Friday, April 28, 2017

Toto (John Paul Su, Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave 2015)

The dark comedy film Toto tackles two major preoccupations of middle-class Filipinos. The first one is love of movies and celebrities. Toto (Sid Lucero) is a hotel room service attendant who idolizes Tom Cruise. He dons sunglasses although not the pricey Ray-Ban Wayfarer ones. He engages in a side job peddling bootleg DVD copies of movies. Alas, his knowledge of movies is limited to the Hollywood blockbusters and star-studded films he sees from these pirated DVDs. He fails to identify the movie source of the dialogue, 'We're no longer in Kansas' or the dog character Toto.

The second and major topic of the film is Filipinos' obsession and lingering dream to work abroad, specifically the United States of America (US). Countless Filipinos still cling to the notion of earning big bucks in the US. Toto concocts different ways of getting the elusive visa. For every denied visa application, he waits for months before employing his latest ploy.

A hysterically funny scene shows Toto raising hackles over the people hired to serve as his family for a visa application appearance. He rues the pedestrian, tacky looks of his alleged mother and sister. Worse he even compares them to prostitutes from Ermita. His remark about prostitutes came back to haunt him later in the film as he gets outed as a prostitute catering to gays.

Toto may be an impostor but he has huge compassion for his cancer-stricken mother (Bibeth Orteza). He buys a wig for his bald-headed mother. Toto's big heart and gritty determination causes the merciful universe to bring him one last hope of nabbing a US visa.

The film Toto assembles a fine cast of actors. Even the foreign actors gave notable performances. Sid Lucero is a versatile actor able to handle dramatic and comedic roles. He channels his father, Mark Gil, in the bedroom scene showing him in briefs. Mara Lopez continues to sizzle in every role she dabbles in. Rafael Roco Jr. does a first in this film with his head full of long hair. The novelty is not merely being long haired of Roco but having a fuller, hairier head than his lady partner (Bibeth Orteza). Liza Dino portrays a chameleon-like femme fatale giving Toto a dose of his own medicine.

There are several wonderful detours from the main topic. They add dramatic contrast to the mostly comedic visa forays of Toto. The bromance twist is a major surprise. It answers my major lingering question at that point of the movie: Why is someone getting out of his way to help Toto get his visa?

Another emotional side trip is Toto's visit to his mother. I can't recall any of her lines but I still vividly remember her receding hairline. Bibeth Orteza evokes sympathy as a bald-headed cancer victim.

Enough with sad memories. Let's go out with a laugh.

Here's a joke for Toto and other avid Filipino moviegoers:

Q: What Tom Cruise movie best describes Roco?
A: Top Gun. (Top Gone).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tu Pug Imatuy (Arbi Barbarona, Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2017 Best Picture)

Mere months after the lumad film Baboy Halas won a major award at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival, another film on peaceful lumads, Tu Pug Imatuy, won the top prize at the 2017 Sinag Maynila Film Festival.

Tu Pug Imatuy (Right to Kill) benefits from Arnel Mardoquio's story of a lumad couple abducted and used by the military to serve as trackers. The husband is gentle and mild. He stands helplessly in the middle of a river as the soldiers leeringly strip off the blouse of his wife. The shivering husband meekly accepts the situation as his naked wife resolutely clamps down her emotions.

After a humiliating parade through the jungle, the wife grabs a rare opportunity to escape. Assigned to cook dinner, she puts in some sleep-inducing herbs in the meals that she is preparing. The soldiers order the unknowing husband to take a bite size portion of the meal as a precaution against poisoning. The meal isn't poisoned but mixed with a potion. Soon, the soldiers are dozing off along with the husband.

The wife silently motions the other abductees to escape. She then drags her mildly-sedated husband away from the camp. The heavy load puts a dent on the wife's escape plan. It didn't take long before the enraged soldiers, roused from stupor, caught up with the couple. The husband is killed while the wife continues to elude the soldiers.

