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Never Not Love You (Antoinette Jadaone, 2018)

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Despite seeing some movie posters and clips, I still imagined a royal treatment for James Reid and Nadine Lustre before watching their latest flick: He in a black suit, and she in a svelte gown, with a tiara on her head. A spotlight followed their parade while the paparrazi flashed their cameras and a mad crowd trailed behind.

That’s one possible ‘reality’ for ‘Ja-dine,’ considering their popularity. But in Never Not Love You, they’re regular youngsters who’d fall in love and follow their ambitions. Gio (Reid) wore a sleeveless shirt and showed his tattooed arms. He presented himself like a bum or a street-smart kid to Joanne (Lustre), who wore a uniform which could be mistaken for a teacher’s or a saleslady’s. They met at a street when she waited for a PUV. He hinted a little of his cockiness to make an impression before offering her a motorbike ride. She was suspicious of that gesture–he could just be testing his charm on her and thrilled of a future conquest. Thank god she’s practical, sure of herself, and badly needed the quick trip back to her office. Unafraid, she agreed to be escorted. She must’ve sworn that she couldn’t be mesmerized by anyone easily, despite the fact that he was attractive and looked like he once starred in a milk TV commercial as a boy. But Joanne’s a looker too, so, amanos. He would prove loyal, persistent and exciting to be with, that it was not difficult for the ‘electricity’ to run through them, and soon, they’re boyfriend-girlfriend.

Theirs was a ‘meeting’ we predicted would be for keeps. It must be true love. They promised to be together no matter what. Joanne was also brave in agreeing to live with him in his condo. From then on, they lived like husband and wife, exchanged I love you’s and called each other “Love” as if the words were the ones which kept them breathing.

Where would the story go if the love seemed unbeatable and unbreakable, similar to the star loveteam whose avid fans had put on a pedestal and had sworn that they would die for? Sana Maulit Muli or A Second Chance came to mind. Their jobs and ambitions got in the way of an impossibly perfect and smooth-sailing union. Still, that’s fine. They had to give up their personal accomplishments to prove that they wanted to make the relationship last–because, from the start, what Jadine had shown on screen was also the real thing: a distillation of their off-screen love.

It’s the first Jadaone movie that amazed me, big time. All its technical aspects were top-notch. The dialogues were current and ‘real.’ There were no fakeries, no wasted second. Even the silences said something more than just being.

The story was also lean, yet unpredictable. I would’ve been satisfied and would’ve still raved if the movie ended at the airport, either with Gio and Joanne meeting again or leaving each other the nth time. But the finale was fortunately far superior than what I had thought! It made us realize the symbolisms which we didn’t earlier notice because of the subtle ways they were made part of the ‘realistic’ presentation. We just rode along not knowing all those ‘hitches’ and ‘rides’ had significance. It’s simple and unoriginal a device in multiplying a story’s and a movie’s meaningfulness, but it was skillfully done. The result was this recapitulation reminding us that our invested time had been put to good use. We became wiser. It strengthened our belief in the power of love and commitment. We appreciated life more and accepted it as impermanent. It was a warm and rich experience even if you had no one beside you to frisk lovingly in the dark. Kudos to all who made the film. Hail to Queen Antoinette. The way she kept the movie’s ‘artificiality’ hidden, only to release and pronounce it towards the end, is a triumph, a reflection and measure of her intelligence and taste, and of her mastery of the romance genre and of a director’s craft.

Never Not Love You is a Jadine & Jadaone class act.

Rating: 10/10


Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2017)

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By mentioning the jewelry shop Cartier at the start of this conversation, the brand later figuring in Personal Shopper, I’m giving a little away. I don’t want to rob from you the pleasure of discovering that ingenious symbolism of a thing in the movie’s climax, so, no, I won’t elaborate. I’ll begin by introducing Kristen Stewart as Maureen instead. Central character. Spirit medium who checks and ‘classifies’ the ghosts that inhabit places. Her ‘gift’ is sampled in the house about to be sold by the wife of her dead twin brother. She thinks that she could find his soul there too as he should’ve reached out to her as part of their pact: That whoever dies first would confirm their existence in the spiritual world.

With her other job, as personal shopper of a high-profile woman named Kyra, Maureen goes from one boutique to the next, picks what she feels would be worn by her boss for different events. There isn’t much good to say about their master-employee relationship. They rarely meet, but they do exchange notes and calls. Oftentimes, Maureen has to leave the items at Kyra’s desolate pad and wait for an update, if she’ll take the items or not. Surprising that despite a level of intimacy that that type of job entails–having some shared fashion sense and knowing your client’s body measurements–the congenial connection we expect between them is absent. She mentions at one point that she hates her job, while Kyra has forbidden her to fit a dress or any article of clothing she selects.

The movie is not really about the dynamics between them. It’s a ghost story, a woman’s film, and more. Our protagonist is confronted by a ghost early on, finds it turn on faucets and witnesses it vomit in the air. Later, she also opens up to an anonymous texter who teases her to explore what might have been what she’s been craving to do for a long time. And then a dash of crime.

It feels like the movie shapeshifts, and those turns stir us. Does Maureen’s brother’s spirit exist and does he try to communicate with her? Who’s that anonymous texter who says that it wants her? Is Maureen that amazingly attractive to have a ‘secret admirer’? That’s freakish, believing a ghost for a suitor, and it even tries to test the limits of our personal shopper’s fears and desires. With those mysteries, she gradually hitches us on her uncomfortable ride.

