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Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (In One Entry) March 25, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Yearender.


“Get lost!” said 2010 to 2009. It walked away but it didn’t seem to listen.


It was the first film festival that graced the year. The first time I had the chance to see Kidlat Tahimik’s works. Wednesday, Turumba. Thursday, Mababangong Bangungot. Wasn’t able to catch the shorts. Had work. And was heartbroken. Did not bother to say hello to anyone. Just wanted to see the films in the retrospective. As usual, I felt and acted invisible. After the talk I bought a shirt from Kabunyan. A shirt with a yo-yo printed on it. I settled for blue. I saw blue everywhere.

Saturday came. Again, I had work so I only managed to catch Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari. Saw you. Was rather surprised that you were not with anyone, considering. . . well, considering. We talked, talked a lot. Talked more than I could remember. Asked me which was my favorite Kidlat so far and I said Turumba. I prefer Turumba to Mababangong Bangungot, I said. Asked me why but forgot what I said. You did not concur. Said you liked Mababangong Bangungot better, and you pronounced Mababangong Bangungot with your usual accent. Told me you were doing interviews with Kidlat. I said, that’s interesting!, in my usual interested spirit that was difficult to feign. Where are they now? Those transcripts? Those memories of trips to Baguio? Whatever happened to them?

Not too many people inside the Film Center. So we talked as the film started. It was long anyway, and the images were random. Told me about Independencia. Shared some local films we saw recently. And I asked when is that Tarkovsky shot coming, will it appear any time soon? No, not yet. Awhile we kept our silence. I saw you dozing off. Must be tired. I looked at you again. You were cute even with your eyes closed. It was a long film. You woke up before it ended. Told you I loved it, loved it, loved it. You concurred.

Then eight months came you were dead.


The past year did not make it easy for us, as there were a lot of painful deaths that happened, that stayed, and that lingered. In Arcade Fire’s words, (c’est) une année sans lumière. A year without light. And that year felt like night all throughout.

It’s the year of funerals, and not just the people we buried but also the innocence we lost, the lessons we learned the hard way.

Good riddance, 2009. Just let us go.


“But 2009, before you go,” 2010 said, “here are the films that can almost make me forgive you. But still, I know I can’t.

“I can only shout ‘Attica! Attica!’ all I want.”



Those that didn’t make the cut but are still worth checking out:

THIRST (Park Chan-wook)


For a perv vampire movie that lifts its plot from Emile Zola, Thirst is everything but strange. As with all Park’s movies, the introduction confounds expectations but halfway through the mood becomes intense. Intense in such a way that you start to pretend to like it, then after a while, when you see that scene when the lady enjoys herself being flown by the vampire up in the air you realize that you really like it, liking it like it deserves to be liked, likening it to the perversity of Park’s previous films, a touch of vengeance and cyborgs left and right, and the dry humor and stylish dream sequences here and there.

Again, it’s style over substance, but style is the substance; style is Park’s amphibian quality. Thirst is no True Blood, or Let the Right One In, or Twilight, or Yanggaw, or Shake Rattle and Roll. Park gets rid of the clichés of the vampire story (crosses, garlic, expressionist lighting, glistening fangs, attractive men and too-stupid-to-live women) and creates his own (vampires moving around a brightly-lit apartment, vampires using the Internet to look for prey, vampires understanding and commiserating with the suicidal folk, and vampires doing the Crouching Tiger-flying). Park’s absurdity goes overboard that it starts to make sense, that it makes all the significant sense, that even the blinking act near the end feels so diligent and forceful. In all its messy details, not to mention the visual fest of awkward sadism, Thirst has teeth; and those teeth, albeit crooked, chew very hard.


Bing Lao’s debut is markedly literary with just the right mix of blemish and confidence for us to await his next directorial work. After Doy and Bing, should we egg on Ricky to now do his own?

NYMPH (Pen-ek Ratanaruang)


Ratanaruang is always out looking for trouble, and that trouble in Nymph involves a woman having an extramarital affair with her boss. She goes to the forest with her husband on a camping trip, and he goes missing, only to return to their home afterward, mysteriously. He vanishes again—and his wife’s lover shows up on the sofa where he is supposed to be lying. She goes back to the forest and finds the tree that her husband is drawn to on their first visit, hitting it until the “nymph” is shown covered in blood. He appears again, talks to his wife’s lover, and his wife and her lover return to the city, the husband left in the forest.

The void in Nymph seems to tell a lot of things, but somehow in its vagueness it is difficult to figure out what it really is. The film has this needling dichotomy between the relationship of nature and man, the dysfunctional nature of human relationships as opposed to the unconditional contact between man and his surroundings, the forest as a strong yet passive character to represent it. The seven-minute long opening take is of such power that the remaining part of the story dissolves around the narrative. The intimate shots of the trees, the smooth movement of the camera, not to mention the seeming impossibility of its glide, and the vile scenery it captures keep the mystery, but when it shifts to the marital conflict of the couple, it loses some grip. That, I argue, may be intentional; that although it’s supposed to complement the mood of the story, it also presents a stark contrast between this dual relationship, that human affairs are not productive and are more concerned with the mundane, contrary to the benevolent acts of nature. The man who falls in love with a tree is a wild premise, but Ratanaruang projects himself at ease.

IN MY LIFE (Olivia Lamasan)

It’s a weak Vilma Santos character but she still pulls it off, though it is really the gay John Lloyd we guiltily submit to. By virtue of diminishing returns, this one from Star Cinema is tolerably good.


What’s rather surprising is that people complain about The Boat that Rocked being too long while in fact it is that quality that makes me like it, how in its length it remains entertaining and cool without being too tasteful. Richard Curtis isn’t known to be curt; he likes indulging, and here, the indulgence rewards fun and nostalgia. It’s an honest remembrance of the times, the great music of the 60s, and the effect it had on everyone. There are splendid moments, especially when the music being played works through the scene, how carefree everything is, how the characters thrive in fun, and how they live for the music that makes them happy. Sex. Music. Friends. And booze! Wooot!

ANTICHRIST (Lars von Trier)

As far as Antichrist is concerned, Lars von Trier has made two extreme declarations. First, that it is the most important film of his entire career; and second, that he, Lars von Trier, the honky masturbator of the silver screen, is the best film director in the world. Clearly it was the latter that most people picked up—regardless of any film he thinks is his best work is gravely overshadowed by his self-proclamation. Not that he has no right to say it, but such pronouncements are not at all surprising, not something out of his character, not something a man who revolutionized cinema will be afraid to say. His balls speak for him. Who else can say that and be taken seriously? The two hardly go together.

