Saturday, February 22, 2014
I had seen Transit four times and each time I marvel at the elegance of the film. It sparkles like a pearl. There is a certain sheen that I seldom see from local indie films. The actors are classy and superb. The gorgeous location is refreshingly different and nice.
Transit is predominantly set in Israel. It deals with a Filipino family grappling to terms with a new residency law. The members decide to hide a young boy for a year in order for him to gain residency status. As it is, the boy is what you call a TNT (Tago ng Tago), a term referring to illegal aliens hiding from immigration officials.
The film's conceit is hiding bits and pieces of information. It then uses a unique editing style to unveil chunks of crucial information. As the pieces get connected, the true picture gets bigger and clearer.
But, just like a jigsaw puzzle, there are discernible breaks and cracks on the picture. The storytelling is not linear. Tales of the family members are presented in sometimes repetitive manner. Viewing the tales is akin to eating the same cake with different toppings five times. Viewers' enjoyment of the film will depend on whether the toppings are yummy and memorable enough.
In a film forum I've attended, the filmmakers shared juicy morsels about the film. The production group was lucky to find a building rented out by Filipinos. That building served as the main apartment in the film. Hidden away from our sights is the fact that the building was home to several families and teeming with tenants. Another stroke of luck was they chanced upon a responding fire truck near their set-up. The chaos on the streets add some tension during the scene showing the grandmother and boy's risky excursion outside.
I learned about the importance of the uncircumcised young boy's recitation of the Torah. The boy's action is a valiant attempt to show to the authorities that he is an adult. Not only can he recite Torah passages, he can speak Hebrew fluently. I also loved the boy's efforts to be invisible using a head scarf.
The head scarf though makes me wonder about the Muslim community in Israel. Maybe the scarves' power of invisibility works only for Muslims. I didn't see them at all.
Director Peque Gallaga defended the selection of Transit as the country's film entry to the Oscars. The committee members chose Transit because it projected what the Filipinos want the world to see. The Filipino parents' struggle to feed their families and the sacrifices they go through are vividly presented in Transit. It is worthwhile to note that two other Oscar hopefuls, Metro Manila and Ilo-Ilo, also dealt with sacrificial love for the Filipino family. Among the trio, I was rooting for Ilo-Ilo.
The film Transit is critical of the Filipino government and Filipinos. It unleashes a few topics cloaked by a head scarf. Why do thousands of Filipinos need to go abroad to find jobs? Why do they resolutely break the law in order to remain together abroad?
This blog entry shares a Filipino trait with Transit. Both have a difficult time saying goodbye. My mind is like a carousel full of ideas to write about. Round and round and round it goes...
Saturday, February 15, 2014
In response to the proliferation of soft porn movies, director Gerardo de Leon came out with a bold, shocking film titled Lilet in 1971. His film was rewarded with a plethora of awards from FAMAS including the Best Picture and Best Director awards.
The titular character, Lilet (Celia Rodriguez), goes home after seven years of absence. She has scarce memory at all of the sprawling mansion and its residents. Her father (Vic Silayan) rues her return. She later learns that she is not the only one who came back. Almost every night, she encounters a wandering ghost calling out her name.
There are a handful of memorable hair-raising scenes in this movie. The lights and sound effects during the piano and sewing machine scenes amplify the chills meter. The appearance of the ghost is unexpected and terrifying. I admire the perfect blocking of characters in these scenes.
I also loved the breakdown of Lilet at the gate. Nobody screams as good as Celia Rodriguez in local horror films. Lilet is shown banging at the gates. Even though Lilet has been released from jail, she feels imprisoned in the house.
Slowly, Lilet remembers her childhood days. A doctor, who nearly ran her over, helps her break free from her dark past.
More than a horror/suspense film, Lilet is an elegant romantic movie. Doctor Efren Leynes (Ronaldo Valdez) admirably stands by with his lady love. The poetic doctor sees something beautiful in Lilet despite her chequered past.
What the two lovers uncover is a scandalous secret so stinky and taboo it rarely pops up in local movies. The steamy goings-on at the mansion are so disgusting that Lilet and Efren left in a hurry.
