Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa (2011, Mes de Guzman)

A rare trip to my hometown Bayombong, capital of Nueva Vizcaya, made me appreciate the realism of Mes de Guzman's award-winning film Of Skies and Earth. I saw firsthand the majestic beauty of cloud-capped mountain ranges. It seems heavenly to anyone gazing from afar. But, as one gets up close one sees that not all is tranquil up there. Roads ravaged by storms and torrential rains will add hours and sometimes days to your travel time. Heck, a newspaper even labeled Nueva Vizcaya as the ‘bad roads capital of the Philippines.’

Life in the highlands becomes grey and muddy with the onset of the rainy season. Groups of indigenous people complain about the effect of bad roads on the sales of their farm products and the provision of much-needed services. Not much work is required during this wet period. 

Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa is set during such bleak economic period. A pair of kids, Rodolfo aka Yoyong and younger brother Poklat, descend to Bayombong and adjoining municipalities to earn some money. They take shelter in an abandoned house along with two boys, Uding and Boying. The four kids do various odd jobs.

The best scenes show the kids at play or just plainly conversing with one another. They remind me of my childhood experiences and the stories told by our elders. One such story I’ve heard during my recent trip was about how my aunts and their playmates would nonchalantly shoo away floating feces during their swimming escapades. Ilocanos also has this habit of scaring each through ghost stories. The slaughterhouse manager is scared shitless because of the kids’ story about vengeful porcine spirits.

A most memorable scene from the film shows Yoyong and Uding ambushing a young lad. Instead of a fist fight, we see Yoyong meekly apologizing to his fellow teenager Adoy. The four kids may have some mean streak in them but they do have good hearts. All they need is some guidance and probably more education.

As seen in the film, services 
in the province are well provided in the lowlands but not so in the highlands. A team of police arrives immediately at a crime scene. A truckload of firemen responds promptly to a fire alarm. The manager of the slaughterhouse worries about the possibility of a random inspection by the town mayor. The residents of the highlands are the ones getting the short end of the stick.

Director Mes de Guzman gained prominence with his pro-education film debut Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong. He once again highlights the importance of education. Yoyong is barely literate. Lack of accessible education must have been the likely culprit. A few reading lessons turned the young man into a loving person. A few more years of formal education would have transformed Yoyong into a better, caring person.

The final scene shows how the bleak, grey lives of the kids turn into a colorful albeit short-lived existence. Heaven for them is a bountiful harvest. But, who will survive to attain that divine promise?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ka Oryang (2011, Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena)

Among the 10 films from the Cinema One Originals Festival 2011, Sari Lluch Dalena’s film Ka Oryang was the only one to get a perfect 10 on my scorecard. It was my bet for the Audience Choice award, which eventually went to Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay. For those wondering about that mysterious citation, the award was chosen by a group of viewers privileged to see all 10 entries way before the gala premieres at Shangri-La Cineplex. (Salamat nga po pala sa Cinema One team para sa mga libreng screenings at pagkain).

The Martial Law film may not have been popular enough to win that certain award but it was spectacular enough to nab the Best Picture award handed out by the festival jury. Right off the bat, Ka Oryang grabs the viewer’s attention with its lean, jugular black-and-white depiction of the Diliman Commune at the University of the Philippines (UP). The crisp powerful images (including that of a female Oblation) and chilling soundscape (e.g. piercing banshee wails of the students) send shivers to my bones. I’m moved and teary-eyed as I recall the heroism of students and the sacrifices of young martyrs during the seventies. Those were the years of rage against the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos.

An apathetic student named Gregoria de la Cruz (Alessandra de Rossi) witnesses the brutal suppression of legitimate dissent during the First Quarter Storm. A bloodied acquaintance of hers lies dying in front of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Fast forward to the mid-1970s, Gregoria, now a dedicated rural doctor, tends to a bloodied comrade of Ka Noli (Joem Bascon). She asks questions about Ka Noli’s work with the underground movement. Even though she has seen first-hand the abuses by the minions of Marcos, she remains apolitical and just serves the people in her own unique way. She is not unlike real-life rural doctor Bobby de la Paz who treated sick people no matter what their political affiliations are. De la Paz was eventually gunned down at his clinic in Samar because of rumors suspecting him to be a communist or with links to the New People’s Army (NPA). Aside from de la Paz, young martyr Ma. Lorena Barros is another peg for the character of Gregoria. Barros was a UP student who joined the armed guerrilla revolution. She was a beautiful amazon who rose to the ranks of the rebels.

Gregoria’s main reason for joining the rebels is not clearly delineated. (This is not a weakness of the film for it is similar to the case of slain student leader Edjop, who mysteriously shunned his privileged background to take up arms.) It must have been love or it must have been belated awakening to the sufferings of the Filipino people. Or it could be a whole lot of other reasons.

Most likely, one of the reasons is a person who makes an appearance in the film. A surprising documentary footage shows President Ferdinand Marcos and family hobnobbing with and charming the socks off of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Marcos has often been cited as the number one recruiter for communists in the Philippines. Widespread human rights abuses during the Marcos period pushed people to join the revolutionary movement. The black-and-white footage is somewhat apt then. Communist leader Zedong meets the number one recruiter of Reds in the Philippines.

Gregoria is just one of the countless emboldened Filipino women, inspired by Katipuneras such as Ka Oriang de Jesus, who fought for their rights and the rights of their countrymen. She meets other women warriors in prison after her arrest.

Director/scriptwriter Dalena presents harrowing experiences of these female political prisoners. A nude female recruiter for the NPA is tortured atop a block of ice. A pregnant detainee ends up being a punch bag. A mother is shot point-blank in front of her kid. Most of these tales are said to be based on real-life experiences of Martial Law victims.

Ka Oryang is a tribute to those young people who gave up their lives fighting the dark forces of Marcos. It is an important film for it serves as a reminder to a dark, grim period in the history of the Philippines. There have been high-profile attempts to portray the Marcos era as mostly a positive period for the country. Well, this film debunks that revisionist image. Ka Oriang de Jesus had some words for people who twist history for vested interests. The lakambini of the Katipunan said ‘fear history, for it respects no secrets.’

