiful? Part-romance, part-mystery, part-nothing, part-everything, Joe’s second feature is beauty to the infinity.
SPECIAL AWARD: Bontoc Eulogy
Marlon Fuentes tries to unravel his roots by starting with a void. The St. Louis Fair of 1904, by all means the most controversial exposition in history, is the most fitting event to characterize the blameless American attitude: accomplishing a crime with the least malice and getting away with it hands clean. In all virtue of self-righteousness, not every race can do that. The call of cultural duty strikes Fuentes as a dire need for personal affirmation. By mixing fact and fiction, history and personal reminiscences, archival footage and quirky recreations, Fuentes has made a depressing document of striking beauty about a country whose identity remains its lifetime treasure but still, after centuries of hunt and chase, has never been truly found.
Now throw me your sharpest dagger: The Dark Knight‘s stiffness still puts me off in second viewing; it certainly is the most unlived up hype I have ever encountered. And yes, I would not let this pass, I know Joel Lamangan is loved by industry people but that doesn’t mean he is as good as his image; Walang Kawala, despite its obvious efforts to titillate the queer sense, only intensifies the truth that life can never be fair – – it can only be worse – – and that we are all Murphy’s best friends. It is trash that cannot be recycled; it is not even pleasurable to look at. Five years ago I may find it insulting but now I only have three words for it: Burn the tapes. And out of guilt I would like to say that For the First Time is still unbearable in fast forward and Brutus is a torturous example of political narrowmindedness at its ridiculous worst.
But what’s worse than the worst film? The worst trailer. Don’t blame me for ruining two and a half minutes of your life but admit it, you clicked that Replay button to see it again; it has that pinch of necessity. Like, What was that? Maybe I missed something. And there, you’re hooked, piteous hilarious. Truth is, porn is a gazillion times better than this. A strike of thought: why is porn not shown in local theaters? And this one can survive a week? Are we still on earth? Definitely the line of the year: DON’T YOU THINK I DESERVE AN APOLOGY OR AT LEAST AN EXPLANATION? (with feelings). John Waters must see this. Just the sound of the title is enough to give me a fit.