Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dagsin (Atom Magadia, #Cinemalaya2016)

The film title Dagsin, meaning gravity, refers to what is probably the main thing keeping a crippled judge alive. Justino Razon (Tommy Abuel) starts the Holy Week by courting death through Russian roulette. He loads one bullet into a chamber of a revolver and then spins the cylinder. He points the gun at his head and pulls the trigger. If he survives, he gets to live another day in paradise.

Unknown to him, gravity pulls the odds in favor of a Russian roulette player because a loaded chamber is heavier and likely to end up on the bottom after every spin.

The Russian roulette scene, along with the trailer and poster, supports my initial perception of the film as a melodramatic, courtroom drama. Thankfully, an early droll scene quashes that false concept of mine.

The bathroom scene with a caregiver trying to bathe the judge is an eye-opener. It humanizes the overbearing judge by showing his discomfort, his sense of humor, and his dependence on other people. This scene and another bathroom scene of Justino explaining the reason why he survived countless atrocities are my favorite Tommy Abuel moments. Abuel lends his character a sense of gravitas. It helps that Abuel is a lawyer in real life.

Lotlot de Leon gives ample support to Abuel with her character Mercy. An adopted daughter of the judge, Mercy is the sole living family member of Justino. While cleaning the room of her late mother, Corazon, she uncovers a box of diary journals. The diaries soon become constant reading materials for Corazon's husband, Justino.

The journals of Corazon trigger sweet and horrifying memories. The happy moments show the young sweethearts during the halcyon days before World War II. The film then plunges into the darkest episodes of our country's history.

Justino endured the gruelling Death March and escaped the clutches of death from an ambush during Martial Law. The atrocities he'd seen and experienced shook his belief in God. Decades later, with the death of his wife Corazon, he becomes suicidal and plays GOD (game of destiny) each day.

Dagsin gets away with the verbal joustings of the judge because of the excellent performance of Abuel. His character Justino Razon is up there with other memorable Cinemalaya characters such as Rene in Bwakaw and the eponymous character in Jay.

First-time director Atom Magadia and his wife colloborated on the film. They included things they love on the film. A poem by Magadia was supplied with a lovely melody and ended up becoming the harana song. But, some things are completely out of place such as the pictures of Gloria Romero on Corazon's bedroom. Romero was still of grade school age in 1941.

There are also scenes that clutter the mind of viewers. From a journal entry dated 1956, a flashback shows Corazon and Justino eating ice cream. Corazon then hinted of having children after seeing a child by the ice cream cart. I ended up wondering throughout the film how they ended up childless.

I thought something happened to Corazon during her imprisonment during World War II, but then the Japanese official blew his brains out. Also, the 1956 flashback clearly show a jolly and healthy Corazon daydreaming of raising up a family.

The Martial Law imprisonment of Corazon was another red herring. Nothing traumatic actually happened to Corazon. The closest thing to a traumatic event is the last grave sin committed by her husband, Justino.

A G-word helped Justino survived a hellish Holy Week. Game of destiny is not it. Gravity is also not that G-word although Justino's heavy body dragged the ceiling fan downwards.

Surrounded by religious and prayerful people with names such as Corazon de Jesus Bishop, Mercy Razon, and Grace Santos, Justino is saved by God. The character names are an overkill but the idea that a merciful God answers constant prayers is a nice touch by the Magadia couple.

The last scene shows a smiling, cheerful Justino sunning himself in the garden. His heavy, guilty heart is probably a thing of the past.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy Jr., #Cinemalaya2016 Best Picture)

I envy those who viewed Pamilya Ordinaryo without having seen the trailer or teaser. I was there at opening night of the Cinemalaya 2016 and was aghast to see the film's teaser that effectively spoil my first viewing experience of the film. The omnibus trailer also laid out in the open the crucial plot of the baby being stolen. The Cinemalaya schedule brochure has a better, spoiler-free synopsis.

Another thing which ruined my first viewing of the film was a lengthy out-of-sync audio problem. The film was probably the first to finish production shoot and should have had an easy time during the post-production stage. But, how come the glitch was left undetected until the film's initial screening and gala premiere at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)? Well, I hope the T-shirts worn by the crew was not an apology. 'Taga-Indie' lang kasi ang nag-check? Or, maybe the CCP staff is the one at fault.

A second viewing of the film was better and what I thought was a spoiler is not at all the surprise twist of the whole film. I'll share the twist on the latter part of this piece in order not to pre-empt first-time viewers.