The film Lilet is a fun, enthralling viewing experience. The visuals are exactly what you expect from a maestro. Religious statues spring to life in this film. The thrills and surprises are delightful. A major surprise is seeing a vampishly wicked Paraluman!
Haven't figure out the family secret? Three clues: Silayan, blink, carnal.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
A dominant theme of Cinemalaya 2013 films is lies and duplicity. With giveaway titles such as Instant Mommy, Liars, and Quick Change, one can guess that the films dealt with various types of charlatans. The Best Picture winners, Transit and Sana Dati, had their own share of impersonators.
The engrossing film Babagwa unleashes a slicker, slimier breed of impersonators. Greg and Marney are catfishes. The term catfish refers to a person who pretends to be someone else via social media.
Greg (Alex Medina) is a Facebook scammer fleecing unsuspecting lovers. Using the personality of a dashing fashion model, he sweet-talks his victims into sending money to an account managed by Marney. Once the money is deposited, the catfishes break their links with victims. Problem arise when Greg falls in love with his latest victim, a beautiful matron.
Kapag ang puso'y nadurog, mahirap na siyang buuin muli
Audiences lapped up the cheesy romantic lines mouthed by the heartbroken woman, Daisy (Alma Concepcion). Greg has his conscience shaken up. He falls head over heels with Daisy. He does the unexpected by baring his true self to Daisy. The blurry camshot image of a remorseful, whiskered Greg has been etched in my mind as a definitive image of a repugnant catfish. Greg left everything behind and ventured towards the abode of Daisy.
Early this year, I chanced upon an episode of the MTV show titled Catfish. The hosts raised a red flag when they discovered that the telephone number used by a Caucasian lover is registered in the name of an Afro-American. Could it be that the latter is using a Caucasian personality to lure a white girlfriend? How come the white boy didn't eyeball the girl even once during the eight years or so of online relationship? Is he hiding something? There is so much suspense when the girl went to the boy's house. There is happy ending, too. The boy is really what the girl fell in love with online. No duplicity at all for the boy.
The ending of Babagwa, though, is anti-climactic. Daisy is too nice and too pretty to be true. There's a gut feeling that she is not what she is online. The little suspense left is anticipating what she is in real life.
I've encountered several viewers raising the question of why Greg was fooled by an impostor. Well, one plausible reason is Greg is really in love. Just like his victims who shelled out money, Greg threw caution to the wind and placed his bet on Daisy. All of them are hoping for the best romantic outcome but not all will have a fairy tale ending.
For those curious about Greg's fate, the English title of the film, The Spider's Lair, gives us a hint. Smacked in the middle of the film's end credits is an image of a shackled, incapacitated Greg. The World Wide Web-based scammer is trapped in a hellish, sinister web of lies. There are available space left for other scammers including Pogi, Tanda, and Sexy. I hope they get caught, too.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Biyaya ng Lupa is my favorite local film and my pick for the best Filipino film of the twentieth century. Fifty years ago, this excellent LVN production premiered in theaters as a Christmas presentation. It was the third film of Rosa Rosal and Tony Santos to gain critical acclaim. The duo was earlier paired in the neorealist Anak Dalita and the sea adventure film Badjao.
There are lots of things to like in this agrarian melodrama. The film features Rosa Rosal at her best. The direction and screenplay are top-notch. The pacing is fast. And, the ensemble acting is one of the best I've seen in local cinema.
When I told my mother that I adore Rosa Rosal's performance in this movie, she countered that movie fans hated Rosal way back then. The sexy actress portrayed contravida roles so convincingly that she incurred the wrath of moviegoers. It is a good thing that the LVN head honcho gave her lead roles in the studio’s prestige movies. These roles showed her acting skills to the fullest. Biyaya ng Lupa nearly gave her the Best Actress Award at the Asian Film Festival. The film remains her favorite among all of her movies.
Rosa Rosal portrayed Maria, a provincial lass blissfully married to Jose (Tony Santos). They plant lansones seedlings all over their sprawling lot. They foresee the orchard as key to a bountiful future. Years later, the couple is blessed with children. Director Manuel Silos tracked the expansion of the family by showing the growth of the lansones from a mere seedling to a sapling until it grew into a mature tree. This brilliant device was a marked improvement over the stale ripping of calendar pages to show passage of time.
