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Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2016 (Part 3) August 16, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Festival, Noypi.
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dagsin

Dagsin (Atom Magadia)

It’s understandable to frown upon Dagsin. It is the kind of drama that makes it a point to explain, piling details on the already heavy background of its lead character. It is never subtle: its first shot is of the books of Kant, Camus, and Kierkegaard — a forthright sign of its inclination — and the “gravity” of the title, among other things, may amusingly refer to what saves Tommy Abuel’s life at the end. It inserts flashbacks plainly, inelegantly, and the switch between the past and present becomes routine that one takes pleasure, for instance, in some curious details such as Lotlot de Leon and Janine Gutierrez playing different characters despite looking so much alike.

But it is in this unrelenting seriousness that Dagsin becomes admirable. Whether presenting the atrocities of the Second World War or the romance and relationships torn by it, the film just puts the story out there, without irony, without trying to look different, without being conscious of how films in this festival are often judged based on bringing “something new” to the table. There is nothing new in Dagsin: the only thing driving it is the heartfelt dedication to its subject, the conviction to show the sorrows of a man with a troubled past as a soldier and judge and as a husband and idealist. The drama has its high points (the game between the captured soldier and the Japanese officer, the endearing presence of Marita Zobel, the ticks of hostility towards spiritual belief), and at its center is Abuel’s performance: he who in his graveness is able to exhibit all the fractures of his character, the old age and soul, the ruined heart and honor, and eventually the peaceful resignation to everything he has long resisted to embrace.

landoatbugoy

Lando at Bugoy  (Vic Acedillo, Jr.)

Pretty much what Lando at Bugoy is all about is in its synopsis. It may a bad thing to some, but this straightforwardness, this directness that cares only for something very specific, is what makes the film work. It is simply that: a father who earns a living by carving gravestones accepts the challenge of his spiteful son to return to school — and it delivers the touching moments that come with such premise, the push and pull, the fights that outline their relationship clearly. The sluggish pace is both its boon and bane, but the story becomes meaningful because it brings to the fore this way of life focused on a particular concern, on the undeniable importance of education, on the fulfillment of this basic need that leaves an inspiring note at the end. Like Dagsin, Lando at Bugoy can easily be dismissed, but the lack of polish, this taking pride on being small, the enunciation of this genuine intent to share a facet of life often overlooked, can strike a chord in those that see glimmers of emotion in modesty.

kusina

Kusina (Cenon Palomares and David Corpuz)

Kusina is a failure. But it is an interesting failure. All the strong and willful ideas are there in the material, the aim to characterize a woman through key aspects of her life from birth to death, the layers and timbres of politics in the household and out of it, made evident in how her existence is also shaped by sociopolitical changes, those metaphors that emphasize her position in the kitchen not only as a place but also as a representation of her worth, the kitchen as both her prison and salvation, the kitchen in which, beyond logic, she lives and dies, literally and figuratively, everything done in a soundstage in continuous time, putting the faith in the magic that could come from this resolute theater — but all these concepts, despite the clarity of purpose and the direction in which their combined effect is envisioned to achieve something larger than life, flop because they have not been refined to register cinematically: they make no sweeping impact onscreen.

For almost forty-five minutes, before Judy Ann Santos enters the story, Kusina relies on a stale telling of incidents, on this mechanical movement that punctuates the flatness. Although it’s obvious it’s not about cooking, it does not in any way make an attractive emphasis on this love for food, on how this culinary passion has made her stay in the kitchen no matter what, on its power to change lives. Kusina is keen on emphasizing the woman, on the statements that come with it, but it all feels too pale and expected, too flimsy despite the efforts to establish the succession of eras through details, too concerned with highlighting her confinement that instead of seeing the virtue of this symbolic illustration, the lasting impression relates to her inaction, her idleness, the shortness of her mind. This is no form of empowerment, and even if it does not aim to be one, Palomares and Corpuz could have at least been more generous to Juanita. Because even in her death, when she experiences happiness, and when the audience feels most overwhelmed, the film makes use of it only as a device to stir emotion, and at the end of it all her fate, sadly, is still steeped in fantasy.

mercuryismine

Mercury is Mine (Jason Paul Laxamana)

As far as cooking goes, Mercury is Mine, Jason Paul Laxamana’s third feature this year, characterizes it better than Kusina. One can smell and taste the sisig Pokwang prepares in her make-believe show. One can feel her passion for cooking despite doing it every day, the poignant solitariness when she talks to a pig’s head. The nuances in Pokwang’s delivery, her personality to please and be understood, suggesting the unhappy part of her life that is yet to be revealed, already tell a story. Laxamana is good at this: he knows how to draw one’s attention at the onset, laying out the details openly. As a director he is skillful and manipulative, taking risks in choosing where the narrative will go, always a step ahead of his audience. He is good at making his characters human, putting them in situations that test their principles, but in his excesses (and possibly, insecurities) there comes a point when the provocation does not pay off, for all it does, for better or worse, is make the audience feel uncomfortable.

Mercury is Mine shows persuasively the relationship between a Filipino and an American and all its plain and emblematic intricacies, the “meet cute,” the tension, the mentalities, the loving and hating, the dreams and nightmares, the dirty laundry, the goodbye. There is something disturbing about the use of Blue Lagoon in reference to their bond, but that’s where the film is going. It aims to perplex and complicate. The sudden turns of narrative and shifts of tone are deliberate, an exercise of Laxamana’s control that ruins an otherwise logical flow to indulge in his habit of provoking, to surprise and call attention to itself, a valid, mercurial decision on one hand, but one that appears too eager to be noticed on the other, seeming to seek validation for its skill. Towards the end, the film keeps giving birth to one plot after another, consciously, more for the sake of play than enrichment. There is no question about competence, but perhaps it would have helped to realize that a shtick, despite its function, doesn’t always work.

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Still from the touching coming-of-age drama, “The Kids,” by Sunny Yu

This would require a separate and longer post to substantiate fully, but this has to be said: this year’s Cinemalaya, contrary to what many are saying, is quite a batch to remember, for several reasons.

One is it is able to prove, despite the expected inclement weather, that it can still draw a huge crowd, its festival vibe being its unique distinction from other local film festivals. Just the sight of people going in and out of CCP’s main theater, or the sound of their reactions while watching, is proof enough. Also, it’s always a good thing when the bulk of the attendees are young people.

Second, flawed as some of the films may be, even those that are problematic can carry a conversation. There is no competition entry that is too dull for a discussion. It’s a sign of progress when moviegoers go beyond the trap of determining only whether a film is good or bad, the kind that reduces moviegoing into a simple, soulless experience. It is the deboning that matters more, the comparison of notes, the emotional debates, the drive to share something meaningful on social media.

Third, it’s a year of outstanding performances, of acting turns that are impossible to ignore, quite memorable that they deserve to be mentioned: Barbie Forteza and Nora Aunor in Tuos; Bela Padilla and Elizabeth Oropesa in I America; Nanding Josef, Lou Veloso, Jun Urbano, and Leo Rialp in Hiblang Abo; Tommy Abuel and Lotlot de Leon in Dagsin; Allen Dizon and Gold Azeron in Lando at Bugoy; Janus del Prado in Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching; Pokwang and Bret Jackson in Mercury is Mine; Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip in Pamilya Ordinaryo; and Judy Ann Santos in Kusina. In some cases, these performances have eclipsed the films to which they belong.

Fourth, as disappointing as the totality of the short film selection may be, with no particular entry that leaps impressively, the importance of this form cannot be denied.

And lastly, the non-competition films — the well-curated Asian films in the two sections, the screenings of the digitally remastered Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising and Cain at Abel, the tribute to Francis Pasion, the spotlight on Jaclyn Jose, as well as other festival programs that screen a number of short films and prizewinning features old and new — are surprisingly well attended. Cinemalaya should take care of, and not take for granted, this audience. No festival is an island: more than its films, it lives because of its audience.

See you next year.

Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2016 (Part 2) August 11, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Festival, Noypi.
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ponching

Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching (Inna Miren Salazar Acuña and Dos Ocampo)

For a light comedy, a genre which is always a welcome addition to a festival that usually leans towards serious and heavy themes, Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching is a struggle to watch. Sitting through it is a chore that gets tougher by the minute. Whenever it becomes actually funny, the narrative hurries to go back to its weak point: the dull new family in the title, this being the center of the gags and drama, with many of its members trying hard to be quirky.

It’s hardly about predictability or depth, the believability of the situation, or the humor that gets tiresome, but mostly how the film runs out of steam so early, so quickly, like a balloon losing air and flying around without direction, spinning, wrinkled and writhing, before landing lifelessly on the ground. It’s this sound of falling the audience gets for a story, the deflating of an otherwise funny premise, and the experience is long and winding and sometimes pointless.

Many factors contribute to this: underdeveloped writing, lack of guidance, unrealized potential, a miscommunication of creative approach, and possibly the stubbornness to consider fresh, new ideas, all of which are made manifest in its overreaching efforts. It’s not wrong to borrow devices from TV for inspiration, but cinematic language requires sustaining of longer interest, and Ponching fails to have rhythm that fits the narrative it tries to stretch. Even the lesbian subplot, as much as it feels genuine and indispensable, comes off rather misplaced. Damn, even the charms of Janus del Prado, who deserves helming a full-length every now and then, cannot save it.

pamilya ordinaryo

Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy, Jr.)

Making movies about poverty can never solve or alleviate the problem, but one must not discount its function. In the ceaseless efforts of filmmakers to dwell on the subject and shed light on the vicissitudes of being poor, the issue continues to be relevant and therefore impossible to set aside. It remains an urgent matter, a constant reminder of situations conveniently ignored, and the most effective of these movies are those that not only provide meaningful perspectives through details and characterizations, but also offer, through vigorous handling of material, a credible and comprehensive view of life tested by extreme circumstances, one that goes beyond the tiers of financial troubles and extends to the larger aspects of the human condition: survival, dignity, compassion, morality, self-worth. Several of Lino Brocka’s films in the 70s and 80s validate this, and after him, if audiences would only be more liberal and discerning, there are many directors who have tried, and actually succeeded, telling stories that can effect as much change as activism.

It’s too soon to say, but owing to its absolute immediacy and cunning, Pamilya Ordinaryo already feels like a benchmark against which other films of its kind will be measured. It teems with so much life and energy, with explicit displays of force and frisson, that Aries and Jane could have been just outside the theater premises, loafing, asking around for the person carrying their baby. In his third feature, Eduardo Roy is able to refine his language in the most satisfying way possible, letting go of the tricks and excesses that weaken his previous films, and find not just the right ending but also the right timing for it. This strong direction, oppressive but never going too far, builds up in surges from start to end, and in between Roy knows how to make the scenes crack until the whole thing is fractured but still intact, about to be shattered but remaining in one piece until the very end.

The tension comes from the dogged linearity of it — how clear that there is really no turning back, and how, by using the simple narrative of an underage couple looking desperately for their abducted child, it is able to impart the cruelty of misfortune pounding without mercy. It is painful to see how Aries and Jane strive to walk forward and become defeated despite doing their best, more so when they are humiliated by the very people who should be helping them. When Jane goes to the police station to seek help and is instead asked to recount her first sexual experience, accused of lasciviousness and forced to show her lactating breasts to be ridiculed, the viewer feels the abuse vicariously. And when the TV crew loses the photos of their child, the only memento they have of him, it is only natural to expect them to go insane.

But they do not. Because Roy presents Aries and Jane as characters of enormous strength, not resilience, not understanding, not resourcefulness, but strength. They are people whose youth has been corrupted but whose will to survive is toughened by experience, making them nearly invincible. They steal for a living but are obviously guided by religious virtues, and such complexities and contradictions are substantially illustrated. Comparisons can easily be made with The Child, the Dardenne Brothers’s film with an almost similar premise, with the young characters and the intimate, direct camera style punctuating the physical proximity, but Pamilya Ordinaryo reflects a uniquely Filipino struggle, an exceptionally Filipino spirit and fate defined by a specific culture and politics of poverty. But it is when Roy decides to allude to The Bicycle Thief that it turns into something else, into something terrifyingly close, and no ending no matter how quiet and lingering can make their predicament any less heartbreaking.

Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2016 (Part 1) August 9, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Festival, Noypi.
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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

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.

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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.

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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.

Sinag Maynila 2016: A Minority Report May 8, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Asian Films, Festival, Noypi, Sinag Maynila.
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sinag2016

“Five films don’t make a festival,” a friend remarked, jokingly. “Savage,” I said. Then I laughed because it’s practically true: like last year, the highlight of Sinag Maynila 2016 is its five features, but this time it has two sets of short films (thirteen of them in total) — a selection of new names that provide a seeming contrast with the familiar ones in the main lineup — and a section for Samsung CinePhone entries for students. Despite making an effort to branch out, this add-on feels rather superficial, with only one screening schedule for each short film set, with so little publicity to urge people to see them.