Pamilya Ordinaryo shows why Eduardo Roy Jr. reigns supreme as the best Bing Lao disciple of his generation. The gritty film, dedicated to the late Lao disciple Francis Pasion, shows how two teenage parents survive on the streets of Manila. They mainly squat on the compound of the Metropolitan Theater. They snatch and steal things from other people. In extreme cases where they need money badly, they will engage in prostitution.

We've seen this squalid life, petty crimes to raise money, and grimy environment in countless indie films including Ma' Rosa, but Roy's controlled direction sets the film apart.

The use of a CCTV footage at the start of the film Pamilya Ordinaryo is a great move. It forces the audience to watch attentively. Usually, we associate CCTV footages with crimes, criminals, persons of interest, and accidents. Sure enough, the CCTV footage from the film captures a child being hit by a wayward car.

Subsequent CCTV footages pack a wallop especially the footage showing Jane Ordinaryo (Hasmine Killip) coming out of the interrogation room of a police precinct. This time we don't see a crime being committed but based on Jane's actuations we can infer that she just went through a horrible debasing from an abusive cop.

A crucial counterpoint to the despicable cop is a female stranger (Ruby Ruiz) who assertively helped the young couple in their quest to find their missing baby. The good Samaritan even handed out some money as a further help. One line from her still echoes in my mind: '
Hindi porke ganyan ang suot nila hindi na sila dapat tulungan.' It recalls a Ramon Magsaysay dictum which I'm paraphrasing: 'Those who have less in life should have more in justice.'

Most dialogue in the film serves a purpose. A throw-away line about seeping lactation leads to the heartbreaking breast-feeding scene at the police precinct. Even Jane's bra serves a purpose by alluding to the miserable state of the youngster. She is so poor that she can't buy a new bra. The regular bra can no longer contain her bigger, lactating breasts.

During my commutes to the CCP for Cinemalaya 2016 cinemarathons, I always passed by Quiapo, Lawton, and Metropolitan Theater in Manila. I've seen countless homeless people shivering from the torrential monsoon rains during the whole week. One night, the rain was so terrible it flooded the whole area of Metropolitan Theater, parts of Quiapo, and España. I waded through the floods. This is the milieu walked on by Aries and Jane. The whole vicinity is not fit to live in especially for youngsters caring for a month-old baby.

Roy and his crew have an uncanny knack of making the most of their locales. Bahay Bata seems to be a difficult shoot because the crew had to deal with hundreds of patients who've just given birth at the Fabella Hospital. But, I think Pamilya Ordinaryo is a more challenging shoot because of external shots. What makes the shoot even more toxic was the fact that Roy and crew have to finish shooting before Killip flies off to London, England. A huge dose of good luck with the El Niño weather and they somehow managed to get all the shots they needed.

Hasmine Killip and Ronwaldo Martin as Aries bring to life the street dwellers I see on my daily trips to CCP. They look like real denizens of the concrete jungle that is Manila. I was not distracted by Martin's squeaky voice as I found it to be fitting for a teenage, unschooled hustler. Killip is a natural as a young distraught mother. Her acting highlights vary from a simple selfie moment to a breakdown on the street.

There is a baby thief in the film alright. It is okay to spread that fact. The surprise twist in the film is similar to the twist of neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief. Baby thief Ertha is not the only one.

The redemptive act of the young couple at the end was lapped up by the CCP audience I was with. The audience know that there is hope for these petty criminals. There are probably loads of goodness still left in them.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kusina (David R. Corpuz & Cenon Obispo Palomares, #Cinemalaya2016)

Kusina is an ambitious film that ably soars because of Judy Ann Santos' delicious performance.

Filmmakers David Corpuz & Cenon Palomares took a big risk by setting nearly all the scenes in a kitchen (a made-up one at that). The first few segments had me distracted by all that faux walls, and artificial sunlight. There are even scenes when it is difficult to ascertain the time. But, taking note of the film title, I came to grasp the reason behind the enigmatic production design.

The film Kusina situates the altruistic Juanita (Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo) in a room where she can serve others and where she has some control of. Her kitchen is a magical place with perpetual sunlight on one side and night time on another side. The concept of time means nothing to a selfless woman intent on caring for her family. It is not simply a matter of serving quick meal but of giving tender loving care through meticulously cooked dishes.

Juanita's kitchen is where an abundance of sumptuous food emanates and multiplies. There is a scene wherein Alejandro nibbles from a piece of rice cake and when he leaves, the plate miraculously shows another piece of rice cake. The more Juanita shares of her food, the more it multiplies. She may not be religious, but she is truly blessed by a gracious God as befitting her name.