I love the briskness of the film. It felt like an adventure movie. The spare editing tells the story efficiently by eliminating dull moments. The anxiety and excitement of expectant father Jose is captured in a thrilling manner. We see him running from one house to another. The rapid editing and lively music played a big part in making the scene effective.
The screenplay by Celso Al. Carunungan is chockfull of references to Biblical characters. The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary is felt throughout the film. The matriarch is named Maria. Several interior scenes show the family's altar with the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Jose narrates the legend of the lansones. It was said that the fruit was poisonous. It took a Marian intercession to make the fruit edible.
The death of Maria’s daughter Carmen is only the beginning of a series of trials, not unlike those of Job. One after another the problems come cascading like a deluge. The flowering lansones trees fall prey to a typhoon. Maria’s teenaged daughter Angelita is raped by Bruno, a neighborhood toughie.
A vengeful Jose seeks out Bruno but is killed in return. Maria's son Arturo, lured by a city slicker, asks to advance his inheritance. The prodigal son, destitute and cheated out of his money, later comes home asking for forgiveness. Maria faced all these trials head on.
The direction by Silos is truly excellent although there are a few minor things that are dated or simply out-of-place. The kissing scenes are more correctly called sniffing scenes. Yes, the lead actors sniff one another in lieu of a buss. It is not as bad as what you think but it can elicit a chuckle or two.
I’ve seen this film countless times but I still discern something new with every viewing. The latest thing I’ve unraveled is not a good one, though. It concerns a scene involving a repentant Miguel (Leroy Salvador). Holding a cross, the deaf-mute utters a prayer asking for forgiveness after a brutal beating of Bruno. Although it is true to the film’s Christian framework, the turnabout is so sudden. The scene also straddles the line of cloyingness. Other scenes involving Miguel are better. There's a certain charm during his courtship of Gloria. The hilarious scenes eclipse any scenes cooked up for movies about deaf-mute people.
Other memorable scenes include the young boy Lito showing off, and eating from, a cluster of sweet-looking lansones. This scene, often cut from cable showing, is so mouthwatering you'll hanker for a bunch of lansones. Then there's the scene showing a carabao putting on a harness onto its back. The classic ending shows a triumphant Maria caressing a plow and grabbing a handful of soil. All those years of waiting and praying for a bountiful harvest have finally bore fruit.
It is a perfect ending to a superb film screaming for a Criterion-like DVD or BluRay release. Okay, I'll settle for a local DVD release. Will somebody please release the film on digital video?
Original online posting in December 2009
Saturday, February 08, 2014
Mike Sandejas' crowd-pleasing offering is a combination of his award-winning debut film Tulad Ng Dati and Peque Gallaga's tween romances, Baby Love and Agaton & Mindy. It won the Best Musical Score Award and the Audience Choice Award at the Cinemalaya 2009 competition.
Dinig Sana Kita starts with a rock concert featuring Niña (Zoe Sandejas) and her band. Trouble erupts and the young female rocker finds herself getting dragged to the police precinct. This is not the first time she gets involved in altercations, hence, her parents and school administrators decide to send her off to a camp in Baguio City to cool off. The camp is for deaf and hearing kids. In Baby Love, the cadets’ camp was also set in Baguio City.
Director Sandejas remarked that he got the idea of a camp for deaf people and hearing people from a friend. Inspired with the concept, he decided to make a script and entered it at the Cinemalaya competition. When he started shooting the film, the production in Baguio became a real life camp. He noted that the kids remained friends even after the shooting, and they still communicate with one other through online chat and Facebook.
The importance of communication is highlighted throughout the movie. People who are deaf are just like foreigners who can't converse with locals. They need to be creative in order to speak to other people. Francisco ‘Kiko’ Reyes (Romalito Mallari) is a deaf dancer who meets Niña at the camp. He always brings a small notebook and a whiteboard pentel just in case he wants to speak to someone who can't understand sign language. He even gives Niña his cell phone number in a scene which always gets laughter from audiences. The laughter subsides when the moviegoers realize that, yes, they can communicate via short messaging service.