More than the fewness of movies in the program, it is the lack of festival atmosphere and activity that blankets Sinag Maynila — the sheer absence of excitement that should characterize an annual occasion like this. Understandably these are birth pangs commonly associated with recent ventures: its steady audience remains the audience of other local film festivals, those who are devoted viewers of local films, those who adjust or clear their schedules just to see these new works, hoping to find treasures.

If Solar Entertainment CEO Wilson Tieng and Brillante Mendoza are serious about making Sinag Maynila a long-term enterprise (i.e., if they care about keeping this small audience and attracting new ones), there should be as much emphasis given to the organization, to the planning and promotion, as to the process of selecting films for the two-million-peso grant and ensuring they get made in time. As of now Sinag Maynila makes only a slight impression, even to the devoted, and only when these films get into foreign festivals do they get talked about again, which makes the intention of producing them rather obvious.

With only five entries, the curation easily invites more questions about what isn’t there than what is present. It leans more toward darker themes — serious, somber, and shapeless — as opposed to genre entertainment, spelling out its penchant for arthouse standards that expect an intellectually higher regard. It also steps away from subjects centered on poverty but lingers instead on its fringes. It is reasonable to deduce that this is Mendoza’s taste in film and, quite possibly, filmmaking — such characteristic mix of grit and grime that affects as much as it alienates; bleak stories that only become interesting when the form becomes the story, and when the story attaches itself to a larger metanarrative. Haste is also felt — as haste has long been an aesthetic of grant-produced films, the result of which, whether good or bad, has come to typify many local films of the past decade.

For this year, sadly, the selection of Sinag Maynila falls short of interest and zeal. Both façade and interior, from texture and color to depth and impact, turn out to be unremarkable and unimpressive, individually and collectively. The festival has to raise its game or risk being taken for granted, if it is not yet there at this point.

MRS

MRS. (Adolf Alix, Jr.)

The screenplay of Mrs. is written by Ralston Jover, and his recognizable device and design figure prominently in the film. It is standard Jover: peculiar milieu, multiple characters, stark dramatic moments, with apparitions constantly slipping through the cracks. One can appreciate how he plays with real time using non-real-time elements, and in all of the films he has written or directed, this ruse is a hit or miss.

As conveyed by the title, Mrs. is a story of women in middle and old age who are connected simply by association. Holding them together is Virgie, a stubborn mother who refuses to leave her house despite the warnings of an earthquake. As the narrative unfolds it introduces several people in her life: her helper who is about to get married; her sister who insists on selling the property; her daughter who lives overseas and keeps encouraging her to leave; her other daughter who is into a religious group; and a woman she meets who tells her about her son’s disappearance.

Mrs. presents these layers with tact — furtive, careful, and rhythmic — and furnishes them with details that summon a glance of complexity. It hinges on how everyday interactions are laden with disguised connections, most of which are emotional threads that remain unseen unless touched. Director Adolf Alix is able to lay down the important pieces and at the same time suspend a rope of uncertainty, enabling another layer of interest: an odd tension from not knowing what will happen next.

But all of this sounds good only conceptually: the fleetingness of the characters soon becomes the fleetingness of the film, and the curiosity coming from its structural exposition, despite a couple of surprises from the actors, is made less remarkable by a lack of color, by this overall faintness that isn’t made satisfying at the end. The screws remain loose, and instead of being tightened, to hold the frame better despite missteps and quirks, they are unfastened for a dramatic close. Mrs. hides its fumbling, but it fumbles all the same.

TPO

TPO (Joselito Altarejos)

TPO concerns a young woman who is repeatedly abused by her husband. She goes to court, the process of which involves expected resistance, and leaves with their son. Nestled on this slim timeline, severed in three overlapping perspectives, are details of a marital relationship that appear to illuminate on such domestic violence: her submission, his machismo, her vulnerability, his gutlessness. Basically both of them, husband and wife, are made to look pale. Neither of them is strong or willful — they feel like sketches, recognizable but not fully drawn, rough and half-finished — and they have to be berated, convinced, insulted, battered, humiliated, or rendered stupid before they realize something has to be done, or a decision has to be made.

The only strong character is the husband’s father, a figure of authority that justifies the existence and extension of abuse, in a way also legitimizing the conditions surrounding it, his chauvinism not only unchallenged and endured, but also fondled and serviced. The abuse at the center of TPO is not completely attributed to him — there is a clear acknowledgment of fault coming from different sides — but it is its most visible root. In emphasizing his control does the film manage to cohere the many unspoken definites, the quiet collapse of walls and will, thereby creating this pervasive tone of terror in the use of off-screen drama and minimal action. One can be easily impressed by this but therein lies the rub.

The portrayal of helplessness is dated, and that may be a statement in itself — how old habits persist, unquestioned — but TPO has nothing new to offer and argue so instead it tries whenever it can to be edgy: imprecise long takes and long shots, flat structural design, a reading of the TPO with the paper flashed onscreen, abruptly ended sequences, understated (and oftentimes ineffective) acting, a sort of quietness that is too noticeable and directed. These come off as distractions rather than parts of a discussion against violence, managing to say that domestic abuse is awful and complicated, but it’s a truism that could have benefitted from a stronger reliance on script than improvisation, on counting on clear and exact points than artful slips and miscues.

dyamper

DYAMPER (Mes de Guzman)

Mes de Guzman has made some really good films in the past, so it’s painful to admit that Dyamper doesn’t come close at all to them. One could attribute it to the use of professional actors, or to the pressure coming from deadlines, but his recent outputs with grant-giving festivals no longer feel as well-thought-out and insightful as his previous works — their unevenness merely feels sloppy, and the importance of shaping the milieu is set aside. Dyamper suffers from these flaws, yet the most obvious is the lack of strong direction, the poor staging of actions, the carelessness in carrying the film to different places without any satisfying feeling in either the journey or destination. There are merits to its core narrative — with the three boys jumping onto the backs of trucks to steal sacks of rice, especially the sociopolitics that comes with it — but the insistence on making it dramatic limits the emotional connections that could be made with the film. Dyamper ends up being a confused mélange of ideas, subjects, and treatments, and by wanting to touch on many things it manages only to make the viewer appreciate the efforts and not the result.

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EXPRESSWAY (Ato Bautista)

Shugo Praico and Ato Bautista are longtime collaborators, and if their films should stand as proof, neither of them is growing, or getting better at being a writer and director. We get it — male characters: male ids, male egos, male super-egos. Male genre essentials: sex, guns, murder, dark past, chase, revenge, death. Expressway, their sixth feature-length team-up, offers both genre entertainment and genre trash. The entertainment, however, is short-lived, coming only from how promising the first sequence is: the play of light and darkness, the dance of dust and dirt, the premise of a jazzy noir thriller about to unfold. The trash arrives as soon as the story is told. Moving along, it becomes less and less interesting: trite plotlines abound, corny flashbacks, a laughable twist that can be seen coming 30 minutes into the film, and Aljur Abrenica, with his annoying smug and terrible outbursts, making the viewing experience almost unbearable. Only the stylish excesses keep it running, but these trimmings lose their allure because they do not have any weight: they are only something to look at, not to be looked into. Expressway has all the makings of enjoyable fluff, but even calling it fluff feels overpraising it.

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LILA (Gino Santos)

Lila is bad — that seems enough to cover everything — but there are curious aspects to its badness that make it worth seeing, if only to experience the discrete pleasures of watching a bad film, or in a more utilitarian sense: to serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers on how not to make a horror movie.

This is Gino Santos’s fifth film, his third festival entry after The Animals and #Y in Cinemalaya, and he has another Star Cinema film currently in preproduction. This should count as useful experience, but Lila proves to be a thousand steps backward, and from being an exciting discovery — a talent worth hearing out for his perspective of today’s (upper class) youth — he now seems to have turned into an amateurish fixture, all flashy and popular but showing no signs of taking his craft seriously.

To put it bluntly: Lila has no understanding at all of what horror means, how horror works, and why horror fiction is made. Almost every aspect has worked together to make it awful: writing, direction, acting, shot choices, camera movements, music cues, editing. It has no idea what is required to create suspension of disbelief, and in countless moments it spoils its own efforts, as though what happens onscreen is a product of first draft, first take, or first thought. Central to its suspense is the main character’s reading of a diary, and from the slow buildup to the ridiculous delivery, it’s a device that can be considered one of the worst blunders in local cinema (such realization becoming more painful because it relates to literacy). With this and many others, it’s an embarrassment of lapses, both small- and large-scale, and even a writer who is used to describing unpleasant things with flair would deem it unwise to put Lila in a lyrical light.

Like the rest of the films in Sinag Maynila 2016, its material needed more time to be analyzed, revised, and realized — and frankly most films produced by grant-giving festivals often look like they needed more time — and it’s fair to raise this fault in an expectedly flawed system. But it’s also fair to say that the creative path of Lila, basing on the outcome, is not something that festivals like this must encourage and uphold.

Transit (Hannah Espia, 2013) August 2, 2013

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemalaya, Festival, Noypi.
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transit2

Written by Giancarlo Abrahan and Hannah Espia
Directed by Hannah Espia
Cast: Irma Adlawan, Ping Medina, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Mercedes Cabral, Marc Justine Alvarez

It is rather unreasonable to pass judgment on Transit without first acknowledging its merits. Confident in taking on a subject bigger than her skill, writer and director Hannah Espia manages to depict the plight of Filipinos in a foreign country without making her audience feel estranged. The reach of her film and its implications create an effect that lingers, one that leaves an impression of totality, particularly in illustrating that Filipinos, regardless of their whereabouts, have a faculty for enduring distress and grief. Nationality is a nagging facet of Transit, and rightly so; but far more interesting is the depth of urban sociology and anthropology that makes the drama believable, the actors being able to extract overtones of similar quality to complement each other. It is to Espia’s credit that despite being shot mostly in Israel, the setting feels like home, the sense of belongingness and propriety brought forth by the predicament of the characters, as though they left the Philippines and carried all their emotional luggage.

The troubles of the Filipino family and community in Tel Aviv are unmistakable: they are there and they need to be dealt with. They are not refugees but seekers of livelihood, willing to commit themselves to precarious subsistence with guaranteed employment for fear of returning to a homeland that promises nothing. The horror of living in Manila is different from the horror of living in Tel Aviv. Horror may vary in quality but seldom in effect: the Filipino has no choice but to conform. Unlike Manila, Tel Aviv is a city where No is a definite answer and a child is likely to compare a Bar Mitzvah to circumcision. Unlike Tel Aviv, Manila is a city where Yes is often given but offers no security. Airports connect cities but not feelings. When Joshua asks worriedly, “What if my memory of Israel fades away?” it is a valid concern but also a helpless plea, something which even his father is powerless to answer. Transit is a collection of sad stories by characters who do not demand much from life, but obviously life doesn’t care: it doesn’t have ears.

Once it’s settled how well-made the film is, the viewer can see the larger frame where the picture is mounted. What doesn’t work for Transit is despite the play with structure, five stories told separately with overlapping scenes, it is not a compelling watch. Once the narratives are established, the conflicts become foreseeable—Yael’s issues with her mother, Tina’s pregnancy, Eliav’s collapse on the floor—and they settle for a nondescript high point. Modesty is preferred to lies and surprises; submission is  favored instead of struggle. What moves the film along is not the decisions made by the characters, which could have been more striking, but the drama already existing, a storytelling tradition that most local filmmakers tend to consider more sincere.  Furthermore, the repetition of scenes is not as effective as most people claim; in fact, it only provides unnecessary reiteration of nuances, opportunities which could have given way to additional layers of strain in the characters. It may be harmless, but seeing it executed five times magnifies the blemish.

It is rarely discussed as it may seem trivial, but it must be said that there is something inherently wrong with putting notes at the end of a movie. Transit is strong enough to not merit an explanation; any viewer moved by such depiction of injustice will be driven to learn more about it, to ask questions at the forum or to read up online. Offering this information is similar to putting the film inside a re-sealable bag, secure and impenetrable in the meantime, but what’s the point of this journalism, if not for supplementary drama? It is discomforting when it assumes responsibility for real-life problems: art and entertainment can only do so much. Transit is rich in details but lacking in actions, bearing a gentle mix of beauty and subtlety that gives precedence to weight, hoping for a deep and emotional impression on the viewers. While it is successful in many respects—the breathtaking feel of its outdoor shots, the use of Hebrew by the actors, the appearance of Toni Gonzaga, the violent little wars inside the violent big wars, the hurt of losing your home without realizing it—it is also imperative to see through its magnificence and continue to squint.