The two films, Baboy Halas and Tu Pug Imatuy, highlight the peaceful and pacifist nature of lumads. The wife in Tu Pug Imatuy didn't kill the soldiers even when she has the chance to do it at the camp. Not a single one of the fleeing abductees took hold of a firearm. They could have at least disarm the unconscious soldiers but even holding such weapons seems to be a big No-No for them. It is as if lumads are averse to weapons of violence and destruction.

Now that she is being pursued, the wife has no choice but to use her guile and lures the soldiers to their deaths inside a large camouflaged animal trap. The lumads' jungle skills and ability to use herbal potions help them survive natural or man-made hazards. In Baboy Halas, lumads implore the help of spirits in their endeavors. Maybe the spirit of the trap helped the wife eradicate evil persons in her midst.

A powerful image from Tu Pug Imatuy is that of a yellow construction vehicle abandoned in a muddy road. It is an ominous sign of violence to come. Ever since the incident of Maguindanao Massacre, yellow bulldozers or trucks of similar ilk have been associated with violence. This time, the violence is not political in nature but mining-related. Mining companies are using military soldiers to harass anti-mining lumads.

Children are the worst-hit victims of militarization in Mindanao. They are deprived of education and sometimes, their permanent homes. The children and their parents endure countless evacuations because of conflicts. Some children even lose a parent or two.

A heartbreaking scene from the film shows two children waiting overnight for their parents to fetch them. The rain failed to budge them from their position in the mountains. What future awaits them if both parents fail to come? 

Stories about lumads will have to be told as long as violent, greedy people intrude into their peaceful, serene communities in Mindanao.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kristo (HF Yambao, Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2017)

The film Kristo starts with a Brillante Mendoza-style of seamlessly embedding film actors into crowded actual event. Indie film regular Kristoffer King portrays a bet collector named Boy who joins a parade of bloodied flagellants during the season of Lent. Footage of him walking the streets of Pampanga and carrying the cross is followed by actual footage of the nailing of Ruben Enaje to the cross. Enaje is a regular fixture of Holy Week crucifixions. He strives to do a yearly Kristo (crucified Jesus Christ) as gratitude for surviving a building fall.

Boy Saging (Kristoffer King) is also called a kristo, a slang for a bet collector at cockpits. According to a University of the Philippines study by Mary Ann Alabanza,, a kristo is liken to Jesus Christ. Both take on the role of mediator. A kristo mediates between the bettors and the managers. Another possibility for the origin of the term may be the hand movements of bet collectors resemble generic hand poses of Jesus Christ statues.

The mohawked Boy works hard and does his best to grant requests of loved ones. With his windfall of bet commissions, he buys a second-hand laptop for his daughter. There is a tendency for Boy to act as a ‘one-day millionaire’ because of such huge windfalls. There is also the danger of overspending and being overly generous. But, a bigger problem is the temptation to put large amounts of money to a cockfight bet. When Boy ends up losing his budget for the celebration party of his daughter, he humbly asks for a loan from his boss. The boss (Julio Diaz) castigates him for acting like a rich bettor.

The best, meaty film segments show various activities inside the cockpit area. They may probably answer all the questions one may have about kristos and the cockfighting business. The film takes the entire gamut from setting up of matches up to the rehabilitation of winning cocks. If you've been wondering what happens to the dead chickens, the film takes the viewers to a place where losing chickens are dumped over a boiling vat and stripped of feathers. Dejected owners are consoled with the thought of having chicken for dinner.

There are scenes that may be puzzling for some viewers. These scenes show Boy eyeing an envelope full of bundled money bills. Is he planning to run away with the money? No, he is calculating new odds that will entice more bettors to part with their money.The concept of restructuring odds is a difficult one to put into film but director HF Yambao nail it.

The boss (Diaz) has great trust in his kristo, Boy. The latter is a good kristo who knows how to set up a fair fight, how to calculate odds, and memorize numerous bet transactions. If the bet is too large, he reiterates the bet with the boss as his witness. There is a wonderful segment showing what happens when a kristo becomes a Judas. A new kristo refuses to pay Boy and states that Boy is the one who owes him. The verbal confrontation escalates into a fist fight. The action scene recalls the in-your-face fisticuffs helmed by Mendoza for the film Tirador.

