Thursday, August 27, 2015

Salamat sa Alaala (Dik Trofeo, Cinemalaya 2015 Exhibition)


Gerardo 'Manong Gerry' de Leon was the first Filipino filmmaker to be bestowed the title of National Artist in 1982. The nostalgic documentary Salamat sa Alaala showed that he was a true maestro and a gentleman. He was well-loved by his colleagues and family. 

A major revelation for me was that Manong Gerry came from the Ilagan clan. He was born Gerardo Ilagan on September 12, 1913. His father, Hermogenes Ilagan, was considered the father of sarzuela. The Ilagans were royalty on the theatre and movie industries. Manong Gerry took on the de Leon surname to differentiate himself from his siblings and relatives working in the film industry. He was not related to Mike de Leon. But, he was related to Robert Arevalo, Ronaldo Valdez, and Jay Ilagan.

A pleasant surprise from the Trofeo docu were generous footages from Manong Gerry's unfinished film Juan de la Cruz. The colorful costumes and Manong Gerry's obsession on getting an iron befitting the period depicted in the film speak volumes about the grandeur and realism of the epic. Juan de la Cruz could have been a major entry in the filmographies of the two National Artists involved in the film, namely actor Fernando Poe Jr. and director Manong Gerry.

An actors' director is what they call Manong Gerry. Pancho Magalona gave the performance of his life as Simoun in El Filibusterismo. Joseph Estrada acceded to playing a supporting role in the Moises Padilla Story just to be directed by Manong Gerry. Anita Linda, who recalled suffering a head wound from a fall during a shooting, won her first acting award in 1951 for the film Sisa.

Acclaimed directors Peque Gallaga and Lav Diaz had effusive praise for the master director, Manong Gerry. Lav Diaz indirectly touched on the sad fate of de Leon's mythic masterpiece, Ang Daigdig ng Mga Api. There is no existing print for the 1965 film, which swept all the major awards at the FAMAS awards. However, gushing raves from veteran cinephiles attest that the film could probably have been the best Filipino film of the 20th century.
Thank you to the Cinemalaya organizers for screening this heartwarming documentary. It brought back wonderful memories of viewing the master works of Gerardo de Leon.

I hope this docu, by film director and photographer Dik Trofeo, will entice young viewers to seek out and devour the films of Manong Gerry. His epic films, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo may be in black-and-white but both are sumptuously shot and designed that they eclipse visually any recent Filipino period films.

My favorite de Leon film is Sisa. If there is such a thing as an Ilustrado film, then that film is Sisa, based on a character from Jose Rizal's novel Noli Me Tangere. The film is like a lamp shedding light on the abuses by the Spaniards and their minions during the 19th century. Viewers will definitely end up enlightened and mesmerized by the stunning mise-en-scene compositions of Manong Gerry de Leon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

World Premieres Film Festival 2015: Senior citizens and cancelled screenings

I had a surprisingly good time yesterday (29th of June) at the World Premieres Film Festival venue in SM North Edsa, Quezon City, Philippines. I was among those waiting for the 3pm screening of Son of Mine at Cinema 2. The crowd out there entertained and made me guffawed loudly with their wisecracks and antics.

I was shocked to see a fairly good number of viewers at the orchestra part of the theater. Have we finally built up a sizable audience for indie films and international film festivals? It was a Monday afternoon and there they are scattered in the orchestra section.

Monday afternoon? O, okay. I realized soon enough that it was a Free Movie day for Quezon City senior citizens. Probably half of the audience availed of free movie tickets. A visual scan of the section shows a handful of elderly males already snoozing in their seats. I overheard a senior citizen ranting that most of the films he’d seen were rubbish. Yet, he keeps coming to movie houses.  Of course, free movies are hard to resist.

An observant senior citizen noticed an usher guiding patrons to their seats. He asked if there were seat numbers on the tickets. A fellow viewer showed him his number, which was O7. All along he thought it was 07. When he realized that his rightful seat was way up at the balcony section, he blurted out loud that he be allowed to stay seated at the orchestra section. He reasoned out that he is no longer a teenager and that his creaky knees may not withstand the hazards of going to the balcony. And in resigned tone, he asked ‘who thought of giving me my seat number anyway?” “You!’ came the resounding reply from amused viewers.