Balang Araw (Archie Dimaculangan, Cheska Ramos, Jose Antonio de Rivera, 2012) January 31, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Festival, Noypi.
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Directed by Archie Dimaculangan, Cheska Ramos, and Jose Antonio de Rivera
Cast: Aleera Montalla, Jao Mapa, Shielbert Manuel. Alex Vincent Medina

One of these days you might find yourself watching Balang Araw and pondering on the same thing: is there anything discerning that can be said about the film? Indulgence will give way to a finer thought: are the nice things about it enough to come up with an insight? More importantly, would it matter? Sure, it has a decent story and a respectable set of actors as its limbs. The storytelling may not be fresh, but the visuals are engaging, and if not for a small geographical glitch, the attempt at presenting an organized chaos would have been somewhat credible. But discerning? Not really. It’s a tolerable movie, like one of those colorful marbles that’s always kept inside the “not bad, not great” jar. Unlike Suntok sa Buwan and its inconsiderate length, Balang Araw recognizes that it doesn’t have much to say, too little in fact that a huge chunk of the film is devoted to deliberately building the tension towards its climax. For a work that values technique over content, pulling a surprise is the least of its concern: telling something new is minor. The gathering of characters at a convenience store adds to the anxiety, but the execution falls short at its peak, especially when you realize that the twenty-something gunman/gamer is ruining the film’s final minutes. In light of this whole SM Bigshot shebang, and “its continuing efforts to champion the advancement of film literacy in the country and to promote Philippine cinema as a vehicle for cultural identity,” you might also wonder, is the term “modern hero” just a slippery catchphrase that gets triter and triter over time? Do we always have to encourage this stagnant facet of our culture? “Hope is the dream of a waking man,” Aristotle once said, but he also told everyone that “youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” He’s just saying: go ahead and choose a quote to blindfold you.

An “Ex Press” Interview with Jet Leyco September 2, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in .MOV, Festival, Interview.
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Manila-based filmmaker Jet Leyco has two films at the 4th .MOV International Film, Music, and Literature Festival. One is for the Silvershorts competition called “Patlang” and another is a full-length feature called Ex Press. Jet sits down with Lagarista.com and shares his first filmmaking experience and his thoughts on the importance of local film festivals.

Ex Press is your first full-length and also your thesis film at the Asia Pacific Film Institute. How was the experience shooting your first movie?

It was exciting and puzzling at the same time. I try not to follow the traditional process of principal photography and stick to a more spontaneous method of shooting without a script in hand but with a story in mind. Day after day, pieces of the story started to come together as I edited the rushes. Eventually, I began writing scenes and monologues to weave the footage I took. It was more of documentary filmmaking plus a post set-up (with lights and dolly) shoot. Actually, I’m satisfied with the results. It is a combination of traditional and guerilla filmmaking.

Were you able to apply the things you learned from film school?

Yes. But still, it is my own voice that took over in the process. Knowing the technical details in filmmaking helps; however, it is the framing of a particular image or capturing a distinct atmosphere that is more important to me. I tried not to use conventional formulas as I believe that cinema has its certain process and pacing from writing and principal photography to post-production.

What’s the reaction of your teachers to Ex Press?

None of them have seen the film yet except for our production management professor who served as one of the panel members at the defense. She appreciated the film and thought it was distinct and looked a bit like Herzog’s movies.

What’s the advantage of a “no pre-production shoot” and improvisation? Will you recommend the same approach to other filmmakers?

I must say that heavy preparation will always be the filmmaker’s best armor. Eighty percent of Ex Press did not undergo pre-production, but I think my instinct in shooting images that I need and editing in mind (in advance) helps a lot in the process.  I recommend this approach in real time situations when things happen naturally, and all you got to do is frame them nicely in order to tell your story.

The film is heavy on monologues about dreams and memories. Are these your personal thoughts? Does the train in the film symbolize anything?

Personal thoughts—yes. But as much as possible, I try to create a certain behavior or ideology for each character so that the audience can relate to the story better. I think my views on certain issues are raised in the film in a very metaphorical way.

The train symbolizes a different atmosphere. It may be a means of transportation. A meditation of images. The society we live in. Some history we try to forget. And so on and so forth. Many things.

Who are your favorite local filmmakers?

Mike De Leon. Lav Diaz. John Torres. Khavn De La Cruz. Bernal. Brocka. Gerardo De Leon.

Why do you think people should support local film festivals like .MOV?

More than a festival, I think .MOV is a celebration of local cinema, music, and literature in which people can see a different kind of revolution, a revolution that creates no boundaries and borders between art and people. Every festival, no matter how small or grandiose, should be recognized and supported by its community. Also, .MOV is a way of remembering two great film enthusiasts, Alexis and Nika, who dedicated their lives to cinema.

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Purple (Brillante Mendoza, 2011) April 2, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Festival, Noypi, Short Cuts.
1 comment so far

Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Rene Durian, Raymund Nullan

Brillante Mendoza’s contribution to Quattro Hong Kong 2, a collection of short films commissioned by Brand HK and HKIFF Society, is called “Purple.” According to one write-up, the title is an allusion to the color of bauhinia, the flower that appears in Hong Kong’s national flag. Mendoza picks up from that reference and presents the city in a manner similar to the distant yet emotional eye of a tourist. Opening the film are shots of old photographs of ships arriving at the harbor, connoting migrants who have chosen to stay in the city. Two men ruminate about their loved ones: an old man who fondly remembers his wife, and a lad troubled by his petty quarrels with his girlfriend. The visuals are touchingly pretty. Walking around Hong Kong, they pass by the fish market, flower shop, and food stands, and admire various performers on the street. The sight of high-rise buildings and trains crowded with passengers also strikes a wistful chord. There is no indication whether or not the characters are Filipino, and it can be inferred that Mendoza is aiming for that lack of specificity. The problem, however, lies in the voice-overs. The English dialogues written by Boots Pastor and Linda Casimiro are intended to sound mundane, yet hearing them delivered, unnatural and too acted, taints the viewing experience. This observation can easily be taken for granted, given the fact that most of Mendoza’s films are characterized by a misstep obviously overcome by theme.

Ang Panday (Mac Alejandre and Rico Gutierrez, 2009) January 8, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Festival, Literature, Noypi.
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Directed by Mac Alejandre and Rico Gutierrez
Cast: Bong Revilla, Iza Calzado, Phillip Salvador
Based on National Artist Carlo J. Caparas’ comic series

Hindi ko napanood ang Panday ni Bong Revilla. Hindi naman libre ang sine, at hindi naman ako ipokrito para sabihing handa akong maglustay ng pera sa pelikulang alam ko na ang lasa bago ko pa man tikman, kaya minabuti ko nang premyuhan ang sarili ko ng kapayapaang hindi sasakit ang ulo sa loob ng dalawang oras. Pero dahil tila isa siyang mahalagang pelikula, naghanap ako ng nakapanood. Siyempre hindi naman mahalaga kung pangit o maganda ang pelikula, mas mahalaga kung mahalaga siya. At ang Panday ni Bong Revilla ay mahalaga, kung di man sa habang panahon e kahit papa’no sa taong nakalipas.

Kaya naghagilap ako ng kaibigan. Teks, teks, Walang tawag, tawag, susko, hindi ko na nga ako gumastos sa sine e, tapos gagatos ako sa tawag? Neknek mo Bong. Ayun, may mga sumagot namang mga kaibigan. Iniwasan din nila. Yung iba hindi pa rin nakakanood. Pero suwerte ata ang bakasyon ko dahil isang gabing umuwi ang ate ko at ang mga anak niya, akalain mong nanood pala sila ng Panday. May pera! At naisip ko, bakit pa ba ako lalayo e nandyan naman si Iya, ang pamangkin kong limang-taon na mas maalam pa sa akin sa pagkakaiba ng pangit at maganda. Akalain mo yun, napanood ng pamangkin ko ang Panday ni Bong Revilla. Taob ako. Talo ang credentials ko, kung meron man.

Kaya ayan, pagkatapos maghapunan ni Iya, kinontrata ko na siyang irebyu ang Panday. Ang mga bata, natuklasan ko, wala namang konsepto ng pagtanggi. Basta’t pagmumukhain mong mahalaga ang sasabihin nila, papayag sila. Hindi katulad ng mga utaw na ibang klase kung magpapilit. Ang mga bata, konting bola, konting udyok, papayag na. Wala naman kasi silang mga trabaho at walang mga hang-ups sa buhay. Ayun, papayag si Iya basta raw bibigyan ko siya nung chocolate na nakatago dun sa ref at hindi ko sasabihin sa nanay niya na yun ang kondisyon niya. Ayos, sabi ko, walang problema. Basta pag sumakit ang ngipin mo bahala ka nang magpabuko. E di sabi ko, dali, sulatin mo na. Kahit isang talata lang.

Hawak ang papel at bolpen, tiningnan muna ako ni Iya nang matagal. ‘Kala ko nasa mukha ko ang isusulat niya kaya hinintay ko lang siya tumungo at bumalik sa pagsusulat. Kamukat-mukat mo, may iba palang dahilan. Nung tinanong ko kung bakit di pa siya magsulat, sumagot siya.

“E tito, hindi pa ako marunong magsulat.”

Tang ina, oo nga pala, ba’t di ko ba yun naisip. Akalain mo yun, nakasalalay ang pinakamagandang rebyu ng Panday sa isang batang hindi pa marunong magsulat! Anu’t anuman, hindi maaaring hindi marebyu ang Panday, ngayo’t natagpuan ko na ang pinakatapat na taong maaaring humusga nito. Isa pa, gusto ko rin talagang malaman kung anong tingin ni Iya sa pelikula ni Bong Revilla. Siya lang ang paniniwalaan ko sa lahat.

Kaya minabuti kong kausapin na lang siya. Binitiwan niya ang papel at bolpen at binuksan ang chocolate na suhol.

“O dali, sabihin mo na lang sa ‘kin kung anong tingin mo sa Panday.”

“Hindi siya maganda!”Habang may chocolate pa sa bibig.

“E bakit? Maganda raw sabi ng kuya mo a.”

“Ang pangit-pangit ng istorya. Ang pangit-pangit. Parang yung kalaro ko.”

“Ba’t pangit?”

“E kasi, yung lalaking kalbo, ang pangit na, masama pa. At saka yung dila niya ang haba-haba. Tas itinali niya si Panday sa dila niya. Saka pinagbubugbog niya gamit yung dila niya. Kadiri.”

Tigil. Kumuha pa si Iya ng chocolate. Mukhang may sasabihin pa siya kaya hinayaan ko muna siyang magpatuloy.

“Nakakalungkot yung istorya. At saka si Panday nabulag siya. Tas yung babae ni Panday magpapakasal dun sa kalbong lalaki! Yung pangit na kamukha ng kalaro ko.”

“Bakit, ano ba yung magandang palabas? Ba’t hindi yun yung pinanood niyo?”

“Yung Shake Wattle and Woll. Pinakamaganda yun sa buong mundo. Pinilit lang nila ako manood ng Panday. E me pera naman ako. Sabi nila iiwan daw nila ako sa loob ng sinehan pag di ako pumayag.”

Tigil ulit.

“Gusto ko ng nakakatakot. Gusto ko ng kinakabahan. E sa Panday hindi ako kinakabahan kasi ang sama-sama nung lalaki. Ang pangit-pangit! Ang sama-sama nung kalbong lalaking kamukha ng kalaro ko!”

Parang hanggang dun na lang ang kayang sabihin ni Iya; kaya minabuti kong ihinto na ang pagtatanong at patulugin siya, kasabay ng paghahangad na hindi niya mapanaginipan si Phillip Salvador. Tama, ito na nga ang pinakamatapat na rebyung hindi ko kayang isulat.

#

P.S. (isang P.S. na mas mahaba pa sa S)

Gusto ko lang isingit bilang nandito na rin. Kasagsagan ng MMFF nang imungkahi ni Bong Revilla na magpalabas lamang ng isang Hollywood movie sa loob ng isang buwan. Ginawa niyang halimbawa ang kaso ng South Korea, na diumano ay lubhang nakatulong ang limitasyon sa pagpasok ng pelikulang Hollywood upang umunlad ang sarili nitong industriya.

