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.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Dagitab (Giancarlo Abrahan, Cinemalaya 2014)

Dagitab sizzles like a crispy, tasty lechon roasted on an open coal fire.

The initial insightful scene has a professor fanning herself during an open-air, summer graduation ceremony at the country's national university. Adding to her discomfort is a lightning rally staged by graduating students. The last scene of the film shows the female professor out in the open field once more. This time, she has simmered down. Alas, her marriage has lost its fire, too. What remains are flickering embers of love as suggested by fireflies hovering over the professor and her husband.

The burnt-out feelings of the middle-age couple are depicted in a scene showing them touching hot things such as microwaved food. The wife is having hot flashes and the husband is yearning for passionate embrace of a lost lover. The heat must be unbearable because we see them in various states of undress.

One of the best scenes has the female professor and a young male writing fellow lying down on a beach. Both are smiling and obviously having a good time. The poetic top-down shot shows them lapping up gentle waves of ocean water. The wave base intersects the seafloor creating bubbly water that licks and caresses their feet, legs, buttocks, bodies, arms, and tresses. The white bubbles contrast beautifully with the blackish sand. Little did the female professor know that she will soon drown in an ocean of lies.

Another memorable scene has the husband encountering his lost lover in the boondocks. The activist lover, Lorena (Max Eigenmann), is seen as a diwata. I have never seen a diwata on movies as seductively enchanting as Eigenmann, daughter of the late actor Mark Gil. Stunning screen presence by the young Eigenmann lends support to the diwata's hypnotic grip on the husband. He eventually decides to settle in the boondocks.

Director Giancarlo Abrahan has created a loving ode to his alma mater, the University of the Philippines (UP). It is quite daring for him to undertake this ambitious project about two UP professors who've lived, studied, and taught for decades at the Diliman campus. He overcame the difficulty of depicting the school's idiosyncrasies and tradition of excellence. It probably helped that most members of the production crew also come from UP.

The UP Diliman scenes eschew famous places such as the Oblation and the Carillon Plaza. Instead, the filmmakers highlighted ordinary places and happenings at the campus such as jogging along the acacia-lined avenues, and holding sit-down lectures at the Faculty Hall. If you're a member of the alumni community or a student, then watching this film is as satisfying as the Maroons' first win at the UAAP in two seasons. Yes, it is worth lighting up a gigantic bonfire.

I've barely scratched the surface of this excellent film, whose title Dagitab means 'sparks.' There are lots of surprises in store for the viewers. Among the top reasons for watching the film are the sumptuous, electrifying performances of the two leads, Eula Valdes and Nonie Buencamino. The duo remind me of the middle-age couple featured in Before Midnight. When they talk and connect, the screen sizzles and sparkles.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cine Europa 17 screening schedule at Shang Cineplex (11-21 September 2014)

It's an early Christmas gift for cinephiles. Coming on the heels of the Chinese Film Festival at SM Cinemas, Cine Europa 2014 will conquer Mandaluyong City and eight other cities all over the Philippines. 

Of special interest to Filipinos is the United Kingdom film Metro Manila. A mix of Lino Brocka and Raymond Red films, Metro Manila is also a knockout, white-knuckle thriller. It was UK's entry to the Oscars.

True-blue Filipino films are also slated including Magnifico, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, and Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan.

The hugely popular international film festival then rolls over to Baguio and Iloilo in September 2014. Cebu, Leyte, Tacloban, and Davao host the fest in October 2014. The last pair of cities, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro, get their Cine Europa fix in November 2014.

                                                                              Schedule source: http://www.bmeia.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/bmeia/bilder/Botschaften/Manila/Cine_Europa_17_Manila_Flyer_final__3_.pdf

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cinemalaya X Goes UP

Cinemalaya X goes to Cine Adarna, UP Diliman. Not all the competition films will be shown, but the ones that do matter will have screens there.

Here are the notable films:

Bwaya -  The film highlights a more fearsome predator than the 20-foot-long saltwater crocodile Lolong. Heart-wrenching story deals with a 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 film Jay

Dagitab - Smoldering look at the dying embers of a marriage between professors at the country's national university. Watching the film is as satisfying as the Maroons' first win at the UAAP in two seasons. Sparks? More like bonfire.

The Janitor - Just ignore the lame title for this is an engrossing film about a suspended cop tasked to wipe out criminals. Bristling with energy, The Janitor was a crowd favorite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Janitor (Michael Tuviera, Cinemalaya 2014)

A beauteous St. Paul University coed was chatting with her schoolmate inside the orange shuttle jeepney. They were wondering about the significance of the film's title: The Janitor. I bet several other Cinemalaya fans were as bewildered as the duo.

Here's my advice to moviegoers: just ignore the lame title for this is an engrossing film about a suspended cop tasked to wipe out criminals. Bristling with energy, The Janitor was a crowd favorite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It stars Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, and Derek Ramsay.