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon (2011, Dennis Marasigan)

Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon is notable for its incorruptible character, Attorney Cely Martinez. The film starts with a Bing Lao-styled establishing shot of the main character’s house and inner disposition. We see lots of diplomas plastered on a wall of this derelict house. The beauteous young lady prepares breakfast on what is her first day of work. Her mother is disappointed to learn that she will work for the government. The elder mutters that she’ll end up just like her father, who was not rich enough to make his family live the sweet life. The smiling young girl says nothing and eats heartily her simple breakfast of pandesal. However, the smile, somewhat awkward and mocking, seems not to be what the director ordered. Maricar Reyes as Cely Martinez started on the wrong foot but showed brilliance in most latter scenes.

Reyes gets into the groove of things as she portrays a dedicated, maverick hearing officer. Martinez’s diligence and promptness in dealing with her cases cause annoyance amongst her colleagues and co-workers. Fellow lawyers prefer a delay in their cases because more hearing appearances translate into more fees. Stenographers and regular clerks also benefit from prolonged cases. Her colleagues subtly, and later on directly, show her illicit ways of earning quick bucks.

Attorney Martinez remains steadfast in shunning grease money. Even when hospital and medical care bills start to pile up, she manages to elude the menacing tentacles of a corrupt government office. She even makes a hasty exit from a Christmas party because she cannot fathom to mingle with corrupt people. As she ambles out, we notice her sweet smile, a smile that could only emanate from a pure heart. It is a smile that seems to say “Dad, I’ve kept your name clean.” The movie should have ended with that smile but it goes on for a few more minutes.

A fine blend of Dennis Marasigan’s reliable deft direction and Bing Lao’s creative inputs, Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon is an almost solid Cinema One Originals entry. I adored it so much right up to Cely Martinez’s victory walk. But when she steps into the elevator and darkness engulfs her, the film goes down a few notches for me.

The movie has made a strong case against corruption so I was bewildered with the elevator scene and subsequently, the Jun Lozada footage. Cely Martinez is no ordinary office employee that cannot afford to lose her job. She can easily get another job. Her father’s legacy seems to be her bedrock of courage. She is not supposed to be helpless against the dark forces.

Meanwhile, the Jun Lozada footage shows the whistleblower at a 2008 Senate hearing narrating how his boss Romulo Neri instructed him to ‘moderate their greed.’ As it is, the footage is not clear enough on what message it wants to impart. Yes, it does suggest that not much has changed since the Marcos years. But is it a call to accept moderate corruption or is it a call for more courageous whistleblowers to come forward to eradicate wrongdoing in government? If it is the latter, then help and hope is indeed on the way for those people doing the right thing in public offices.

The last two or three minutes of this film will likely elicit conflicting extreme reactions from moviegoers. I didn’t like the elevator scene and the Jun Lozada footage but the scenes that came before them and the character Cely Martinez are good enough to make me rate the film highly among the Cinema One Originals entries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay (2011, Antoinette Jadaone)

Four women directors upstaged their male counterparts at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2011. Sari Lluch Dalena won the best director award for her brilliant Martial Law film Ka Oryang. Ivy Baldoza’s sensuous and sultry film Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat nabbed the jury prize. Shireen Seno’s ambitious film Big Boy got rave reviews from prominent film bloggers. However, those three films have their fair share of detractors.

The hilarious mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (SDOSFLC) is the runaway popular and critical hit of the fest. The fourth female filmmaker, Antoinette Jadaone, deservedly won the best screenplay award. With ample support from Raymond Lee and Joyce Bernal, the charming filmmaker/scriptwriter crafted an engaging, incisive, and rollicking look at the travails of a bit-player in a cult horror movie series.

Ghoulish looking Lilia Cuntapay (played by Lilia Cuntapay) has been in the movie industry for thirty years. She endured countless hours waiting for her turn during shoots. She has disrobed for the camera in the film Babae sa Breakwater. All those dedication and commitment have finally paid off as the septuagenarian bit player nabs an acting nomination from AFTAP. The film shows how Cuntapay responds to this bit of great news. She prepares a speech in case she wins the best supporting actress award.

The big night arrives and the camera captures a nervous Cuntapay resplendent in a silver dress. Angel Aquino then reads out the winner of the best actress award… Lilia Cuntapay!

Wait a minute… Silver dress? Angel Aquino? Best actress? In a scene that could have been made specifically for this movie, Cuntapay really did win an acting award, albeit shared with Maricar Reyes. She took a deep breath and acknowledged that she didn’t expect to win the Best Actress award at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2011. Proof of that is she didn’t prepare a speech. As a result, she had a mental block and failed to thank directors Peque Gallaga, Lore Reyes, and Jadaone. The combination of spotlights, cameras, and the presence of Nora Aunor might have unnerved her during her speech, which is not unlike those fictitious speeches in the movie. Initially, I thought the movie’s speech segments were weak as they show Cuntapay’s limited acting ability. But, having seen the acceptance speech of Cuntapay, I realized that she is not acting in those speech segments. That is the true Cuntapay we are seeing. If she seems uneasy and uncomfortable it is because she just doesn’t buy the idea that she’ll be nominated for an acting award much less wins an award. Savor the speech segments for a glimpse of the true Lilia Cuntapay.

Jadaone’s film is a stunning meta-movie mind-fuck. It blurs the line between fiction and reality. All throughout the movie, one is left wondering what the truth is. Is Myra a real relative of Cuntapay? The actress who portrayed Myra won the best supporting actress award and acknowledged Cuntapay as her aunt in her speech, which shows her good sense of humor. Again, she is what she seems to play in the movie. I loved the part in which she helps Cuntapay practice her lines. Their rapport seems to suggest some blood affinity. Is that the place Cuntapay really lives in? Only the cast and crew know. How I wish I could attend a post-screening forum someday so I could unravel amazing details about the film.