To top it off, he dedicates Antichrist to Tarkovsky—Tarkovsky who saw The Element of Crime and hated it, von Trier never hiding his admiration for the Russian filmmaker. Which is just polarizing, because Antichrist echoes Tarkovsky’s works, especially Mirror, whose treatment of memory is possibly the closest a filmmaker can get to filming its exact fleetingness and certainty. But let’s be honest, von Trier can neither do a Tarkovsky nor imitate a Bergman—he is simply incapable. Comparisons do not come as defense decently; two dead men against one diabolic living is rather unfair to the latter, though if von Trier goes dead right now that’s completely another story. The argument won’t hold water considering respects are paid differently to both the living and the dead. But one thing’s certain though: that statement of being the biggest filmmaker in the world is sure to haunt him forever, not because it is unsubstantiated, but because the world and its history have always preferred humility to arrogance. People will always be unfair to him; and he will continue being disdainful of them. Contempt, contagious—there goes a nice working title.

That said, Antichrist covers as much as those two statements need as defense. His requirement of restriction is putting two great actors—Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg—in possibly the most excruciating roles of their life. The strain on them is too incredible to ignore, how von Trier belabors them physically and emotionally, the resulting film as strenuous as their performances are. Antichrist isn’t going anywhere; even if Dafoe and Gainsbourg start to hack each other to pieces, arm by arm, leg by leg, and skin each other from head to toe, it will only be visually messy and heavy—but the point is still not moving anyplace. It’s a stagnant work whose idea of spiritual mutilation begrudges even atheists; and its images are some of the most disturbing von Trier has ever thought of. While the visuals in his previous works are tasteless and obscene, they dissolve and are just labeled as “tasteless and obscene”; in Antichrist, however, they stick like a leech, the blood that comes out of Gainsbourg’s clitoris spurts near the tongue, warranting taste. “Alert the Sensory” is needed as a warning.

At some point the camera can be heard praying, asking for forgiveness after allowing such torture be seen by fraud-lovers and sado-masochist-wasters. Hats off to von Trier, he’s made his Daddy Lucifer mighty proud.

COLORUM (Jobin Ballesteros)

Half-impressive and half-disappointing but one can feel the promise of goodness, something out of ordinary coming from a road movie involving two men, far from sex but has the tension of it. This isn’t the type that wins in festivals (or Venice, for that matter) but it sure isn’t hungry for any recognition. Its modesty is remarkable enough.


Hey now, hey now. That fireworks scene remains indelible.

FISH STORY (Yoshihiro Nakamura)

The childish start stretches for quite a while, but when it grabs its arms it starts to pull its act together, neatly, interestingly. Fish Story has the makings of a great film—with that ambition, hook, and humor—but it decides to be spare in its telling, the way it connects the crashing of a comet in 2012 with the disbandment of a 70s punk band whose song provides the most essential element of the film. Save for some dull moments, irritating crying, and deliberate display of coolness, Fish Story is delightful, done with a certain fondness for the old-fashioned. The song itself, played over and over in the film, is one treasure to look for.

AWAY WE GO (Sam Mendes)

Away We Go almost picks up where Revolutionary Road misses, that couple wanting to move, that couple sharing a dream of escaping, finding a better life, moving on from being fuck-ups. The crisis of not knowing where to go and where to settle pervades Away We Go, away being more operative than go, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as we, who, unlike Leo and Kate, are meek and understated, but the interest in their characters’ trajectory is much like the same. They are in their mid-30s, she pregnant, he an insurance agent, and they travel to places and meet their friends and family to decide where to settle down.

Needless to say it’s a road movie, but there’s not much car-happenings that happen, Mendes preferring not the journey but the destination. Surprisingly, like the two characters, he leaves it subdued. His control owes more to subservience than temper, which is good because it’s something new and something he’s never done before. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida take the wheel, punching the script with dry observation and spot-on wit, more like writing their life and telling their private jokes in public. The sultry tunes of Alexi Murdoch provide comforting warmth, their tight embrace keeps the mood tucked in. As it unfolds, one can feel the effort in holding back, in keeping the film as restrained as possible. Home is a hard place to find, but the couple eventually find their way there, the two of them still together.

Being in thirties is depicted as such years of anxiety, of being in limbo for god knows how long. But having someone—having someone at least—makes the madness bearable. A couple do not only live their life together; they also die their life together, as Away We Go argues. As with writerly films there is that danger of condescension, which Away We Go is being chided for, but it seems more like a minor complaint than a shortcoming in this otherwise honest-to-goodness film.

TOP 30 FILMS OF 2009

The idea of putting a number before a film’s title is daunting enough. Ranking is never a game I am good at, especially with the films that I love. But I would be lying if I say I’m not challenged. Surely there’s fun in doing this, writing about these films, weighing why I like this better than the other, telling what makes them worthy to spend time with. That’s the purpose of this list after all: fun and sharing.

And yes, the list is finally running! Here come the warm jets, in 5’s.

(as usual, links are provided when previously reviewed)

30. POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Corneliu Porumboiu)


The European sense of prolongment is different from the Asian’s—not that race is again an issue but no matter how careful we are on race-related remarks, we should also be aware that race matters and race defines difference. Considering the aesthetic, for instance, of Apichatpong and Tsai as opposed to Tarr and Angelopoulous, despite the seeming similarity of these filmmakers’ use of long takes and extended sequences, the disparity is apparent. The distinctness, in fact, is very distinct, and it is something that echoes and stems from their origin and respective culture. (I may of course show my bias on my fellowmen, but that’s because they tend to turn time in their stories into magic, especially Apichatpong, with magic that is really magical and not magic that is beautiful but downright alienating.)

Police, Adjective belongs to that rigid case of prolongment whose control of realism is not open to surprises. The characters are rational, stiff, and defensive. When the protagonist comments on the song being played that irritates him and quips, “Life goes on. Can it go backwards?” one can easily imagine how sullen and humorless the conversation with his sister turns out. And certainly, using that remark, there is really no sense of going back in the film—there is no element of misdirection. He prefers thinking forward, saying that the law will change in the future, prolonging the case he’s handling so as to ease himself and his conscience.

