Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mr. and Mrs. Cruz (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2018)

Where do broken hearts go?

This question was asked to a female colleague in our company. Her reply was Sagada. I don't know if she's a movie buff but she may have been influenced by the blockbuster movie That Thing Called Tadhana. That film was so popular that a Baguio/Sagada Tour was created to trace the places visited by the movie characters.

Now, if that question will be asked after Valentine's Day this year, I'll bet Palawan will figure prominently among the top answers.

Filmmaker Sigrid Andrea Bernardo follows up her blockbuster movie Kita Kita with another irresistible love story, Mr. and Mrs. CruzBernardo fell in love with the beauty of Palawan and collaborated on a story of two broken-hearted strangers joining a group tour of Palawan.

Raffy Cruz (JC Santos) returns to Palawan to savor the good memories of his relationship with an ex-fiancee. Jilted on his wedding day, Raffy joins a tour group with no intention of making friends. Gela Cruz (Ryza Cenon) is a wife who left her husband to do find herself. Her soul-searching expedition took a detour to Palawan.

Raffy and Gela shares several things in common aside from their surname. Both are curly-haired and both have been smitten with the splendor of Palawan. Both are talkative although Gela took some time to get in the flow of sharing her past. The pair, usually mistaken as a married couple because of their common surname, decided to play along that line. In the course of their 'marriage', they talked about marriage, love relationships, commitment, and other topics under the sun including ATM and a Disney-Pixar cartoon character.

The bed scene, while expected and foreshadowed at the start, is not what I imagine it to happen at room 214. (Argh, Valentine’s day is just around the corner). Yes, we've heard and seen Raffy's account of what happened after they left the bar. But, there are questions left unanswered.

How is it that the shoulder straps of Gela's swimsuit are in disarray?
How come Gela is clean and refreshed?

My initial hunch is that something happened but after the screening forum with the director, I'm not so sure anymore. After hearing so much of the film Before Sunrise in discussions about two-character films, Bernardo shared that she watched the critically-acclaimed American film and made an effort not to copy it. If she makes a sequel about the two Cruzes, I doubt that she will go back to the bed scene and show a more revealing version of it.

Mr. and Mrs. Cruz benefits from the chemistry of the two leads, JC Santos and Ryza. Director Bernardo inserted an annoying Caucasian tourist so the audience can focus on the two Cruzes. The bar scene and the bed scene show the awesomeness of the pair. A tipsy Gela utters the unforgettable line 'Ang lalim pala dito.'

The farewell scene hints of a possible ever-after for the couple. All Raffy has to do is to correctly guess her phone number. Are the missing two digits a page number in the Romeo and Juliet book? Even if it is not a page number, Raffy can dial in a hundred possibilities and he will hit pay dirt. So, will it be Batanes for the Cruzes?

During the forum after the free screening, three male moviegoers professed their admiration for Bernardo's filmography. I am also a fan of Bernardo's love stories. I was surprised to hear that she started her film career as an actress for a Lav Diaz film. She worked her way around until she became an award-winning film director.

What if somebody asks me the question 'where do broken hearts go'?

My answer will be Movie Theaters.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha (Mes de Guzman, Cinemalaya 2017)

Sharon Cuneta took a big risk with this comeback film that she produced. She must have strong faith in the script and trust in the film director to accept a role of a cussing, lonely alcoholic mother.

Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha starts with a charming animation segment, created by Ellen Ramos. It tells the story of a family in northern Philippines that was a blessing to their fellow neighbors. They were seen as being responsible for the community's overflowing happiness. There were yearly abundant onion harvests. Discordant families become whole again with the return of a prodigal child or homecoming of a lost spouse. Everyone was happy because of the bumper harvests and family reunions. One day, though, the daughter was seen crying. The so-called family that doesn't weep eventually left for some other place. The community's bountiful harvests soon vanished like the various family members.

