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Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2017 (Part 2) August 13, 2017

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi, Uncategorized.
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kuliglig

SA GABING NANAHIMIK ANG MGA KULIGLIG (Iar Lionel Arondaing)

It’s not as awful as those bad films that deserve to be crucified for making nearly two hours of one’s life a total misery, but Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig is almost there. Maybe a few more outrageous dream sequences, or another thirty minutes of alternating between a verbal explanation and a flashback of a similar thing, and blood will be spilled.

That the film is a test of patience is an understatement. It’s riddled with too many problems both big and small — from the production and continuity glitches as well as absurd cuts and transitions, to the inappropriate use of music (every time it comes on, one instinctively looks for a knife) and unstoppable pursuit of the superficial (flashbacks! dialogue! shadows! religious symbols!) — but the biggest hurdle of all is being forced to believe that Mercedes Cabral is the mother of Jess Mendoza. How can one simply accept that without twitching? And if that’s not enough, she is said to be married to Ricky Davao for more than twenty years. Just basic math. How can the above-the-line people, seeing that there is nothing in the story and narrative that would substantiate such casting choice, let that happen?

This is not nitpicking: This is bringing to light an example of extreme desperation, a disastrous creative decision that points to the kind of filmmaking made evident in the output, that one thing that affects everything. And if the viewer lets that slide and musters the strength to suspend disbelief, there remains the difficulty of understanding the habit of the film to overexplain, its tendency to always iterate motivations and put thoughts into words and words into actions. At some point, the constant use of lopsided mise-en-scène no longer works to suggest inner conflict or turmoil, so it resorts to terribly staged dream sequences which, instead of complementing the drama, only mess it further. The reliance on flashbacks and voice-overs also shows how much it suffers from lack of ideas. The viewer is expected only to watch the film happen, literally, without being given the opportunity to think deeper, because Kuliglig places all its cards on the surface and leaves nothing underneath. There is skill, there is promise, and there is imagination — one can feel them so eager to come out and turn the film around, even in the last minute — but sadly none of them are put to good use.

bhoyintsik

BHOY INTSIK (Joel Lamangan)

Speaking of misery, here’s another one. One of the few certain things in Philippine cinema is for Joel Lamangan to come up with another bad film, for him to take on another current social issue and demonstrate his ever-dependable skill in making a lousy drama out of it, in simplifying poverty, violence, and morality and rendering them in black and white, and in the case of That Thing Called Tanga Na and Foolish Love, both comedies, and both utterly appalling, in using tasteless humor and stereotypes for the sake of crude entertainment. His latest film, Bhoy Intsik, delivers not only the tacky cinematic language expected of him, but also the offensive sensibility that reduces characters into sloppy, cardboard caricatures and issues into plain, flimsy backdrops. There is no question about the importance of showing poverty in local movies — it is real, it must be addressed, it shouldn’t be avoided — but in Bhoy Intsik the depiction hardly cuts deep because of the irresponsible handling of material (primitive direction, hideous visuals, shallow representation of poor people) and the old tricks of dramatic storytelling (unrealistic plots, laughable dialogue, undying platitudes) that should have long been out of use. The true enemy is not poverty porn but bad directors. Lamangan is the industry’s gift that keeps on giving, and at this point of his career, it is only fair to expect nothing better.

requited

REQUITED (Nerissa Picadizo)

To claim that more than half the running time of Requited is spent on showing the characters biking towards their destination is not an exaggeration. Or at least that’s how tedious it feels, with the sound of chains sometimes painfully drilling into one’s ears. This forces the audience to be part of their journey and feel the strain of it, a device that on one hand provides its structure, making the trail from Manila to Zambales predictably focused, and on the other limits the direction of the narrative, hence the tiffs between the couple shift constantly from annoying to very annoying, and the scenes move from “what the fuck” (Anna Luna delightfully fellating a hotdog) to “what the flying fuck” (Jake Cuenca miserably masturbating by the rocks). There isn’t much room given to develop the characters and story and furnish them with nuance, and so when the climax comes, when Jake is supposed to carry out his goal in front of Mt. Pinatubo and Anna stops him, and that unbelievable, unexpected thing happens, it comes as a shock — and the crowd yelps in varying exclamations of surprise, and for around five minutes the CCP’s usually quiet theater is filled with whispers and moans. From here on Requited becomes something else, a tragedy of transformation, or just plain tragedy, and it’s hard to keep a straight face as Anna Luna’s ghost follows him and a flashback becomes another source of short but infinite jest.

