Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memories of Overdevelopment (Kidlat Tahimik, Cinemalaya 2014 Cut)

Memories of Overdevelopment is a cinematic journey like no other. It is part history lesson, part home video, part tribute to Yoyoy Villame, and part appreciation of the arts and culture of northern Philippines. This delightful film, 35 years in the making, is the nth iteration of Kidlat Tahimik's chronicles of the adventures of Enrique, a Malay slave who circumnavigated the world. The slave's name may not be that familiar but his master, Ferdinand Magellan, is a household name among Filipinos.

I was elated when I heard the first strains of the Yoyoy Villame ditty, Magellan. Middle-aged viewers like me had fond memories of that song about the demise of the Portuguese explorer. The compilation album containing that song along with Mag-exercise Tayo was played to death in our household during visits of my late grandfather. Lolo Jose was a huge, huge fan of Villame. I think he'll agree with the proposal to make Villame a National Artist.

There is a national artist featured in the film. National Artist Ben Cabrera and his museum are bastions of art in Baguio City. Kidlat Tahimik and his equally artistic sons show off their art installations. Every destination set upon by Enrique and present-day balikbayan counterpart, also named Enrique, is blessed with impressive art pieces. The whole film is a showcase of Filipino pride.

Memories of Overdevelopment (Unang Balikbayan) is an entertaining, indio-genius film. From yoyo to Yoyoy, the film handles Filipino things in a playful, catchy, jocular manner. My favorite scene shows Enrique unleashing a yoyo to kill a pig. The scene is fiercely independent and brave for using a cheap-looking plastic pig in lieu of a real pig. The amazing thing is the scene worked wonders for me. It drove home the major points that the yoyo is originally a weapon and that budgetary constraint is no obstacle to story telling. Besides, no animal was hurt at all.

Kidlat Tahimik espouses the idea that every Filipino has a story to tell. We just need to harness our own imagination. In August 2014, Kidlat Tahimik was honored by the Cinemalaya group for his role in the 'development and propagation of Philippine independent cinema.' Among those who followed his found-footage and video diary style of filmmaking are John Torres and Roxlee. He is very much at home sharing his experiences and indigenous concepts to aspiring filmmakers, who calls him kuya.

Uppermost photo taken by filmmaker H. Calderon

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sundalong Kanin (Janice O'Hara, Cinemalaya 2014)

One of the more interesting screenplays at the 10th edition of Cinemalaya, Sundalong Kanin is marred by bouts of haphazard filmmaking. The thrilling adventures and misadventures of a quartet of rural boys during the Second World War captivates the attention of the audience. Then, just when things get exciting, the audience members are bombarded with inept dramatic scenes and lame action set pieces.

A pet peeve of mine is seeing a breathing 'dead man' in films. Sundalong Kanin is the latest one to show a corpse with a heaving stomach. Filmmakers can easily change camera angles to hide moving stomachs but they continue to show the full body. Maybe they saw it done in Tokyo Story and decided to do it, too. I'll turn a blind eye if their films are as excellent as Tokyo Story.

The execution segment in Sundalong Kanin loses its impact because of poor blocking of the crowd scenes. The long shots are okay but the shoving and jostling scenes are jarringly dull. I also dislike some parts of the nighttime chase. The weak lighting presents the kids as being unconcern about exposure to enemies.

A memorable scene shows two vagrant kids stealing mouthfuls of rice. A rice soldier valiantly tries to stop them but fails. It shows how nimble and brittle the bravery of the frail, puny rice soldiers. 

A rash of abusive acts by enemies will turn the innocent children into raging animals. Think of the Lord of the Flies meets Oro, Plata, Mata. The scene showing a kid poking a gun on the head of another boy is a nod to an iconic scene featuring Joel Torre in Oro, Plata, Mata. 

Sundalong Kanin also has a few nods to the film Seven Samurai. The cutting of a girl's hair to make her look like a boy is from the Japanese film. Both films end with a shot of mounds of graves. The little boy giving a snappy salute is a nice touch by the Sundalong Kanin team. He has finally learned his lesson although he still needs to bulk up. Cinemalaya 2014 Special Awardee Kidlat Tahimik will probably advise him to 'eat samurais' - 'eat some more rice.'

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

1st Ko Si 3rd (Real Florido, Cinemalaya 2014)

The first film I'd seen at Cinemalaya 2014 was a big letdown. The synopsis and trailer of 1st Ko Si 3rd suggest a cute, lovely film about second chances. What we got instead was a draggy, mildly interesting story about a love that lasts.