I liked this film better than the Cinemalaya blockbuster film Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank (ABSST) for one major reason. ABSST seems to spring out of envy. That film comes across as being made to spite successful filmmakers such as Pepe Diokno and Jim Libiran. On the other hand, SDOSFLC was made out of deep love for an underdog, a film underdog at that. I love stories of ordinary people making it big. And with this film, a bit player morphs into an award-winning actress. A few more sold-out screenings and the name Lilia Cuntapay will be on most moviegoers’ lips.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bisperas (2011, Jeffrey Jeturian)

T’was the night before Christmas, and… all hell breaks loose for the Aguinaldos, members of a middle-class Filipino family. Grudges, hurts, sins, and even turds spill out in the open. The next day we find the family members lining up for communion during the Christmas Day mass as if nothing happened. They are mere Christians in name. They have a perverted sense of right and wrong. They regard themselves as being always right while others are in the wrong.

Bisperas is a nice comeback for Jeturian after a disastrous foray in short feature filmmaking. His X-rated AmBisyon 2010 project is off-putting for its brusque depiction of disapproval for the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I agree with the message but not the way it was conveyed. I preferred Jon Red’s PSG, which is a subtler and beautifully-lensed take on the matter.

Jeturian scoops up the dirt once more and smears it this time on hypocrite Catholics. Ouch! That really hurts… Bisperas is a film that will make lots of viewers uneasy and smelly.

The film starts with a well-staged Panunuluyan, a Christmas tradition commemorating the travails of St. Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary. Among the participants is a young man eager to communicate with his brother. His smile is met with rude indifference. As the procession is in progress, a gang of robbers strikes at the home of the Aguinaldos. This crime unleashes past conflicts and trespasses among family members. Despite the season, love and peace don’t seem to reign in the hearts of the village residents. Even the children who are supposed to spread good tidings with their carols and hymns yell out cusses to residents who don’t give out offerings.

Scriptwriter Paul Sta. Ana crafts his best screenplay yet. The theme of Christian hypocrisy is slowly unveiled before our eyes. The amazing thing, and somewhat unfortunate at that, is the viewers see themselves in the despicable characters. The tight story benefits from superb acting. As the characters drown in a cesspool of lies, the mother (Raquel Villavicencio) remains calm and acts as a buoyant lifesaver. There's a scene showing her grabbing a knife. How we react to that scene speaks much of our disposition. The mother is not angry. She never gets angry despite all the trespasses inflicted on her. Villavicencio won a well-deserved award for her gentle performance. The ending shows the thief doling out aguinaldo (gift) to his inaanak. But, is he really the thief? What are the evidences that he is the one? Sta. Ana caught me empty-handed. It was unChristian of me to judge the man wearing the Ateneo jacket. 

There is a thing, or two, that bothers me though. The Aguinaldo family is lucky to have a fast-responding police force to their home on Christmas day! The team even has someone in charge of taking fingerprints. I was wondering whether it was really set in the Philippines. I sure hope that it is the case with most responding police teams in the country. I also hope that the taking of fingerprints is standard operating procedure during robbery investigation.

Films like Bisperas should be the ones shown during the Christmas season instead of inane Metro Manila Film Festival sequels. The family drama may not bring in long box-office lines, but it may send repentant viewers to line up for the confessional booth.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bahay Bata (2011, Eduardo Roy Jr)

Baby Factory, the English title of the film, gives us a better description of what to expect. Dozens of babies are delivered every day at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital (DJFMH) in Manila. The hospital staff is more than ready to meet the deluge of babies, though. It is no surprise then that the country’s symbolic ‘seven billionth person in the world’ was born at DJFMH.

An early important scene from the film shows us how a doctor and nurses handle one such birth. With the mechanical precision of a Formula One racing crew, the staff members do their respective jobs and in less than a minute or so, the baby comes out. Then, they completely dry up the newborn to stimulate breathing and lay him/her down upon the breast of the mother for uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. Breastfeeding is highly encouraged within the first hour of life. Cord clamping and cutting is delayed. These are all done in complete adherence to a program introduced by the Department of Health and the World Health Organization in 2010. The Essential Newborn Care protocol is projected to drastically cut down newborn deaths in the Philippines.

I’m not sure though if an advice the mother received from a staff member is part of the hospital protocol or government policies. During the childbirth, a staff member is clearly heard reminding the mother to get a ligation. The mother had probably given birth countless times hence the admonition.

The ease at which the mother gave birth reminded me of a highlight scene in the continuing documentary Tundong Magiliw. With only an elder midwife at hand, the Tondo-based mother also gave birth easily. Both mothers have given births more than the national average of 2.5 births per mother. The poorest of these mothers average a staggering 6 births. It is no wonder then that they took to giving birth so easily just like Allan Caidic drilling down 3 pointers or Cinemalaya films winning awards abroad.

But, before Bahay Bata gets embroiled in the Reproductive Health bill debate, it should be noted that the film is the best Bing Lao-influenced Cinemalaya finalist of 2011. Director Roy made great use of his opportunity to film at the hospital premises. Just like Amok’s Law Fajardo, the director overcame the odds despite working in a place teeming with people. His film had an almost documentary feel to it. Vivid, realistic details such as the childbirth and the 1:6 bed-patient ratio give the film heft and panache. The Christmas setting adds poignancy to the drama.

It is when the film veers away from hospital realities and nursing tasks that it bogs down. Mailes Kanapi can’t seem to shake her theatre background as she comes on too strong as a tightwad doctor hated by her subordinates. On the other hand, Diana Zubiri gives out a lackluster performance. She was not able to convince me as a nurse. It is a good thing that she is not the lead. The lead character is the DJFM hospital and boy, it truly is a baby factory with at least 630 mothers/patients at the time of shooting.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (2011, Alvin Yapan)

Kinukumutan ka ng aking titig – R M

This impressive film could have been titled the Dance of the Flitting Eyes and it would have been just right. The eyes, more than the feet, do most of the important actions (and talking) in this scintillating, visually-appealing movie.

A lovestruck rich kid named Marlon Dionisio (Paulo Avelino) is stalking someone outside the Far Eastern University (FEU) campus. When he spots his love object, a middle-aged svelte lady (Jean Garcia), he homes in on her until she reaches her next working place, a dancing studio.