Crisanto Espina (Dennis Trillo) is a regular church goer. But, he is no saint. He salvages hardened criminals. There are lots of labels that can fit his dirty job including The Equalizer, The Punisher, The Hitman, The Killer, The Salvager, The Executioner, and The Assassin.

Now, why did the filmmakers settle on a wimpy label, The Janitor? Director Mike Tuviera provided the answer during the film premiere. He introduced Trillo as 'ang taga-linis ng mga masasama.'

Crisanto sure cleaned up the whole gang involved in a hideous bank robbery massacre in Laguna. Each hit by Crisanto is preceded by a turn of the wheel of torture. The gritty torture scenes provide us with the name of a suspect and his crimes. Armed with precious information on the criminals, the audience roots for Crisanto to succeed in his stylishly-choreographed killings.

One of the best scenes shows Crisanto running after a big catch during a drug raid. He easily hurdles the curved concrete staircase. The camera follows Crisanto every step of the way giving the audience an adrenaline rush of the exhilarating chase.

There are a couple of things in the film that should have been executed better. I'm disappointed with the bank interiors. A pair of toilets next to the workstations gives new meaning to deposits and withdrawals. Maybe the point of the filmmakers is to highlight the poor security features of the bank.

The police checkpoint hit is lame. Isn't it a bit odd for a top police officer to loiter around in a deserted police checkpoint at nighttime? Not a fan of The Godfather, eh?

I wonder why the Paulinian student missed the significance of the ending of The Janitor. Crisanto is seen sweeping the floor of debris. Included among the dirty things are pictures of the criminals.

If the character and actuations of Crisanto are the basis of the title, then a more accurate title should be The Door Mat. The fearless assassin is no match to a long-time nemesis. He gets beaten up always. This wonderful plotline gives the film extra emotional heft and one more reason to see this box-office hit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memories of Overdevelopment (Kidlat Tahimik, Cinemalaya 2014 Cut)

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

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

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

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

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

Uppermost photo taken by filmmaker H. Calderon

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sundalong Kanin (Janice O'Hara, Cinemalaya 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete festival screening schedule here

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sanglaan (Milo Sogueco, Cinemalaya 2009)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 06, 2014

Huli ka! Pinoys and Filipino creations in foreign films and videos

Among the best surprises I've had at the movies were seeing Filipino stories brought to life in two foreign films submitted to the 2014 Oscars. The British film Metro Manila dealt with a rural family caught up in the claws of Manila's neon lights. The Singaporean film Ilo Ilo tells the story of a Filipina nanny indirectly affected by the financial turmoil in the Asian region in the late 1990s.

This list will note down those foreign films which contains some adobo, kundiman, and Pong Pagong in their footage. I will start with X-Men: Days of Future Past and will then update the list whenever I chanced upon the Philippines or a Pinoy in films. Let's do a Larry Alcala trick and find slices of Filipino life and culture.

 X-Men: Days of Future Past

Filipino Connection: 
Comic book illustrator Whilce Portacio > The mutant character Bishop was co-created by Jim Lee and Portacio. Bishop was supposed to be a Filipino superhero but the idea was turned down by the editors. Portacio drew himself into the character Randall (leftmost character).

Halo-halo thoughts: 

I love the mutants' battle against the slick, savvy Sentinels in the film. The latter are pure weapons of hate. Now, I know why the best mutants died in the comic books. They must have had to endure waves and waves of Sentinels.

Check out the teaser on the next possible heavyweight villain at the end of the credits. I hope to see Psylocke and Rogue in the next installment, too.

Photo credit: http://thecomixverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Uncanny_X-Men_v1_no282.jpg

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Fantastic Filipino Films at the French Film Festival 2014

After a long, long drought of not seeing fine local films, we now get a chance to see a handful next week. Three of the best local films screened last year will be shown once again on June 12, 2014 at Greenbelt 3 Cinema 1. There's the wonderfully restored classic Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, the gritty actioner On the Job, and the sublime epic Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan. The trio was also screened at the Cannes Film Festival, hence their inclusion in the 19th edition of the French Film Festival.

Make haste in getting a ticket. The fine print on the poster says that the price of an admission ticket is just PHP100. If only there's no work for me, then I'll watch the three Pinoy films again. Those ten hours are guaranteed to bring you to cine nirvana.

Here's the rest of the films and their screening sked:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Cinema of Celso Ad Castillo (Produced by Byron Ron Bryant, 2009)

A lot of movie industry people were interviewed for the documentary titled The Cinema of Celso Ad Castillo. Some of them call him Maestro. Others look up to him as a genius. Lav Diaz affectionately describes him as a madman. But, I tend to agree most with their observations that Castillo is a visual artist par excellence.

One of the best visual stylists in local cinema, Castillo was aptly described by Peque Gallaga as a lucky cinematic animal. The heavens and the weather conspire to create a picturesque moment every time he shoots a film. Castillo admits to having fits over the setting up of his first ever camera placement. But, once he got over it, he goes on to utilize his being a former comic book illustrator to paint beautifully-framed stories.

