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Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2017 (Part 1) August 8, 2017

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi.
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APHL

ANG PAMILYANG HINDI LUMULUHA (Mes de Guzman)

Even for non-Sharonians, there is palpable excitement in the prospect of seeing Sharon Cuneta in a small, independent movie at a festival whose major asset is its ability to attract droves of moviegoers, many of whom are young ones discovering new local films on their own. Cuneta, after all, still has her charms, and although life hasn’t been particularly kind to her career after her peak in the 80s, she has developed a sort of defense mechanism and created a self-image that mixes her incredibly sweet demeanor with the age and weight and other personal troubles that naturally plague big stars facing the sharp claws of time. When she laughs — and she laughs a whole lot in her interviews — one cannot disregard the fact that her sense of humor comes from pain, or with pain, displaying a spontaneity that makes her even more fascinating to watch. Time has humbled her, and one can only hope that this decision to do something different, to put herself in a less sophisticated milieu outside the comforts and predictability of her mainstream fare, would be one for the books.

It is, but unfortunately not for a good reason. Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha doesn’t move like a film, at least one with flow and coherence, but a collection of gags that seems intent only to showcase Cuneta’s comic timing. At some point one asks in frustration: Is this a sitcom? Why does it feel compelled to deliver laughs in every scene? How come it seems to have forgotten to tell a reasonable amount of its story? Is it going to get better? Sadly, one has to finish it to be able to say with certainty that it never gets anywhere. The motivation to complete the Family that Doesn’t Weep may be suggested, but her journey hardly feels convincing and compelling because the film is too busy showing off its comedy, so bent on adding personality to its characters that it loses important connections between its sequences, the result of which is a messy, confused, and completely disappointing picture. When the climactic scene finally takes place — the moment that is supposed to make the audience feel how great an actor Cuneta still is, the proof that this movie is a risk worth taking that she even serves as its producer, the reminder that one big scene generously given is not enough to forgive a movie of its blatant shortcomings — it does not come across as awe-inspiring but absolutely ridiculous. And then it becomes really sad. Sad because for a film that revels in jokes, it ends up being a big one.

baconaua

BACONAUA (Joseph Israel Laban)

There is a feeling of having fallen asleep while watching Baconaua despite being able to sit through it with eyes wide open. This is not a poetic compliment, nor a suggestion of its being dreamlike or captivating, but a problem of clarity, of the film’s confusion of what to be clear about and what to be ambiguous about, and so it winds up lacking not only in thought and reason but also in depth and impact. It needs more cooking, more boiling, and more braising, but it’s too busy fueling the fire and not putting in the ingredients. There are attempts, of course: The visuals seem to imagine a fishing town that does not experience daylight (it’s always dark, for some reason). The issues are rooted in social mores and differences, from the death in the family to the smuggling of illegal goods. The conflict between the sisters of being courted by the same man is a reflection of its geography and a ripe subject for commentary on moral precepts. And the sea is a character as much as the people. But none of these are fleshed out because it seems (again, everything is wrapped in this aura of seeming) that the film is pursuing something else all along — The sea serpent in the title? The allegory? The buff Chinese outsider representing something? The apples? So much mystery, so little sense.

alipato

ALIPATO: THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER (Khavn dela Cruz)

Only Khavn can do something like Alipato, and in fact only he is doing something like it, only he seems to be so firm on pushing violence on-screen to the point of seeming to glorify it, but he doesn’t, he doesn’t glorify it — what he does is come to the violence of real life as close as possible, to walk into it and carry it to an audience, to present this violence as violence, not as drama or narrative or story, but violence: bloody, disturbing, mad, and cruel, ruthless, unsparing, and soulless, and the effect of seeing it, to one’s surprise, is horrible but not particularly shocking, terrifying but not particularly ugly, the effect of being exposed to it, if this is even possible, is illuminating, the realization that poverty is the worst form of violence, how poverty can be understood only by those who live in it, a two-year-old boy smoking a cigarette, toddlers rejoicing while robbing a grocery store and killing people, a pregnant woman being fucked, an old woman getting fucked, a black goat walking around a corpse, dead bodies lying on dirty ground, squealing pigs being slaughtered, poor people being identified only by their graves, and it doesn’t stop at depiction, sometimes it escapes chaos only to enter another chaos, like the brutally beautiful animation of Rox Lee, and that’s when the art admits it can only do so much, an admission that art is not and can never be the answer to anything. When asked why Alipato is set in the future when all this violence is clearly happening in the present, Khavn replies: “The past, the present, the future are all the same,” and really: how comforting is that.

KB

KIKO BOKSINGERO (Thop Nazareno)

At the heart of Kiko Boksingero is a schoolboy who lives in a rather comfortable house with his nanny, a servile lady whose life revolves around taking care of him, from putting on his clothes in the morning to putting him to bed at night. She is a mother and servant at the same time, and Kiko, too enmeshed in his solitude, takes this for granted. After school, he frequents a house to practice boxing alone, a house, as it turns out, owned by his father, a former boxer. Kiko is happy to see him, doggedly seeking his love and attention. He spars and spends time with him, seemingly making up for lost time. By doing so Kiko also distances himself from the incessant affection of his nanny, who has always been there for him, and to whom he returns when his father decides to leave again.

Kiko Boksingero explores these two elements of family (familiarity with the father who has abandoned him and de-familiarity with the nanny who has been with him all his life) to tell a touching coming-of-age story that does not rely on the clichés of the genre and its huge dramatic leaps. It derives much of its power from the details of Kiko’s life — the likelihood of living in the States with his aunt, the boys at school who taunt him, the girl he has a crush on, the satisfaction and self-validation he gets from boxing, etc. — and how these contribute to his longing to have a real family. What drives the film is this astute sensibility about growing up that on one hand understands the complexity and naivete of being a motherless boy wanting to be liked by his father, and on the other emphasizes the underrated merit of telling a straightforward narrative without resorting to convenient flashbacks or sweeping gestures (connoting that coming of age is the desire to always look ahead and move forward).

This preciseness of its vision is shown in how it gets its tempo right: It lets the viewers get used to its rhythm without making them feel that it is unfolding. And this lovely, restrained tone has never once felt artificial and intrusive. It is set in Baguio, in a city that feels like a town, and unlike those films that make loud displays of its location and take advantage of its peculiarities, the most it does is quietly show houses from afar, rows and rows of homes with their lights on at night, with the glare of their roofs and windows on the day, with mothers and fathers and siblings likely inside of them, together, their little lives spent with each other, these shots and their significance evoking what Kiko longs to have, and what Kiko, at the end of the film, seems to accept he can live without.

There will always be a special place in one’s heart for films that feel shy and small, films that lack the confidence to make noise and are armed only with faith in their stories, films that turn out to be worth cheering on till the very end. These are made by people who do not use good intentions as an excuse to be mediocre. Kiko Boksingero is one of these films. In a festival that has grown to intensify competition between movies instead of allowing them to complement one another, seeing it is a pleasant surprise in an array of bombastic, big-themed entries, a work so dedicated to giving its best in every small aspect that its simplicity, its tender rendering of youth, is nothing short of heartbreaking.

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