The boss reconciles with the devious kristo. He reminds the truant kristo that scalawags like him have no place in a cockfighting arena. Every bet collector should honor every bet transaction and should act like a saint or like Jesus Christ.

Some cockfighting aficionados take their faith and religious experience to the extreme. I've heard stories of people trying to feed their cocks with the Blessed host. Are the stories some sort of urban legends? I like to believe that is there some truth in these stories. Desperate gamblers will do dastardly things to earn money.

Kristo is one of the best films I've seen so far in this Year of the Rooster. A suggested companion film is Briccio Santos’ Damortis, which deals with a Christ-like healer who succumbed to cockfighting and alcoholism. Both films have strong, vivid images of Lenten activities. Kristo also comes close to matching Damortis’ varied, powerful images of how people use their hands. Enaje allows nails to pierce his hands, while Boy uses his hands to punch a cockpit arena swindler.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

I'm Drunk, I Love You (JP Habac, 2017)

Graduate na tayo... Graduate na ako!

Within a span of a day, a spunky female college student gets to experience 2 graduations. The first one has her in a dress with a Sablay sash on. The second one has her in a ... Wait. Hold on. Have you seen this wonderful film?

I'm Drunk, I Love You (IDILY) is a heady movie riped for word of mouth referrals and recommendations. It is more heart-tugging and delectable than the viral ad videos for a spicy chicken sandwich or burger sandwich. The film is a special brew of Camp Sawi, Starting Over Again, and Dagitab. Add in a potent dose of Before Sunrise and you have a hugot movie for keeps.

This month of March will have its fair share of commencement exercises. Graduates will savor the challenge of new beginnings and new adventures.

Social work major Carson (Maja Salvador) will graduate within 2 days. She wholeheartedly accepts the invitation of her friend Dio (Paolo Avelino) to accompany him to a music festival in La Union. Carson had been holding a torch for schoolmate Dio for seven long years. This weekend trip will probably be her last chance to step up on her relationship with Dio. Unknown to her, Dio will meet up with his ex-girlfriend Pathy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) in the northern province. Sigh... The synopsis suggests a bummer of a weekend for Carson or is there still hope?

A notable segment from IDILY shows Carson waking up to the gorgeous sight of Dio's face. She then wipes out her saliva after savoring the scenery.

The young actors are all good. There is another young actor, Dominic Roco, in the cast. Initially, I thought Roco will figure in a love triangle with the two lead actors. Well, his character, Jason Ty, did figure in a troika but with a different couple he met at the beach. An important scene shows Jason Ty ruing saying I love you during a drinking spree. 

I love you....

Those three little words are easy to say but difficult to express. Several people including Jason Ty needs to take alcohol drinks to be able to blurt it out to their loved ones. Other people, such as Carson, hesitate because they fear rejection or possible end to whatever relationships they have with their loved ones.

An insightful segment shows Carson discussing Dio's song dedication. She had bittersweet recollection of the words blurted out by Dio. The three little words - I love you - were indeed thrown her way. The problem is, as Carson succintly puts it, Dio appended the word - 'tol - to the three words.

I love you, 'tol!

Being friendzoned is difficult enough but being familyzoned?!? Carson is in a bind. Graduation is just around the corner. Will she keep her feelings to herself? Seven years is a long time to keep bottled-up passion for a person. In seven years, a medical student transforms into a doctor. In seven years, a fresh graduate can rise to become a young manager for a multinational company.

The final scene shows the two lead characters celebrating their graduation. In a film teeming with brainy dialogues by Giancarlo Abrahan, the most memorable line for me is the one uttered by Carson near the end. 

Graduate na ako!

The evolution of the UP Diliman student Carson is a joy to watch. She graduated alright after seven long years. More importantly, she stepped up in the field of love. With sheer willpower, she goes beyond romantic love. She is now experiencing the wonders of agape love.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saving Sally (Avid Liongoren, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)


Saving Sally is a fantastical film that rightly benefited from the revamped selection process of the Metro Manila Film Festival. Although it is an animated film, it is not an outright film treat for the whole family. The story targets mostly teenagers.