In the course of the film, we learn the reason why Niña rebels. She hates talking with her mother, who seems to have done something terribly bad. She only wants to talk with her father. But, her father ignores her attempts to bond with him. With every rejection, the young rock musician increases the volume of her iPod. She drowns herself in a cacophony of loud music and throbbing drum beats. Slowly, her disabuse of hearing takes its toll.
The film has uncanny similarities with the visually-enticing Agaton & Mindy. Both films deal with mothers from hell. Both films feature male dancers who were abandoned as a child. And, the best thing of them all, they showcase passionate dance presentations. The Ugoy Ng Duyan dance is exquisitely good. Discovering how the hearing-impaired Kiko learned to dance to the soothing music of Ugoy Ng Duyan is worth the price of admission ticket. One can feel his intense longing to feel the embrace of his mother. The embracing sound of the music is a pale alternative to an actual hug from his mother. It should be noted that Rome Mallari was really an abandoned baby. He hopes the film will get him closer to his father.
Dinig Sana Kita ended with a rock concert featuring Sugarfree. From start to finish, Sandejas has it all covered: good music, superb dancing, delicious bits of comedy, okay performances (especially Mallari's), and a happy ending for the young couple. It is no wonder then that the film won the most number of votes from Cinemalaya Cinco audiences, which are mostly made up of young moviegoers.
Original online posting in 2009
Friday, February 07, 2014
I am a huge fan of films megged by Mike de Leon. I've yet to encounter a de Leon film that disappoints me.
De Leon, just like Stanley Kubrick, dabbles into various film genres, turns them inside out, and still comes out with unique, masterful films such as the thriller Kisapmata, the horror pic Itim, the musical-comedy Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, the political film Sister Stella L., the short feature Aliwan Paradise, and the dreamy tale, Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising. The latter can shame most romance films churned out by Star Cinema and GMA Films.
I love Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising for a variety of reasons: the luminous presence of Hilda Koronel, the evolution of Joey's Theme, the romantic Baguio and Sagada settings, the comedic touches, and the sure hand of de Leon's direction.
Hilda Koronel is one of local cinema's loveliest actresses. Boots Anson Roa, in her radio program, said that Koronel and Amalia Fuentes are the only ones that can be cited as picture perfect. Their heavenly faces register well in any camera angle. In this de Leon film, a student gives Ana (Koronel) a rating of 21 out of 21. Breakdown of the scoring is 10 for her beauty and an ace for her sexy body. Indeed, I've never seen Koronel this alluring before. Her initial appearance in the film has her in a bra-less dress. It is no wonder that all eyes are on her.
Ana is a young lady burnt out from an early marriage. She visits her cousin Cecile (Laurice Guillen) in Baguio to get away from her problems and also to finish her term paper. She meets Joey (Christopher de Leon), a direction-less UP Baguio student who is a prime candidate for magna and summa dishonors (ie. magna-nine years / summa-mpung taon sa kolehiyo).
Ana and Joey goes out on friendly dates in romantic Baguio. Cue in scenes showing them sharing an umbrella during a rainy day, having a picnic in mist-covered surroundings, and offering a shoulder to cry on. Add in laugh-out-loud scenes such as the South China Sea-viewing side-trip and Cecile's putdowns of Joey. Sounds like a Star Cinema film? Well, not quite.
The music scoring plays a key part. The evolving theme song is heard in varying degrees. It reflects the thoughts of the pensive Joey. Every good thing and bad thing that occur becomes fodder for song lyrics. A second viewing or so of the film will reveal the wonder of the song's creation. The beauty of using an original song is the audience doesn't have a clue on how the story ends. On the other hand, titles of Star Cinema movie themes are clear giveaways.
Mike de Leon is a scion of Narcisa 'Sisang' de Leon, head of the LVN film studio. Doña Sisang, along with producer Mother Lily Monteverde, was recently featured in a book of top women in Asian film cinema. Monteverde's Regal Films is responsible for the slew of commercial hits such as the Shake Rattle and Roll films and also critically acclaimed movies such as Manila by Night, Scorpio Nights, and Sister Stella L. On the other hand, Doña Sisang's LVN Pictures is a defunct movie studio known for award-winning films such as Biyaya ng Lupa and Anak Dalita. The company ceased producing film in 1980. The studio's penultimate offering, Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising, is a collaboration of Doña Sisang's son Manny de Leon and his child Mike de Leon.