We get a view of the Romanian police force; and it’s unavoidable that we compare them to our own. How their policemen, particularly the main character, are so grumpy and too focused on the case (but isn’t that how policemen should be?), no sweet talk, no foreplay, no other women, almost lifeless interaction, boring stuff. But then this is not TV. It doesn’t end with a blackout, a murder, a shootout, or anything memorable. It ends where glimpses are supposed to end—some place we only see when it happens to us. If only for that dictionary thing near the end, which demonstrates how the characters tend to be obsessively attentive to details, anaphoric to the point of obtuseness and obliterating formality, the film may have to leave me empty-handed. Apart from the gnawings of headache, the film leaves me one question, though: with their films that manage to compete and win in big festivals in the last few years, is it safe to assume that Romania is now being exoticized?

29. YOU CHANGED MY LIFE (Cathy Garcia-Molina)


In movies the irony of formula is that it can never be perfected and repeated on a whim. Once or twice possibly, but the others that will follow are just shallow and hollow permutations of the mold being tried to fit into. A poor facsimile bootlegged as what it’s trying to be rather than what it really is, and You Changed My Life almost falls into that. Garcia-Molina is at her pleasing best in You Are the One, but she still manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat in this film, and that rabbit is a supermint gargle of “kilig” rinsed inside our mouth for almost two hours, us uncomplaining, almost cooperating, like some blob form of stockholm syndrome entering our consciousness and taking our medulla as hostage.

28. FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Wes Anderson)


The defense of the wise (or the defensively unread): the movie should stand on its own. And the movie did; but it did not only stand, it also ran and flew away after stealing a beat of every one’s heart.

27. THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow)


The critics who praise The Hurt Locker are rather overreacting. Surely there will always be psychology. Even Uwe Boll’s films have psychology. But what Bigelow has done which Uwe Boll has never done and will never do is take the guilt away from the entertainment—humorlessly—leaving us feeling a little intelligent and virtually responsible, almost part of the war ongoing; and for an audience to feel that way, to feel a notch higher than watching Avatar, to feel like a citizen of an angry and revolting world—to be just against any threat to peace—that may be something worthy to talk about, regardless of any concern.


Bigelow knows her America and her Iraq and shoots them in Jordan. What comes off is the USA friendlies’ Paradise Now, telling there will always be a country for soldiers, bombs, and guns as long as there are soldiers, bombs, and guns to produce. The hurt locker has no key and no hole to insert the key, so no unlocking is going to ever take place; implying that going through life or death is like choosing a cereal. Either of the two barely matters.

26. AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)


Lynn Barber’s relationship with an older man in her teens carries both the ups and downs necessary for a two-hour film to move, to depict England in the 60s when such liaisons could easily be the talk of the town, with emphasis on the 60s because it was the height of many political and cultural trends. But what makes An Education work is the pleasant coordination among the writer (Nick Hornby), the director (Lone Scherfig), and the actors (Carey Mulligan, Peter Saarsgard, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, and Alfred Molina).

Hornby does not surprise with the wit he injects to the film (“I don’t want to lose my virginity to a piece of fruit”) and the way they all come together, except for that silly narration in the end that is probably meant to be ironic but turns out unflattering. Seriously—it hurts to say that the ending is the dumbest way to end it. On her part Scherfig does so well hiding her interference, calmly controlling the tension and describing with simplicity the “Emily Post” of 60s England. Her direction is apt and discreet, considering that restraint and proper comportment are very characteristic of the film. As Barber, Carey Mulligan is promising and consistently interesting that even her slightest nuances are delightful to see. She’s clever and pretty; her lust for life is contagious; and her spirit is that of a young woman who, after making herself believe that she’s met the man she’ll spend the rest of her life with, sees the world from end to end. But as with all things that are too good to be true, a sharp lesson is soon to hit her. The way Hornby, Scherfig, and Mulligan combine in the conclusion is commendable. What really stands out is how the narrative is laid out in the beginning and managed to sustain its interest till the end, how it entertains as much it enlightens.

25. PONYO ON THE CLIFF (Hayao Miyazaki)


Good stories are those that are told over and over again, and even in the alteration of plots and endings, they still come out as fascinating as when they were first narrated. Such case is Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, spun with all amazing skill and excitement by Miyazaki in Ponyo on the Cliff. The concerns of the young fish wanting to be human after befriending a young boy are not as deftly paced as the plot of Spirited Away, but Miyazaki gets away with the humor and the eye-popping visual action, taking advantage of every possible facet of 2-D animation by foregoing every possibility of dead space.

The rendezvous of the young and the young at heart can always be found in Miyazaki’s quirks; not to mention how they mirror, no matter how obliquely, our actual circumstances (i.e. the tsunami in Ponyo reminiscent of Ondoy, the extinct creatures underwater like the extinct changes we tend to expect from our government, and the joy of childhood friendships and their little preoccupations like our personal memories. . .) The feat of Studio Ghibli as a producer is that it can beat the socks off Disney anytime, may not be in terms of box-office success but of sheer talent, and Miyazaki in the front line, and Miyazaki as one of the greatest living directors today, is here to prove that wonderful storytellers are the friends that will never—ever—disappear from us.

24. KIMMY DORA (Joyce Bernal)


Oh, the poor critic who gets threatened to be hit in the face by a multimillion-earning studio director. If only the reason to get hit is good enough to deserve it. Which only proves the critic’s point even more; only proves that the multimillion-earning studio director needs learning; only proves that his refusal to learn from Joyce Bernal is his loss (not mine). Unsubstantiated remarks kill a critic; but they also make criticism fun, not because of hurting upon saying hurtful truths, but because they allow escape from vapid writing, and turgidly academic discussions. Digression—oh, how I love it—is the manna and the kryptonite. And Joyce Bernal sure has both. Between For The First Time and Kimmy Dora, which is which is already a giveaway. After watching Kimmy Dora, even I—I must admit—have something to learn from the director, and I won’t be too insecure to acknowledge it. Overpraised it may be, Kimmy Dora should be followed with another hit in the studio director’s face for him to up the game, but my fingers, as you can see now, are reluctantly crossed.


That this turns up in local shores is puzzling enough. With that title and Herzog at the helm, what should we expect from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans but zaniness? The moment we see Nicolas Cage jumps into the water to save a prisoner from drowning inside his cell, Herzog has already dropped the bomb right then and there. Not only Cage does it like he’s not “acting” at all, he also makes “over-the-top” as a description rather lame. As the bad lieutenant in the title, he’s more wasted than the ruffians he should be arresting. He sniffs pot like hell and scores a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend, whom he shares his cocaine with.