The lead male character, Marty, is like a Pokemon Go trainer able to see monsters. Other human beings don’t see the ogres and creatures. Only the comic book geek Marty can see them. Several of the monsters are humans while others maybe mere figments of the young artist’s imagination.

The world inhabited by Marty (Enzo Marcos) is in muted colors. If there is one major complaint I can think about the film then it will be the lack of vibrant colors. The bland colors may be reflective of Marty’s life but I think it is more a reflection of the film’s financial difficulties. The filmmakers may have been forced to scrimp on low-end cameras just to keep the production afloat. One thing’s for sure, though. They patiently labored for more than 10 years to bring the film to fruition.

The simple yet effective special effects are non-intrusive. The audience will agreeably believe a world where monsters co-exist with humans. A memorable, magical moment was conjured with a sprightly Sally’s unleashing of her mechanical appendage ala Inspector Gadget. Right off the bat, Sally becomes a cool character.

There are other cool moments in the film. In a film teeming with samples of varied visual art formats, the simple ones hold their own against complex formats in telling a story. The charming pop-up Book of Happy is indeed a book filled with wonder and joy. The production design is a mix of Seussical whimsy and Tim Burtonesque wackiness. The smorgasbord of visual formats and mediums work because they visualize the changing mood of Marty.

The lanky Marty is in love with Sally (Rhian Ramos). But he feels like being trapped in a war zone. The truth is he is friendzoned and cannot slay the monstrous fear of rejection. Sally asked him a comic book question: 'Why do people never notice that the geek is the same person as the hunky hero?' Well, he answered that it is because no one cares for the nerdy people. Yes, no one pays attention to average-looking geeks like him. However, just like superhero comic books, there's a hero inside Marty after all.

The film’s witty word puns, and irreverent characters with dickheads seem to come straight from the fertile mind of wordsmith Joey de Leon, the pages of Jingle magazine, and the pen of Roxlee. Little details such as a funny company signboard leave a smile on my face. Sandara is the name of the park frequented by the two youngsters. The park design is similar to that of the park featured in the film 5
00 Days of Summer. This may be a homage because I do recall seeing the word Summer up in the screen.

I like it that the filmmakers didn’t dumb down their target audience. Teenagers can learn a thing or two on how the young characters deal with their problems. Bullying, premarital sex, physical abuse, and first love jitters are just some of the issues tackled by the film. Sally’s determination to leave her problems behind and take flight resulted in her ultimate project.

Saving Sally is a blast! No other Filipino film feature is like it. The film transports the audience into different worlds and teleports them back to their homes with adorable family scenes. I loved the scene wherein the mother of Marty feigns sleep on the sala set because she wants to hear fresh, first-hand account of Marty's activities. Such heartwarming, lovely scenes serve as counterpoint to the gloomy touches of the film. The end credits feature a more colorful and more animated way of showing love filled life of Marty.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kabisera (Arturo San Agustin & Real Florido, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)

Kabisera could have been a major contender. The Nora Aunor film should have come out a-blazing with rapid fire punches. Alas, it lacks the bite of Oro to truly leave a mark as a strong political commentary. It came out limping and half-hearted in highlighting its message of justice for victims of extra-judicial killings.

Mercy De Dios (Nora Aunor) is an observant wife who is suspicious of her husband’s cash transactions. She thinks something is fishy. The audience, too, has an inkling that the husband is up to no good.

The surprise killing of the husband (Ricky Davao) by armed men comes as a shock because we aren’t sure if the husband is really a criminal. This ambivalence of the film towards the true nature of the husband weakens the flow of the story. It is neither here nor there.

The film seems to point out that it doesn’t matter if the husband is really a criminal or not. The real message is the police have no right to kill a person who surrenders peacefully. However, the message would have been more forceful if the film showed the husband involved in criminal activities.

I wholeheartedly agree with the film’s message. Persons of interest, druggies, and criminals must be given their due process in court. They should not be killed cold-bloodedly. If the killers are protected and allowed to go free, then it wouldn’t take long before they indulge in other dastardly deeds such as kidnap-for-ransom.