Cora (Sharon Cuneta) is a mother despondent over the fate of her family. Her philandering husband left her. Her daughter eventually left her, too. Along with her newly-hired househelp, Cora drowns her sadness by guzzling bottles upon bottles of alcohol. During one drunken spree, the househelp Bebang (Moi Marcampo) blurted out that her uncle, a hard-nosed detective, can help Cora keep her family together again. He can bring together members of the family that never weeps. Once they find the family, Cora's own family can be whole again.

Director Mes de Guzman has slowly shed the pure indie filmmaking style he'd shown in the films Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong and the Earth Trilogy films. Gone are the purely Ilocano films. Gone, too, are his penchant for casting non-actors in major roles.

With Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha, Mes de Guzman broadens his audience by coming out with a laugh-a-thon comedy film. Sharon shows her knack for comedy once again. Moi ably holds her own against the Megastar. The laughs truly come by the dozens. The comic scenes shine through in this film. There are several cons, though, that mar the film.

Sharon's breakdown scene shocked the wits out of my mother, a long-time fan of the Megastar. The cussing and plate-throwing were too much to take for my mother, who have the same birth month as Sharon. The drama scene was handled in a way as if to show the acting chops of Sharon. The staging of the scene calls attention to the fact that someone is acting. (Too much acting, at that). Angeli Bayani nearly does a no-acting in Bagahe and won the Best Actress award in Cinemalaya 2017.

The climax is hastily brought up. Family reunions are all good. But, this scene smacks of the need to have a happy ending. Magic realism? Divine intervention? More like mainstream movie requirement. The film ended, though, on a good note with an Ely Buendia song accompanying the end credits.

Despite its shortcomings, Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha is good enough to be considered as one of the notable films of the Cinemalaya 2017 batch. Eduardo Roy Jr. was greatly missed last year at Cinemalaya. He didn't push through joining the competition despite being a finalist. His Lola Igna story could have brought some luster to the 2017 batch of films. Last year was the only time I felt the festival pass wasn't worth the price of PHP 3,500.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Smaller and Smaller Circles (Raya Martin, 2017)

Walang serial killer sa Pilipinas.

The last month of 2017 was a boon for cinephiles with the release of two notable film adaptations. The pair of standout films debuted amidst the Christmas shopping rush. The Palanca-winning novel Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan smoothly transformed into an equally competent thriller by Raya Martin. Loy Arcenas' Ang Larawan, based on Nick Joaquin's play A Portrait of the Filipino as an Artist, won the Best Picture award at the 2017 Metro Manila Film Fest.

Smaller and Smaller Circles deals with two Jesuit priests investigating a series of child killings in a major garbage dump area in Manila. A top crime investigator debunks the priests' theory of a serial killer by saying that there are no serial killers in the Philippines. He mockingly adds, 'serial killers only exist in Hollywood movies.'

Smaller and Smaller Circles doesn't have the budget of Hollywood movies such as Silence of the Lambs and Seven. The low budget clearly shows in some scenes being a bit dark and not sharp. However, the local film can beat the hell out of a majority of Hollywood films by its characterization and storytelling.

Father Gus Saenz is a forensic anthropologist and Father Lucero is a clinical psychologist. Both are widely educated and Jesuits so it is easy to believe them taking on, and excelling, in unusual jobs.

I love how the film portrays the two priests doggedly fighting evil and corruption in their own little ways. They tangle with powerful church authorities who are made complicit with the acts of erring priests. They cross swords with spotlight-hungry police officers. Father Saenz risks his life in order to confront the murderer.

The film is not entirely grim as I remember guffawing to two scenes. The first one has a smirking Father Saenz putting down a dental clinic staff's mistaken belief of a gift to the clinic. The second time was near the end when the serial killer had a chat with Father Saenz. There's a charming cameo by filmmaker Giancarlo Abrahan as well.

French institutions play a big part in honing the investigative skills of Father Saenz and police beat reporter Joanna Bonifacio. It is no wonder then that in real life a French institution publicly declared the existence of a serial killer in the Philippines. No. The serial killer is not Jose Rizal despite his having the same initials as Jack the Ripper.

The name of the institution is The Liberation, a French newspaper. Now, you are just one Google search away from identifying the alleged Filipino serial killer.

Image taken from Goodreads.com