Check out the Dutch angles of his horror classics. The coffin being carried out of the hearse seems to have a 3-D effect of trying to break through the screen. The eerie mirror reflection of Ruth's diabolical glare still brings shiver to the spine. The haunting visuals and spooky soundtrack bolster the reputation of Patayin Mo Sa Sindak Si Barbara as a scary terrifying flick.

There's a story behind the famous wet look popularized by beauty queen Gloria Diaz in Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa. She narrates how she was showered with lots of movie contracts after her return from the United States. From those offers, she chooses Castillo's. She was so impressed with the filmmaker's Patayin Mo Sa Sindak Si Barbara that she promptly said yes. New and still naive in the film industry, she hikes off to location shooting with nary a change of clothing and underwear. The film crew accompanies her to a nearby town to look for a bra. The available ones for sale are so bad Diaz decides not to wear a bra in the movie. Since the movie is set along the sea coast, there are shots of Diaz in a wet, see-through dress. The catfight between Diaz and Elizabeth Oropesa on the coastline is the stuff that wet dreams are made of.

Castillo went on to do much more revealing films for the Manila International Film Festival and the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. His films Virgin People and Snake Sisters emerged as top-grossing flicks. There is a clip from Snake Sisters that shows Castillo's wicked sense of framing. We see a young scantily-clad female hunter searching for a prey. With her body crouched low, her posterior is prominently seen and surrounding it are dozens of erect phallic sticks.

I remember reading an article that says that of all the sex films shown at the Manila Film Center during the Marcos era, Castillo's Isla was said to have had the horniest effect on the audience. The story seems to imply that the Film Center insider based his assessment on the sticky state of the theater after a full-house screening of the film. A tantalizingly nude Maria Isabel Lopez frolicking in the sands and sea is simply too much to handle for itching viewers.

Castillo loves casting beautiful women in his films. He also adores the sea and the rain. Almost always there is a scene in his films set along the waters or set during a rainy day. Ron Bryant, a protege of Castillo, indirectly paid tribute by directing a Cinema One Originals film titled Alon, a story of a pretty, nubile girl vacationing at a seacoast village. Bryant upped the ante by helping create this eye-opening documentary.

The best visual revelation I'd discovered from the documentary was seeing traces of Fernando Amorsolo in Castillo's agrarian film Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan. The enchanting sunlight bathing the fields, the colorful attire of the farmers, and the framing of the daily rituals allude to several paintings of Amorsolo. Aside from the visual references to Amorsolo, the film is also memorable for those shots of farmers seemingly bonded to the lands. From a distance, a group of farmers are busy doing planting chores. Most of the time we see them with only their upper body half visible. The missing legs say a lot about rural bondage and feudalism in our country.

I'm extremely thankful to Cinema One Originals 2010 for giving moviegoers a rare chance to view bits of Castillo's works at Shang Cineplex's Premiere Theatre. Castillo and Lav Diaz are this year's worthy recipients of a tribute by the annual competition for independent filmmakers.

Original online posting in November 2010
Photo credit: http://www.philstar.com/entertainment/2012/11/28/875371/remembering-celso-ad-castillo-69

Patayin Mo Sa Sindak Si Barbara (Celso Ad Castillo, 1974)

The smart and pretty accurate title says it all! This classic is really a terrifying chiller of a movie.

Nurse Barbara Enriquez (Susan Roces) comes back to the Philippines to attend the wake and interment of her stepsister, Ruth Martinez (Rosanna Ortiz). She extends her stay in order to help her niece Karen cope with the loss of her mother. Meanwhile, strange things begin tormenting the members of the household.

Director Castillo utilized mirror and glass reflections to enhance the visual appeal of the film Patayin Mo Sa Sindak Si Barbara. He also came up with distorted shots and Dutch angles to heighten the terror index.

I can’t forget the cemetery scene involving Ruth and Barbara. I remember Rosanna Ortiz from her films with Dolphy. I never imagine that she can be this effective in portraying a vengeful woman. The piercing glances of Ruth are diabolic. The scorned woman is really bent on killing people who have hurt her. From that point on, the suspense goes on full throttle until the end of the movie.

One of my favorite scary moments sees Fritz Martinez (Dante Rivero) approaching Barbara at the fountain. You can feel Barbara is uncomfortable talking to Fritz. The audience is left wondering if they indeed had an affair. There is unbearable icy tension because Ruth may chance upon them. When the doll appeared, I nearly jumped from my seat. The excellent music score played a big part in setting the mood.

The only false note in the film is Barbara's attempt to calm down Karen by reciting the Apostle's Creed. Susan Roces' delivery bordered on campiness. That was the only thing that marred Roces' otherwise fine performance.

I hope Cinema One includes this horror classic in its annual film festival/competition. It deserves to be seen in a darkened movie theater. Try to imagine ogling the eyes of the vengeful Ruth on the big screen. Whew! That ought to be a spine-tingling movie experience.