We soon learn that the sexy dancing instructor, Karen Pantoja, is also the literature class teacher of Marlon at FEU. She, with the wistful eyes, asks him about a poem of Ruth Mabanglo (R M). The student clams up and later rues his chance to make a strong impression on his dearly beloved teacher. He seeks the help of classmate Dennis Acejo (Rocco Nacino), who happens to be an assistant of Karen in the dancing studio.

Marlon enrolls in the dance class of Karen. He also secretly hires Dennis as a dance tutor. Marlon perseveres because he wants to shine and perform well in the eyes of Karen. Unknown to him, a different pair of eyes is showering him with love and affection.

Mahal, ako ay napapapikit – R M

With Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, I’ve finally found an Alvin Yapan film to adore. His first two Cinemalaya films Huling Pasada and Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe left me bewildered and unsatisfied. The screenplays of the two films seem better off being a nice read than being adapted for the screen.  

Third time’s the charm for Yapan. He has finally learned how to transpose his literary musings into chunks of engaging film language. A ballsy magnificent cotillion scene in Sayaw shows the two boys having an argument. Karen steps in to defuse the heated exchange. It sounds simple enough, but the amazing thing is the characters are ‘conversing’ using only their eyes! Bravo!

The Dance of Two Left Feet also utilized brilliant Filipino poems in a variety of approaches. A poem-song was used as accompanying music during a dance scene. Another poem about heartbreak was dissected by the two male leads. If you loved the poems so much, then I advise you to purchase the Original Sound Track. Included are the poems Kinukumutan Ka Ng Aking Titig (R M), Kontrapunto (Ophelia Dimalanta/Translated in Filipino by Rebecca Añonuevo), Litanya (Merlinda Bobis), Paglisan (Joi Barrios), Ang Sabi Ko Sa Iyo (Benilda Santos), and Nais Kong Madarang (Rebecca Añonuevo). It's a convenient and probably less expensive way of getting all the poems in one go.

The ending of Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa leaves the viewers with a mystery. But by then, we no longer need to unmask the secret in the wet eye of Marlon (and also the pensive eyes of the inexplicably single Karen). Prying more is akin to knifing brutally a ripe star apple. The gentle, graceful, and passionate poems/steps/gazes they shared with us have nourished and refreshed us like a bunch of delicious tropical fruits. Saktong-sakto lang ang pagkahinog. Mapapapikit ka sa sarap sa bawat kataga....

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kamada (1997, Raymond Red | TV movie)

Jaclyn Jose & Francis Magalona
Have you seen a good suspense/mystery local film lately? Hmmmm… There are few films to begin with for both genres, so finding a good one may take some effort unless you’re an avid follower of special screenings by the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA).

The group SOFIA has screened/slated two films that may fit the bill of a good thriller. Danny Zialcita’s Masquerade is structured like a detective film complete with a ‘guess whodunit’ segment in the end. A mysterious benefactor offers money to people attending a special masquerade. Then, a killer strikes and the number of guests dwindles. The second film, Raymond Red’s Kamada, starts with several killings. A young male music student is soon caught up in a web of kidnappings, treachery, and more killings.

Kamada is a rare noteworthy film project of GMA 7. A made for television movie, Kamada benefits from the sure hand of Red, a splendid production design, a gripping story, and fine performances by a cast led by Francis Magalona and Jaclyn Jose. Red adapted his movie from a short film he earlier made with a Super 8 mm camera.

In my search for the English meaning of the word kamada, the most appropriate one I saw was ‘arrange.’ Maybe kamada refers to musical arrangement as the main protagonist is a composer named Julian (FrancisM/Francis Magalona). He rents a room in the hope of getting the solitude and silence he needs to churn out a musical piece. The silence is short-lived as he gets to hear the intermittent coughing from across the hall. His curiosity about the sick person leads to his meeting a fellow tenant, Amanda (Jaclyn Jose).

Amanda, a kidnapped victim, seems to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome as she inexplicably takes care of her wounded, coughing captor. Julian asks her to escape but she refuses. He then learns that a sister is also in the hands of the kidnapping syndicate and she doesn’t want any harm to befall her.

Julian finds a muse in Amanda and begins to finish several musical pieces. He soon aspires to be a hero who will save the damsel in distress. The young man is not unlike a Hitchcockian protagonist obsessed with a femme fatale and slowly being engulfed by a torrent of lies. Magalona imbues his character with the right amount of naivety and innocence.  

Kamada’s influence is seen in the films Sigaw by Yam Laranas and Ilusyon by Paolo Villaluna. Sigaw features a young man getting curious with a turbulent couple across the hall and befriending a little girl. The empty, silent corridors are soon permeated with a creeping sense of dread and deafening shadows of violence. Ilusyon highlights the different shades of red and evokes the zeitgeist of the 1950s through a standard song. It is interesting to note that the two directors and Red are all products of Mowelfund workshops. During a heavy sampling of Mowelfund film shorts (including Jon Red’s Tiempo) I noticed several filmmakers’ fondness for the 1950s feel. I don’t think it must have been due to their age. The workshops must have emphasized more the aspects of cinematography and production design. The 1950s era has a strong character that makes it visually and aurally appealing. Antique items are put to good use in the dream sequence of Julian. Incidentally, the film utilized Doris Day's 1957 version of the song titled 'Dream a Little Dream of Me.'

Kamada is up there with Anino and A Study for the Skies as my favorite Red films. It is like a rare, story-filled photograph that ought to be archived and definitely saved in case of a fire. I hope Red pushes through with his plan to remaster the film. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Buenas noches, España (2011, Raya Martin)

Instead of awareness-expanding drugs, Raya Martin uses cinema to take viewers to places they have not gone before and to eras they have not lived in. His films, although steeped in stories about Filipinos' struggle for independence, are notorious for triggering intense reactions from casual viewers. Major reason for this is he does not spoon feed his audience. As a result those out-of-the-box historical lessons breeze by the inattentive viewer. His Independencia was wrongly criticized for using obvious sets. A complaining viewer didn’t know that the sets were part of the historical framing of the film.