The single parent Juanita makes use of her culinary skills to shoulder ever-rising expenses. She makes snacks that the children vend. In extreme cases of financial hardship, a friend or someone else chips in to help. She eats her pride sometimes because of her deep love for her children.

Juanita's kitchen has a wide array of appliances, cooking items, and food ingredients. Juanita also has several herbal plants including one that can cure ear infection. But, what is a kitchen without the ubiquitous fly?

Alejandro is like a fly who've been smitten by the delicious food cooked by Juanita. He flits in and out of her kitchen. Just when Peles had grown tired of her sinigang, Alejandro pines for the sourness of sinigang. Alejandro also finds Juanita to be highly desirable. In Filipino, 'May asim pa si Juanita.'

A peculiar medium shot from the film show Alejandro wearing a blue polo shirt. Prominent on his shoulder is a fly that doggedly stays on during the lengthy shot. Alejandro is that irritating fly who obstinately loves and continues to cling onto Juanita even during her middle-aged years. The audience lapped up Juanita's line about being desired through the years. Alas, Juanita swats away Alejandro's offer for them to live together.

Most characters in the film have their favorite food. Juanita adores adobo. But, she rarely shares her favorite food to her family. Juanita prioritizes the favorite recipes of her family members. She eventually gets to serve adobo to her family and friends in a heavenly banquet scene that will make you crave for yummy Filipino food. Make sure to watch the film on a full stomach.

This year, I'm fortunate to have seen two notable stagey films, Kusina and Anino sa Likod ng Buwan. Both films, with screenplays by Palanca winning writers, feature well-written female characters and both are set mostly in a large room. Both films showcase sizzling performances from their female leads, Judy Ann Santos and LJ Reyes. Both films star Luis Alandy as the lover. I have seen Dogville but I can't recall a plotline from it nor remember acting highlights. I'm not interested in watching it again but the two Filipino films I will gladly watch again or if ever, their theatre play adaptations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I America (Ivan Andrew Payawal, #Cinemalaya2016)

'I'm Mara,' says a 27-year old beauteous half-American and half-Pinay model, Erica Berry (Bela Padilla). 'No, you are Clara,' interjects her friend, Carol.

Mara and Clara are characters from a popular Filipino soap-opera starring Judy Ann Santos. They were exchanged at childbirth and grew up in different circumstances. Erica is compared to Clara because she still loves her American dad despite knowing belatedly that he is not her true father.

Erica is among legions of Amerasians still searching for their true fathers. Three months before meeting Carol, Erica thought she had found her true father, John Berry. While in the process of getting a passport, she learned that her real name is Erica Marie Perry. Problem arise when John Berry goes to her Olongapo house and asks her to live with him in California. Will she continue to be a Clara and pretend to be his daughter?

My favorite Cinemalaya 2016 film is I America. It is an entertaining, insightful, and bittersweet look at dysfunctional families of adult Amerasians in Zambales. Erica and Carol were just toddlers when the Philippine Senate kicked out the Subic Bay Naval Installation in 1991. They grew up without a father figure. These two pretty Amerasians have different reactions when faced finally with their father. Erica is more forgiving of her absentee father while Carol is shocked and angry.

I admire I America for showing the bitter legacy of American military bases. Olongapo and Subic have moved on and boasts of wonderful tourist spots. But, the raging pain felt by father-less Amerasians still seethes and affects their personalities.

Not all offsprings of inter-racial couples in Zambales are bitter, though. The Olongapo-born 27-year old Filipino athlete, Eric Cray, put up a good fight in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Several statuesque Amerasians join beauty contests and become successful models and celebrities. But for every confident Eric out there, there are dozens of Erica unable to hurdle the misery and loneliness of being father-less.

Erica is a beautiful lady but looks confused and lacks confidence. A major reason is her anger towards her prostitute mother, Rose. When Rose died of liver failure, Erica whispered her last request to her dead mother during the burial. The action somewhat eased the heavy burden from Erica's chest.

An important segment shows Erica poring at the contents of a tin can. Inside the can are pieces of paper containing the names of military servicemen who have sired children in Zambales. The tin can is like a Pandora's box bearing the last hope of Amerasians wishing to connect with their fathers. Erica squashes that hope. She burns the papers to ashes. From her negative experience of meeting her father, Erica knows that bridging Amerasians to their American fathers will be futile and will only bring back evil things unleashed by Pandora.