Original online posting in October 2010

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Happyland (Jim Libiran, Cinemanila 2010)

Who is the all-time highest goal-scorer of the Futbol Club Barcelona?

Is it David Villa of the World Cup 2010 winning team Spain? No. Is it exciting-to-watch Argentine player Lionel Messi? No.

The answer is Paulino Alcantara. The early 20th-century footballer scored a phenomenal 357 goals in 357 matches! He is one of the legendary players of the venerable club. And, he is a Filipino.

Flashforward to the 21st century. The sport of football is no longer on the radar of most Filipinos. Despite cable television bringing live broadcasts of World Cup 2010 matches to local viewers, football did not make a huge dent in the consciousness of the Filipino people. It seldom dominates headlines and front page stories in our basketball-crazy country. So it is quite surprising and gladdening to read news, and see television coverage, of the Philippine football team's entry into the semifinal round of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010.

On the night the film Happyland had its world premiere at Cinemanila 2010 in Robinsons Movieworld Galleria, a spunky football team from the Philippines pulled a stunning 2-0 win over the AFF Suzuki Cup defending champion team from Vietnam. Phil Younghusband, who had a cameo role in the film, scored the second goal for the defense-oriented Azkals. The extraordinary good news is a perfect assist to the advocacy of non-profit organization Futkal Inc and filmmaker Jim Libiran.

Futkal is an acronym for Futbol sa Kalye (Football on the Streets). The group passionately teaches children the game of football in an alternative way. It takes away the notion that football should be played only on soccer fields. It is definitely not a game only for rich kids. Anybody can play football in an abandoned street, open space, or vacant lot.

Jim Libiran returns once more to the streets of Tondo in Manila for his second film Happyland. Just like his debut film Tribu, he focuses on a group of young people. These impoverished young boys are no longer rappers but futkaleros or street footballers. A Spanish missionary priest named Fr. Jose manages the group and zealously preaches the gospel that football is the sport for Filipinos. He always tell the amazing exploits of footballer Paulino Alcantara in Europe to prove his point.

Shunning the edgy story, dark milieu, and raw violence of Tribu, Libiran molds a more mainstream film for his target audience: the youth. His new film deals with the problems of a varied set of young characters such as a neighborhood basketball idol, a fleet-footed snatcher, a pedicab driver, and a pair of solvent-sniffing friends. The straight-forward story traces how this odd group of resilient misfits rise to redemption. 

The best parts of the film are the football match segments. They give valuable insights on how the futkaleros play the game and how they behave. Their unorthodox playing style may not be the beautiful game played by the Spaniards or the Brazilians but it produces good results for the team. In March 2010, a Tondo futkalero was part of the Phl team that won a trophy at the Street Child World Cup in South Africa.

Happyland may not be a beautifully slick film, marred by still-to-be-refined blurry shots, but it gets an A for advocacy. Libiran plans to show the film to schools and youth clubs all over the country. The film screenings will hopefully result in more kids getting out from a drug and crime-filled life and getting into the wonderful world of football. Local teams winning tournament matches are mere bonuses.

Updated (May 2014):

The above piece was posted online in December 2010. A lot had happened during the three years or so of football seasons. Lionel Messi dislodged the Filipino legend Paulino Alcantara as FC Barcelona's all-time top scorer in March 2014.

Football is very much in the local news these days. All of us are excited over the Azkals' championship match against Palestine in the AFC Challenge Cup on Friday, 30th of May, 2014. We are just a win away from entering the 2015 Asian Cup.

Good luck, Azkals. Make the Philippines a happy, happy land!

Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/PhilippineAzkals

Temptation Island (Joey Gosiengfiao, 1980)

The original version of Temptation Island is one of the craziest and funniest local movies ever. The dialogues are truly hilarious. Here's a sampling of memorable lines:

Suzanne: 20/20 yata ang vision ko
Bambi: Sorry ha. I thought that was your bustline

Ship stowaway: I'm a latecomer
Azenith: Latecomer?!? Sa gitna ng dagat? Ano'ng sinakyan mo, taxi?

Suzanne: So what else is new? Everybody needs a shipwreck once in a while.

Can't get enough of these delectable lines? Watch the film and you'll get lots and lots of similar sumptuous dialogues. What makes them doubly funny is the way they were delivered by the superb ensemble. Aside from the witty comic quips, the movie also boasts of memorable blazing hot visual images such as Suzanne’s lotion scene with her girl Friday and the mouth-watering ice cream/chicken fantasy scenes.

The film does a neat job of introducing the colorful characters. A plethora of promotional spots for the Miss Manila Sunshine contest convinces several ladies to join in the hunt for the title. Four beauties get selected in the pre-finals night of the contest. Miss Body Beautiful is the innocent Dina Espinola (Dina Bonnevie). Miss Photogenic is the social climbing crybaby Bambi Belisario (Bambi Arambulo). Miss Friendship is the bitchy burgis Suzanne Reyes (Jennifer Cortez). Miss Talent is the self-confessed con artist Azenith Tobias (Azenith Briones). The four finalists are then whisked off to a yacht to start their month-long interaction with the beauty pageant judges.