During the Asian premiere of Buenas noches, España, a nervous Martin advised newbies to enjoy the film’s images with a warning that the aural accompaniment may unnerve several of them. But despite the advice, nearly a fourth of the audience walked out. One of them even blurted out loud that the film 'is crap.'

“Voyage to the Luna”

That title card, with allusions to the 1902 silent film Le voyage dans la lune and the revolutionary painter Juan Luna, is the key to understanding and appreciating the enigmatic, challenging film. The latest Martin film is a noisy, psychedelic, no-dialogue, paranormal incursion and meditation into the illuminating effect of Luna’s paintings on Filipinos during the Propaganda years of 19th century Philippines.

Buenas noches, España is also a trip to the twilight zone. Imagine that you’re a soldier, assigned in 16th century Manila, who gets mysteriously teleported to another Spanish colony, Mexico. You’ll probably end up dazed and confused. The mind-boggling teleportation story, which is said to be true, occurred on the 24th or 25th of October in 1593.

The film starts with what seems to be two people manning a spaceship. As the frame becomes bigger, we see and learn that they are a Spanish couple watching a television program at night. But, instead of black skies outside the window, we see red skies and the whole place seems surreal. This confusion over what is exactly going on is magnified as the minutes go by. Meanwhile, a perplexed viewer seems to trek out of the movie house every minute thereafter.

A title card clears away all confusion as it states that a teleportation occurred. The whole road trip of the couple is the result of something they have imbibed. A synopsis accompanying the Youtube trailer states that they took drugs although it was not shown in the film.

The highlight of the couple’s trip shows them experiencing the splendor of Juan Luna’s paintings at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. The young man, who looks like Jose Rizal in silhouette, gets teary-eyed and filled with much joy. This seems to have been the same experience Martin had when he first discovered the three stunning paintings: the silver medal winner La Muerte de Cleopatra; Los Ferrones; and the Mercado de Portugalete. The bittersweet relationship of Spain and the Philippines is alluded to via the constant focusing of a painting that recalls Luna’s masterpiece Spoliarium, which is an allegory of the oppressive conditions of the Philippines under Spanish rule. A proud and joyful Rizal in his toast to a victorious Luna in 1884 says 'Luna and Hidalgo are as much Spanish glories as they are Filipino' and indirectly suggests that Filipinos should have identical rights as the Spanish. Rizal went on to complete his incendiary novel Noli Me Tangere, an excerpt of which starts the film.

As per experience of mine with most Martin films, there are probably layers of meanings and allusions hiding in some nook and cranny of the film. The silhouette of Rizal appears a couple of times in the movie. Then, there are those references to silent film comedians and films such as The 400 Blows. All these things that I have uncovered, along with the soldier's teleportation story and the unorthodox creative touches, are enough to make me respect the film and artistic vision of the consistently innovative filmmaker, Raya Martin.

Buenas noches, España, just like Tree of Life, should be seen and experienced at least once in a cinema with a good sound system. The buzzing sound design is simply amazing. It is so disturbing that it makes the viewer to focus on the visuals. The viewer gets through the phases of being teleported, confused, irritated, and eventually, enlightened. The minimal title cards are important elements in this one-of-a-kind film. As such, the film is definitely not the starting point for those people interested in the works of Martin. Come to think of it, what film of his is the right starting point?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Nonoy Marcelo’s Tisoy (1977, Ishmael Bernal)

Viewing tip: 

Before watching this delightful film, make sure to watch the following excellent films:
a) Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag
b) Ishmael Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig
c) Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon
d) Lino Brocka’s Insiang
e) Lupita Kashiwahara’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo

Thanks to cable channel Cinema One and those unofficial not-to-be-named archivists, I’m slowly getting exposed to the obscure gems of Ishmael Bernal. Among the surprisingly good ones I’ve seen lately is the comedy film Tisoy.

Straight from the comic strip series by Nonoy Marcelo, Tisoy (Christopher de Leon) is a bohemian balikbayan searching for his father. He gets help from his friends as they scour the immaculately clean Metro Manila. The magnificent opening scenes show the beauty and splendor of the metropolis as Tisoy rides his chopper.

Among the characters he encounters are the iconic Aling Otik (Moody Diaz), a street sweeper who blissfully dances with colleagues along Roxas Boulevard; Maribubut (Charo Santos), a smart, jealous Kabataang Barangay member cleaning up the monumental Rajah Sulayman statue in Malate; Clip, son of Aling Otik; and Tikyo (Bert Tawa Jr.), a well-received balikbayan who’ve seen Americans slowly lose their fruits, oil, and food resources. Tisoy’s casual remarks unveil Tikyo as a former apple picker, gas attendant, and waiter. Tikyo’s interactions with his mysterious boss are truly hilarious.

There is a scene that was probably pilfered from Bernal’s earliest work Ah Ewan, Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako! Nestor Torre writes in his column that producer Eddie Rodriguez was the one who completed the film. A traffic jam scene in the film was, in Torre’s own words, ‘outrageously funny stuff.’ A reboot of the scene done for Tisoy is still stupendously funny. The bumper-to-bumper gridlock took so long to unravel that a potted plant grew into an enormous tree. It was a blast seeing the beauteous plant owner entangled among the branches.

Scriptwriter Nonoy Marcelo is an obvious cinephile. Almost all the films he allude to in Tisoy are titles you regularly see in ‘Top Pinoy Films’ lists.  If you haven’t seen them all, then try to catch the titles listed above. Those films, including Tisoy, were made during the mid-1970s, the so-called Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Maybe I’m missing a couple of film references. Is there a Mike de Leon- or a Celso Ad. Castillo-directed film in there? I need a re-watch. Join the hunt and get a barrel of laughs along the way.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Road to Melancholia: Sagada Diaries (Emman de la Cruz | 1st Reinvigorating Documentary Filmmaking Workshop)

Emmanuel de la Cruz / Angeli Bayani
An example of the refreshing documentaries from the 2010 workshop, this docu provides a penetrating glimpse into the making of Lav Diaz’s film Melancholia. Cool as the Amihan wind, the maverick filmmaker is seen shooting guerrilla style with a sparse crew in the mountains of Sagada. During a scene that has taken forever to complete, he calms down the actors by saying “Relax lang.”