The slow pace of the film was due to director-writer Real Florido's attempt to show the monotonous and tedious life of a newly-retired government employee, Cory. He succeeded alright but the film became boring as well because of repetitive scenes of Cory (Nova Villa) doing household chores. It sure felt like time slowed down for several segments.

The re-entry of Third (Freddie Webb) to Cory's life barely lift the film from snoozefest. The flashbacks suffer from wooden performances by the teen actors. The blocking of actors looked awkward. The tripping incident pales in comparison with the tripping scenes in Bwaya or Dagitab.

The film comes alive with a hilarious segment showing online correspondence between the former lovers. The editing is brisk and spot-on. This is a rare LOL moment indeed.

The best scene for me, though, involves Cory's husband, played by Dante Rivero. He had a coughing spell that sounded like an old car being revved up. The scene worked for me because he is an elder mechanic determined to bring to life a well-loved automobile.

The old chap may not be as gorgeous and flashy as Third but he can still take Cory to places of simple joy. He is an ever faithful companion on the dining table, bedroom, and couch. Very few women are lucky to have spouses who will join them in regular telenovela viewings.

1st Ko Si 3rd reminds me of a saying which goes: 'Lucky is the man who is the first love of a woman but luckier is the woman who is the last love of a man.'

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cinemalaya 2014 screening schedules (CCP and Ayala Malls Cinemas)

Cinemalaya is best experienced at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Nearly all the star-studded gala premieres and festival events are held there. Roving celebrities are mostly available for photo opportunities. Cinephiles discuss animatedly their list of sleepers and outstanding performances. Wider choice of film screenings is a bliss for pass holders. The heady buzz out there change from hour to hour.

But, CCP is not exactly commuter-friendly. With the expected rains and floods dissuading potential viewers, the Cinemalaya group increased the number of screening venues. The other screening venues apart from CCP are the Ayala Malls Cinemas at TriNoma, Greenbelt 3, Fairview Terraces, and Alabang Town Center.

The advantages of watching at non-CCP venues are shorter waiting time in-between screenings, chance to eat popcorn during screenings, and guaranteed plush, comfy seats. Disadvantages are viewers using cellphones and ubiquitous MTRCB video reminders.

Price of a ticket at Ayala Cinemas is PHP 160 . Meanwhile, tickets are PHP 150 at the CCP venues. 

Wasn't able to buy a ticket to an already sold-out CCP screening? There are passes available for you. But, hurry up, those things may be gone too.

TICKETWORLD: click here

Alabang Town Center (ATC) sked: click here

Fairview Terraces sked: click here

Greenbelt 3 sked: click here 

TriNoma sked: click here

CCP sked: click here


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (Lav Diaz, World Premieres Film Festival 2014)

July 2014. On the same week that the film held its initial albeit limited theatrical run, birthday celebrant Imelda Marcos kissed the glass coffin of her late husband Ferdinand Marcos. Her birthday wish was for the former president to have a hero's burial. She also hinted of a possible run by senator Bongbong Marcos for the presidency in 2016.

Such weird, scary things, and oddball scenarios are not out of place in Lav Diaz's haunting recollection of his adolescence in Southern Philippines. The 338-minute film Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon dealt with aswangs, ritualistic burning of dead bodies, demented saviors, and more.

The film begins with an elderly woman going down the boondocks to join a once-in-a-blue-moon healing session. The rapturous melody of the kulintang gongs accompany the spellbinding dance by the shaman, Bai Rahmah. I felt like standing up and joining the dance. This stunning segment is one of the most uplifting moments I've seen in a Lav Diaz film. However, the ritual is rarely performed nowadays. It is just one of the many Filipino things obscured and plutoed by the Marcos regime.

If there is one scene that aptly captures the film's message of the country entering a dark, tumultuous era, then it would be the nighttime burning of the huts. The static shot shows three huts all ablaze and with a text identifying the place as the Philippines and the year as 1971. There are no cries heard. The sweeping militarization razes through the three major islands of the country. Rampant hamletting, psychological warfare, and other military operations drive away the rural folks. Only ghost towns remain. The song Wala Nang Tao sa Sta. Filomena is playing on my head as I'm writing this.