One cannot be mistaken on saying that this is more than a cop movie. The way Herzog injects the much talked-about iguanas and crocodiles in the film, and even shooting from their point of view, he’s more concerned with the fun that goes along with being a crackhead than being boringly judgmental about it. Exposing that corruption means throwing away the serious intentions in the lieutenant’s character, but Herzog does so with such moonstruck unpredictability that it never bogs down once the wit knifes through. The bad lieutenant, of course, is not thinking whether he’s acting funny or not—he’s too busy looking for crack to even think—only Herzog does that logic, and majestically at that. The characters and the story surprise as much as they compel the audience to double up in their drollness.

At the center of the film, Nicolas Cage draws inspiration from Klaus Kinski but delivers something completely his own. With his charmless face, buggy eyes, trippy mannerisms, and unreliable authority, it’s hard to make it sound like a compliment that this is the role that he would always be remembered with fondness. He doesn’t only size up to expectations; he exceeds them. He walks like a bomb about to explode, ready to incur danger anytime. The aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina notwithstanding, he makes the film feel more like a classic joke that no calamity can ever find the strength to wipe out. That scene when he laughs hysterically and says, “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” we can’t help but be bowled over and call it not a day but a knockout.

22. DRAG ME TO HELL (Sam Raimi)

Never thought getting dragged to hell would be this fun. In that case, Mrs. Ganush, why don’t we start with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Yes? Yes? Off to the Palace, then!

21. A PROPHET (Jacques Audiard)

Much of what makes A Prophet a terrific crime piece owes to Jacques Audiard’s clear and present main character, that even his vagueness is clear enough to provide depth. Malik is a young inmate sentenced to six years in prison, and his Arab descent scores him a place in the Corsican gang, doing favors and receiving protection in exchange. Murders are expected, as well as shortchanging, alliances, and revenge. The glamour and sophistication one expects to see in a French film are nowhere near, but the constant ambiguity and overwhelming individuality, coming from a society whose president never escapes the grotesque scrutiny of its weeklies, prevail. There is no paucity in Audiard’s resentment of taboo subjects; for the representation of Muslims and Arabs is necessary and not done on a whim to be controversial. Ignoring the ever-discussed multiculturalism in France, aggravated after the implementation of Sarkozy’s social and economic policies, cannot do anything but disservice. So much that the film happens mostly inside a prison—which is rather deliberate in showing that it is nothing different from what is outside—A Prophet stays away from judgment but lingers on the attempt to illustrate a life from nothing to something, from knowing how to read and write to killing and rehabilitating. A lot has been said about the film, mostly praises and comparisons to The Godfather, but there’s this particular scene that also deserves a mention. That part in Marseille when the car hits a kangaroo and it all turns bloody and the men who drive Malik hunt and shoot them on the wayside, even picking them up to eat them afterward—that echoes a bit of the famous hunting sequence in Renoir’s Rules of the Game, when the rich guests ruthlessly shoots birds and rabbits one by one, unaffectedly. Exactly seventy years apart, in some strange and cruel place, the two films say hi to each other.

20. DISTRICT 9 (Neill Blomkamp)

Liking District 9 means being able to tolerate its racist (read: race related) appropriations. But race is everywhere; and race can never be avoided. It’s like the pavement we walk on everyday—it can’t be helped but be stepped on. While the issue on race is an obligatory discussion, it’s also as worthy to mention how District 9 is able to laugh at itself, to be ridiculous for ridiculous’ sake, to reveal a deeply political motive without succumbing to annoying motherhood dialogues and iffy global concerns. The derogatory way it mocks the media and the world’s multinational operations is pleasing to the point of chuckling at the sight of Sharlto Copley engaging himself in prawn-like activities after being accused of having sex with them. Being derogatory, like race, is everywhere; and Copley, along with the drama of alien eviction and nigger violence, might as well show off the Peter Jackson geekiness he’s known for. Despite lacking originality, District 9 catches up with a lot of scathing action, almost like a Transformers movie without the retinal damage and ear-bleeding explosions (and unfortunately, without Megan Fox too). It’s one hell of a filthy and unapologetic work, but clear-eyed and amusing at that.

19. UP (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)


It’s too elementary to call it adventure, but all adventures are elementary anyway; so elementary, my dear friends, is always a good thing. But what counts is the fun, the ride, the thrill, the moments. Who cares about emotional bedrock? That bedrock is never meant to be noticed but it’s there; it makes the film work. Something about Mr. Fredricksen’s character that borrows from an old Spencer Tracy, or the way Pixar has always been brilliant in wordless scenes than in dialogues, that sets it straight from the start. But the cluster balloons—those cluster balloons that were made unforgettable in Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon—they seem to emerge out of a colonial understanding. Or is it the general knowledge of a dream? Or a misunderstanding? And why is the young mind always fascinated by colorful balloons? For Up to use it not only as a bookend device but as an element all throughout—it’s not just a trick but ingenuity.


I think I said something inappropriate in my review of Fe a couple of months ago, which with the liberty I have now with this list I would like to make up for. Taken out of the Cinemalaya context—and not just because it stands out then—Fe still looks good. Yapan’s literary exposure is swell; but even without knowing so, his film reeks of letters, sublimity, and hidden happenings, without being too pedantic or excessive. In fact, a pulse can be felt as the film exposes its layers one by one, carefully until it reaches the end; a pulse that beats with rhythm and precision, thrusting forward and getting audible in total doppler effect. My memory of it makes me want to see it again.

17. VENGEANCE (Johnnie To)

It confounds me that while “Western” as a film genre is heavily established, there is no such thing as “Eastern” to speak of, the same way that “Western” has recognizable themes and motifs being revived, revised, and parodied year after year, Oscar after Oscar. Considering that theorists are keen on binary oppositions, this oversight (or Orientalism) reveals itself as characteristic of Western writings, often favoring America’s clinical influence and subverting less popular belief to the extent that even a film like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is just deemed a subgenre of American Western.

But at present, come to think of it, is there any active filmmaker in America working primarily on Westerns? Even John Ford and Akira Kurosawa didn’t work primarily on Westerns and Samurais, which just proves how able they really are, but is it an exaggeration to claim that Johnnie To, John Woo, Ringo Lam, and their company deserve an encompassing genre of their own? Aren’t they (oh, I cringe) auteurs who already earned their respective places in cinema?

Which brings this rant to To’s newest film, Vengeance. It is a mishmash of the filmmaker’s usual gimmick of slippery roads, colorful umbrellas, windswept gunslinging, and slow-motion sequences done in his trademark gracefulness, everything understated in an overstating way. Frankly, there’s nothing new about it except that it stars Johnny Hallyday (in a role that’s supposed to be for Alain Delon) and it’s a French-Chinese co-production, so one can easily feel the gravitating feeling of huge sum of money and marketing involved. Nevertheless, it still reveals To’s touch in the film: the humor, the dancing action, and the fray that concludes it. There is still that “devoidness” of much logic that audiences often complain about, and the preference of style to substance which is silly to elaborate on because again: style is substance. Suffice it to say, in Vengeance, To remains Asia’s most prized hipster.