Does he ever get angry? Rarely.

There was one time when he encountered a child actor who couldn't follow his instruction. Tasked to make a sad face, the boy dilly-dallied because he says he is basically a happy child. An irate Lav halted the shooting and packed up.

Emmanuel de la Cruz does a wonderful job of providing tidbits and insights about Maguindanao-born colleague, Lav Diaz. In just over a half hour, I’d learned a lot about his background and source of ideas. Lavrente Diaz, whose first name is of Russian origin, grew up in a home filled with books by Russian authors. The Dostoyevskian characters he relished in his youth will soon appear in various forms in most of his films.

The Diaz family was a victim of the vicious war in Maguindanao and North Cotabato. A series of hamlettings forced family members to vacate their home and become refugees. The idea of being displaced is a major theme in his films. A crime from the past or pursuit of artistic endeavor or natural/political disasters will cause main characters to leave their homes or towns. The displaced and dispossessed characters then grapple with deep melancholia, chilly loneliness, and the search for redemption.

Rebels on the run
The film Melancholia deals with a trio of dispossessed characters, Alberta, Rina, and Julian. Instead of missing valuable things, they are ruing the disappearance of their loved ones. The film is still the best I’ve seen about desaparecidos or enforced disappearances. Film critic Noli delivers a wonderful review of the film here.

I remember a Melancholia scene wherein an Ifugao elder is clearly heard complaining about being filmed. There is nothing degrading in the shot having been merely a market crowd scene. But, the thought I had then was the tribesman must have been wishing for some payment. Sure enough, as seen in the documentary, a female local government employee is running after the filmmakers. She is asking for the group’s permit to shoot. A female member from Diaz’s group does the damage control. Meanwhile, Lav is nowhere in sight. He is probably holed up in a distant place and coolly relaxing away from it all.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rakenrol (2011, Quark Henares)

Rakenrol is my favorite Cinemalaya film of 2011.

I can remember the exact moment when I knew the film will be memorable and rocking fun. It was when the credits start rolling and the chorus of the song Manila Girl blares on. Wow! An Urban Bandits song in a movie? Count me in…

It took me a while to see this film but the long wait was worth it. My brother-in-law and I were not fortunate to procure tickets to the screening of Cinemalaya’s closing film. We decided to hang out and just content ourselves ogling at the stars and celebrities attending the film’s premiere. OMG! There’s the stylish and ravishing Anne Curtis! Harold, pa-picture ka na…

There’s a giddy fan in every one of us. Quark Henares and co-writer Diego Castillo imbue the film with the mentality of rabid, passionate, doe-eyed fans. Movies and songs that made a mark on their young minds decades ago get their fair share of screen time. As a result, Generation X viewers get high from the heavy dose of nostalgic droll churned out by a great cast including a scene-stealing swishy Ramon Bautista.

A weird, pretty female rocker named Irene (Glaiza de Castro) is also a die-hard fan. She adores the pogi rock icon Jacci Rocha (Diether Ocampo). When she learns of the music-making skills of her friend Odie (Jason Abalos), she convinces the latter to form a band. Along with Mo and Junfour, the quartet slowly etches their mark on the underground music scene. Their baptism of fire in the concert circuit is quite hilarious with a nod to Sandwich songs and a Tarantino-esque unsavory character.

As the group Hapipaks go places, the local music world becomes small enough for Irene to finally meet her conceited idol, Jacci Rocha. Diether Ocampo creates an off-putting character in Jacci Rocha by melding the cutesy ways and mediocre singing skills of a Kanto Boys member with the swagger of a younger edition of English-speaking Pepe Smith. There is also a huge, huge part of Hayden Kho in the proud Jacci Rocha, who thinks he is God’s gift to women. I wonder what movie co-producer Vicki Belo thinks about the prick of a character. Ha-ha. I can just imagine Henares having a wide grin envisioning the character. The impish director also has the balls to name one of the bands as titikO and one of the companies as G Spot (an allusion to the notorious G. Cosmos of the early 2000s).

A special song dedicated to Irene makes her putty in the hands of Jacci Rocha. It wasn’t long before they become a couple. A devastated Odie, who’d hold the torch for his female band mate, decides to ditch the group.

There’s an important scene showing Odie having a chat with an idol, Ely Buendia of Pupil. The latter, after learning of Odie’s decision to give up, relates his experience of almost quitting the music scene countless times. But, he persevered because he loves what he is doing. He persuades Odie to continue being a musician while saying that he is truly a fan of their songs. (I am a fan, too, of the track Oplan: Pag-ibig). This mantra of being yourself and doing what you really like is replicated in the inspiring stories of the smelly painter Yagit and more so, real-life director Quark Henares.

A movie character says there’s nothing better than making (and seeing) your special someone happy. The return of Odie made Irene so happy that she shed some tears of joy during their set. A close-up shows a shimmering tear frozen like ice on her lashes.

No one must be happier than the late film critic Alexis Tioseco. I admit that I doubted Tioseco’s assertion that Henares has the potential to become an important filmmaker. Well, here I am, eating my humble pie and yapping happily about the movie Rakenrol. Yep, I’m now a huge fan and will go for second viewing after I post this entry. Sugod, mga kapatid… sa sinehan!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ikaw ang Pag-ibig (2011, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)

I’m disappointed with the film. Maybe the hype about it made me expect a very good film. Rated “A” by the Cinema Evaluation Board and short-listed as a possible PH entry to the Oscars, the technically proficient film is an unfocused mish-mash and lacks heart.

This film is purportedly about Our Lady of Peñafrancia or Ina. It was partly filmed during the tercentenary of the devotion to the Patroness of Bicol. But, it is also about the dysfunctional family of a leukemia patient and the healing of a sinner. A viewer may end up taking just one route depending on his/her interests. In the end, all that I vividly remember is Ina (Feleo), the actress. Her consistent good acting, coupled with a cleavage flashing and baring of lovely legs, are things that make the film interesting once in a while.