With the death of her husband, Mercy goes the legal route in search of justice. The film conclusion takes the safe path.

Kabisera missed the chance to become this generation’s Sister Stella L. I was expecting Mercy to break the fourth wall and address the issue of extra-judicial killings head-on. It would have been brave to hear a wife castigate the administration and the police over their ruthless drive to exterminate druggies and criminals. It would have been great to see her eyes speak volume about the wanton killing of thousands of Filipinos.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Honor Thy Father (Erik Matti, Metro Manila Film Festival 2015)

Honor Thy Father, Erik Matti’s riveting follow-up to his critically-acclaimed film OTJ, takes a look at how a multi-million investment scam drove a father named Edgar to desperate measures. The father (John Lloyd Cruz) attempts to shield his family from belligerent investors. His journey to the mountains and his tunneling through a ditch reflect the roller-coaster ride of emotions he is experiencing.

Scriptwriter Michiko Yamamoto subtly compares the money-making ruckus of a religious group with the sleazy operations of big-time scammers. Both operations employ slick people with gift of gab. Their judicious choice of words lures wealthy people to part with huge amount of money. On a regular service day, Edgar and family’s cash donation to the Church of Yeshua is in the ballpark of six figures. This is mere peanuts though when compared to the million peso donation made by Edgar’s father-in-law.

The public acknowledgment of donors serves as a magnet for investors. The family easily convinces a handful of couples to become investors with their stories of huge returns. Troubles befall the family after the mysterious death of their patriarch.

The mother of Edgar, Nanang (Perla Bautista), is a crucial and powerful character. She manages to hold together her sons into a well-oiled cohesive group. They could have titled this film ‘Honor Thy Mother’ and it still would be somewhat apt. Her word is still obeyed by all her sons. Her decision to help Edgar sets in motion a notable heist scene.

Honor Thy Father shows Matti's adeptness in handling different genres like Mike de Leon. Unlike de Leon who subverts and deconstructs the film genre he dabbled into, Matti offers solid, technically-proficient, well-directed genre films. With Honor Thy Father, Matti mixes a relevant drama story with bits and pieces of the heist genre and the Taken-type of actioner. He has notable genre entries such as the fantasy-adventure film Exodus, superhero flick Gagamboy, horror movie Pa-siyam, and also an art film in The Arrival.

The gritty performance of a deglamorized, skinhead John Lloyd Cruz won for him the Urian Best Actor Award. He has appeared in an indie film (Cinemalaya 2007’s Still Life) a long time ago but Honor Thy Father is a major acting breakthrough for the matinee idol. He must have enjoyed appearing in indie films that he agreed to do roles in two Lav Diaz films, Hele Sa Hiw
agang Hapis and Ang Babaeng Humayo. The latter film shows Cruz as a transgender with a death wish. His performance in the Venice Film Festival Best Picture winner will probably bring him more awards this year.

Matti won back-to-back directing awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival. He jumped back into the horror-suspense genre and came out a big winner with Seklusyon. John Lloyd Cruz was one of the jurors at the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival 2016.

Monday, January 09, 2017

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Petersen Vargas, Cinema One Originals 2016 Best Picture)

Kapampangan films are on a roll. Ari won the best indie film at the Metro Manila Film Festival 2015. Mercury Is Mine nabbed the Special Jury Prize at Cinemalaya 2016. 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten was selected as grand winner at the Cinema One Originals 2016.

A major force behind the awakening of the Kapampangan cinema movement is filmmaker/scriptwriter Jason Paul Laxamana. He was creative consultant for the drama film Ari. He directed and scripted the dark comedy Mercury Is Mine. He wrote the screenplay for the film 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten. All three films advocate the perpetuation of the Kapampangan language despite its weaknesses and quirkness.

Laxamana also organizes the CineKabalen: Kapampangan Film Festival, which features works done by local filmmakers in Pampanga. Petersen Vargas is just one of the filmmakers supported, and probably mentored, by Laxamana.