I America, just like Mercury Is Mine, shows how Filipinos are beholden to Caucasians and anything American. Erica gushes at the awesomeness of American zoos even if she haven't seen one. Teenage boy Mercury gets an automatic slot in a reality show about cooking because he is a novelty. Both films also feature young Filipinas yearning to be impregnated by Caucasians.

I America digs deeper on the subject of colonial mentality and racism by touching on an important plotline from Cinemalaya 2011 film David F. The latter dealt with Amerasians making a living in comedy bars and clubs. The stand-up comedians belt out funny lines but deep inside feel sad and empty. If some Filipinos want to apply whitening lotion on their skin, then I won't mind. But, if some Filipinos ostracize and belittle fellow countrymen based on their dark skin, then that is a shameful thing and should be severely admonished.

If fair-skinned Erica, despite being a looker, still feels timid and incomplete, then what more the negative feelings of father-less Amerasians with Afro-American features. Dark-skinned Balot and friends mask their sad plight with lively antics and witty punchlines. They are usually relegated to the sidelines as some sort of personal assistant, event photographer, driver, and butt of jokes. A crucial scene shows a bossy director ordering Balot to serve him some refreshments. Balot assertively objects and puts the director in his place.

I America boasts of Cinemalaya 2016's funniest segment (Grace before meal) and finest Cinemalaya final line so far. But, is it the best? No. The best film by a mile is Pamilya Ordinaryo.

I like I America for tackling important issues but there's a nagging question on my head. Why did it take more than two decades before Erica gets hold of a birth certificate showing her true name? Maybe Erica never did go to school or if she did, the school may be lax in its requirements. Maybe Erica was a prostitute in her younger years.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Kid Kulafu (Paul Soriano, 2015)

While cable surfing, I chanced upon this Filipino film on Red channel. Kid Kulafu is Paul Soriano's worthy follow-up to his award-winning debut film Thelma. It tells the origins of the Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

The selection of Buboy Villar as a young Manny Pacquiao is another casting coup by Soriano and crew. Just like what Maja Salvador did in Thelma, Villar wholeheartedly embraced his role as a phenomenal teen athlete. He looked uncannily like the Blow by Blow sensation.

A notable boxing fight sequence shows Pacquiao unleashing fast punches from the point of view (POV) of his taller opponent. Pacquiao is staring up at the camera and his gloved hands keeps landing on the camera. If this is a 3D film, then the audience would have staggered from countless head bobs.

I love the POV shots because they show what an opponent sees when fighting Pacquiao. It looks like the whole audience is up there supporting and backing up Pacquiao. The dazzling flashes of red that appears intermittently from both sides suggest the quickness of Pacquiao's hands.

There's a reason behind the film's insistence on using Emmanuel, the real name of Pacquiao. The biblical definition of Emmanuel is 'God with us.' An important scene shows his mother Dionisia, asking the Lord to be with Emmanuel always. He is blessed to be the first and only boxer to win world championships in eight divisions.

Pacquiao has had a love-hate relationship with his townmates in General Santos City, South Cotabato. They loved him as a boxing champion but junked him in the 2007 legislative elections. Pacquiao's decision to run again for the congressional seat but for another province (Sarangani) is somewhat similar to an incident shown in the film.

The young and raw pugilist is disheartened from being cut from the General Santos City boxing team. As fast as his boxing jab, he switches allegiance to the Digos boxing team. He helps his new team win the regional championship at the expense of his original team.

Kid Ku
lafu does a decent job of showing the circumstances of Pacquiao's rise to boxing glory. The film also shows the fickle-mindedness of Pacquiao. Now, it will no longer surprise me if Pacquiao, despite his campaign pronouncements, decides once more to don boxing gloves for a fight this year.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pauwi Na (Paolo Villaluna & Ellen Ramos, ToFarm Film Festival 2016)

ToFarm Film Festival produced a decent crop of exceptional films such as Pauwi Na and Paglipay. The organizers treated the film makers well and they reaped some good karma in return.

Pauwi Na is a surprise film entry. It barely touched on the festival theme of farmers and farming. The gist of the story is about a family of five going back to their province. It may be that the screening committee sees their story as a sentimental 'back to one's roots' tale.

The family's journey is quite a challenge because they have to ride a pedicab. The sickly father (Bembol Roco) is quite accustomed to driving a pedicab but he is no longer young. Fed up with a non-paying client and stressed by urban living, he decides to take his family back home. His main reason, though, is he wants to be buried in his hometown. That story plot is taking the 'back to roots' imagery too far.