As fate would have it, a fire breaks out in the yacht. The occupants jump overboard for safety. The four lovely ladies end up in a desert island devoid of potable water, food, and shelter. The hot summer season compounded the woes of the ladies.

Five other people also share their misfortune as castaways. Joshua is the gay coordinator of the beauty contest. Ricardo is the current flame of Joshua. Stowaway Alfredo is an ardent admirer of Dina. Umberto is a hunky cruise ship waiter. Maria is the loyal girl Friday of Suzanne. Their interactions with the finalists spell out who will survive and who will not survive the horrendous ordeal. The castaways get to throw away their petty quarrels, biases, material riches, and even their panties.

I adored the performances of Azenith Briones and Jennifer Cortez. The scheming Azenith Tobias is a joy to watch. When she confesses to being a crook, she did it with style. Briones’ cool delivery of her spiel is sheer delight. Her natural confidence is also seen in her wonderful speech at the coronation night. I also enjoyed her 'shit' moment with the hunky waiter. Wow! Those are excellent, profound dialogues from Umberto.

However, it is Cortez’s Suzanne Reyes who ends up with the lion’s share of memorable dialogues. From ‘Komunista!’ to ‘My panty stays right here’ to ‘Hindi nga, eh. Parang nag-jogging lang,’ her retorts are outrageously funny. Her outspoken character always gets downright dirty in the ground due to a series of cat-fights but her optimism and sunny attitude helps her to stand tall at the end of the film.

Several films have been inspired by Joey Gosiengfiao's classic howler. A 2011 remake of the film failed to approximate the original's audacity and sensuality. Another film, Kung Fu Divas, does a better job of paying homage. Both movies featured Marian Rivera, a lovely actress with a tinge of kookiness in her veins. Yep, she is easily on par with the dazzling beauty queens of the original Miss Manila Sunshine contest.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Superfan (Clodualdo del Mundo Jr, 2009)

Generations of Filipinos have lined up for movies and shows of the Superstar, Nora Aunor. Legions of fans have bought her albums. A devoted few followed her every move. From among these avid, passionate fans, none was as obsessed as Armando ‘Mandy’ Diaz Jr.

Superfan is based on an essay written by Diaz for the book Si Nora Aunor sa mga Noranian: Mga Paggunita at Pagtatapat, edited by Nestor De Guzman (Quezon City: Milflores Publishing Inc., 2005). In the essay titled Himala, Diaz narrated his miraculous devotion to Nora. He started adoring her when he was only 6 years old. The decades-long obsession with the Superstar resulted in a humongous collection of Aunor records and memorabilia. 47 volumes of clippings chronicle the odyssey of Nora from Albay to San Francisco Bay. 10 photo albums capture the highs and lows of the petite actress.

Near the end of the essay, Diaz, who was then only in his late 40s, mentioned that if he dies ahead of Nora, he wants the burial to be postponed until Nora visits his wake. The self-confessed number one fan of Nora died on June 7, 2008 at the age of 48. Nora was then, and still is, residing at the United States of America.

Did Nora visit his wake? The film ingeniously says yes, yes, yes! Three Aunors (a singing child sensation, a popular matinee idol, and a multi-awarded actress) pay respect to their ever loyal fan, Diaz. To paraphrase the title of Nora’s first single under Alpha Records, the Aunors ‘only came to say goodbye.’ With their visit, they rekindle memories of wonderful performances and songs by Nora.

The short film features generous amount of video clips and songs. We see Nora and Tirso Cruz dancing in Guy and Pip. Then, there's the silent showdown between Nora and Vilma Santos in Ikaw Ay Akin. And, who can't forget the scalding bath given by Nora to Phillip Salvador in Bona. The latter film dealt with a superfan who hooked up with a bit player in films. Bona became angry after learning about her idol's plan to migrate to North America.

In Superfan, Mandy Diaz Jr. (Nonie Buencamino) remarks that he will never follow Bona. He will stay loyal to Nora even if she migrates to the United States of America. Nora is, and will always be, in his heart and mind.

The 23-minute film failed to capture the near-mystical devotion of Diaz to Aunor. Only a small part of Diaz’s collection was seen onscreen. The film made up for that weakness by sharing an incident that tells a lot about the relationship of the two. After a big fight with his idol, Diaz threw out some of his collection. He then proudly narrated how Nora went out of her way to make amends. They made peace and he resumed his collection of all Aunor things.

I adored the neat device of having three Aunors visit the wake. That was a nice tribute to Diaz. I thought he really deserved that. After all, Diaz is, in his own words, alone in the ranks of Noranians that truly loved Nora ‘super-to-the-max.’

Original online posting in August 2009

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw... (Khavn de la Cruz, 2006)

So far, this is the only film of Khavn that I truly love. Yes, that's the proper term: love. 