Alisin ang konteksto, may kabuluhan ang gustong mangyari ni Bong Revilla. Matagal nang patay ang pelikulang Filipino dahil sa mga import na palabas. Mas maraming gustong manood ng Paranormal Activity kaysa Villa Estrella, ng Up at Wall-E kaysa Urduja at Dayo, ng New Moon kaysa Yanggaw. Pero kapag tinanggal mo lahat ng tubig sa dagat, ano-ano at sino-sino nga lang ba ang maiiwan? Si Kim Chiu at Gerald Anderson? Si Vic Sotto? Si Piolo Pascual? Mano Po 97? Shake Rattle and Roll 105? Napakagandang sitwasyon.

Sa totoo lang, pinapaniwala lang tayo ng mga katulad ni Bong Revilla na nabubuhay ang pelikulang Filipino minsan sa isang taon dahil sa MMFF—na palagay ko ay mas akmang tawaging “burol ng pelikulang Filipino” kaysa isang okasyon. Oo nga, kumikita ang mga pelikula, pero makabuluhan ba ang mga ito? Totoo bang na-enjoy siya ng mga tao tulad ng madalas nilang sabihin kapag itinapat na ang mikropono? O dahil Pasko lang at walang karapatang maging salbahe? Ganun na lang ba lagi, maganda ang pelikula dahil pinaghirapan? Sinong ulol ang gusto niyong lokohin? Maski pamangkin kong limang-taong gulang nga hindi niyo nabola e. At kahit maglabas pa ang ABS-CBN kada isang oras ng ambush interview na napakaganda ng I Love You, Goodbye—at kahit sabihin pa ni Kris Aquino na maganda ang kahit anong pelikula ng Star Cinema mamatay man siya—e alam naman natin kung sino ang tunay na nagagantso.

Alisin ang konteksto, layunin ni Bong na pasiglahin ang pelikulang Filipino. Dahil kaunti na lang ang palabas na Hollywood, “mapipilitan” ang mga taong manood ng mga lokal na gawa at dahil dun, masaya ang producers, masaya ang MTRCB dahil marami silang mahuhuthot na buwis sa bawat pelikulang ipapalabas, masaya ang gobyerno dahil sa limpak-limpak na buwis na mananakaw, masaya ang mga tsismosa dahil mas marami silang mapagtsi-tsismisan, masaya ang mga artista dahil lagi silang may trabaho, at masaya ang kabit ng mga artista dahil hindi sila mawawalan ng sustento. Ang saya-saya ‘no? Isa lang naman ang hindi magiging masaya e. Ang manonood.

Mabibilang mo sa daliri ng iyong kamay at paa kung ilan lang ang magagandang pelikulang Filipino na lumalabas sa isang taon, kabilang na diyan ang mga kasali sa Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, at Cinema One, yaong mga bukas sa publiko upang panoorin; at sa takbo ng mainstream cinema sa ngayon, sino nga ba ang talagang talo? Hindi ba’t kami na nagbabayad para sa pelikula, kami na may karapatang pumili kung saan namin gustong gastusin ang perang pinaghirapan naming ipunin, kami na umaasang maaaliw pero lumalabas ng sinehan na sising-sisi, kami na naniwala sa sinabi ni Piolo at KC na maganda ang pelikula nila pero hindi naman pala. Bakit sa lahat ng tao kami ang kailangang magdusa? Hindi ba’t tama lang naman na kapootan namin kayo at sigawan ng, Putangina niyo, bakit hindi niyo na lang pagandahin ang mga pelikula niyo? Bakit kami ang titikisin niyo at huhusgahan sa panlasa na mayroon kami? At bakit kayo ang magdidikta ng kung ano ang magandang palabas na maaari lang naming panoorin?

Lilinawin ko, hindi ko punto na lahat ng pelikulang Hollywood ay maganda. Sa totoo lang, karamihan ng mga dinadala nila rito ay yaong mga tingin lang ng mga distributor ay kikita—dahil siyempre pera-pera lang naman yan. Yung mga magaganda, inaasa na lang natin sa pirata at download sa Internet. E kung pera-pera lang din naman pala, bakit ko pa payayamanin si Bong Revilla at tutulungan siyang makagawa ng mga pelikulang tulad ng Panday na sabi nga ng pamangkin ko ay, “Ang pangit-pangit! An pangit-pangit!”? Kapag nanggaling sa bata ang salitang pangit, mga 98% lang naman siguro siyang totoo.

Sasabihin ko sa inyo, kapag maganda ang pelikula, manonood ang mga tao, krisis man o hindi. Matalino po kami. Baka po kayo yung hindi. Manonood kami kapag gusto namin; manonood kami kung naniniwala kaming may mapapala kami sa pelikula. Kahit na hindi kami kumain habang nanonood, basta solb na sa palabas. Kahit maglakad pa kami pauwi. Ganun naman ang tunay na pagmamahal sa pelikula ‘di ba? Sa sinasabi mo Bong Revilla, kailan pa kinailangan ng awa (at hindi ng suporta) ang pelikulang Filipino?

At bilang pahabol, huwag na natin alisin ang konteksto. Iwan mo ang konteksto at si Bong Revilla ay hitik pa rin sa kanyang messiah complex. Siya diumano ang ating Tagapagligtas. Itinuturing niya ang mga manonood bilang Katrina Halili at ang Hollywood bilang Hayden Kho. At handa siyang maglaan ng pagkahaba-habang speech sa Senado para ipamukha sa atin kung gaano siya kakisig upang ipaglaban tayo. Hindi niya tatantanan ang mga Hayden Kho sa mundo hangga’t hindi sila natatanggalan ng lisensya. At nakakapag-Ingles na siya ngayon, dahil kinakailangan. Ang lalaki nga naman! Gagawa ng paraan basta’t makaiskor lang. “Ang pogi mo, Bong!” gusto niya atang marinig mula sa atin. O kulang pa, “Ang macho-macho mo, Bong! Pahalik!” Magsama kayo ng pelikula mo sa basurahan.

Minsan nakadepende rin ang mungkahi sa nakaisip nito.

I Love You, Goodbye (Laurice Guillen, 2009) January 3, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Festival, Noypi.
4 comments

Kim to Derek, her bones projecting themselves very well, “Don’t you find me attractive?” (Hands down, the runaway winner of the best movie line of 2009)

*

Directed by Laurice Guillen
Cast: Angelica Panganiban, Gabby Concepcion, Derek Ramsay, Kim Chiu

In the Church of England—this I lift from the dictionary—a vicar is “a person acting as priest of a parish in place of the rector, or as representative of a religious community to which tithes belong”. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church describes it as “an ecclesiastic representing the pope or a bishop”. “The Pope uses the title Vicarius Christi,” Wikipedia adds, “meaning the vicar of Jesus Christ”. As you see it is quite a sacred word, something that holds power albeit secondary. In common usage, the vicar is “a person who acts in place of another”; like a substitute or a deputy. It doesn’t take a genius to know that it is where the adjective “vicarious” is derived from, the adjective used to mean something “performed, exercised, received, or suffered in place of another” or “felt or enjoyed through imagined participation in the experience of others”. There is no one-word appropriate synonym for “vicarious”; it seems that any close word fails to capture its essence. In Pushing Daisies literature, though, “vicarious” could also mean the “by-proxy-high-five” Chuck and Ned once show to express their excitement, to which Emerson Cod, the vicar, answers with “by-proxy-vomit”.

So I devoted a long paragraph just to introduce the word, which in a way not only describes I Love You, Goodbye and the agony of seeing it, but also applies to all Star Cinema movies released in the last ten years. Vicarious also seems fit to describe the feeling I had after seeing the movie—that while I was not thoroughly angered, I felt that I watched something that was not there, like all the emotions I felt are just felt for me, like all the thoughts I had inside the theater are just plain submission to that said vicariousness. Pardon my use of jargon, but the experiences of the four amoebic characters are shown “without utilizing real emotions” and “without undergoing the tedious sublimation and distillation of true feelings”. In short, their experiences never passed through because they were fakes; and early cognition already sorted them out from the real. Like a profound idea, it dawned on me that Star Cinema are creators of cyborgs; we just think we feel that way because their robots are acting that way, replicating the emotions they should feel, which they really don’t possess, and which by virtue of intention we should also feel while watching them (I suppose when we’re dead). The writers and the crew all help to create them but in totality they are just mere buttons of the toy, doing what is ordered.

I Love You, Goodbye is too stiff to be enjoyed, too humorless to pass as entertainment (except for Matet and Ketchup, who, after realizing I was robbed of enjoyment, have led me to believe that Star Cinema are keen on creating obligatory side characters who are way, way, way more interesting than their inutile main characters), and too lifeless to even call it a movie. Guillen attempts to make the flashbacks appear like old-school melodramas—like something that will make the present-day narrative replete with interest—that after being aware of their backstories, we expect to see the characters in a different light, but no. The narrative only becomes as stale as any moldy bread, and worse, we get to eat it. After seeing I Love You, Goodbye, now I know what go suck a lemon means; and what an unpleasant way to know the unpleasant answer. Even Kim Chiu asking Derek Ramsay ”Don’t you find me an attractive?” which in the trailer sounds funny and thought-provoking, falls flat like a flat chest. The story aims to be turbulent but only comes out flatulent, turgid like a bloated corpse. The ending is likewise a nightmare like no other. And if I should make a late suggestion, they should have omitted that comma in the title, for purposes of logic.

Never has it sounded so true: it’s a whole lot better to support bright people making stupid works than see stupid people attempting to look bright. Case rested.

Himpapawid (Raymond Red, 2009) November 24, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Essay, Festival, Indie Sine, Literature, Noypi.
11 comments

The Force

English Title: Manila Skies
Written and directed by Raymond Red
Cast: Raul Arellano, John Arcilla, Sue Prado, Soliman Cruz

Shortly after winning the Palme d’Or, Raymond Red heard the news of a hijack. The passengers of Philippine Airlines Flight 812, on their way to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from Davao, were stranded after a desperate man declared a hold-up. Holding a gun and a grenade, he asked for their valuables and kept them inside a bag. He ordered the pilot to descend six thousand feet above ground, went to the rear door, and jumped. He wore a ski mask and swimming goggles, in case of landing on water, and suited himself with a homemade parachute.

That was on May 25, 2000. His body was found three days later.

Our few relevant filmmakers know this: if there is a place where one can find the most important stories to film, they are on the papers. Read and everything is already there. The characters, the plot, the resolution. On his part, Red has a strong grasp of his inspiration, only he uses it to address a common problem, a problem so common it is easily ignored. He works on the same premise but makes his intentions clear: to put emphasis on the social perspective, and to make this premise relate without needing so much details. Not only he achieves credibility in terms of ambition, but he also delivers the image of poverty that we have long been wanting to represent us, fair and square.

Should we remember a meaningful statement released after the PAL hijack, these words from Rep. Roilo Golez could be handy:

I can’t understand why an armed hijacker would risk his life only for a hold-up. Possibly his main goal, besides robbing, is to deeply embarrass the government.

Considering the political climate that time, particularly the series of bombings in the city and the unending tension between the military and rebels in Mindanao, the incident could only be interpreted as politically-motivated, even if it sounds slightly uncaring to the hijacker himself, or more important than what provoked him to such limits. Red, however, wants to pursue the man, know him, get in touch with him, and identify with him. Red makes another story—a narrative less concerned about marital problems and dreams of skydiving—but he gives his character the same conclusion. After all, in light of our condition right now, there could possibly be more reasons to jump off a plane with a parachute with no ripcord than otherwise. It just takes an awful effort.

But an awful effort it is—Himpapawid.

Hunger and misery go hand in hand, and often it is hunger that delivers someone to misery. The way Red shapes the character of the hijacker, hunger is numbed implicitly—or maybe hunger is something we don’t notice anymore, and can only be shown through the symbolism of rats and cockroach crawling unnoticeably—and misery is shown otherwise. What could have led him to hijack a plane, amid the little chance of accomplishment, points to a single cause, something that could only be deduced from the simple truth—that we are poor, that we have a history of poorness, and that we have a strong culture of poverty. Only we feel it more than we see it in the film. Himpapawid isn’t keen on persuading, but it is persuasive enough to attribute the hijacker’s actions to our diminishing regard for social responsibility. We cannot ignore the changing economy yet we try our best to do so; we find ways to make a living and think of the future; we reflect on our steps to get there, while the reasons why we strive—mainly our growing families—are still there, remaining, staying, depending on us.

Red may be talking about the same social cancer that Rizal, through Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, made clear more than a century ago, only in Himpapawid we have a hopeless protagonist to follow, his circumstances closer to recognition, and his fate already known to us. One arguable similarity though: Red unfolds his story like a novel, pacing it through a series of carefully structured rising action, involving supporting characters to further define the main character, apparently to allow his situation to be seen as critical, placing a clever plant and payoff device to render his argument intensely, and, in the writer’s command of words, making all the effort deliver a view of how things had been, and how things are going to be.