In an informal survey conducted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2009, Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising was chosen as the best Baguio film by most of the participating movie reviewers and film aficionados. The film's portrait of the city as clean, calm, cool, and romantic must be a big factor in its selection. A participant noted the film's ditching of the tendency to show tourist attractions.The other films mentioned include Bakit Yellow ang Gitna ng Bahaghari?, Dear Heart, and Baby Love. A strong contender but was not mentioned is Dinig Sana Kita. The latter and Baby Love dealt with love happening in the midst of camps in Baguio.
Baguio as a romance magnet? Hmmm, makapunta nga rin.
Original online posting in March 2011
Thursday, February 06, 2014
Pepe Diokno, youngest filmmaker ever granted Cinemalaya funds for a full-length feature, is a grandchild of the late human rights advocate and esteemed Senator Jose Diokno. Armed with lots of moolah, genes of a fighter, and hand-held cameras, Pepe Diokno makes a grand political statement with Engkwentro. He deals head-on with the issue of extra-judicial killings in the country, which is one of the worst crimes of the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
I've had fun watching the film. It bristled with the passion of an avid cinephile, explosive energy of a sprinter, and the fiery courage of an activist.
I loved the references to the films Imburnal, Tirador, and Tribu. Diokno took some of the best parts from each film and incorporated them into his film. Just like Imburnal, Engkwentro features juvenile delinquents treated as unwanted animals and pests. The 'cockroaches' of Imburnal and the 'rats' of Engkwentro were easily extinguished by vigilantes.
Tirador is a fast-paced story about snatchers in Quiapo. There is a scene in Engkwentro showing members of Batang Dilim prowling in the dark alleys. They chanced upon a member of a rival gang and proceeded to manhandle him. One of the gang members brought up his slingshot (tirador) and took a shot at the crotch of the rival gang member. Then, they're off like snatchers sprinting to safety.
Diokno cribbed Tribu's story of two gangs facing off in the middle of the night. Some fight scenes were underlit. Whether those were intended or not, the dark and dizzying scenes showed gang members in their preferred environment. These low-lifers are creatures of the night, as suggested by their gang names, Batang Dilim and Bagong Buwan. The varmints loiter in the dark alleys. They scamper like rats in the narrow mazes.
Diokno failed to borrow the spontaneity of the dialogues in Tribu. In the set-up prior to the slingshot scene, there's an awkward silence among the gang members. Maybe a frontal camera shot of the gang could have removed the awkwardness. I also disliked Tomas’ brandishing of his gun. The gang leader must have been stoned because he failed to use the gun during the melee. However, the shootings at the end were spectacularly shot and very powerful.
The key asset of the movie is the ominous voiceover by a mayor named Danilo Dularte Suarez. The name of the mayor alludes to two things, the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City. Yes, Diokno zooms in specifically on the killings in Davao City. Engkwentro further ups the ante by incorporating portions of real speeches made by Mayor Duterte. There is a part where the voiceover even refers to the 2004 killing of human rights defender Rashid Manahan in Davao City. The voiceover is a nice device to show the omnipresence of the mayor and his goons. It adds to the paranoia felt by a gang leader, Richard (Felix Roco), who is determined to leave the place.
During the UP Cine Adarna screening of the film, a female student was wondering about the identity of the man behind the voice. 'Si Bayani ba iyan?,' she blurted out loud. It is disappointing to learn that a college student fails to identify the man given the facts broadcasted at the start of the film. That type of ignorance can be fixed with a simple research or a daily reading of news. What cannot be fixed immediately is the fact that a lot of Davao City residents seem to accept the need for vigilante killings. Yes, Davao City seems to be peaceful and safe, but at what price? Lives of juvenile delinquents? Good grief! They are not insects and varmints that should be exterminated or vanquished.
Films like Engkwentro and Imburnal are important because they unveil the truth about the killings in Davao City. Some may argue with the artistic excesses. Some may disagree with the approaches to storytelling. But, nobody can deny the power and relevance of the films’ political statement: Stop extra-judicial killings in Davao City!