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw... (Goodbye My Shooting Star) deals with all permutations of that powerful four-letter word. The film is also an ode to the people, food, icons, and landmarks of the University of the Philippines. And, it took an Atenean to show the charms of the national university.

Just what it is in the waters of Ateneo? Brilliant Atenean filmmakers Khavn and John Torres create unconventional films (Paalam Aking Bulalakaw and Todo Todo Teros) that make you fall in love, or if you’re already in love, will make you love more. They blend picturesque poems with poetic pictures. They conjure images of pretty, smart ladies in their stories. If John had Russian student Olga, then Khavn has Pinay actress Ana Maria.

Ana Maria (played by Meryll Soriano) is a frustrated violin player still hurting from her break-up with an American boyfriend. She meets up with friend K one afternoon because it was getting to be a bore at home. The duo starts their tour of the University of the Philippines at Sunken Garden.

A cool, loony optometrist teases K about his crush for Ana. He answers that having a crush is against his religion. It had been years but K wasn’t ready to reveal his feelings for Ana. Not yet, anyway.

The young man drops subtle hints by bringing up the subject of love frequently. He asks friends what they thought about love. Egay states that sex is a better trip than love. Elmo says love is an amalgam of hate, lust, and sex. Ana opines that love is sadness and happiness in one person.

But, for K, love is Ana. This unrequited love of K shows up in his heart-wrenching songs and poems. And, boy, are they potent! Songs dealt with shooting stars, lonely moon, wanting, and eternal devotion. On the other hand, poems tackled endless waiting, love letters, and goodbyes.

This extraordinary film shows the wildly romantic side of Khavn. A devastating blend of hardcore mushy songs and heart-core poems will also bring out the hopeless romantic in you. Sheesh! Just when you thought you were over that special someone, this film will make you pine for her/him.

So, still interested in this achingly beautiful film? Proceed with caution. You’ve been warned!

Original online posting in November 2009

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Imburnal (Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Cinema One Originals 2008 Best Picture Winner)

Cebu, Boracay, and Davao City are the top tourist destinations in the Philippines. In the case of Davao City, visitors must have felt safe and secure with the city’s almost crime-free tag. Davaoeño filmmaker Sherad Anthony Sanchez shatters the city’s image with his latest courageous film.

Imburnal is the best local film I’ve seen in 2008. A brutal and unflinching statement against the death squads of Davao City, the movie portrays a city plagued by extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. In a ruthless bid to cleanse the city of crime, vigilantes exterminate juvenile delinquents and suspected criminals as if they were mere cockroaches.

The rancid lives of the poor kids and teenagers were fleshed out in gory details. They shoplift clothes. They freely narrate their experiences in bed. They indulge in group sex inside the filthy sewer pipes. They roam aimlessly the well-lighted streets of the city in the middle of the night.

The sewers of Punta Dumalag in Barangay Matina Aplaya end up as favorite hangout spot of two boys (Brian Monterola and Allen Lumanog). The pair spends countless hours in the sewers. They sleep there. They play with cockroaches. They swim in the murky waters. The sewerage system is the place where they witness loveless sex and lifeless bodies of teenagers. Childhood laughter gave way to fear and apathy after corpses started to sprout like mushrooms.

In March 2009, three months after the release of the film, the Commission on Human Rights initiated a much-delayed probe into the unexplained killings of 814 people in Davao City since 1998. Most of the vigilante-style killings have been attributed to a shadowy group called the Davao Death Squad (DDS). City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte denied that the local government was behind the DDS. He said the killings were the result of gang wars, drug trade rivalries, and personal grudges.

Imburnal compares Davao City to a well-maintained, white-painted tomb. On the surface, it is so peaceful, clean, and nice to look at, but inside, it stinks and is full of rotten things. A memorable scene from the film shows a trio of juveniles traversing the city’s expansive cemetery. The cemetery is so big that they eventually got tired trekking the place. They will encounter dead bodies outside the cemetery as well. Davao City is pictured as a humongous, stinking cemetery.

The 210-minute film contained other highly memorable scenes. The initial scene surprised me because I never knew that a kid was lying on the concrete sewer pipe. The kid blended so well with his environment that he became invisible. A similar scene showed another marginalized young denizen sleeping on a pathway along the river. He became visible only when the camera started to zoom in on him. With this film, Sanchez is doing his share in exposing the gravity of rampant salvagings in his city.

The fantastic last sequence shows the playful two boys aping Tarzan atop a tree along the river. I had a hearty laugh after hearing and seeing a tree branch break. I was laughing so hard that when another branch broke I was caught unaware. I gasped and it took me some time to gain back my wits. Childhood dreams are easily broken in Davao City.

If you’re game for a different kind of viewing experience, then try to see the director’s cut of the film. Just prepare, really prepare, to get in the flow of Sanchez’s hellish and pitch black vision of Davao City.

The film won the Best Digital Lokal Picture Award at the 10th Cinemanila Film Festival and the Best Picture Award at the Cinema One Originals 2008. It also nabbed two major awards at the 10th Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. 