On the other hand, canceled screening is no laughing matter.  The usual suspects at film festivals and film events were there to watch the film An Kubo sa Kawayanan by Alvin Yapan. Film lovers, cinephiles, cineastes, bloggers, and critics shelled out hard-earned money and allotted valuable time to catch up on a potentially good Filipino film. From out of the blue, the film listed at the theatre booths says Son of Mine instead. I later learned that the SM Cinema group uploaded in their system films from an early sked. An irascible Diliman-based programmer was fuming mad over the mix-up.

The screening of Son of Mine didn’t push through either but the senior citizens I’ve met and seen at Cinema 2 made my day. Shining brightly among them is the wizened, weather-beaten Sergio (Lou Veloso) from the film Da Dog Show. The name of his dog, Habagat, says a lot about the problems he faces in his autumn years.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

QCinema International Film Festival 2014 Schedule

Nice slate of films for the 75th founding anniversary of Quezon City! There are also several free screenings to boot. 

Now, I hope organizers follow their sked with a few deviations. It is a hassle going to the mall and finding out that the film you will view has been rescheduled or, worse, will not be shown.

Alienasyon and Lilet Never Happened are way up there on my watch list.

Children's Classics at QCinema (Free Admission)


November 5, 2014 (Wednesday) - Cinema 3
11AM - Boses
1PM - Bunso
2:30PM - Boses
4:30PM- Bunso

November 6, 2014 (Thursday) - Cinema 3
11AM - Children of Heaven
1PM - Not One Less
3PM - The Color of Paradise
5PM - Dance Without Music

Friday, October 17, 2014

K'na The Dreamweaver (Ida Anita del Mundo, Cinemalaya 2014)

'Mara Lopez does a new trick in this film,' says my brother-in-law. I racked up my brains trying to find something new in Mara's performance. My brother-in-law relents and says that Mara kept her clothes on throughout the film. Ah, yes, I remember those enchanting clothes.

The intricately designed t'nalak attires stole the thunder from the actors. The bloody red color of the woven fabrics complement the verdant surroundings of the lake-side community. The striking costume patterns are products of dreams by the predecessors of K'na (Mara Lopez). The young lady is the latest one given the responsibility of manufacturing designs.
She is a dreamweaver and a peacemaker, too. She makes a huge sacrifice in order to bind two tribes together once more.

K'na The Dreamweaver is a lavish visual feast of colorful traditional costumes and picturesque settings in South Cotabato. It is a grand showcase of the culture and way of life of the T'boli people. There is music in the air as maidens walk by because of jangling brass bells on their waists. The whole village was constructed the traditional way. There was nary a nail used in building the huts.

A beautiful, symbolic scene shows a heartbroken K'na riding a boat towards the village of the Northern tribe. The chasm has been breached by her flood of tears. There's another scene of K'na seemingly submerged from her overflowing tears as her lover looks on.

The stories of star-crossed lovers and warring tribes are staples of local adventure films. The film K'na needs to have a unique image or plot line that will make it doubly memorable or even better, into the annals of Cinemalaya greats. As the film nears the end, I was betting on the lover's show of affection for K'na. He faithfully ties red yarns on tree branches to show her love for the lady.

I was expecting a dazzling display of fiery strands hanging from trees at the end of the film. Years have passed since K'na went home. The excited audience hold their breath as a wide-eyed K'na scans the trees. Then, the camera cuts to the trees.

Ehrrr, is that it? It was a big letdown. The red streaks barely made an impact. Oh well, I still have those clothes and the grandeur of Lake Sebu to remember.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dementia (Percival Intalan, 2014)

Mara (Nora Aunor) is suffering from dementia. Her caring cousin Elaine (Bing Loyzaga) convinces her to return to their home province of Batanes. Maybe the months-long vacation will help in bringing back memories. It seems to be a good suggestion as we see Mara guiding her kin to her home. There's no hesitation at all with the route she takes. The pathways are as familiar to her as an old glove or first love.

From the outside, the stone house seems to be small. But, it is surprisingly humongous and well-kept. Roaming through the house, Mara stirs up her worst memories. The restless ghost of the past torments her. That's the problem with reliving memories, some ought to be forgotten forever.

The audience experiences the horrors of Mara's imagination. From the boat ride up to the cliff side scene, it had been a dark journey into the deep recesses of Mara's mind. The cinematography brightens up a few notches after the Mulholland Drive-tinged plot ends with a freefall dive. The muted colors clear up as the plot's final jigsaw puzzle piece is unveiled.