Himpapawid may well be the literary highlight of the year, but it is also its filmmaker’s return to the language that has nurtured him most. During those nine years between Anino and Himpapawid, the situations have clearly not changed for the better. We’re still like hamsters running persistently in wheels—running in one place and time, running till we lose the will to run—only in our case, we are running a life that doesn’t do us any good as time goes by.

*

Generations (The Young)

Generations (The Old)

More than forty years since its first publication, Mga Agos sa Disyerto remains a resounding piece of literature. The twenty-five stories that compose the collection—five shorts from Efren Abueg, Dominador Mirasol, Rogelio Ordoñez, Edgardo Reyes, and Rogelio Sicat—deliver a strong command of both language and subject that one can easily smell and taste their settings. The subjects are broad; the descriptions varied; the stories bleed fire and filth; and the characters.are so familiar they seem to walk right past the reader. There is more to poverty than being poor, the book is explicit in telling, and more to depression than not having a place to live and food to eat. Poorness is described the same way they are felt. The pressing depiction of the characters’ lives and their struggle to make out with the little things they have, as they face every day with an empty stomach, leaves its mark on succeeding generations of writers and readers, quickly establishing the book as a canon of short fiction.

Every story in the collection flows from the stream of social realities; each seems to emanate from a small opening of light that lets every observation cut deeply; yet it is in this little opportunity where hope springs forward—hope not only for Philippine literature but also for its inspiration, the poor society that continues to be poor, and the cruel situations that remain more and more cruel. But the writers are less concerned about solutions than problems—problems which cannot be ignored once one goes outside and observes. In these stories hope exists but it doesn’t come in the most appropriate time. Dire situations, however, give way to realities that can only come in such circumstances, a view of life that, for instance, can only be apparent to Ida and Emy in “Di Maabot ng Kawalang-Malay,” or to Impen after brawling with Ogor in “Impeng Negro.”

Included in the anthology is Sicat’s “Tata Selo,” a story that is widely read because it is required reading among high school students. Its language strikes the students first. Words like “istaked, “kahangga,” “gris,” and “nakiling” are new to their ears, or too old to be recognized that even their parents are not familiar with them. The clause “Kinadyot ng hepe si Tata Selo sa sikmura,” may elicit laughter, as the word “kadyot” is mostly used now to suggest sexual action. The names of the characters are also uncommon; “Tata” and “Kabesa” are rarely used in the city at present; and people now are more comfortable to say “Meyor” than “Alkalde.”  This being a suggestion of difference in locality, one cannot discount the fact that the story endures because of its subject. Effort, then, is expected from the teachers to explain to the students not just the meaning of difficult words and its plot structure; but more importantly the author’s manner of description and characteristic language, the context and subtexts of the milieu, and how they still relate today.

Right at the very start it is clear that the tragedy of Tata Selo is his killing of the landowner who forces him to leave his farm. But his greater tragedy—if there is such comparative way of looking at it—is not being able to fight for his reason. The crime undresses him of respect, fair treatment, and humanity; and that crime is a cruel equalizer. In the eyes of the people who look at him in detention, he is an old man—and they pity him. In the eyes of the police and the mayor, he should not have killed his lord—and they also pity him. It is in Sicat’s absolute sensitive control that Tata Selo comes to life as a powerful representation of poverty—both of body and spirit—that is borne out of greed and injustice. The feeling of helplessness is incredibly felt; the thought that the poor will only become poorer looms, and the truth that the rich won’t give a damn about them becomes stronger.

Atrofia, Joey Velasco, 2005, Oil on canvas

One could imagine Tata Selo as he looks outside his cell and the people look at him back—only the old man isn’t aware of them, isn’t aware of their look of pity, isn’t aware of anything at all—and one of those eyes knows he’ll die soon, hungry and bruised. Sicat breathes life not only to Tata Selo but also to countless farmers and laborers who live in deprivation, them who are abused even more because of their situation, them who have to work hard and get less in return without complaining. This value for humanism that Sicat punctuates in his story—a humanism based on character and dignity—also predominates in Raymond Red’s Himpapawid.

Raul and Tata Selo suffer from similar fate—only in different situations and different company of people. Like in “Tata Selo,” age isn’t a virtue to be proud of in Himpapawid; in fact, the older a person gets, the less likely he is to settle down comfortably. The older he gets, the harder the situations can be. And the older he gets, the bleaker his future is. Getting enough food to eat for every day becomes a luxury. A good work is hard to find; and once work is found, keeping it is even harder. In the film Raul asks permission from his boss to leave work in the morning because he plans to complete his papers for his job application abroad. His boss refuses, despite Raul’s plea and display of desperation, at his wits’ end just to convince him say yes. His boss agrees, only he’ll lose his job—and Raul, alone in his dismay and hopelessness, goes home, jobless.

His conversation with his boss is the first instance of seeing him on edge. His anger is understandable; but his steadfast demeanor, revealed in his tone and manner of reasoning, is, for lack of a better word, bizarre. Certainly, the boss wouldn’t go out on a limb to yield to his request. Like he says, people line up every day just to get Raul’s job—a job that demands no rest day, no valid excuse for absence. Raul is just another worker that can be easily replaced. The boss reasons out to his plea like the decision isn’t coming from him. There is a sense of detachment; a feeling of higher control. The order needs to be observed, or else the other workers will follow suit and the whole business will fail. Raul loses his job because he isn’t privileged to have a better work environment, the same way Tata Selo is socked by the police while in jail because he is an old man who killed a powerful person in the community. Their reasons are irrelevant.

Important is the reaction of other people to Raul’s character. The boss maintains his cool as he talks to him, though he almost loses it if he hasn’t been busy. An emotional turning point, however, is seen when Raul goes to the agency to finish his papers. The day, unlike any other day, is a succession of mishaps. He loses his coins in the sewer; he is riled by a dismissive customer in the photocopying shop; he steps on a poop. In the agency he flares up when the clerk tells him that his requirements aren’t right, thus his application cannot be processed. He goes in a shouting spree, denouncing the applicants who will themselves to condescend just to get work, scaring them. He tears up his papers and throws them away. He curses the system; he curses the plight of the unfortunate. He tells the truth, but in the eyes of these people, he is a madman. He is a threat to their dreams of greener pastures. But in the eyes of the audience, is he really acting strange?

It is easy to see where Raul is coming from. He stays in a dirty house, an apartment whose rent he hasn’t paid for months. His father is ill in the province and he cannot go there to visit him. He just lost his job. He tries to apply for a work abroad only to find out that his papers are incomplete. He is hopeless; he would lick any dust of hope that comes along his way. In the company of his beer friends, though, he finds it. And in their group he isn’t different; he isn’t bizarre; he isn’t tense. The long talk in front of the store best describes the “Filipino inuman,” humorous, tacky, and honest. The audience becomes a listener to truthful rants and a witness to a crime that will yield grave misfortune. The group welcomes him. He becomes part of their plan. He agrees to help the heist.

Beer is salvation

Raul isn’t at the center of the plan but it is through his participation that the film is able to convey its strongest point. The life of the poor is like dominoes falling in longer intervals, but the effect and outcome are still the same: the fall of everything. However difficult the situations are, there is still one that will come after another, an action that will trigger another situation to happen.

Everything topples onto another until there is nothing left to fall onto, until the end of everything, until death. And Raul, in the middle of everything, refuses to be defeated by circumstances and loses himself—his sanity letting go and completely leaving him on his own—hungry and bruised, choosing death by deadening. He jumps with the parachute of workers—of strikers who fight for fair treatment—and that isn’t enough. He dies beside their protests, beside the wails of empty stomachs, beside the clamor for little food, beside the cries of the young, beside the dead cause. He lies on the mud with his feet up, still trying to stand.

The fate of the poor is living and dying all the same. Like Tata Selo, Raul could only repeat his words and no one will ever care to listen.

*

Halfway through the sequence inside the plane, before the hijack happens, Teddy Co points at the two flight attendants. “Look at that,” he says in the vernacular. “Look at that. Raymond is telling us that women now have become workers and men have become bummers. Good-for-nothing. Useless.”

The observation is spot-on, so truthful it hurts. The reversal of the set-up is not anymore unusual, though; male chauvinism, at least in the Filipino household, has become lax and impractical. A family that stays together starves together; that’s an acceptable principle. Pride breeds hunger; and that pride is something that Filipinos have learned to set aside and reconsider. If the husband is out of work and the wife takes care of financial support, the former is expected to take over her duties. In some cases, however, such swallowing of pride on the husband’s part harbors guilt, laziness, and misery.

Tom and Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, directed by John Ford, 1940

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath sets a formidable example. At first, it has the impression of patriarchal solidarity—there’s Tom, Pa, Grandpa, Al, Connie, Noah, Uncle John, and Casy active in making important decisions. But when the family moves out of Oklahoma to find work in California, the said impression of fraternity slowly crumbles and each of these men has shown great weakness that leaves the family down-and-out. Ma, her mind clear and her voice stern and assured, now gives the orders and makes sure they are followed. She pulls the family together; when a member of the family dies, leaves, or gets killed, she is there, thinking, knowing what needs to be done, and doing what needs to be done after. She shows her strength to her husband, telling him in his face that gone were the times when he rules the family and when his decisions matter, especially now that he cannot give the family anything to eat. From pillar to post, she never gives up; she has elected herself to the position of not only being the head of the family, but its light—its direction.

Ma talks with a lot of weight but never inconsiderately. She talks coming from her experience and observations, knowing she has gone through enough hardships to grant her the privilege of shedding enlightenment, of telling what she thinks is unavoidable about their plight. Her words sum up the truth of their condition:

I’m learnin’ one thing good. If you’re in trouble or hurt or need — go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help — the only ones.

Only ones. That will help. Poor people.

Strikingly, Himpapawid also makes the league of extra-unlucky gentlemen prominent. The men dominate the narrative, that aside from Raul there are also characters that the story takes time to explore, namely his beer friends and the father and son in the province. On the other hand, there is a particular woman that stands out, not just because she is the only woman in the crowd of men but because she appears in three personas, Red making sure not to tell whether or not they are the same person.

The suspiciously promiscuous woman, the clerk, and the stewardess—Sue Prado plays them with the required ambiguity to further emphasize the mental torment of Raul. Red may have the intention of keeping her characters worthy of probe, especially in relation to Raul’s resolve to hijack a plane, as each of them figures in his moments of utter defeat (first, when he got fired; next, when his application papers weren’t accepted; and last, when he was about to hijack the plane). The woman is primarily seen as the object of his sexual desire—may it be her image specifically or just her as the lone woman in the desert of unfortunate men the viewer is not really advised—but unlike Ma in The Grapes of Wrath, she does not help Raul in the course of the story. The only time she helps him is when she pushes him out of the plane door to his death. Instinctively, that is the culmination of her purpose: bringing him to his grand finality.

A teaser for the film, slated for release in February 2010

Should one think of Filipino novels in a similar vein, Edgardo Reyes’ Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Norman Wilwayco’s Mondomanila: Kung Paano Ko Inayos Ang Buhok Ko Matapos Ang Mahaba-haba Ring Paglalakbay come to mind. The former is adapted into film by Lino Brocka in 1975; and the latter is being helmed by Khavn dela Cruz and is set to release next year. Considering that local cinema and literature don’t have a wealthy tradition of working together, there is no question why both novels are picked up for the big screen. Both have strongly defined main characters—Julio Madiaga and Tony de Guzman—who are molded by their experiences in the city, changed by their ill fates, and scarred by their bloody encounters. Allowing these men to represent the proletariat, Reyes and Wilwayco have made their characters distinctly alive that the reader starts to smell them and feel the sweat dripping on their foreheads as they run for their life.

The characterization of the city is by all means integral to the writers’ social criticism, which in closer inspection goes deep into their personal background. Both Reyes and WIlwayco are sons of the streets, children of grief, and drunkards who know the way of the world better than the aristocrat. Reyes, with his understated and careful force of description—always putting importance on precision and truthfulness—is a deserving inspiration to Wilwayco’s savage control of language, whose style has always matched the filthiness and putridness that pervade his stories. They have come to regard the city as a character on its own, defining their human characters, and not allowing them to escape the truth of their condition. They offer no world of beauty, no make-believe world of happily-ever-after—because in reality no paradise can exist in a city that was built in hell. Their city has pushed the animal out of Julio and Tony; and like Raul in Himpapawid, the beast is a creature that evolves grimly and hopelessly.