Original online posting in June 2009

Huling Balyan ng Buhi (Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Cinema One Originals 2006 Best Picture Winner)

The southern Philippine island of Mindanao is getting lots of bad press these days. The entire nation still have not recovered from the shocking massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao, and days later, we also have to deal with the hostage-taking of 75 people in Agusan del Sur and the escape of 31 inmates in Basilan.

Violence in Mindanao is also getting ample screen time with several feature films and Cinemalaya short films such as Angan-Angan and Latus dealing with the topic. The award-winning Engkwentro, filmed in Metro Manila, alludes to the death squad of Davao City. Another film on desaparecidos and extra-judicial killings in the city is Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s experimental film Imburnal.

Davao-born director Sanchez came to prominence with his debut film Huling Balyan ng Buhi (Woven Stories of the Other). He utilized an unconventional way of essaying the effects of violence on the people of Mindanao. Two narratives converge but one narrative seems to be an allegory. This extraordinary film specifically deals with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-led rebellion. It tells the intertwining stories of people wounded by the armed conflict.

An elderly babaylan wakes up to find stigmata in her arms. She struggles to find her place in a world transformed by modernization and wrecked by rebellion. The likes of her is no longer given the honor and respect accorded to them in the old days. Long before the coming of the Spaniards in the Philippines, a babaylan is a well-respected priestess and healer. Spanish colonialism marginalized the female babaylans. The latter-day surviving babaylan gets no respect as she tries to fend off a horny teenager who eyes her as a sex object. The soldiers make fun of her singing.

A young girl and her brother scour the forest for their parents. They probably symbolize the children orphaned by the rebellion in Mindanao. The verdant scenes in the forest highlight the excellent cinematography.

A member of the New People’s Army (NPA) accidentally kills a comrade. He hastily leaves their camp and crosses over to the camp of the government soldiers. He is not treated as an enemy. He later jams with the soldiers on a couple of videoke songs. Music as a unifying element was folk group Asin’s suggestion on bridging the gap between opposing armed forces.

In the film, a comrade teaches her colleagues that the NPA does not treat a government soldier as an enemy. There are three enemies of the group: imperialism, bureaucrat-capitalism, and feudalism. The female comrade then mentions two of the nation’s abhorrent feudal oligarchs, the Aboitizes and the Lopezes.

Lopezes?!? Aren’t they connected with the Cinema One channel? Isn’t Cinema One the group which gave seed money for independent filmmakers? Isn’t filmmaker Sanchez one of those given seed money? Yes, Sanchez was, and still is, a beneficiary of the despised feudal lords, the Lopezes. Last year, he was a winning finalist for the poetic film Imburnal. This year, he was the main creative consultant to finalists of the Cinema One Originals Digital Movie Festival 2009.

Sanchez is one of the more courageous independent filmmakers out there. I’m eagerly awaiting his third film. It will probably tackle once more issue/s in Mindanao. Meanwhile, if you’re brave enough to try out unconventional films, then watch his feature films Huling Balyan sa Buhi and Imburnal. Check out the first film and if you sort of like it, then try out the more experimental Imburnal. Graphic images of poverty and hopelessness from the latter film will leave you scarred for life.

Original online posting in December 2009

Sheika (Arnel Mardoquio, Cinemalaya 2010 Netpac Winner)

The film Sheika, a captivating and haunting valentine to the beautiful but violence-wracked island of Mindanao, is my favorite at the Cinemalaya 2010 festival. The powerful images (including an 'imprisoned' Gary reading Shie's journal) and life-affirming stories crawl their way into your head and stay embedded there along with your cherished memories.

Fe GingGing Hyde comes up with a devastating performance as Shie, a Tausug widow who lost her mind after the deaths of her sons. I cannot forget the part wherein she attempts to shield her son from an assassin’s coup-de-grace. Her unexpected action at the bridge is the best I’ve seen yet of maternal love and sacrifice in local cinema. Until the very end, she fiercely protects her children from the snares of the devil. Diablo. That is the word she used to describe the goons. It bespeaks of the deep hatred she had for these fiends.

Combining the sensuality of Charito Solis, the fierceness of Nora Aunor, and the subdued acting of Lolita Rodriguez, Hyde is so awesome that I can’t think of any actress that may do justice to the role of Shie. I was wondering who the festival officials had in mind for the main character. It was said that a pair of Cinemalaya officials voiced out their preference for a mainstream actress.

Filmmaker Arnel Mardoquio did the right thing in withdrawing his film from the New Breed competition. He refused to heed the 'suggestions' of the powers that be. He stuck with his decision to film with a purely Mindanao-based crew and actors. In the end, he was vindicated. The resulting film eventually won the Netpac Award.