Original online posting in August 2009
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
The nine-hour epic Heremias is my pick as best Filipino film of the 2000s. It has a great start (probably the best initial two hours of a Lav Diaz epic), and a great cliffhanger of an ending. In between are amazing images and captivating stories. The tale of a Japanese straggler and the legend of the scary lizard deserve to be turned into separate films. Credit must also go to Ronnie Lazaro's excellent performance as Heremias.
I love this Malay time-inflected film! It is a joy to see such laid-back film with lots of extended takes. French film critic Andre Bazin remarked that a long take allows viewers to settle on the shot and gives more freedom as to where to look. The freedom given to viewers is exhilarating. There is a danger though of viewers tuning out or growing restless.
The first hour sets the pace of the film. It consists of several 10-minute or so long takes. The static shots focus on a handful of Brahman bull-drawn carts traversing a highway. The somber black and white cinematography enthralls the moviegoer to take a meditative look on the swaying grass blades and the zooming motor vehicles overtaking the carts. The lushness of the ambient sound enhances the contemplative experience.
The film slowly lures us into the unhurried world of roving handicrafts vendors. I enjoyed this segment of the movie. Director Lav Diaz reveals beauty in the routine activities of the joyful vendors and their families. The local adaptation of the children’s song ‘Where is Thumbkin?’ has never been sung with much gusto as in this film. Songs, stories, food, and liquor figure prominently in the world of close-knit villagers. Eating and drinking become main occasions of communal life. The drinking sessions in particular are not only entertaining but flesh out the characters.
The titular character, Heremias, seldom joins the men on extended drinking sessions. Thus, he ends up being the butt of stories. The elder of the group advises the men to just mind their own business and leave Heremias alone. During the course of the trip, Heremias chats with the elder. He wants to veer away from his companions. Despite friendly warnings about possible mugging and the prospect of running straight into a supertyphoon, he defiantly changes course and chooses the less-traveled road.
The film also suddenly shifts gear. There is a shot of the white Brahman bull plodding through the bumpy, rough road as seen from the eyes of Heremias. From that point on, the viewer is thrust into the point-of-view of Heremias. The willing viewer gets to see and hear what he is experiencing.
Contemplative moments abound in this film. There is a majestic, meditative scene showing a seated Heremias wading in the middle of a river. He is looking at a distant mountain. This scene prefigures a similar scene of a young Heremias looking at the Mayon Volcano in Book Two of Heremias. These meditative moments compel the viewer to ask what is exactly bugging the problematic merchant.
Slowly, the character of Heremias comes to light. A dark deed in the past continues to hound him. Random encounters with people inevitably remind him of his past. Their tales allude to his dark side. However, his bouts with contemplation and a strong typhoon wash away anger in his heart. He withholds at the last second his plan to kill a suspected thief.
Heremias seeks out the person/s responsible for the theft of his goods and his bull. Just as night falls, a group of young people holes up in his stakeout place. What Heremias (and the viewer) will see and hear for the next hour is disturbing enough to make people walk away. Try to imagine seeing drug crazed people doing despicable acts for almost an hour. Add to that shattering experience the cuss words and lewd stories rifling out of their foul mouths. These acts are light-years away from contemplative moments experienced by Heremias. He may have been itching to walk away but cannot because he might miss out on something important. He (and the viewer) patiently waits. The waiting took the whole of the penultimate hour but no earthshaking info came out of it.
Paradoxically refreshed from the draining segment, I later caught on with the important plot info. The last hour of the film saw me eagerly anticipating Heremias’ efforts to rescue a young girl. After exhausting major means of saving her, the prophet-like Heremias gets kicked out of town by the police chief and left unconscious in the forest. Upon waking up, he implores God to save her. He hikes off to the mountains and vows to fast for 40 days. Redemption comes at last to the troubled wandering merchant.
I’ve seen a two-hour preview of Book Two and it lives up to the high standards set by Heremias [Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess]. I hope Diaz can finish Book Two so that viewers can finally grasp the answers to lingering questions such as: What happens to the young girl? What are the dark secrets of reticent Heremias? Will Book Two equal the excellence of Book One?
Original online posting in February 2010