Julio Madiaga, Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Lino Brocka, 1975

Raul, Himpapawid, Raymond Red, 2009

Are they looking at the same person?

In Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Mondomanila, the clear conflict is man against society. Julio and Tony struggle to survive; they struggle to achieve their goal—Julio to finally be with Ligaya, and Tony to live a comfortable life out of the slums; and both struggle alongside their need to fill their stomachs with food. Himpapawid follows the same theme; scene after scene, layers pile up to reach the peak of Raul’s desperation. His primary need to go home in the province to visit his ill father blows up when he loses his job and gets involved in a failed heist. In a streak of luck (or unbelievable negligence), he is able to sneak his gun and grenade into the airport. He decides to hijack the plane, collect all the passengers’ valuable possessions and jump off with a homemade parachute. He hasn’t expected his death, for sure; he has overlooked it. Despair has numbed his mental state; he has lost his mind, though not fully. His logic is intact; only his plan isn’t. His distress has robbed him of the right frame of mind, proving the truth of his words, “Bato na ang utak ko!”

Red has gone literary without sacrificing the language of film. His literary devices—the flashback inside Sir Fernando’s office, the tripleganger character, and that particular scene when Raul has slept inside the taxi instead of looking out for his cohort—are woven seamlessly with the storytelling, allowing the images and sound to stand out without too much emphasis. The viewer gets to feel poverty without seeing similar images in the community—unlike, for instance, in Brillante Mendoza’s Tirador or Lino Brocka’s Insiang where the image of the community strongly appears and reappears in the narrative; instead, the emotional equivalent of these images is given: the behavior of Raul, the inebriated Lav Diaz mouthing “Wasak,” the interview of Pen Medina on television, the news clip of hostage-taking, and the numerous close-ups of Raul’s face, dripping with sweat. There is no particular place where Raul belongs—not the slums, not the workplace, not the store—except the streets. Red shoots Raul walking like he has walked these streets all his life, like he was born in them, grown in them, and slept in them every night. The pavement is his home, his last and only place in the city.

Like a flying vulture, Raul is always looking for something; but essentially, he is looking at something. He looks down at his feet; he looks up to see the plane approaching; he looks at his boss with contempt; he looks back; he looks at his side as he eats his crackers and drinks his softdrink; he looks daggers at the passengers of the plane, looking at them as if looking at himself, again, contemptuously. More than anything aesthetic, there is a reason why Red keeps angling towards the sky, from the audience’s point of view to Raul’s. Compassion—Red wants the audience to feel that—but really, is compassion enough? Will compassion help Raul ease his suffering? Will it alleviate his loss? (On second thought, could loss ever be alleviated?) Will it feed him? Will it give him hope?

It is no lie, however, that shared suffering does not guarantee intimacy. Having put the unfairness of human life into perspective, Red seems to say that Raul’s greater tragedy is indeed having us, all of us, as his companions. And around us, those who stay, tragedies like Raul are just waiting for the right moment—the right flicker of despond, and the right sharpness of knives—to happen.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970) October 31, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, Festival, Literature.
1 comment so far

bird with the crystal plumage

Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Bryan Edgar Wallace and Dario Argento
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno

For some reason, the vivid image of crawling stays in my mind after watching The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, and up to now, weeks after seeing it, it is still that image that pushes me to write about it. I do remember a lot of crawling, but I can’t remember them specifically, except that scene when the girlfriend is trapped inside the apartment and the killer hacks the door to get in. The girl acts like she was killed already, wailing and not doing much to escape, but she tries to open the window at some point. When she realizes that her death is near, she crawls on the floor and cries. I can’t remember if she fainted, but when her boyfriend arrives, the killer walks away and her savior gets in to rescue her. There is something thrilling about that scene, yet there is also something funny about it—ludicrous even to the point of distraction.

What most fans say about Argento’s first film is not really false. In comparison with his latter films—Suspiria being the most immediate work that comes to mind—The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is too weak to fly, well, if you get the lousy figure of speech. But strangely, I still find it very entertaining. Not that the fans don’t find it entertaining, or my taste gravely matters, but I don’t find it as disappointing as most of them do. The genre that the film belongs to—the giallo, which in Italian means yellow, named after the series of paperback novels of mostly yellowish covers—is remarkable for pushing a tradition of suspense-thriller films that are characterized by their stylish visual elements, often too polished and theatrical, and unconventional use of music. The “cheapness” of the pulp novels is usually emphasized, although when giallo started to be popular in film, the language has been defined to offer an alternative to schlock horror, punctuating the use of technique to help the story achieve a distinct pacing and atmosphere. It is in this context that The Bird With The Crystal Plumage would be appreciated, as an early potent example of the genre.

Yet the crawling could have been Argento himself trying to figure out the aesthetics of giallo. Like his inquisitive main character, who is a writer like himself, he is risking discovery by being nosy, by relentlessly holding on to what he wants even if it means getting killed or, in Argento’s case, reaching failure. It’s helpful that he has two wonderful artists with him to lend a hand: Vittorio Storaro—whose photography moves even when the scene is static, and stays even when the scene is moving—and Ennio Morricone—whose “lalalala” music keeps ringing like a broken record, adding a bizarre texture to Storaro’s strong visuals. It’s more of miscalculation than consistency, come-hitherness than vapidness, and tenderness than stoicism, that make The Bird With The Crystal Plumage work. When the killer’s husband falls from the window, slipping from the hands of the main character, the camera, taking his point of view, falls too. It’s a classic Argento device—playing with the point of view to build up the tension—that still looks fresh and astonishing up to now.

Biyaheng Lupa (Armando Lao, 2009) October 27, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Festival, Indie Sine, Noypi.
6 comments

biyaheng lupa

English Title: Soliloquy
Written and directed by Armando Lao
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz, Coco Martin, Angel Aquino

In an interview by Fanny A. Garcia, entitled “Armando ‘Bing’ Lao: Mula Mainstream Films tungo sa Indie Films, Mula Scriptwriter tungo sa Creative Producer,” Lao expresses his dismay on the lack of credit given to writers, of which he cited how local and foreign film communities regard directors as the sole authors of films. It is a culture, according to Lao, that even the academe is responsible for. Writers are often seen as secretaries of directors, they are obviously treated inferior to them, and most of the time they are neglected in the festival entourage. The writer creates the material, the director interprets it, so how come the director takes most of the credit?

Upon seeing Biyaheng Lupa on its premiere in the 11th Cinemanila Film Festival, I am both a proud student and a pleased audience. His attempt to prove his point in Garcia’s interview clearly shows his sterling ability not just as a writer but also as a director, as he risks to make his strengths and weaknesses visible. For a first film, it is always a good sign to see some weakness. Weakness dictates following, and weakness is truth. Once the disbelief is suspended, Lao starts to guide his characters one by one as their stories unfold and, interestingly, overlap.

The surface of the story initially rests on interest. The bus carries the characters from the city to Legaspi, Albay. Along the way, it picks passengers, halts at bus stops, and drops them off to their destinations. As far as the narrative is concerned, the story is just that, plain and simple. But here’s the trick, when the door of the bus closes, after that moment when the mute character gets into the vehicle, we get to hear what these passengers are thinking. We get to hear their thoughts, their intentions, their motives, their past and their present, their future, their musings on everything—their stories. Lao runs a risk in doing this, as it appears as a limited experiment, but the touch of quirk has made it serious and complex. There is the huge probability of failure—more likely if the material is not handled by the writer himself—but the sensitivity of the “dialogues,” the familiarity of the characters, and the relationship that comes out of them dominate.

What makes it work is that Lao did not take the writer’s cap off his head. He is practically in control. It is a writer’s film by all means, an exercise that shows his range and ability to share a world he created, to allow us to enter it, belong, and mingle with his characters. Through the unconventional storytelling, he is able to deliver a credible introspection of these people. He has also managed to study them more intimately, closer to their heart, and deeper to their soul. We respond to their thoughts—we laugh at them, we feel bad about their chances, we bully their stinking attitude, and we commiserate with their troubles. Lao not only gives them legs to stand, but also an extra pair to stroll around and have fun. The humor connects and pinches, making its style look effortless, believable—praiseworthy.

In Lao’s use of symbolic time, three important points become clear. First, time is very relative to the characters. Second, the characters are one with their realities. And third, the subject is equal to the environment. In our class, Lao barely discussed symbolic time since he was more concerned with real time, pushing us to explore more about our chosen milieus. But he left a short note about the subject, and here it is, in bullets:

> Story is phenomenological

> Timeline is condensed

> Plotting is rhizomic

> Character is subjectified

> Exposition is impressionistic

> Resolution is existential

There are theories involved in Lao’s writing process. He is scrupulous. He tries every possible turn that his story can take. He dresses his characters and puts them in different situations. He checks their credibility, if they speak right, if their problems are reasonable, if their actions are believable. These things are necessary regardless of time mode—dramatic, real, or symbolic—and regardless of the writer’s choice to overlap the three, which is what most of the time happens. Unlike his usual scripts, Biyaheng Lupa is essentially symbolic; the form is noticeable in its use of time, and the handling of the characters in relation to each other. While form is favored, content does not suffer. Each has a story to tell, and each contributes to the portrait that Lao is trying to paint. The tone is carefully sustained, especially when it shifts to “reality”—when the characters are out of the bus and start to talk, when we hear “real” conversations as opposed to meandering thoughts and private musings.

Only in the end it chooses to be dramatic. The execution is poetic, alright, but the effect is out of place. While it could have chosen to end in the long shot of the bridge—that slow, uncertain feeling of staying in the middle of something, the night clad in pitch black, the road ahead enigmatic, the moon and the stars sleeping—it chooses to awaken the emotions we tried to keep away while watching the film by ending with tragedy. It disturbs the beautifully-set mood with a drastic turning point, which pounds my ear with a bit of betrayal, of making the unpredictable and unsatisfying turn. Clearly, this is a writer’s decision.

But what I recognize as weakness in its conclusion is part of Lao’s growth as a writer-director—something inevitable, something natural and understandable. The annoyance to the culture of authorship has pushed him to wear both hats; and seeing him now control his own material, imagining him taking chances with the possibilities not only with words but also with sounds and images, is welcoming. It is every writer’s dream: his contribution to be acknowledged. And Biyaheng Lupa—with the ripeness of its concept and the completeness of its thought—makes every writer in this side of town happily proud.

* Garcia, Fanny A. “Armando ‘Bing’ Lao: Mula Mainstream Films tungo sa Indie Films, Mula Scriptwriter tungo sa Creative Producer”. MALAY, Vol. 21 No. 2. Pamantasang De La Salle, Filipinas. 2009.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986) October 25, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Festival, Hollywood.
2 comments

ferris bueller's day off

Written and directed by John Hughes
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones

Truth is, at some point in our lives, we all want to be Ferris Bueller. We want to be the cool guy. We want the admiration of people we don’t know. We want everything to work out for us. We want a bestfriend like Cameron and a girlfriend like Sloane. We want parents who’ll wake us up every morning and check if we’re sick, and if we are, we want them to tell us not to worry about school because we’re more important than school, and we don’t deserve school when we’re sick. Ferris Bueller is too big to enter the dictionary, too big that he isn’t used in common conversations. But he has easily passed into our consciousness—even into our unconsciousness. He has penetrated our minds, our idea of life, our dreams, our fantasies, and their fulfillment. But Ferris is not the incredible—he is the impossible. Hughes gives him the perfect day off to tell us that it is alright to dream—that a day off is just that: a day off. But now we’ve grown up, still coping with mostly similar degree of problems, we don’t want just a day off. We want weeks off, months off, years off, decades off, a life off. That one day in Ferris’s life impressed its euphoria on us, and we hear the little voices in our head cheering us up, wanting to do the same. Like the bands Save Ferris and Rooney, we want that day to stay in our memory, to linger, to have a piece of it for us to remember. We want to give it a name.

We have imbibed Ferris’s outlook as we mature, only to realize that it is starting to wear off. We become Cameron—though truth is, we really are Cameron since the beginning. Cameron is not the antithesis of Ferris, he maybe is Ferris late in his life, or Ferris when he is not in a day off. Should we think of Ferris as a wonderful creation of Hughes, we should also not dismiss Cameron’s charming role because he makes Ferris work. We relate to Cameron’s personal and family problems even if we don’t see them, even if we don’t see his father smother him after crashing the Ferrari into the ground. Whereas we see Ferris’s problems—in school, Ed Rooney chasing him, his sister’s jealousy upon seeing him get away with all his mischief–we know he is not going to end up caught. On the other hand, we know Cameron will get the beating not only from his father, but also from life. Reality bites, but reality could be bitten back. Cameron learns he can also choose not to care.

