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CineFilipino 2016 (Part 1) March 28, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Asian Films, CineFilipino, Noypi.
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It’s hard to say good things about A Lotto Like Love — the fact that it got made is quite a feat in itself, but even admitting that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Right at the onset, with the use of loud and flashy music and preference for excessive delivery, it’s clear it aims for easy recognition of its efforts. It is concerned only with the surface, with how the audience will get the jokes and how the story will reach the end, but it is not stuffed with matter for serious thought, unaware that good comedies are also mental, shrewd and sensible in their silliness. The premise of finding a missing lottery ticket dates back to Rene Clair’s 1931 classic Le Million, or even farther with the play on which it is based, which means the selling point is hardly the concept but the way its interest is sustained, how the complications making up the search can offer moments of delight and frustration, how the characters can become closer to the audience after such ordeal. But instead of moving in this direction, A Lotto Like Love deliberately goes backward and insists on ridiculous twists and turns, terrible sense of humor, and strained romance. It is brimming with confidence but for the wrong reasons, satisfied only with the possibilities of laughter, and not with the actual fun. Somehow its biggest offense is making the leads awfully stupid: seeing Isabella de Leon and Martin Escudero in roles that make them bad actors is saddening, especially since these two have delivered in the past. It doesn’t get better, and one can merely look forward to heaving a sigh of relief when it ends.



There is virtue in how Star na si Van Damme Stallone succeeds at being a touching document of a person with Down syndrome, depicting not only his life as soon as his disorder is known but also the people around him coming to terms with it, particularly his mother whose unconditional devotion to him provides the film its beating heart. Longjas is able to deliver the needed restraint, the mix of empathy and sensitivity the material deserves, hopeful but realistic, sad but self-assured, without any hint of underestimating or pandering to his subject. However, what’s glaring is the film does nothing else. Its structure, divided into parts showing Van Van growing up and his mother looking out for him all the time, draws on moments that would emphasize the responses of characters to his situation; and while that is lifelike and reasonable, there is discomfort in the decision not to go further or deeper. There are spaces waiting to be filled, opportunities for possible explorations, yet the film lingers in what is known and knowable, and seems to be content only with eliciting the warmth and tenderness expected from it.



Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian is riddled with several problems, the most obvious of which is the cheaply designed CGI and the sloppiness of its day-for-night effect. Of course, to some people, seeing those lapses has worked to its advantage: they have contributed to the strangeness of experience, to the laughable thrill, to the anything-goes mindfuckery. But who are they kidding? Something is clearly amiss with the direction, and there’s no denying those gaffes owe more to poor artistic decisions than deliberate choices. Alvin Yapan’s films, from Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe to An Kubo sa Kawayanan, have exciting premises — his literary background enriches what could have been a stale retelling of ordinary stories, making his voice unique in this regard — but for some reason, something happens when the words find their visuals, and when the world written on paper moves into the motion picture. In Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian, clearly, the aim is to produce horror, and sometime before the two leads realize their misfortune, in that quick moment when anyone in the audience could be in their place, there may be one or two sequences of pure fright. But the rest, with varying nuances of bad dialogue and acting, is comedy: a comedy of errors. So it goes.



For a work that goes to great lengths to be quiet and subdued, Buhay Habangbuhay happens to be a torture to sit through. It is fully committed to telling a story of souls that stay on earth, and its main character, played with hilarious seriousness by Iza Calzado, hangs around to observe her husband and see him have another family after her death. Quite a selfless act, really, and there seems to be a point to make about unconditional love, but nothing in its showy visual effects and mediocre writing is able to create any worthy impression. Paolo Herras seems to be too in love with the material that he doesn’t notice that it weighs so little, and no matter how the shots look polished and sophisticated, a story wrapped in platitudes and served with parsley cannot manage to go far.



Depictions of youth in film have always attracted interest. And youth, by all means, is less about age than spirit, the drive to pursue a dream long ignored, or the urge to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and be ready, with eyes closed, for the consequences. That fuck-it attitude. That irrepressible impulse. That burning desire to take a leap. Such recklessness is easily validated by the feeling — always comforted by the thought that it’s the journey and never the destination — and it is in showing these larger-than-life risks being taken that these depictions leave a lasting effect: they do not aim for the heart; they aim for the heartstrings. Sakaling Hindi Makarating has a lot of elements to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy: snail mail, painted postcards, traveling alone, meeting new people, being in remote places, realizing the beauty of being away, of being in love with the pursuit and being emboldened by freedom, feeling the tap of fate on the shoulders. All of these speak to many people, regardless of age, and they project this image to aspire for — the promise of self-discovery after it. But in all its good intentions and pleasant quirks, Sakaling Hindi Makarating supposes an audience that would overlook its big and small missteps, that viewers would be forgiving if they see them, that it’s all about the feeling. It plays with and overplays romantic notions, but some holes in its logic (the postmark; the uncertainty of the sender, thinking it could be the ex, yet the couple has been together for more than 10 years; the exchanges between her and her new friend) make it hard to suspend disbelief. Undoubtedly, part of its charm rests on the idea of fleetingness, on chances and randomness, the way things come and go, the way people accept things for what they are, the way some decisions are not fully controlled. But for the most part the film simply wants the audience to fall for it, to believe in it regardless, to forgive it and love it at the same time. It always follows its heart, and sadly, as everyone knows, the heart is not always right.