The bittersweet movie boasts of a brave, gripping script and lovely soundtrack. It is the first indie film to deal directly with the notorious Death Squad in Davao City. Previous films, such as the excellent Imburnal and Engkwentro, only allude to extra-judicial killings by nameless death squads. Sheika takes the issue head on. It presents the true story of a mother who’d lost her four sons to the heartless assassins of Davao City. It indicts the local business group for supporting the death squad members.

The soundtrack does not seem to include a song by Joey Ayala, but his song themes are very much apparent. Davao City and Mindanao in the film were not unlike the places depicted in the songs of Ayala. Gun-related violence and bloodshed mar the beautiful city and the bountiful island. Hamletting and discord are widespread. With corpses springing out from nowhere, the city is slowly turning into a cemetery. Pastilan! Pastilan... Ang Dabaw ay sementeryo!

However, just like Shie, Davao City and the rest of Mindanao can still recover from a traumatic past. Twisted loving care from a friend helped Shie to get well. Local songwriters and filmmakers seem to agree that love can overcome violence and hatred in Mindanao. The Cinemalaya 2010 standouts Limbunan and Sheika both utilized Asin's immortal song Himig ng Pag-ibig in their soundtracks. Amidst all the misery and ugliness brought by the war, the Mindanaoan filmmakers are still hopeful that beauty, peace, and love will reign someday in the southern Philippine island.

Original online posting in October 2010

Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria (Remton Siega Zuasola, Cinema One Originals 2010)

Days before the start of the Cinema One Originals 2010, there were high expectations for the film entries of Richard Somes and Remton Zuasola. Somes gained a well-deserved reputation for his film Yanggaw, which won majority of the awards at the Cinema One Originals 2008. Zuasola won raves for his Cinemanila 2009 short feature winner To Siomai Love. I haven’t seen the latter, which was said to be a one-take wonder, so I wasn’t sure if he deserved some of the buzz. I became more curious about his Cinema One entry when I learned that it was also done in one take.

One-take full-length feature film? Can Zuasola really pull it off?

Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria exceeded all my expectations. The phenomenal film is a knockout combination of adept filmmaking and caustic portrait of a Filipina mail-order bride and her debt-ridden family. Imagine mixing some of the colorful female characters of Noli Me Tangere, the craziness and wittiness of a Joey Gosiengfiao comedy, the savvy skills of a real-time method filmmaker, and the competence of a Cebu-based crew and actors, and you've got yourself a potent brew of pure indie film goodness. It is so good that as the end credits roll on you cannot wait to watch it all over again. It is simply the must-see Pinoy indie film of 2010.

The film begins with a mother searching for her daughter, Eleuteria. Along with her husband and her other daughter, they scour the area for traces of the lanky teenager. The latter is seen trying to drown herself in a creek.

Eleuteria is a mail-order bride who, until the last minute, dillydallies with her decision to go to Germany. She has a local boyfriend. This fact, along with the thought of being ruthlessly shoved into marrying an elderly foreigner named Hans Kirschbaum, makes Eleuteria hesitant to go abroad. Ironically, these two factors become crucial decision changers in the end.

The spine-less boyfriend desperately coaxes her to elope but eventually surrenders because of strong opposition by the parents, relatives, and friends of Eleuteria. Another spine-less male figure is her fisherman father. The latter objects to his daughter's impending marriage but doesn't want to impose his will on the matter.

When she decided to drown herself, Eleuteria tries to call attention to the fact that she does not want to go away. Locked in a psychological battle, she just doesn't want to give in to the whims of her mother. However, constant nagging by her mother made her decide to accept her elder's wish. The belated decision is not so much a daughterly obedience but more of a rebellious, contemptuous act against her mother and the spineless male figures in her life. In a chance meeting with a childhood friend, she says she will never set foot again in their small hometown.

But, just like migratory birds frequenting it, they do come back to Olango Island, Cebu. Cousin Merle, recently separated from her German husband, comes home for good. With her savings, she is able to build a three-storey house. She is the one guiding Eleuteria every step of the way.

The film captures the long, eventful journey of Eleuteria from a creek to the boat terminal in a masterfully orchestrated one take. The ensemble acting is so natural and realistic that the local residents don't mind the shooting happening in their midst. The actors are just like members of a regular family out to send off one of their family member. Even the crazy guy seems to be not out of place. 

Most barrios in the Philippines have their share of loonies. In this film, the barrio has craziness as its theme for a fiesta. Aside from the crazy guy, there are other interesting characters in the film such as the scene-stealing father and the Paris, Italy-based (!?!) recruiter. Their interaction with one another produces loud guffaws from the audience. The witty screenplay is based on a novel by Maria Victoria Beltran.

Zuasola deserves all the hoopla (and awards) for his film. On the other hand, Somes' film Ishmael didn't live up to expectations. Its best scene shows a fallen alien unsheathing his blades on his arms and whooping up hordes of Decepticons. Oops, I think that is from the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. See, I can barely remember good things about Ishmael. Somes loses his magic touch with his second film. I hope Zuasola doesn't succumb to the so-called sophomore jinx.

Original online posting in December 2010