Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2016 (Part 1) August 9, 2016Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Festival, Noypi.
1-2-3 (Carlo Obispo)
The heartbreak of 1-2-3 comes from its lead characters: a young girl, driven by her dream to be a singer, who leaves her small fishing town to escape violence and poverty, and her brother who tries to save her from the claws of prostitution. It is hard not to be moved by their plight, by the switch from one nightmare to another, from a household that decries education and tolerates abuse to a city in which these children discover, and eventually accept, exploitation. Instead of creating the drama around their resistance, Carlo Obispo instead shows their choice to stay, their willingness and submission, and the factors leading them to this decision. This seems a fertile land to till. However, he has picked the wrong tools. The bigger, more terrible heartbreak of 1-2-3 is the weakness of storytelling, the inability of Obispo to make effective use of this emotional bait to carry the film through, his insistence on inserts that add layers and texture but with oblivious disregard for developing a persuasive, flowing narrative. The whole lacks in congruity, and the subplots feel withdrawn from the main narrative. The gentleness of his direction, the softness of his approach, does not suit the material, which demands firmness and newer insight. Whereas one can argue that this old-fashioned take implies how little has changed in society over the decades, one cannot also shake the feeling that there is nothing to the film but recycling tropes and preferring bad clichés to good ones.
Tuos (Roderick Cabrido)
People expecting Tuos to be a Nora Aunor movie will be disappointed because it is not one per se: it is not a vehicle for her to showcase her skills, not another film in which she is given long moments to shine, because frankly, in her status in the past and at present, what else is there to prove? The feat of Tuos is using Aunor with respect to her ability to be effective even in a supporting role: its feat is she did not own the film — the film owned her. And Barbie Forteza, in another career highlight, with whom Aunor shares the bulk of her screen time, is able to take up the challenge and exceed expectations.
But the film has other interesting things working to its favor. The Cabrido of Children’s Show — showy, reckless, and self-assured — has turned into this shrewd, confident, and sharp filmmaker of Tuos, weaving a story of a sacred tradition with a composite of conventional, genre devices and playful animation integrated artfully into the telling. With its subject, it is only fitting to aim for something immersive, for a gradual buildup of atmosphere, the viewing experience getting heavier and more tedious as it progresses. Despite the style, the details are accessible, the specificity of actions rooted in tradition and the struggle to break free from it. But Tuos captivates mainly with moments of sheer mystery — those aural and visual enchantments relating the culture of its people, their echoes and fading light — and the frays wavering at the end, seen and felt in darkness and silence, mesmerize as much as they confound.
I America (Ivan Andrew Payawal)
I America could have been some sort of vindication for Ivan Payawal after the out-and-out mess of The Comeback. At some point in the beginning and towards the middle he does manage to take control and set out clearly the characters, milieu, situation, and conflict. Despite some forgivable flashes of gracelessness, the first act makes a fine impression, underlining his ability as a writer to rely on confrontations and what-ifs. The research is evident, driving the peculiar dynamics of characters and plotting of emotions. But moving onward, as cards are laid out and dramatic jumps become inevitable, the direction cracks at one moment, then cracks again in another, and again and again until the narrative suffers from too many cracks and begins to collapse and drop major chunks of credibility, until all the pieces are on the floor. Payawal loses it whenever he tries to extend a scene to emphasize the humor in one’s misfortune but only ends up making the spectacle painful to watch. His romps are reminiscent but not in the direction of Joyce Bernal and Wenn Deramas, directors who have shown in their best films that drama and comedy are not polar opposites but siblings, closely related and tied by tragedy. In I America, there are many extenders that add weight to Erica’s predicament, but it becomes so heavy and confused that even Payawal himself gets lost. It could have used more discipline than free will, more music than noise, more dancing than running.
Hiblang Abo (Ralston Jover)
Even for those who have not read the original play by the great Rene O. Villanueva, or have not seen it staged, there is no denying that the material of Hiblang Abo as seen in Ralston Jover’s adaptation is an outstanding theater piece. In terms of both content and technique, ideas and wisdom go hand in hand, with several rooms opened and closed in succession, sometimes even barged into without knocking. This intelligent maneuvering comes with the emotional maturity required to pull it off, the soul that makes the actions of the body and discourses of the mind immortal. The four old men — portrayed with palpable range by Lou Veloso, Jun Urbano, Nanding Josef, and Leo Rialp, each with his own highs and lows — are roommates, buddies, and confidantes who, in the course of sharing their past, are surrounded by reminders of death and become each other’s friends and foes. There is always something going on: even their silence occupies thoughts.
But Jover, even with the noblest intent, can only do so much, and his version of Hiblang Abo, adapted for the screen with the help of Naning Estrella, is able to make one appreciate the material for its eloquence — for its scale and literariness — and a clever flashback device in which Matt Daclan plays all the characters is worthy of note. In the process of filming the theater, however, and finding an equivalent for the experience that can only come from seeing the words leap from the actors onstage, from one skin to another, many important things fail to make a full impact. There is a major problem with the visual language, and it’s not a wise decision to employ almost the same kind of imprecise camerawork in his previous films (Bakal Boys, Bendor, Hamog), which are mostly shot outdoors. Numerous moments could have benefited from focusing on the actors’ faces instead of trying to be unconventional, from trimming the excesses and stubbornness which have come to define Jover’s filmmaking. But clearly the fact that this discussion can go on and on to varying lengths and degrees means the flawed nature of the film, its veneration of Villanueva with understanding, is an achievement in itself.