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, Vargas’ debut feature-length film, takes a look at a romantic newbie in Pampanga. An intelligent high school boy sees his bland school routine come to life with the arrival of two Filipino-American brothers. The older new kid, Magnus, becomes his classmate. He gets close to the two brothers after Magnus asks him to be his tutor in Mathematics and other subjects.

The boy becomes a regular fixture at Magnus’ house. He meets the boys’ mother. He sleeps over on some days. Everything seems to be going fine until the boy begins to fall in love.

2 Cool 2 Be 4g
otten is the latest in the growing list of LGBT films shown in the Philippines.  What makes the film stand out is the boy could have been a girl character and the story will still flow with a few bumps. The boy just happens to fall in love with someone of the same gender.

The film tackles issues besetting residents of Pampanga. Vestiges of colonialism continue to put a vise-like grip on the people. Students are forced to speak in English. The siblings prefer to live with their absentee American father rather than stay with their prostitute mother. The boy is enamored with a white-skin guy.

Pampanga officials try to deodorize the legacy of prostitution by building tourist spots. However, the putrid stench of the past is difficult to ignore. Notable recent films dealing with prostitution in Pampanga are the Cinemalaya film I America and Louie Ignacio’s Area. The latter film deals with the fate of two major places of prostitution. The Fields used to be the place horny American Marines go to. Young, pretty girls serviced legions of American soldiers. On the other hand, the Area is the place where mature and has-been prostitutes linger. These days, a dozen casas still stand to cater to Filipino clients in Area.

The prostitute mother in 2 Co
ol 2 Be 4gotten used to be from the Fields. She is lucky to get monthly allowance from her American lover. Her two sons, awash with money, are bored with school and lack the drive to excel.

A memorable scene shows the prostitute mother chancing upon a former colleague. The latter is smartly dressed and adorned with jewelry. However, the colleague is sporting a black eye. Her Caucasian husband appears and bossily breaks up the short meeting between the ladies. This is like the situation of the Philippines with colonial and neocolonial powers. These powerful countries exploit, abuse, and encroach on our land and resources. Past local officials, though, put up with such abuses. They focus instead on the financial and economic benefits of such relationships with major powers.

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten has similarities with Vargas’ short film Lisyun Qng Geografia. Both films deal with a gay high school student.  The varied landscapes of Pampanga bear witness to the joys and hurts of these young gays. I love an idea from the short film that suggests we leave a bit of our hearts in places where we loved. Every time we go back to those special places, the pieces of hearts exude warmth from wonderful memories of love. Pampanga, as seen from these notable films, is peppered with places teeming with pieces of hearts.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Oro (Alvin Yapan, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)


In this latest film of Alvin Yapan, there are no clearcut heroes. There are no outright villains, either. However, due to a minor direction lapse the people behind the film are being called names and ostracized as villains.

It was shocking to see a dog being prepared to be roasted or boiled. From my recollection, there seems to be no footage of the dog being whacked or killed. But, there on the big screen we can clearly see a skinned dead dog prepped up and ready to be cooked.

There are a hundred and one ways to simulate the process of preparing a dog meat dish or portraying the food traditions of small-scale miners. Sadly, the filmmakers didn’t try any of it. On the other hand, there’s no good reason for the gory sight of a dead dog.

It is a pity that the dog killing controversy tarnishes the luster of Oro’s brilliance. The film has the eye of Badil for small island economics, politics, and social interaction. It boasts of an ensemble acting that is second to none. I’m all praise for Irma Adlawan‘s award-winning performance as a long-tenured kapitana. I admire the film’s courage to pinpoint the mastermind behind the killings of 4 small-scale miners in Camarines Sur.

A current lawmaker from the province decries the film’s portrayal of the kapitana as a heroine. My reading of the kapitana is different from that of the lawmaker.

The thing I like most about the film Oro is its multi-faceted treatment of the kapitana character. She is not a goody-two-shoes character in my opinion. She is a traditional greedy politician holding on to power for two decades. She wields a vise-like grip on the mining industry in her community. Her handling of her workers is akin to that of a feudal system. She eliminates competitors via unfounded rumors. When she gets kicked out from the mining industry, she uses social media to gain sympathy.

