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. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Patlang (Jet Leyco | 4th Silvershorts.MOV Short Film Finalist)

You might have noticed the disappearance of several of your friends’ profile pictures from Facebook on August 30. It was part of efforts to raise awareness about desaparecidos or enforced disappearances. High-profile cases in the Philippines involve two University of the Philippines students, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, and Jonas Burgos.

Relatives of victims of enforced disappearances suffer strong emotional stress. Just imagine being unfriended without notice. It hurts badly. What more when a person you know is forcibly made to disappear. You don’t know where to start looking at or who to contact. Lav Diaz’s Melancholia does a great job of portraying the anxiety, confusion, pain, numbness, and hopelessness of relatives of victims.

Jet Leyco wisely chose not to focus on the relatives of victims. His film Patlang (Blank) starts with mere images of a distraught woman, possibly lover of a desaparecido. The filmmaker then takes viewers into the mindset of the desaparecido. The latter is basically a pro-country guy. He cares and fights for the rights of marginalized people. He joins rallies and election activities. He deplores the mendicant system in our society. Sometimes, his pro-poor acts are misconstrued as acts of a communist, which makes him a target of military hawks.

His calls for change, make that destruction, of the system ruffle the feathers of those in power. The latter employs various means of muffling the voices of these activists. Enforced disappearance is a ruthless, despicable way of eliminating dissent.

Jet Leyco’s brave and competent film Patlang borrows the structure and main idea of Aissa Penafiel’s Long Live the Fearless Man. Both films highlight the importance of speaking out against injustice, apathy, and heinous crimes such as the unsolved September 1, 2009 killings of Alexis Tioseco and his girlfriend Nika Bohinc. Leyco bookends his film with homages to Lav Diaz’s Melancholia. The scene showing the wounded activist on the run has traces of Lav Diaz in it. The lush ambient sound, the crouching point-of-view cinematography, and the lonely, wounded man are constant elements in Diaz’s films.

Jet Leyco's debut feature film Ex Press will have its premiere at the 4th .MOV film festival.