I will remember Dementia not for the plot twist but for the wondrous performances of Bing Loyzaga and Jasmine Curtis-Smith. Nora Aunor gives her usual stellar performance but her younger co-stars exceed themselves. I especially remember the look of annoyance on the face of Rachel (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) as she hops on to the tricycle of a distant male kin.

Bing Loyzaga is so good as the cousin of Mara. She doesn't need to raise her eyebrows or raise her voice to be noticed. She just fits to a tee her role of an altruistic kin. There's something simple with her actions that make her so effective. I also loved her in another horror film, Celso Ad Castillo's Bahay Ng Lagim. Now, that house is something I will return to in a flash.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Hari Ng Tondo (Carlos Siguion-Reyna, Cinemalaya 2014)

Hari Ng Tondo is among a trio of popular Cinemalaya films, including Hustisya and The Janitor, which probed and dealt with the dirt and grime of the crime-infested city of Manila.

An important dramatic scene shows a dejected grandfather, Ricardo Vilena (Robert Arevalo), buckling down from the weight of his grief. He cannot believe the genial Tondo district he grew up in has turned into a grimy, violence-laden area. He stands up and faces the problems head on.

Vilena joins hands with neighbors to clean their surroundings. The remaining problem, violence, is not something he and his toughened grandchildren and neighbors cannot handle at all. They huddle together and brace up for hooligans and trouble-makers.

Director Carlos Siguion-Reyna grew up in Tondo and must have shared the sentiments of Vilena about the faded luster of Manila and broken promises of local leaders. His comeback film, Hari Ng Tondo, chastises past local kings, Dirty Hari and others, for the sorry state of the capital. The film challenges current Hari ng Tondo (Erap Estrada) to live up to the excellent leadership of Arsenio Lacson. The filmmakers seem hopeful in Estrada's capability to turn things around.

The film suggests that Manila is worth living in despite the obvious blight, horrendous traffic, and monstrous floods. A couple of rich kids ditched their cozy, comfy homes to live in with their grandfather, Ricardo Vilena, in the notorious Tondo district. They see how garbage bins are raided for recyclable food. They scamper away from fights sprouting like mushrooms in nearly every street corner. But, amidst all the poverty and gang riots they learn about love and community bonding. 

Soulful music, emanating from the heart of the compound, cleanses and soothes the hearts of everyone who hears it. A bit of that music, loads of courageous art, and lots of caring hearts will play a big role in restoring the grandeur and allure of Manila.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bwaya (Francis Xavier Pasion, Cinemalaya 2014 Best Picture Winner)

The deceptively sleek, powerful film Bwaya highlights a more fearsome predator than the 20-foot-long saltwater crocodile Lolong. Heart-wrenching story deals with a fatal crocodile attack on a girl at a marshland in Agusan del Sur. 

Director Francis Xavier Pasion returns with the caustic bite of his award-winning Cinemalaya film Jay. He sets the cross-hairs once again on slimy media people and, uumm, exploitative filmmakers. This time around, the family of the victim runs afoul of people who filches a huge sum of contributed money. The amount is miniscule when compared to the pork barrel funds stashed away by lawmakers but it is a significant bonanza to a destitute family.

Angeli Bayani gives a dazzling performance as the poor mother of the dead girl. A memorable poignant segment shows the mother failing to identify, and unable to get hold of her daughter's art drawing. She is illiterate hence her failure to decipher the names on the drawings. There is bitter laughter when her request to take home the drawing is shot down by a student.

The mother, obviously reeling from trauma, attempts to continue her daughter's school project which is a requirement for graduation. The school project, a paper-beaded curtain, ironically resembles a massive crocodile's sharp, angled bony plates. When the curtain sways with the wind, it looks like a crocodile bobbing in and out of the water.

The film's visual flourishes continue with shots of slender boats making their way through the narrow water paths. The main leads, Bayani and Karl Medina, make it seem so easy to traverse the marshland.

Bwaya brilliantly likens the plight of the grieving mother to the quandary of endangered crocodiles. All of them suffer because their respective territories are being encroached upon. The aquatic reptiles have seen their habitats diminish because of intrusion by humans. Their eggs are being poached for commercial gain or worse, destroyed. The mother's loss of a child is made worse by snooty media people and greedy authorities.

The ending of Bwaya suggests a solution to their plight.

Leave them alone.

I'm glad though that Pasion didn't heed it, else we would have been deprived of this wonderful, award-winning film.