The kapitana portrays herself as a benevolent benefactor. The reality is the workers are so poor that they are dependent on her. With her wealth and power, the kapitana should have built several alternative livelihood projects for the workers and residents.

The shrewd kapitana is similar to film producers kicked out from the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). These film producers and supporters decry the non-inclusion of their films by harping on its effect on their alleged beneficiaries. They bewail the fact that organizations such as Mowelfund will no longer receive huge windfall from festival proceeds. They utilize the social media in voicing out their disappointment to the revamped selection process.

During their decade-long monopolization of the MMFF, these star-producers didn’t pursue alternative stories and characters that enrich the lives of viewers. As the Cinemalaya 2016 teaser aptly pointed out, the aging film stars continue to appear in recycled stories. The only difference is that the leading ladies are getting younger. Some star-producers are so greedy they allow themselves to be used for product placements in their films. Just like kapitana, they share a minuscule, teeny-amount of windfall from their profits in order to project a philanthropic image.

Oro has the bravery and guts to bring out in the open an issue involving a powerful clan of lawmakers. Alas, with all the idiotic lies told by the film stakeholders regarding the dog killing incident, several viewers may see the film as a figment of the filmmakers’ wild imagination.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sunday Beauty Queen (Baby Ruth Villarama, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)

This exceptional movie was high on my list of must-watch films at the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 (MMFF). I first learned of its miraculous entry into the festival during a film forum in November 2016. I was happy to hear the good news from moderator Ed Cabagnot. I was impressed by filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama-Gutierrez’s previous documentary Little Azkals and looked forward to seeing her latest work.

Sunday Beauty Queen highlights the inner beauty of hardworking Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong. During Sundays, they converge in public places and indulge in their favorite activities and hobbies. The focus of the documentary is a group of domestic helpers joining and organizing beauty contests. Their imperfections, terrible grammar, and embarrassing experiences are laid out in the open. They may not have faces and bodies like those of our Miss Universe and Miss World winners but they are confidently beautiful with big, big hearts.

Filmmaker Gutierrez, whose mother is a former domestic helper, portrays such Overseas Filipino Workers as a boon not only to their families and country but also to the whole world. Fellow filmmaker Jack Soo, an employer of a domestic helper/beauty contestant, says that if the Philippine government decides to stop the influx of Filipina domestic helpers to Hong Kong, China, and other countries, the world will be in big trouble. Singapore barged into the list of Olympic gold winning countries courtesy of a young swimmer who proudly claimed to have been raised by a Filipina nanny. A Chinese ballet teacher says employing a Filipina maid is worth every dollar spent. The average monthly salary of a Filipina domestic helper is $550 dollars, which is equivalent to the salary of a junior executive in the Philippines.

The documentary will put a smile on your face just like the infectious smile of Filipino tourist Chuck Gutierrez, film editor, producer and husband of the filmmaker. No matter where they are, Filipinos will always show their sense of humor, peculiarities, and idiosyncrasies. There’s a Filipina cook in Hong Kong who takes pictures of her Pinoy food dishes neatly arrayed on a rectangular table. Her primary objective is to make her Facebook friends envious of her. Another Filipina gets the boot from her employer after breaking a curfew. She was so engrossed joining a beauty contest that she lost track of time. Or maybe she’d had enough of working for her employer. There are tales told of ruthless employers but there are also heartwarming stories about Chinese employers treating Filipina domestic helpers as part of family.

Sunday Beauty Queen is a more impressive documentary than Little Azkals. The latter took some time before it gets things rolling.
Sunday Beauty Queen plunges immediately to the lives of colorful characters. I liked it better than the three local documentaries shown at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2016.

The inclusion of Sunday Beauty Queen to the MMFF justifies the revamped selection process. I’ve seen three other entries and they are quite good. So far, there are no fillers among the entries. Bravo! Take a bow, members of the MMFF executive and selection committees.