While Ferris is busy entertaining the crowd with “Danke Schön” and insaning them afterwards with “Twist and Shout,” Sloane asks Cameron about his plans. She asks, “What are you interested in?” He answers candidly, “Nothing!” That scene, crowded by a certain tinge of merriment and dysphoria, feels so sincere and familiar that we try to convince ourselves that Cameron’s character was inspired by us, despite knowing that we were not born yet when the film was made. Cameron admits later that the day off was indeed the best day of his life. Come to think of it, the day off—which is an effort to escape from life’s dragging monotony, its consuming sadness and its common troubles—is a display of resignation, of submission to life, of embracing all the Ed Rooneys in the world after the only day when we’re allowed to be free.

We look back in the 80s and we notice the beautiful garden of high school movies that John Hughes, whose stories remarkably stood out, has written. We remember the actors—Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Matthew Broderick, Anthony Michael Hall, Mary Stuart Masterson—and we want to be their friends,  we love to be their boyfriend or girlfriend,  we want to be in their school—to see them, to stare at them as they pass in the hallway, to be their friend in the detention, to be their seatmate in European Socialism class. Even if we were not born yet that time and we watch them now, it is impossible not to connect, not to feel the slightest tinge of nostalgia, of innocence, of love. His plots are tightly written, conceived with a broken heart but an intelligent mind. He blesses his characters with painful truthfulness, that again, at some point in our lives, while watching and crying our hearts out, we remember having spoken their lines, delivering their heartaches, confessing their love, crying their tears, embracing their embrace, kissing their kiss.

Hughes’s feat is making it appear so light and simple yet every single plot in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off delivers a complex appropriation of truth and ironies. We have institutions willfully ignored, parents being lied to, good friends getting swayed by a truant, a city parade interrupted by a smart aleck—and it’s all fine; in the end, everything just follows the path of pleasure, where leisure rules. We write a letter to the Pope, asking, Dear Pope, what in the world is wrong with self-gratification? Films like these don’t age. When Hughes died, someone made a banner that says, Comedy is when your movie is still funny twenty years later. And here it stands, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as large as life, as hedonic as the ending of Some Kind of Wonderful. It’s like hearing someone say the words cellar door, and the door in our minds immediately open to lock the good memories in. And like being mesmerized by “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” we realize that turning points are always along the way.

Lola (Brillante Mendoza, 2009) October 21, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Festival, Indie Sine, Noypi.
9 comments

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Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Written by Linda Casimiro
Cast: Anita Linda, Rustica Carpio, Tanya Gomez, Jhong Hilario

Rumor has it that Lola was admired in the Venice Film Festival because the audience there was moved by the glaring similarity between their city and our own. The sight of the surrounding waters and the boats that transport people from one place to another in the film may have reminded them of the lovely canals and gondolas of their city. They may have been particularly impressed by our gondeliers who don’t wear shirts even if the weather is cold. Seeing the rows of houses built on these high waters may have caused them to cringe—because they lack the beauty of their own monuments and buildings, the bridges that connect them together, and the romantic feeling that one gets while looking at them. Surely, our Venice is no place to propose a marriage. The audience may have also related to the strong rains and flooding, which they have come to regard as common occurrences in their everyday life since their city was built. They know how it feels like living above water. They even have tourists visiting them just to look at their life.  The stories about the sinking of Venice may have also crossed their mind. But supposing the rumor is true, what could possibly be wrong with their emotional familiarity with the film?

Just to clarify, we don’t call them gondolas. We call them boats because boats are used in our small rivers in the province. We don’t call them canals too. They’re just plain and simple “flowing water” to us, not “streets paved with water” because we really have streets—they’re just covered with water. What we refer to as canals are often clogged with garbage that has been there for thousands of years. “Estero” is often used, though it is pejorative, which apparently the Spanish origin of the word is not. We just love to address things in their pejoratives. When you live near the “estero,” you live in the shanty district of the city. Flies mix into your food, rats run beside you as you sleep, and you’re fine with it. It’s easy to get used to the smell. The rows of houses built on these high waters are houses for sure, mostly made of concrete and metal, but some are makeshift shacks made of whatever things their owners can find—scraps of wood, tin cans, cardboards, fabric, tarpaulins, anything to cover their homes from the sun and rain. Their foundations may be strong but we can’t be sure in ten years. We are not sure if Sitio Ilog in Malabon is sinking but aquifers are impossible to find there. We are not sure what the ground is made of because we haven’t really seen how it looks like for a long time. Interestingly, we call these shacks “barong-barong,” and we call our national dress for men “Barong Tagalog.” Furthermore, it is politically incorrect to call these people living in shanties “squatters.” We are advised to call them “urban settlers” because they really are urban settlers.

We have tourists, and they also come to visit us to look at our life but we’re sure they are not happy about it. Yes, they admire our resilience, our smiles amid the misery, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re pathetic. At the height of the relief operations for the victims of typhoon Ondoy, we see American soldiers stoked by the gleam in these people’s eyes as they receive the goods to feed themselves with after the disaster. But until when they’ll have something to eat we’re not really sure. We can only be sure that the relief goods are temporary. After a certain period of time, as if taken hostage by ailing memory, we go back to the state of calamity that is not caused by natural calamity, but by political calamity, historical calamity, and calamity by natural selection.

We also eat typhoons for breakfast—we have them all year long. Like Venice, we are used to periodic flooding, heavy downpours, and high tides, but we are more wary of tsunamis and landslides. We have landslides even in the city, and recently it is taking its toll on wealthy subdivisions. Flood is one thing; but flooded all year ’round is another. Sitio Ilog in Malabon, Metro Manila, which is the main setting of Lola, is one of our little Venices, with floodwater that never subsides even during summer. The film’s main emotional thrust comes from the mere sight of the place, and while it does not attempt to make the situation of its people dramatic, it appeals like a news story, made compelling just by its telling and the footage that comes along with it.

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Brillante Mendoza has always been up for challenges, and among those challenges is either choosing a subject that will fit his location or choosing a location that will fit his subject. Whichever way, he gets the benefit of his interesting subjects. But unfortunately they don’t always work. The danger of his realism is knowing that it can break down any minute, that its fragility can open its doors to failure anytime. There are times when being fragile works though, if it is carefully sustained like Kinatay, but upon seeing Lola and looking back at the experience of seeing Foster Child two years ago, Mendoza seems to go back to that safe road of throwing in brilliant moments to make up for his inability to be terse.

When an argument is repeated, it is meant for emphasis. But when an argument is already sound, and this argument is repeated a number of times, it can only account for indulgence, which is not bad if the intention reaches out to emotions other than anger and depression. But what if that is the intention? And what if that has always been the intention? In the arts, realism often equates to the sordid. Fundamental to the realists are truth and accuracy. While realism, especially in the Philippines, is naturally depressing, it should also be awakening. But realism, if it still needs to be pointed out, should not only be reflected—it should also be interpreted. Unfortunately that’s when Mendoza takes his realism for granted, the part when he has to interpret, the part when he has to lobby the underlying advocacy of his films, the part when he not only needs to put his ear to the ground but also every part of himself.

He is an observer alright. But observers, to be effective, must relay their observations clearly and punctiliously. These observations are used to come up with assumptions—hypotheses which, no matter how far-fetched and maligned, help to find solutions to the problem. Mendoza has strong observations on old age, on human suffering, and on the dragging inefficiency of our political system in general. Suffice it to say that the details of Lola are overwhelming. Problems ooze from various directions: social (robbery and prison), economic (the grandmothers’ struggle for a living), spiritual (faith and resilience), personal (relationships of the characters with each other) and environmental (rains and flood). These are well-founded observations. These happen. These are real. But Mendoza has not able to put them to good use. He hasn’t able to capture the interest in their conflicting realities and the force to make them coherent—that while the theme itself is embracing these stories to drive his point across, the narrative suffers from his graceless hand, from his haphazard way of making us feel the agony of the grandmothers’s fate.

It is easy to be carried away by some of the scenes because they are really effective. The closeups of Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio are like images of endless grief, the lines on their faces trace every hardship they had to bear. The expression of weariness seems to be sculpted on them. Anita Linda walking in a small alley, calling out her grand-grandson, shouting, and eventually glimpsing at a corpse, is harrowing to the bone. The funeral procession also holds the same feeling, only magnified to achieve a cruel epiphany. The aerial shot of boats moving forward makes it poignant, during which the silence among audience members could only mean commiseration. Rustica Carpio’s tedious walk down the stairs, holding on to the rail in every step, validates our sympathy to her. That oddball sequence of catching fish in their flooded house—with every family member delighted by the strange discovery—seems more like an inadvertent parody of Mendoza’s popularity in foreign festivals. In Lola‘s brilliant moments, clearly, Teresa Barrozo’s music becomes their life.

There is a reason why people advise you to take your time. There is a reason why some films take years to be finished, and ultimately there is a reason why some films are not finished. To finish a film just for the sake of finishing it—or to be able to participate in a prestigious festival, perhaps—isn’t criminal, in fact it’s mostly reasonable, but it also risks the respect of your peers. While foreign press will not be able to discern the cities of Manila, Mandaluyong, and Malabon, and how they are illogically connected in the narrative, your fellow countrymen will. Foreign festivals are gluttons for punishment, and sadly the film community in your country is slowly turning into that too.

Now we go back to our question in the beginning. What could possibly be wrong with the foreign audience’s emotional familiarity with Lola? Nothing. Film appreciation is interesting because it is personal,and not entirely cultural. It is solely dependent on the person’s taste—his individuality. And Lola is a good example to illustrate this, a pressing case that will fuel discussions on perception. It is impossible not to be moved by its reality, but it stops when it has already accomplished that reality. We ask, should a film cease from continuing its social study when its objective of representing reality is already done? Isn’t that hit and run? Is the film helping our condition if it only continues to dignify our resilience? Our patron saint of words Conrado de Quiros says, “The other face of resilience is a long-suffering people. Or worse, the other face of resilience is an uncomplaining people.” Because when the credits start to roll, we just sit back there and give the film a courtesy clap.

Sa North Diversion Road (Dennis Marasigan, 2005) June 9, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Festival, Indie Sine, Noypi.
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sa north diversion road

Directed by Dennis Marasigan
Cast: Irma Adlawan, John Arcilla, Rolly Inocencio, Kalila Aquilos
Based on Tony Perez’s play

Sa North Diversion Road, Dennis Marasigan’s first shot at filmmaking, is perhaps one of the earliest instances when the shortcomings of the digital as a medium become almost irrelevant to talk about, because it proves that the story, its level of maturity and intelligence, will always be the king. Marasigan may have been attracted to Tony Perez’s play for its structure – – ten vignettes of adultery played by different couples traveling along the expressway  – – but it could have also been its weakness, provided that the actors who will play the ten couples have varying degrees not only of exposure but also of talent. Monotony has always been an issue in the staging of the play because the couples share the same face – – that of the betraying husband and the betrayed wife – – and seeing it ten times with incompetent actors will surely not be the best two hours of your life inside a cold theater.

The idea of letting the same actors play the roles, which would only matter less since Marasigan has chosen the finest fruits in the first harvest, is possibly the greatest honor it has given to the material, for he has altered it without losing its strength. It is more than versatility that Irma Adlawan and John Arcilla have; I believe it is experience, something that is unique to every one, something that no other actors can do the same because they all lead a different life. All great performances are imperfect but this is the closest that one can get to flawlessness. Adlawan, with all the mightiness she can throw to outshine Arcilla, is gifted with such wonderful poise that is never tiring; one can never take his eyes off her for fear of missing a wink or a slight narrowing of her eyes. She delivers ten faces of a betrayed woman with different eyes, different ears, different hearts, and different acceptance of truth. We see her play each one of them but we see different women – – different wounds, different voices, different husbands, different pasts, different futures. She is all of them, all the wives that the betraying husband chose to ignore.

Arcilla, on the other hand, and despite the inferiority of his position, handles the role with exemplary control; the usual tone of apology, denial, and remorse of the unfaithful husband he shows is credible; we can almost see where he is coming from and what made him do it. Whether he is an old-school poet who chimes sweet words and piles promises on promises or the ill-fated praying man who gets shot in the head at the end of his prayer, Arcilla’s force is unwavering – – we see the sinner through him. I find it completely unfair when people compare his performance to Adlawan’s; that she has shown a far more memorable portrait of the wife, that she is outstanding, that she almost knocks him out in every scene. That Adlawan’s great is absolutely true, but she wouldn’t be great without him as her partner.