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BAGAHE (Zig Madamba Dulay)

Bambanti, Paglipay, and Bagahe share not only the same writer and director but also a strong, promising start, one that draws the viewer easily with a sharp narrative hook. Somewhere in the unfolding, however, this foundation cracks, then breaks, and eventually collapses. In Bagahe, if one lets the glaring legal and logical oversight pass for the sake of dramatic continuity, the story of a mother named Mercy, who at first is suspected of leaving her fetus in the trash bin of an airplane’s toilet, and is in due course shown to be guilty of it, makes for a gripping moral and human tale, which at the same time comments largely on the cruelty of the situation that leads a woman in trauma to commit a terrible misdeed. It goes there, but not fully, for it is very conscious of raising the stakes. The decision to go bigger in scope and beyond the confines of procedural and family drama is admirable, zooming out for the bigger picture, so to speak, but this determination to show one by one the various institutions pummeling Mercy (and the women in them with questionable motives performing their duties) does not help the narrative and in fact only serves to weaken it. One feels Mercy’s helplessness but only in scattered moments, for the film is so loosely edited, so misguidedly paced, and so emotionally calculated — so diluted in prolonging — that the supposedly big scenes (even in terms of Bing Lao’s real-time mode of storytelling) hardly leave a punch. The statement on female suffering and its place in a wider and more specific sociopolitical milieu is not lost on the viewers, but they get to it faster than the film.

aliensata

SHORTS A (Various)

Some of the gems in this year’s Cinemalaya can be mined from the short film selection, and this set has an interesting lot to offer, both as a whole and individually. Admittedly, this batch provides a better viewing experience, with its diversity and youth and technical skill, and an eagerness that is rather inspiring, than many of the entries in the full-length competition.

The standouts for this set are “Fatima Marie Torres and the Invasion of Space Shuttle Pinas 25” by Carlo Francisco Manatad and “Aliens Ata” by Glenn Barit. “Fatima” boasts an impressive mix of gleaming visuals and moving sounds that doesn’t so much require traditional logic for its story to work, but the keenness of vision, the deadpan and campy sense of humor (with Bimby’s recognizable screams heard at some point), and the foolish, playful spirit it tries to contain lift it so high. Its immediate effect is hilarious, but the longer impression it gives is bizarre. Compared with “Fatima,” “Aliens Ata” relies more on heart than mood, and the use of a static, aerial point of view — quite possibly the most effective use of drone in local cinema yet, a device so prone to misuse and overuse — is able to present a touching story of two brothers dealing with loss and separation. From this modest imagination, the result is devastating for its being emotionally complete.

Manatad and Barit are both from the UP Film Institute, and it’s always interesting to see works from the UPFI, an institution whose honing of students does not rest only on technical proficiency but also on theoretical framing. Another pair of shorts are also from its graduates: “Lola Loleng” by Cheryl Tagyamon lets the audience slip through remembering and forgetting with its rotoscope animation detailing the motions and memories of its titular character. One can feel it does not aim to be particularly poignant, the way Manang Biring is, but it looks into the complexity of old age and a grandmother’s painful wartime experiences, and connects them subtly with the collective Filipino’s larger consciousness. On the other hand, “Islabodan” is this set’s dissident, a work whose use of multiple screens in one frame (which allows the scenes to flow literally in one sequence) is amazing as far as form is concerned, but it suffers from flawed content. Towards the end, it loses its attraction, but it’s quite a spectacle to see it burst with energy and display its youth.

Unlike the other entries with crafted settings, “Sorry for the Inconvenience” by Carl Adrian Chavez is distinct for its currency, for a reality that is recognizably rooted in the present. It builds up on the violence about to be perpetuated by a high school student, played candidly and artlessly by Ronwaldo Martin (with Ronwaldo coming after his brother Coco’s legacy as the “new” face of independent movies about violence and poverty). The linearity of the film is compelling enough, and the credits sequence, which seems to make a subtle reference to Abbas Kiarostami, tugs strongly at the heart. Meanwhile, “Manong ng Pa-aling” by E. del Mundo aims for the virtues of the unspoken and achieves the brimming sadness that its main character, a fisherman longing for his dead wife, feels. There is something in its tempo that can make it difficult for some viewers to get used to, but its underwater shots, the vastness of the sea lensed in black and white, succeed in heightening the blues.

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