As far as his previous films are concerned, however, Vengeance falls short in tightness. The holes are too big and the logic invites attention. The awkward English dialogues also get in the way, but other than that there’s a lot to appreciate in the film. No matter how deliberate some sequences are—for instance, when the gang assembles guns while eating pasta, or while shooting a bike as it pedals its way across the field, or that funny way they find time to smoke in the middle of firing bullets—To doesn’t lose his marbles; in fact, there’s that awareness that he almost has the same ambition that Kurosawa had while doing his best works, the way his confidence pushes the film to such heights. Vengeance ends in a shootout that is even better than Peckinpah’s famous shootouts: an awesome feast for the senses, the way the gymnastic gunplay of waltzing hay blocks steals the scene, cavorting, the wind capering the “heroic bloodshed” to bits. For a minute, it leaves an impression that Johnny Hallyday is about to sing, but he didn’t—he really retired from singing. Oh, if he only sang—the vengeance would be infinitely sweeter.


When me and the boys were out / We killed a thousand butterflies / So I put their wings into my mouth and said a prayer for our safe arrival / And then a big black car crossed our path / And I wondered whether or not that shit was empty – Spencer Krug


Interesting sentiment raised by Dodo Dayao: he gets bored with Lav Diaz’s shorter films. But I will not be coming after that; what I’m after, which Dodo also raised as a concern, is that Diaz’s career as a filmmaker has now been synonymous with the length of his notorious films, that in colloquial language—and I admit to this—his name is being used to connote tediousness. Consider this conversation I overheard:

“Baka naman Lav Diaz ang gusto mong gawin na pelikula.”

“Hindi, itong sequence lang na ‘to ang gagawin kong Lav Diaz.”

“Siguraduhin mong hindi Lav Diaz ‘tong project na ‘to a. Ayoko nang may uuwing humihikab.”

But length also means dedication. Length means sacrifice. Length describes obsessive-compulsiveness. Length defines compromise. And length should not determine an audience (though in Diaz’s case I’m afraid it does). But would it have been different if the audience were not informed of the film’s running time? If they are unprepared? If they get engrossed in the film unmindful of time? Isn’t that what makes a film an experience, because of something that leaps out of the usual? Like Children of Paradise? Or Mirror? Or Seven Samurai?

Walang Alaala ang mga Paruparo doesn’t feel any less like a footnote, but along with other Diaz’s films since his debut, it feels complete, aches complete, and yearns complete. I am not ashamed to admit that it took Lav Diaz’s films for me to realize that cinema is different from literature, and that neither is mightier than the other. This one’s only an hour long so I’m sure you can not only find time; you can also make time to see it.

15. MOON (Duncan Jones)

Sam Bell, we need to get him to the infirmary.

Such haunting words, delivered not-so-hauntingly by robot assistant Gerty to Sam Bell himself.

That’s the time when Moon decides to track the realm of the predictable, going for psychological sentimentality because the situation calls for it. As with stories that fall under science-fiction—though in this case it’s a bit strange to call it science-fiction—emotion always plays a critical role. The torment of discovering the unknown is one step closer to insanity, hopelessness, and death; and in Moon’s case it is a one-man show—or more fittingly, a clone-show—with Sam Rockwell, the indie superstar, donning all the possible twitches that a lunar loner can wear. The film is interesting in itself, but there are moments that leave a mark—the clones accusing each other of being a clone, the jump-cut video of Sam’s wife, Sam idling away by watching Bewitched and Mary Tyler Moore, and the “planet-earth-is-blue-and-there’s-nothing-I-can-do” look on Sam’s face. With those details, Duncan Jones is consciously alluding to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solyaris, only Moon achieves neither of the two, which makes it fantastic. Rare is a crazy conversation like this pulled off without writhing:

“Gerty, am I a clone?” Sam asks.

And Gerty answers, “Are you hungry?”

14. FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold)


The moment Michael Fassbender walks in, half-dressed and scorching like someone who just kissed the sun, the heat turns the tide. He not only charms; he leaves teeth marks. He carries our young lady to bed, takes off her shoes, pulls her bottoms, and pulls a blanket over her. He sings Bobby Womack’s California Dreamin’ as he drives. He catches fish, he piggybacks, and he knows how to nurse a wound. He’s got a tattoo of an ex’s name on his arm, he dances, he shakes his booty, and he smiles like he could hide his wife and family from us and we’d still forgive him. In short, he bleeds heat. Director Andrea Arnold sure is aware that she’s making the film for us; she’s making Fassbender flirt not only with her Alanis, but also with her audience, his infidelity becoming irrelevant as he is not the concern of the film. It’s not that he is too distracting; it’s just that his testosterone really shakes things up for Mia—the Alanis—and her mother. He is her mother’s boyfriend, after all.

On the other hand, Mia bleeds hate. She is angry like she was born angry. She swears, she sneaks up on her mom, she runs away. She’s Antoine Doinel, except she likes dancing. It’s the only thing that calms her down. Fassbender acts like a father to her, appreciates what she does, and she in return spites him like a kid does when caught sneaking. It’s a relationship reminiscent of Brocka’s Insiang, except the tension is not among the three characters, but concentrated on Mia especially, her being juvenile. But Insiang it is, ugly things happen. And Arnold, in her nifty way of observing, unfolds so with a mix of ease and tantrum. The camera catches the smell of noisy tenements, empty parking lots, and cramped garages; and later on the camera runs crazy when events turn crazy, always intimately present.

What on earth Mia is running away from? What does she want? Why does she hate the world so much she seems to want everyone around her dead? That’s plain to see. Arnold lays all the cards very casually.

13. THE WHITE RIBBON (Michael Haneke)


The “poverty of ideas” that A. O. Scott is referring to in his review of The White Ribbon is more or less related to Haneke’s adherence to similar themes, which is rather unfair to say considering the degree and depth of experience one feels while watching any of his films. But contrary to the raging comments following the review, I like that Scott has written something that is completely different, in terms of tone and vision, from the film itself. Qualities like humor and illumination are present, things which Haneke is always reluctant to give; though in defense, Haneke sure has these qualities—particularly in Caché and Funny Games—no matter how twisted they seem to be.