The tragic story seldom strays into melodrama because of suave cinematic inputs of the filmmakers. The pregnant daughter-in-law Isabel (Meryll Soriano) is blind but can see and chat with Jesus Christ. She gets wisdom and sometimes crucial help from the Lord.

A hysterically funny scene shows the visually impaired Isabel crossing a busy highway. The audience knows she has a guide but her family doesn't know a thing. A shot of a huffing pregnant woman in the middle of the street is juxtaposed with a shot of anxious, deeply worried family members. This whole segment is a brilliant piece of editing.

The use of black and white sequences to portray fantasy scenes also help the film from being overly dramatic. There are two deaths in the family. One such death scene was prefigured through the use of a black and white sequence.

The final shot of the remaining family members with their 'angels' backdropped with a scenic rustic view suggests that paradise is not a province. Paradise is a place where your family is. It may be a verdant field or it may be a shanty house or it may be a pedicab. As long as two family members or more decide to stick with one another, paradise will always be in their midst. Ask Isabel, she knows.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ma' Rosa (Brillante Ma. Mendoza, 2016)

Change is coming

In the film Ma' Rosa, a stout middle-aged woman is being shortchanged inside a grocery. A cashier hands out candies in lieu of coins. Ma' Rosa (Jaclyn Jose), after a brief discussion with the cashier, reluctantly takes the sweets as change.

We later learn that Ma' Rosa is owner of a sari-sari store, which serves as front for her business of peddling illegal drugs. Ma' Rosa and her husband Nestor (Julio Diaz) takes precaution when dealing with clients. One rainy night, though, the police makes an illegal raid and arrests the couple.

The bulk of the film shows how the children of the couple tries to raise money for their parents' release. The sacrifices the children go through show how much they love their mother.

Ma' Rosa may not be an ideal mother but she is well-loved by her children. The eldest son (Felix Roco) lugs a CRT television around their neighborhood looking for a buyer. This is in stark contrast to the first time we see him onscreen. He grudgingly carries the grocery goods brought by her mother back then.

He doesn't seem to be a troublemaker but when he heard how their neighbor and family friend betrayed them he goes berserk. After a scuffle with the traitor, he continues with his goal of raising money.

Ma' Rosa's daughter disobeys her elder by visiting her Aunt Tilde. The youngster endures a rant from her belligerent aunt. She keeps her silence and will probably keep the visit secret from her proud mother.

The youngest child goes the extra mile to leech money from his gay benefactor. He easily convinces his lover to withdraw more money for him.

All throughout the film, the presence of Ma' Rosa is felt in the children's quests, the precinct scenes, and the money transactions. The various types of transactions remind us how important it is to insist on getting the correct change. Every centavo matters in the long run.

Mendoza touched on police corruption in his earlier award-winning Cannes film Kinatay. The police brutally chops to pieces the body of a prostitute and dumps the body parts in various places.

In Ma' Rosa, there's no killing but the spectre of death looms in the air. Unless the drug pusher comes out with evidence to nail his supplier he is likely to end up as a statistic in the war against illegal drugs. Someone has to die in place of him.

My favorite scene shows Nestor coming out from a room wearing a light blue polo T-shirt. When I saw the Manila's Finest slogan on the sleeve suggesting it was a police uniform, I was laughing out loud at the irony.

Another scene that had me in stitches involved a cop (Mon Confiado). When asked by the drug pusher's wife about the bloodied state of her husband, the cop replied 'Gasgas lang yan.' The timing of the delivery is spot-on.

Ma' Rosa producers did the right thing in releasing the film early. The Best Actress award for Jaclyn Jose at the Cannes Film Festival is still fresh in the minds of cinephiles. But, more importantly, the relevant story seems to come straight from the news headlines. 

The powerful climactic scene of Ma' Rosa suggests a positive alternative to cardboard justice killings. Ma' Rosa gets a glimpse of a better future on the streets after her release. A redemptive change is possible after all for druggies and drug personalities.

At a Sunday mass I've attended, the priest noted a huge increase in the number of people confessing their sins lately. The spike in numbers was largely due to hordes of drug users wishing to amend their lives. (Yes. I know the priest violated the seal of confession by sharing this info, but that is another story).

Hundreds have been killed in this ruthless war on druggies. Thousands of self-confessed drug users and pushers have surrendered. I hope the government has enough resources to help them change for the better.