It is easy to credit the successful film adaptation of a play to its playwright; after all, in stage plays, directors are often billed after the writer and the actors. But when you give someone the liberty to interpret the material through images and music that can be controlled and modified to suit his intentions, regardless if he’ll be faithful or not, two things can only happen: he’ll make us sleep or he’ll make us think. If people want to see a play, they’ll go out of their way to attend performances in formal concert halls or theaters. If movies strike their fancy, the malls are the most convenient place to go. But if a play is adapted into film, how can that attract viewership, in this country if I may be clear, except for die-hard cinephiles or the curious followers of the filmmaker?

Good thing that festivals welcome these ideas with warm embrace. The funding may be insufficient but it could still go a long way especially if the utmost intention is to expose an excellent literary piece to the public, which I believe Marasigan’s objective in the first place. How many of you would still consider infidelity a taboo if almost every marriage is wrecked by it? How could it still be unacceptable if it is too commonplace? We always see it in the movies – – the unfaithful husband, the crying wife, the vacationing mistress, the destroyed marriage, the rounds of loud conversations, the kids who grow up parentless – – and perhaps some people have come to realize that committing the sin once would not crucify them as much as other people who are committing it more than once. Even in infidelity people still think through levels of transgression.

But Perez believes otherwise. Adultery, from whichever angle you look at it, may it be the howling couple in “Baliuag Exit” who finds breathing less important than screaming and throwing profanities or the sweet couple in “Meycauayan Exit” who teases each other, communicates almost wordlessly, with only the wife shouting “Kaliwete!” in the end to reveal her exact feelings, has only one face. The feeling is all the same, regardless of how it’s done. It is painful because it destroys the contract – – not the paper that states that the two people are married, blessed by god, and all those holy things but the foundation of the relationship, the house of trust it is able to build through the years, the experiences that can never happen again, the past that can only serve as a painful memory of a has-been. The varying tones of humor and seriousness in the vignettes are clearly used to draw the conclusion that looms above these contrasts: experience is unique but the feeling is not; that misery is not something we can eliminate but something that we can always keep to a minimum.

The comparison will always show up so I think it would be better to discuss it anyway. In 2002, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami released Ten, a film whose main character is a woman driving around Tehran, talking with her passengers like her son, her sister, a prostitute, and a bride. As the title suggests, it is divided into ten parts; the numbers appear on screen like a countdown. Like Sa North Diversion Road, Ten was shot in digital. All throughout the film the camera was only placed in two angles: the driving woman’s angle and her passenger’s. What Kiarostami has pulled off is that his technique has managed to blend with his film’s politics; the confinement that his characters feel is reflected on how limited we could see them, limited to the four walls of his frame.

While it could have also worked in Sa North Diversion Road, I believe it is a good call that Marasigan has not overtaken the material’s wisdom by embellishing it with such technique. It is enough that he makes good use of what the medium can offer, the close-ups, the necessary flashbacks, the overlapping of narratives, the convenience of lighting, and the use of sentimental music. Marasigan’s modesty and discipline reflect very well despite the constraints. The close-up of Adlawan’s face as she looks at her husband and his other woman kiss, as her suspicion finally receives its long-awaited confirmation, as all her reasons to fight against it suddenly took a vacation and left her alone, has allowed us to hold onto her heart to comfort her, even for a brief moment.

The ninth segment, which shows the title of the film unlike the usual exit points named after each episode, has put forth the film’s knockout punch. The singer and the songwriter talks about their life, his marriage, her mixed happiness and disappointment to his marriage, his songs, her admiration to his craft, her love for him ever since. Before the scene fades out, he says, Alam mo, sa lawak ng pag-ibig ko, alam ko maliligaw din ako e, paulit-ulit. . .walang katapusan. Everything changes, even the road is bound to change its name. And then a question walks closely to our ear: do exit points really take us to an exit, or do they just take us back from where we started?

Hunghong sa Yuta (Arnel Mardoquio, 2008) March 5, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Festival, Indie Sine, Noypi.
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English Title: Earth’s Whisper
Written and directed by Arnel Mardoquio
Cast: Nelson Dino, Lucia Cijas, Joan Mae Soco, Popong Landero

The producers have envisioned Hunghong sa Yuta as a tool for their “mobile peace education campaign,” a film that would somewhat express their stand on the lingering tension in Mindanao. It is a totally unpretentious work; in just a few minutes when the young child narrates his life one can easily get the feel of view-selling just by looking at their situation. Every character lies on the contour of a handsome volcano about to erupt. But what exactly is peace education? What have we not learned? Is peace equivalent to non-violence? Is war always violent? Is peace something to campaign for? And to think that the word “campaign” is initially used to describe “a series of military operations undertaken to achieve a large-scale objective during a war,” it only rings true that war and peace can never be simplified, or be put in either black or white. And a film, a dynamic form of expression yet also easily abused, should not only wear its advocacy on its sleeve to be effective. There is more to it than a narrative, more to it than aspiring for the reality of small nations living in peace and harmony.

It is difficult not to be humbled by Hunghong sa Yuta‘s telling of the conflict. The civilians caught in the crossfire between the military and the armed rebels are shown as powerless victims of this predicament. Thus a young man who is willing to live in such place to teach deaf-mute children is welcomed with suspicion; he has yet to prove his pure intention. When that time comes, when he is able to earn their trust and affection, that’s when things start to fall apart. The narrative builds on conventions – – the things we are well aware of – – but the treatment is fresh, if not too stagy. The said immateriality of its aesthetics, masked by its intention as an advocacy project, is all too kind for me. Egay Navarro’s camerawork is good but there are misplaced shots, misplaced highlights, and some production gaffes barely saved by editing that are hard not to notice. The pacifist tone is consistent from start to finish, but these things come out so simple, so plain, and so easily maneuvered that I find it a faulty representation of war. But then what is? It is distant poetic, struggling to accomplish two things that fail to work together: its producer’s cause and its artistic merits. It leaves important questions, which is admirable, but it also leaves a mark of strained advocacy, a stretched idea of solution, a wayward misnomer if a solution is ever attainable in a lifetime.

Cinema Rehiyon: Alter Nativo (Films From The Other Philippines) February 16, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Festival, Indie Sine, Invitation, Noypi, Short Cuts.
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Text from the organizers

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Hunghong sa Yuta (Arnel Mardoquio)

Films from the Cordilleras to the Visayan Islands to Mindanao: Be ready for a film festival like no other.

“Cinema Rehiyon: Alter Nativo (Films From The Other Philippines)” is a non-competition film festival that will highlight the works of emerging filmmakers from the various towns, cities and provinces of the Philippines. For the first time, see what kind of films are being made the various cities and hubs outside of Metro Manila.

“Cinema Rehiyon” will be held at the CCP Dream Theatre from Feb. 18-21, 2009. It will feature short and full-length films made by regional filmmakers, set in their respective locales and done in their own dialects. Most of the works to be exhibited will be shown in Metro Manila for the very first time.

Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Naga are among some of the cities that will be representing their regions.

“Cinema Rehiyon” is a project of the National Commission for Culture and Arts in cooperation with the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Crossing Negros Cultural Foundation. It is an official event of the Philippine International Arts Festival.

All screenings are for free and will start at 12 noon. For more details, inquire at cinemarehiyon@yahoo.com, or visit http://www.cinemarehiyon.multiply.com

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Imburnal (Sherad Anthony Sanchez)

Program Schedule:

February 18, Wednesday
9:00 – 12 noon: Opening Ceremonies
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Yanggaw (Bacolod)
3:00 – 5:00 pm: Bacolod Short Films
5:30 – 9:00 pm: Imburnal (Davao)

February 19, Thursday
9:00 – 12 noon: Panel Discussions / Talks
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Cagayan de Oro Short Films
3:00 – 5:00 pm: Central and Western Mindanao Short Films
5:30 – 7:30 pm: Davao Short Films
8:00 – 10:00 pm: Hunghong sa Yuta (Davao)

February 20, Friday
9:00 – 12 noon: Panel Discussions / Talks
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Luzon Selection
3:00 – 5:00 pm: Baguio Short Films
5:30 – 7:30 pm: Bicol Short Films
8:00 – 10:00 pm: Brutus (Mindoro)

February 21, Saturday
9:00 – 12 noon: Panel Discussions / Talks
1:00 – 2:30 pm: Cebu Short Films
3:00 – 5:00 pm: Dagyang (Iloilo)
5:30 – 7:30 pm: Joy To The World (Iloilo)
8:00 – 10:00 pm: Closing Ceremonies

Blind the Eye of the Storm: .MOV Signals Three! September 12, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, European Films, Festival, Indie Sine, Invitation, Noypi, Short Cuts.
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Text by Khavn DELA CRUZ

Chantal Akerman’s Là-Bas (Down There, 2006)

.MOV (pronounced “dot-mov”), the first digital filmfest in the Philippines which jumpstarted the digital revolution in the country back in 2002, will have its third edition in Robinsons Galleria Cinema from September 30 to October 7, 2008. The Opening Night will be on September 30, Tuesday, and the Closing & Awards Night will be on October 4, Saturday. Parallel screenings in the cities of Bacolod , Dumaguete, and Iloilo will be held from September 24 to October 7.

The 3rd .MOV International Digital Film Festival, headed by Festival Director Khavn De La Cruz has six major sections consisting of foreign and local full-length and short films, tributes, workshops, film concerts, and afterparties. The motto for this year’s festival is “Blind The Eye Of The Storm” – – losing sight of the limits and controls that plague cinema, so that we can stare at our infinite possibilities as a culture.

DIGITAL DEKALOGO 10X10 .MOV presents ten of the best foreign digital full-length films from the past 3 years.

1 “A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory” by Esther B. Robinson (USA , 2007)
2 “Re-Defining Video” by Kyle Canterbury (USA , 2007)
3 “Days Of The Turquoise Sky” (Kurus) by Woo Ming Jin (Malaysia , 2008)
4 “Cinnamon” by Kevin Everson (USA , 2006)
5 “Head Trauma” by Lance Weiler (USA , 2007)
6 “En La Cama” by Matias Bize (Chile , 2005)
7 “Yo” by Rafa Cortes (Barcelona , 2007)
8 “La-bas” (Over There) by Chantal Akerman (France/Belgium, 2006)
9 “The Sun and Moon” by Stephen Dwoskin (USA/UK, 2008)
10 “A Prima Vista” by Michael Pilz (Austria , 2008)

This will be presented by ten of the best local filmmakers who have pushed the boundaries of cinema in their own unique ways: Ato Bautista, Jeffrey Jeturian, Jim Libiran, Auraeus Solito, Adolf Alix, Raya Martin, Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Ditsi Carolino, Manny Montelibano, & John Torres .

Antoinette Jadaone’s Saling Pusa (2006)

SHORTS.MOV features works from the two most prestigious short film festivals in the world: shortfilms from Clermont-Ferrand (France) and music videos from Oberhausen (Germany). The 3rd SILVERSHORTS Shortfilm Competition presents the new Philippine filmmakers to watch out for – – the twenty finalists from both the student and open divisions.

TRIBUTE.MOV premieres the new films and presents the early works of local digital indie heroes: Kidlat Tahimik, Roxlee, & Lav Diaz. Roxlee’s graphic novel “Planet Of The Noses,” Kidlat Tahimik’s DVD “Perfumed Nightmare,” and Lav Diaz’s soundtrack CD “Impiyerno” will also be launched.

WORKSHOP.MOV offers Rotterdam International Film Festival programmer Gertjan Zuilhof (“Celebrating the End of Cinema”), Slovenian film critic Nika Bohinc, Kidlat Tahimik (“Sariling Duende”), Roxlee (“Digital Animation”), and Lav Diaz (“Coffee Q&A”). The workshops will be complemented by equally inspiring facilitators such as Quark Henares, Tado Jimenez, Alexis Tioseco, Ramon Bautista, and Erwin Romulo.

Pedicab

FILMCONCERT.MOV screens Pinoy classics by Manuel Conde, Gerardo De Leon, Jose Climaco, and Carlos Vander Tolosa accompanied with new live soundtracks by Pedicab, Queso, The Brockas, & Radioactive Sago Project.

AFTERPARTY.MOV ends each night with a bang at the indie-place-to-be Cubao X, courtesy of music and entertainment from top notch events, media organizations and talent management groups.

For group screenings, workshops, tickets and other related inquiries and information, contact dotmov@gmail.com, bien@bannedmoviespilipinas.com, and visit www.movfest.com.

The 3rd .MOV International Digital Film Festival is presented by Filmless Films in cooperation with Robinsons Movieworld, Geiser Maclang Communications, Inc., Parco, Swiftsure Group, Inc., Click the City, and Brown Monkeys.