Undeniable is Haneke’s manner of controlling the film from the tiniest detail down to the most critical. Polarizing his films may be, they possess a style that is distinctly Haneke’s—the precision of shots, the furtive storytelling, the lack of answers, the (de)mystifying suspense, and the blow in the end that defies judgment, like a ghost story without any ghost—and in The White Ribbon, these things are still present, which is to suggest that this is like any other Haneke film, tight, gripping, masterly, introspective. Predictable is also an accurate description, but the literary pacing—the unfoldment of the plot and the exposition of every character’s germ of criminology which compose the ethos of the entire village—reveals less about its period or the actuality of its setting than Haneke’s nagging sense of ownership. The ownership of ideas, the ownership of blame, the ownership of totality, all presented deliberately. One is left to argue against him and not his films, for he owns them and gets away with inflicting perplexity. To Haneke, answers are dummies we create to comfort ourselves, as he lingers on questions and their inescapable trait. It feels like being punished, let alone being forced to admit something that one is not completely aware of—yet between us and the filmmaker we both know what is going on, but what about to happen is out of the question. Murderers, in theory, are no one except us. Punishment purifies, as the pastor tells his children, and all of us walk in blindfold while the perpetrator is still at large, us in between wars, depressed and joyless, not allowed to masturbate because it’s some form of sickness, eventually bearing the children of Forbidden Games and The Night of the Hunter, stern and emotional but never, as the film flags unfailingly, in any way innocent.

12. INDEPENDENCIA (Raya Martin)


Frankly, what makes Independencia difficult to write about is that it is never really meant to be written about. The writer will just give in to ordinary words in the praise-book (Oh, Independencia, what terrible beauty), telling how this and that are important (the nostalgia of black-and-white pictures), or how this and that qualify as unique filmmaking (Martin’s play with Philippine history and its “cinematic” equivalent), which again, no matter how truthful, only excels at gobbledygook but does not really tell why those pronouncements should be taken seriously. In other words, the writer’s task is done before he knows it. Annotation unnecessary. Watch it, write about it, and turn yourself into a failure. A masterpiece always deserves the time. (Ooooops)

11. IN THE LOOP (Armando Iannucci)

You know, I’ve come across a lot of psychos, but none as fucking boring as you. You are a real boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing so I’ll sort that out. You are a boring F, star, star, CUNT!


This is when dignifying television comes close to surpassing it, only in fact it surpasses it. Iannucci’s debut, which is not far from what he is doing with The Thick of It, bursts with every wit possible. Its fireworks of absurdity and foul language is not overshadowed by the mockery it presents, its outrageous outpouring of dialogues pushes its political satire to a shocking riot, unbelievably turning the war on terror into a carnival of errors.

Like one critic said it is impossible to single out anything outstanding from it because everything is outstanding, from the seeming little details (the wall collapsing, the one-night stand, the jerk officemate) down to the huge conference meetings and flare-ups (the White House, the UN, the BBC). In the Loop tirelessly connects the loose wires of the Iraq War, and without the sight of the President and the Prime Minister or any political parties makes it all the more impressive. With such smart script and one hell of a powerhouse cast that can throw any film in Hollywood right now, In the Loop deserves the wild rumpus it gets from its fans. And yes, you heard the comparisons right. It’s this generation’s Dr. Strangelove—the panic and the insanity of war, the doomsday machine awaiting its cue, the hysteria of possibilities over the lives at stake—and certainly it will remain relevant, not to mention hilarious, for years.

10. HIMPAPAWID (Raymond Red)

Himpapawid does have its faults; but its faults are also worthy to be examined, worthy to be taken into consideration in context, their subtext even complimenting its idea of social disregard punctuatively. Someone complains about its lack of humanity, but what here is not human? What here is not humanity? What here is futile and hopeless? Everything. Raul is our vicar; and the vicarious misery we feel upon seeing his fate tells more about our situation than his’—our life outside the three-cornered confines of cinema. Red’s return to feature-length is every bit arresting, completely compelling, and depressingly defying.

9. ACCIDENT (Pou-Soi Cheang)

One need not see Johnnie To’s name in the opening credits to guess how related he is to it, far from being its director, considering Accident’s utter perfection, but its producer, To’s unmistakable hands guiding Soi Cheang like a proud guardian, coming up with something even better than Vengeance, a whole lot tighter, way satisfying, more gripping, and much exciting.

Accident presents a group of hitmen who commit crimes by staging accidents, by making them look like accidents, meticulous and thorough in carrying out their job that any mistake—as little as a cigarette butt thrown unconsciously—can turn the plan into shambles. Turning point happens when the job backfires: when the accident happens to each one of them. The leader of the group, Ho, begins to suspect his team after the death of one; the idea of being killed in an accident has too much irony he can’t accept. Only when he uncovers things by himself, fumed by the painful memories of his dead wife who also died in an accident, has he able to realize his paranoia, unfortunately, when things are already too late to undo.

Mathematics—that’s what Accident is incredibly good at. Not the type of mathematics in films that involve scientists and geniuses, but the mathematics of brilliant metteurs en scène, the gift of staging scenes meaningfully. It’s that relationship between sound and image—how the two manage to produce a formula, how these properties produce the exact result, the precise answer using the equation, and how the calculation is overwhelming in its execution. Remarkable is that final accident—the use of light and mirrors to accomplish such intricate act—only it is overshadowed by the necessary drama that pulls it off; but in a way, like the second accident—the one that involves the tram and the old man electrocuted—there is also that fear of missing a frame, of relishing every little detail of it, of not blinking, of gasping while eyes are glued in front.

The suspense of seeing how the accidents take place, not to mention seeing how they are planned, makes it seem that Accident indulges so much in execution, but to one’s surprise there is more to it than meets the eye, more to it than the compelling narrative, more to it than a shallow cliffhanger, and more to it than a precise and out-and-out moral drama. Multiple viewings can never wear this out; this taut thriller, among other films about to appear in the list, makes Asian films teem with confidence and bleed of bravura—as always.

8. KINATAY (Brillante Mendoza)

I may have to eat these words in the future, recklessly falling into the trap of hasty conclusions and careless lapse in judgment, but since I still have the privilege of saying it now, I have to say: the biggest contribution of Brillante Mendoza to local cinema is not his films, but the popularity of them in foreign festivals.

That was something I wrote before Mendoza won the Best Director prize in the Cannes Film Festival; and after watching Kinatay I still stand by it, though to a lesser conviction; but when I saw Lola, a few months later, I realize I should just have to ignore any context.