Ina Feleo portrays Vangie Cruz, a video editor forced to deal once more with a dark blot from her past. The hospitalization of her brother priest due to leukemia triggers this intense emotion of anxiety in Vangie. Every time the topic of stem cell transplant crops up, she clams up and tries to fend off attempts to make her accede to the treatment.

The aversion of Vangie leads some viewers to suspect bad blood between her and her sibling. Nothing of that sort ever happened. She just can’t get over a painful incident. She endures the repercussion of it just like a Holy Week penitent bearing the weight of a heavy cross on his shoulder.

Ikaw ang Pag-ibig is beautifully photographed yet at the same time cinematically repulsive. The off-putting texture of the film is not that of cinema but of high-definition television. There is a Filipino word that aptly describes the beautiful scenes: nakakaumay. It was a weird viewing experience for me. I was expecting product placements to appear every time picturesque scenes flicker on the widescreen. The artificial lighting seems a better fit for television commercials.

The edgy topic of abortion doesn’t succeed in diluting the artificial pleasantness of the scenes. Vangie’s jittery feelings are much ado about nothing. What is the connection between abortion and stem cell transplant? She has confided her problem back then to her mother so I was wondering what triggered her guilt feelings over the abortion.

The powerful intercession of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is seen in the reunion of the Cruz family. While the family members may have lost most of their wealth, they gained priceless things: unconditional love, peaceful mind, and precious lifeline.

Although disappointed with the film, I’m glad that the film was made. The mere fact that a grateful Marilou Diaz-Abaya finished her prayer-movie despite the pain and travails of being a cancer patient is a testament of God’s love. Here’s hoping and praying she’ll lick the Big C.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thelma (2011, Paul Soriano)

An Ilocana speedster named Thelma (an anagram of Hamlet) ponders the question: to run or not to run?

Thelma Molino, eldest daughter of a farmer and a weaver in Ilocos Norte, is 400 kilometers away from home. She begins to question her decision to train with a Manila-based coach. She misses her family. Her mother is sick and her sister is incapacitated by a leg injury. The hardships of training and a bout with bullying make her closer to quitting. A fortuitous long-distance phone call from her parents soothes her wearied mind and she sticks it out in the city. The elder Molinos are truly Molinos de Viento or windmills. They are sources of energy and inspiration for Thelma.

Paul Soriano’s growing-up story is well-structured and beautiful just like the scenic Patapat viaduct in Ilocos Norte. Picturesque aerial shots and lovely dusk/evening shots by Odyssey Flores, a regular director of photography for Brillante Mendoza’s films, complemented the sure hand of Soriano. The use of Ilocano language adds authenticity to the scenes. There are also a couple of hilarious scene-stealing ad-libs by the bulky female thrower.

However, Soriano’s mostly-focused direction was marred by a false start and a few bumpy scenes. Problems with crowd control plagued the scene showing the two siblings running away after stealing empanadas. Instead of presenting Thelma as a speed phenom the scene shows her being outran by her chubby sibling. I’m also not that happy with the car accident scene and the lack of perspiration from Thelma during the 5K race scene and the training scenes.

The film features a convincing portrayal by Maja Salvador as listless, delinquent lass. She looks and smells like a rural girl especially in the scene showing her bringing a packed meal to her father. She allows herself to be deglamorized a bit (e.g. pimples do show up in close shots). She should have gone farther by allowing herself to be shot with perspiration or with blistered feet.

Based on true stories of runners, Soriano does a good job of incorporating them into the film. However, he fails to capitalize though on two running elements which cropped up in the film. The windmills or wind turbines seem to connote the importance of ‘second wind’ to runners. The ‘second wind’ phenomenon should have been shown to add more thrills and suspense in the final racing segment.

Another element shown is barefoot running. What if Thelma’s second-hand shoes gave out and she was forced to run barefoot? Her winning the race barefooted would have been more dramatic and realistic because she’s used to it. And, didn’t Abebe Bikila win a gold medal barefooted in the marathon race of the Rome Olympics in 1960?

Thelma made me yearn to put on my running shoes. Now, if only the weather cooperates… 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ex Press (2011, Jet Leyco)

The first few scenes feature things that may have come straight from the movie Bridge on the River Kwai. Scores of guys are working on the railroad tracks. But, is this a test run for the train? It took me a long time to learn that the train was stranded because of washed out tracks. A more experienced director would have told us immediately of this fact via throwaway dialogue or through brief chat by irritated passengers.

The inexperience of the director also shows in what seems to be a tendency to show off. But, since this is an undergraduate production thesis, I kind of understand the filmmaker’s eagerness to please. The arty shots practically scream technical expertise. Luscious color scenes are interspersed with some beautiful black-&-white shots. I grasped that these disjointed shots are some sort of memories by passengers and people living along the tracks. The problem with the mostly beautiful shots is not all memories are pleasant or clear.

While there may have been few cases of derailment, there are other unpleasant issues surrounding the Philippine National Railway’s operation of the Express route. The informal settlers living along the tracks treat the coaches as trash bins. They throw their garbage when the trains pass by. The plastic bags end up on top of the coaches. I’ve seen flat roofs being refurbished into triangular shape roofs in order to dislodge the plastic bags.

The squatters are also the main causes of vandalism and stoning incidents. This brings us to the major story arc of the film. A father, who works as a PNR security personnel in Bicol, mysteriously and suddenly resigns from his job. ‘Colonel’ Paliparan abruptly whisks off his family to Manila. His twin sons piece together the reason behind the resignation and relocation.

The elder Paliparan is tagged ‘Colonel’ for his wanton shootings of rowdy squatters. Every person he sees with stones on his/her hands is peppered with bullets. His gung-ho way of eliminating scumbags puts him in grave trouble.

There are bits and pieces of memories pertaining to a New People’s Army (NPA) member. He seems to be hunting down a person. Is this a reference to the NPA’s hatred and pursuit of ‘The Butcher’ aka Major General Jovito Palparan Jr.?