The remote barrio in the film has an odd mix of Ilocano elders, Maguindanao rituals, deceiving Catholic priest, and roving Batangueña merchant. It is unnamed because it depicts the whole Philippines. It is a hodge-podge of Filipino people and things. Slowly, they disappear. In the end, the barrio is overtaken by paramilitary groups. Human rights abuses go on unimpeded. The tragic events in the barrio are replicated all over the country during the Martial Law years.

In Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (From What Is Before), Lav Diaz shares with the audience what he saw, felt, and experienced during the country's darkest period. Militarization sows fear in the hearts of the Filipinos. Forced evacuations and displacement of people lead to loss of lives and properties. The acclaimed filmmaker also highlights several beautiful rituals that have vanished through the years.

Now, will we allow the likes of the Marcoses to return to Malacañan Palace? Tabi tabi po. Tabi tabi po.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Global premiere of Lav Diaz's latest film at the World Premieres Film Festival

Still reeling from the enchanting effect of Lav Diaz's award-winning Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan? Ready for more?

Lav Diaz's Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon will have its global premiere at the World Premieres Film Festival (Philippines) in July 2014.

Here are the slated screenings for the reportedly 315-minutes long film:

Day 2, July 3 Thursday - SM Cinema Megamall
7:00 PM  Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (Main Competition)

Day 4, July 5 Saturday - SM Cinema Manila
7:00 PM  Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (Main Competition)    

Day 7, July 8 Tuesday  - SM Cinema North Edsa
7:00 PM  Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (Main Competition)

Complete festival screening schedule here

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sanglaan (Milo Sogueco, Cinemalaya 2009)

I haven't decided which among Sanglaan and Engkwentro is my pick for the top film of Cinemalaya Cinco. I need to catch up again with Engkwentro. But, if I were to choose my favorite movie, then it will have to be Sanglaan. It is one of the best multi-character films done the Cinemalaya way.

The well-written characters are portrayals of people we ordinarily bumped into on the streets of Metro Manila. A greencard holder named Olivia (Tessie Tomas) manages a small pawnshop. She refuses to go to the United States because she'll probably end up as nanny of her grandchildren. Helping her at the pawnshop is an adoptive family member, Amy (Ina Feleo). The pawnshop's security guard named Kanor Sevilla (Jess Evardone) and his wife Esing (Flor Salanga) subleases an apartment. Their current tenant is Amy's high-school crush, David Santillan (Joem Bascon). He is a seaman waiting for a call to go onboard a ship. The last, but not the least, character is loan shark Henry (Ryan Neil Sese), an ardent admirer of Amy.

With this film, Ina Feleo might as well be tagged as princess of proletarian romances. She portrays Amy, a devoted romance pocketbook reader and sentimental appraiser at the pawnshop. Just when she gets close to the boy of her dreams, fate intervenes. In a nod to the film Endo, romantic affair must give way once more to port calls and dollars. Ordinary employees and wage-earners sometimes end up forgoing their romantic dreams because they barely make enough money for their own expenses. When they do go out on dates, a simple bowl of noodles is accepted main course for cash-strapped employees.

Director and co-scriptwriter Milo Sogueco has an observant eye. He knows the aspirations and dreams of ordinary Filipinos. He essays their close family relationships and their fondness for eating. The film's most memorable scene involves Olivia preparing a snack called ginataang bilo-bilo. When Amy arrived, Olivia serves her a bowl of the snack. Audience starts to expect something like an apology because of an earlier rift, or a chat about Olivia's possible departure for the USA. Sogueco brilliantly turns the scene into a priceless portrait of family bonding. Amy gets confirmation that she is not just an ordinary employee. She is a well-loved member of Olivia's family.

Filipinos endure life's trials and tribulations. They survive because of the love and support from family members and extended kin. That love is the reason why Filipinos value things given by their family members. Appraiser Amy goes out of her way to raise funds needed to get back the pawned ring of David. Kanor seeks money in order to get back a pawned television. How deep is Filipinos' love for their kin? Deep enough for them to sacrifice a kidney.

There is something that prevents people from being bowled over by the film. They tend to admire the film but can't seem to pick it as one of the best full-length features of Cinemalaya Cinco. The film seems too bland for their tastes. Parang kulang sa patis.

But, I think there will be others who will be raving over the comforting warmth of Sanglaan. I loved this little gem of a film. It reminds me of a Ma Mon Luk meal with family members and loved ones. Simple but fulfilling. Bland but warms the heart. Inexpensive but elicits priceless images of love and family bonding.
Original online posting in July 2009