The moment is the film and not the individual moments in the film. Kinatay is the film for a criminal in deathrow to see; something that will make him appreciate his death even more; something that will give him hope in darkness. But the darkness of the film is not in the heart; it’s in its soul. That’s why it never dies; it tends to linger in afterlife; it wanders off. Stays. Slays. Space.

7. TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

The newspaper being flown by the wind in the beginning of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata is anything but ominous. The mother hurries to close the door and wipes the wet floor as she looks out and sees the leaves of the trees swaying. It is the only time when the rain is actually shown falling; the first dialogue tells about a storm brewing yet it never really rains for the rest of the film. Kurosawa, using that ploy, presents a more destructive storm, the Sasakis’ fall as a family and each one of them individually, like a slowly sinking ship waiting for the sun to come up before finally giving in.

Tokyo Sonata is a thrifty, thrifty film. Instead of presenting the family’s corruption by pointing its fingers at the cause—that cause simply being the father’s unemployment—it points at the effect. From there it is able to peel each other’s differences: the father’s authoritative stance and pride, the mother’s calm yet cheerful unhappiness, the eldest son’s seeking for things outside his home and country, and the youngest’s desire to enroll in a music school.

Every family member seems to yearn for different things—save for the mother, who at first is the element that keeps them altogether but circumstances, eventually, prove to be stronger than her—and the dining table is the only place where they meet, albeit silently, albeit thinking of different needs. There is no “unemployment” of ideas in Kurosawa’s search for answers. There go the spiraling lines of jobseekers and the walking unemployed before sunset, the moving train behind the curtain, the interviews of Japanese children favoring the deployment of their own countrymen to the Middle East, the offscreen effect of the father’s friend committing suicide, the burglar who robs the wife and realizes he is a loser in everything, and the emphasis on Kenji playing Debussy in the end; that even without seeing the entire film, watching that particular scene alone is already worth the pull.

The transition from the first half that focuses on the father’s unwillingness to disclose his situation holds very well till the second, when each one of them starts to go through their own “existential disquiet”. The harsh things ahead surprise yet they don’t come out surprising; they don’t feel contrived but “deserved”, something that’s been waiting for the right flicker of moment to come, like, as mentioned above, a slowly sinking ship. The second half is unsettling; but it hits the spot right at the very sore. The family sinks at the bottom—but a home will never disappear unless its members allow it, and the Sasakis didn’t, they fell and stood up—and Kurosawa, in his pointblank compositions and moving stillness, nails both a priori and a posteriori assertions in Tokyo Sonata that are reflective but never in themselves contradict each other.

6. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino)


I can never be aware what impact Pulp Fiction made in the 90s, but I can always account for what Inglourious Basterds did to me in the noughties, before closing the year and sealing it tight, watching it twice in the cinema, both leaving the theater past midnight, enveloped by exhilaration, which, considering the subject of the film, is the last thing that I should let myself feel. But there I was, two December nights—first with myself, and second with two of my friends—moved, delighted, amazed. . . like a young writer’s first encounter with books, with pages of love and happiness, with kites of poetry.

Only in Inglourious Basterds I finally convinced myself to like Tarantino, for even though Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, and both the Kill Bill films are kick-ass, I can’t find the love that I’m looking for, the right piece of nail that holds everything together, that nail that firms up the images and dialogues in their place. True enough, I fell in love with Christoph Waltz the first time I saw him, that exalted man, I whispered to myself, and the bumpy ride in Tarantino’s hansom, from the shooting of the Jews under the floorboards down to the etching of a masterpiece on a Nazi’s forehead, is one rewarding mess of power, larger than life, larger than cinema, larger than the rest of everything I felt that year. This is what I’m watching cinema for, methinks, that largeness to engulf me, to allow myself to be engulfed in, to admonish any invitations of the cerebral, to hold the hands of pleasure. . .

Tarantino is one of the most famous figures in pop cinema culture, and for him to curse history, to curse race, and to curse the language of cursedom with this film, it is only fitting to remark that Inglourious Basterds is the most glourious movie of his entire career, so far and yet so good.

5. WANTED: BORDER (Ray Gibraltar)

It has more of the rock than the roll, but the roll rolls hard and gathers thick moss while the rock stays hard as it is, unyielding to every plot point that Gibraltar decides to punctuate, each character looming on the dirty palette of mess, each taking turns but Osang above them all delivers the proper poison, the most toxic acrimony, Gibraltar allowing her to drink it until she finally passes the bottle to us. Wanted: Border is one hell of a debilitating work—a joint rolled to flip out once a drag is taken—with all the smoke fogging its profile but all the radical points getting through nevertheless. For the love of god, see this.

4. BRIGHT STAR (Jane Campion)


I’m mistaken. I’m not sure I have the right feelings towards women. I’m suspicious of my feelings.


When it comes to Fanny, Keats, suspicious he may be of his feelings, shows otherwise. His words are sweet, his eyes talk to her like caressing her skin, and his lips yearn to touch hers, tenderly, gingerly, lingeringly, professing a love almost forbidden. In Bright Star, Jane Campion delivers Fanny Brawne and John Keats’ romance with the luscious adornment of words and their beauty, the way poets have their way with glibness, only Campion forgets being glib and aces at being lyrical.

It’s all but complementary, the way the elements unfold and spread the drizzle, the beautiful colors splashing onto the lovers’ sad predicament, the little games they play, the butterfly farm, the kiss in the woods, back when kiss is not only a kiss but an entire life spent on reminiscing, all wet behind the ears, like embroidered initials on a handkerchief, holding hands, sewing hairs, holding hearts, stitching hems of hope, like letters read over and over again, relished to the last word and until the last ink, breathing the smell of the handwriting, the crease left on the corners, the wistfulness, the fences, the longing.

Touch has a memory; but touch also has tears like memory, pain like memory, agony like memory, crucifixion like memory, death like memory. Me(mort)y: Keats knows all of that—he says it to appease himself, to appease Fanny. He knows that love is not only sharing memories but sharing pain, not only sharing touches but sharing tears, sharing all that can be shared, loving the mistake, locking lips with chances. They are perfectly in love and imperfectly sharing it, passing on, passing muster.

Attachment is such a difficult thing to undo; and his attachment to Fanny, Keats the romantic he is, kills him even more than his illness. The distance, the inhibitions, the social standards of their time: he is killed by them more than anything else. He is poor; but his heart is wealthy. Abundant, overflowing with lust for life. He has a lot to give, from his dirty nails to his empty stomach, only his body is giving up, but his love isn’t. Fanny knows there’s a brighter word than bright, a prettier word than pretty, and a lovelier word than lovely to describe Keats, bright, pretty, and lovely which Keats was, which Keats is, and which Keats will always be.