Ex Press started slowly but quickened its pace near the end. Leyco was so engrossed with his arty shots that he did not notice his film had long been derailed by this narcissism. The film ended up neither here nor there. It’s not heavenly great but it’s not hellishly poor. A crucial scene showing boys honing their stone throwing barely lift the film out of limbo. Movie is good enough for a one-way trip. 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pahinga (2011, Khavn de la Cruz)

Work.  Family crises. Heartbreak. Natural disasters. Political hi-jinks.

Whew... We all need a breather once in a while.

Some go to concerts or karaoke bars to unwind. Cinephiles trek to movie festivals or line up their stash of DVDs. Book lovers curl up in bed to read novels or the latest comics.

Khavn de la Cruz does it differently than most of us. He chills out by blending music, film, and literature juices into a soothing drink. I haven’t seen Mondomanila but Paalam Aking Bulalakaw is a great example of his intoxicating brews. The latter is still my favorite ‘this is not a film’ hangover experience so far. Khavn’s latest brew Pahinga is not far behind. Both projects blur our definitions of what is a film, a poem, or a song. To quote the tagline of the .MOV International Film, Music & Literature Festival 2011, there are zero degrees of separation amongst film, music, and literature.

Pahinga (Breather) is a project made during a most difficult time for the de la Cruz family. Khavn’s father Leonardo is hospitalized due to lung cancer. In between regular trips to hospitals such as the National Kidney Transplant Institute, the prolific filmmaker takes a breather by shooting footages of places he go to and of people he meets. There are cameos by his friends including filmmakers John Torres and Lav Diaz, film critic Dodo Dayao, film archivist Ramon Nocon, and producer Kints Kintana. The names and places are usual suspects from his, and his barkada’s, films. His friends do their bit in shooting footages for his project. I noticed some scenes that were done the Raya Martin way (i.e. the birthday scenes recall Now Showing) and the John Torres way (i.e. the surreptitiously taken jeepney scene recalls Todo Todo Teros).

Some footage was taken by his nieces and nephew. Filmmaking becomes a way of relaxation and bonding for the de la Cruz clan. There are amusing and intimate hospital room scenes such as the tweens contorting their faces, a stage act that drew generous applause, Khavn’s mother belting out a song, and a heart-tugging cryptic charade. They are truly a close-knit clan with all members rowing in sync to weather a crisis. The sterile hospital rooms become a warm home because of the camaraderie, good vibes, and laughter in the air.

The heart of the project is an interview with the patriarch Leonardo. Broken down in snippets, we get a glimpse into the father-and-son relationship. The interview is, in turns, a reminiscing, an unraveling of a secret, and an admonition to find a true friend. I’m not sure if the younger de la Cruz has find that rare person but I’m sure that he, along with countless cinephiles, views cinema as a trusty companion that one can go to for comfort and rejuvenation.

During the premiere of Pahinga on September 1, 2011, Khavn’s mother and other family members came in attendance. His friends came in droves. His father, Leonardo, though, was not present, having died in July 2011. The elder de la Cruz should have been 65 years old exactly on September 3, 2011.

I’m not an expert on Khavn’s films having watched a mere handful but I believe Pahinga is one of Khavn’s best films so far. It is deeply personal yet paradoxically accessible due to scenes of familial love. It is brave and gentle. It takes guts to open your homes, hospital rooms, and minds to people. I admired Khavn for not going overboard with this openness. He wisely kept away from funeral or cemetery scenes. No one was seen crying. We were left with a gentle portrait of a lung cancer patient who bravely, and merrily, merrily, merrily accepted his illness and impending mortality.

Friday, September 02, 2011

4th Silvershorts.MOV Short Films

The crop of finalists for the 4th Silvershorts.MOV Short Film competition is a mixed bag of documentaries, comedy, fantasy, and lots of romance. The two documentaries get a big boost from their strong real-life characters. Undo is the more memorable one because of his colorful story. The affluent side of Gupit’s Ka Rene was not shown weakening the martyr, heroic part of the character.

The eight feature short films are technically good but each has their own noticeable shortcoming. Panty is well-casted but the ending could have been funnier. Lack of comedic timing spoils the punchline.

The AmBisyon 2010 short film Dahil Sa ‘yo is beautifully shot but the philosophical story is a bit meeh. An old man who has cut up all his banana trees save for one gets bitten by the love bug.

Man-woman relationship in various forms and stages are tackled by Coverage, Hindi Sa Atin Ang Buwan, and Man of the House. Love for country is debated in Patlang. Numbalikdiwa and Panibugho feature artists encountering life-changing events.


 Youtube’s Oracafe channel

A couple tries to fight their feelings for one another. In the Mood for Love meets Hayden Kho.

Saging lang ang may puso. Saging din lang ang makakabighani sa isang pusong sawi.

This is a documentary on Ka Rene, a barber and suave member of the singing group Los Tomadores. Pales in comparison to similar Undo.

Suitor rides a boat, bus, taxi, and even flies to the skies only to be with his beloved lady. But, the unreachable moon is not theirs. *** Update: Grand Prize, Silvershorts.MOV 2011

According to craftily-made television advertisements, Christmas season is a happy, bountiful time for families. Just don’t tell it to dysfunctional families.

Numbalikdiwa (Richmond Garcia)
An elder guy confronts ghosts from his past.

A landscape artist hawks his oil paintings inside gated subdivisions. He covets a dashing sports bike left unattended. He rushes back home to seek out a special goose egg that will make him invisible. He then encounters a character from one of his paintings.

A household without kids is menaced by mice and small rats. The woman is aghast to discover her things and undies in disarray. She suspects the rats as culprits. The woman gets confirmation when her pink panty stinks of a ‘playful rat.’ Ending could have been funnier.

An activist and an apathetic citizen fill in the blanks of what makes a good Filipino.

Undo (Lito Tabay)
This excellent documentary is a spontaneous composition of the colorful life of Cebu-based painter Vidal Alcoseba.