Bright Star aches; it aches their aches. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are Keats and Fanny like they were Keats and Fanny, but even if they weren’t their portrayals warrant remembrance, like a sumptuous ode to the couple they give life to. Overwhelming is when Whishaw recites “Ode to a Nightingale” after Cornish sobs “Bright Star”, their correspondence from two different worlds sculpted like memories by Keats’ emotional verses. Sensuality is expressed not in the unclothing of clothes but in the unclothing of love, in the undressing of feelings, in the bareness of intimacy, especially when Fanny and Keats exchange the lines of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. Campion allows the beauty of Keats’ poems to seep through the cracks of the film, the way it bleeds to the point of consumption, frittering away, Keats the Endymion, forever youthful, forever remembered, and forever loved.

3. TWO LOVERS (James Gray)


Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but how awful that we always end up saying sorry than loving; how awful that we stray to places where hurt is the only feeling; how awful that we believe in things that will only betray us; and how awful that we wait on decisions that will never really be settled. James Gray films heartbreak in its most devastating—in its most banefully violent—and delivers an affecting portrait of romance that is so cruel and tender we walk out of the theater numb from too much crying, almost passing out. As tears fall down and carry ourselves away from the hurt, leaving only the physical weight of our heart and nothing else, we acknowledge and concede to the film’s power to wipe us out, walking alone behind a multitude of loves. Oh, Dylan Thomas.

2. MOTHER (Bong Joon-ho)

The dramaturgical first half, which morphs into an ingenious suspense-thriller-shocker in the second, has an effect like no other. Maybe it’s the cunning simplicity—the meticulousness of the shots, the careful precision of movement, the way the mother looks out for her son as she cuts the ginseng and cuts her own hand unconsciously, and the way the son drools and loses his patience—that holds water like a sponge, waiting for the right squeeze to be let out, whereas on the other side, unseen to the naked eye and felt only by the naked intuition, the lovely bones are being exhumed—”the lovely bones that had grown around our absence”—leading to a conclusion that mixes the great fire of calendars, acupuncture, tofu cake, Rashomon, and cellphone mysteries; the battle royale of high school life, Lolitas and gamers and nerds and thugs and tramps in one place, lipstick on a golf club and signed golf balls as murder accessories; and the assembly of merry senior citizens dancing on the bus. Memory is as pivotal as the lack of it; and that horror of the mother poisoning her own son and killing herself afterward almost happens, only it didn’t happen, the mother picks the wrong brand and the son, of all memories, remembers that his mother tried to kill him. Like every satisfying story we get in Mother a sense of closure in immortal openness, the intolerable cruelty of the need to end in two hours, the life and death of emotions evenly laid out, and the dance of wakefulness and wakelessness shown in possibly the most wonderful opening and closing sequences of 2009.

1. ANACBANUA (Christopher Gozum)


Over the phone Teddy Co teasingly asks, “If the mainstream gave way to the indie, what will indie give way to?” It will spoil a rather interesting conversation if I say what I think so instead I ask back, “What, sir?” After a slight pause—a grin perhaps?—he tells, “Regional cinema. Regional cinema it is.” As he talks, my mind is elsewhere, trying to count how many films from the regions I have seen so far. Very few. Very, very few. If it weren’t for When Timawa Meets Delgado—Ray Gibraltar’s first feature—and Anacbanua—the first film to be shot in Pangasinan language (not dialect, please)— I wouldn’t be so convinced to promise myself to rally for its propagation, for regional cinema to be considered fairly and seriously particularly here in Manila.

Come to think of it, more than the themes of romance and poverty that city filmmakers are always fond of, regional filmmakers have an edge on the very basic they have, to tell their life and culture unknown to us, their slowly dying language, and their people needing help but instead succumbing to anonymity. With the accessibility of filmmaking, creative minds in the provinces can find a way to commit their thoughts in the celluloid, a belief in which Teddy Co has been a staunch supporter of. According to him it’s better to leave to these people to film their own life than have these city dwellers go there and shoot, resulting sometimes in false interpretation of their culture. A film like Anacbanua—written, produced, and directed by Pangasinense jack-of-all-trades Christopher Gozum, using the poems of Santiago Villafania, Erwin Fernandez, and Melchor Orpilla—is that foolproof testament to regional cinema’s wealth of imagination, of its roads paved with novelty, and of its many undiscovered farms of beauty: indeed a future of almost ceaseless things to offer.


There is greatness that goes without saying; greatness that only gets vaguer when explained, when detailed, when someone comes in its defense; greatness, considering the meaning of the word slowly becoming obsolete, that is liberating, emancipating. For a film like Anacbanua to be made speaks of the times, of the reality that multiplies itself as much as fiction does. In the film, a young poet returns to his roots to have himself healed—to free himself from the angst that he feels, the spiritual sickness that grips him as he dreads the materiality of the mundane. What does he find? What does he not find? What else has changed? What else can change? Gozum films images the way an impressionist painter dabs his brush on his tableau, not only careful to achieve the effect he wants, but also careless to discover an exciting mistake. Cinematographer Joni Gutierrez nails it: the visuals are exhilarating, sensuous and breathtaking to the point of coma.

Remember what the pensive Emmeline Fox says in The Crimson Petal and the White?—I think we’re moving towards such a strange time. A time when all our moral choices will be complicated and compromised by our love of progress—and if she said that in a book taking place in the 1870s, could she also say the same thing now? Now as ever? Try to imagine her saying, centuries since: Love exists; and now it is as painful as death, as slippery as memory, as lonely as a falling leaf. Yet, in Anacbanua, love exists, and it is indeed as painful as death, as slippery as memory, and as lonely as a falling leaf. It has the courage of others and the heart of just one—the dead star’s glimmer before it bids goodbye, before it succumbs to that progress. Pronouncements never really make sense upon reflection, but for the heck of it, hear this: Anacbanua not only completes a year; it crowns a decade.



1. drlightbearer - May 12, 2010

Hey, Richard, I love this post. Of all the 2009 films, I especially love Antichrist. It’s one of those very unforgettable experience. And I’m so glad Mother made it to your list.

By the way, I also am starting writing a film blog, I hope you’d take some time browsing it.

2. Richard Bolisay - May 13, 2010

Hello Mr Agustin. Thank you for the kind words. Balik ka ha!

Anyway, I still haven’t seen that Stripes docu. I lost touch after Icky Thump.

3. drlightbearer - May 14, 2010

oh, thanks for reading my blog. The docu’s somehow melancholic. try to watch it. :D

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