Let’s check out her get-up to see if she has something special in her. She rides a scooter. Cool. Either wears a plain Lacoste black shirt, sometimes topped by a leather jacket. She’s also into jeans and white sneakers to complete that simple ensemble. She reminds me of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, in the way her hair is parted, in her being pale-skinned and a little tomboyish.

Then we see her do this twice. She gives in to the temptation to wear Kyra’s couture clothes–becomes this beautiful, perfectly-chiseled, pink-colored skinned ‘mannequin,’ petite, dryly-sexy ‘cast’ who puts on an architecturally-inspired black ‘harness’ layered by a see-through gown, showing silhouettes of her curves, breasts, and nipples. After trying one dress on in Kyra’s apartment, Maureen would do something to de-stress, realizing how tired, neglected, and bored she is. She gives off a whiff of a Kylie Minogue smell in the air at that instance.

What director Olivier Assayas achieves in this movie is juggle genres without awkwardness. He leaves a few things open-ended, which is very French. The movie’s tone also complements Stewart’s seemingly quiet but powerful slates of facial expressions, those ‘blank stares’ to protect her character. When she begins to stutter in some crucial scenes, her defensive shell cracks and gives us a peek of her soul, via an odd inconsistent string of morphemes that could wrinkle any skintight skin. We feel her shivers deep inside.

Just when we think the movie’s about to close satisfactorily, Maureen’s one memorable short question (or declaration) flips things again for us to hang on to the edge of our seats. We do not complain. We love that one-frame jolt. The notes I’ve written down mentioned by one woman early on in the movie is unmistakably a clue to what the movie does, and have presaged all this beautifully dizzying ‘switches.’ The words were from the Swedish artist and spiritist Hilma af Klint. Klint said that she wanted to keep her art secret. It parallels with the movie elements’ many successful attempts to be elusive.

Rating: 10/10

Mangatyanan (Jerrold Tarog, 2009)

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In a dream scene, Laya listened to her dad apologize for molesting her. He sounded remorseful. He then said “Mahal pa rin kita” ( I still love you ) and the scene ended with an embrace, Laya telling him in a weak voice while tears streamed on her cheeks–that she could not forgive him. Yet her head was close to his chest. His ‘words of love’ stained what could’ve been a heartfelt and pure ‘reconciliation.’ The words sounded inappropriate and dirty to deliver. What disturbed me more was it was Laya’s dream and she was fine with that.

Or shouldn’t we be surprised? When the movie began, the estrangement, the coldness, and the tough veneer Laya projected when talking about him was obvious. Yet we also find her check a picture of them in her laptop, one time when her housemate asked her as to when she lost her virginity. You do not keep pictures of your abuser like that in your PC if youre completely traumatized by the experience. It confirmed that the incestuous relationship didn’t just happen when she was still a child, as shown in flashbacks. It must be extended until her young adult phase. At worst she must have only been able to physically free herself from him when she found a job and earned money to pay her own bedspace rent.

The fact that Laya became a photographer, following the footsteps of a famed National Geographic lenser-father, was also telling. A part of her adored him. Something else must have triggered their separation. I’m not sure if the realization that what they had was immoral would be solely it, but surely is a major factor. No question that she still cared for him, that there was love left. Because she even bought him medicines when he was hospitalized. Easy to say too that she stayed and put up with the abuse because she was then helpless, probably her young body had gotten used to the comfort of being in his arms, in its distasteful brand of intimacy, something some victims of abuse had to contend with. That also explained why she hated her mother more–she left her, a child with no choice but to live with a mentally unstable dad, resulting to a socially maladjusted mess she’s now, partly blaming herself and generally distrusting people.

As events progressed, after her experience with the Labwatan tribe who hired her company to document their Mangatyanan ritual, after an unfortunate life event, and after filling in some gaps in the personal story and piecing things together, I find the movie meaningful, at times poetic in composition, editing, and execution. But I would’ve preferred a more unstable and unpredictable person compared to how Che Ramos portrayed Laya. Hers was a woman generally cold, angry, or apathetic towards her parents. Some peculiar behavior or mannerism, some isolated streaks of nervous breakdown could have given more depth and realism to the character.

I also feel that for a movie with an abused female as focus, her issues shouldn’t have looked resolved too quickly and easily like how the movie did it. It was too easy an escape, too simplistic an end compared to the complex psychosexual, social, and emotional struggle Laya had to go through for probably more than a decade. In this case, the element of time or story duration was crucial. What happened instead was as if we had Plath still living and we effortlessly convinced her to revise her work, to ‘remove the stake away from her own papa’s big, fat heart,’ and then let her say ‘I do, I do’ in an instant.

Rating: 8.5/10

Meet Me in St. Gallen ( Irene Emma Villamayor, 2018)

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Having St. Gallen in the title adds something extra to this movie. Automatically, the film is perceived as big-budgeted. It also slightly exoticizes the movie in our eyes–and it’s not because we’re tired of seeing our world-renowned sunsets and beautiful beaches. With romance-themed movies situated out of country, we get that little bonus, a free travel of sorts, aside from the possible, meaningful significance of selecting the place.

The actual meeting of the pair in St. Gallen took a while to happen. Celeste (Bela Padilla) and Jesse (Carlo Aquino) had to meet first one stressful night, in Manila. It’s expected that someone had to be smitten by some specific personality strength of another for our story to progress. In this case, it’s Jesse struck by Celeste’s straightforwardness. Jesse overheard the woman fiercely argue with her boss via phone, after himself getting some serious scolding from his dad. He could be the ‘weaker sex’ that time, and having someone who sounded always assertive magnetized an opposite. He followed her inside a cafe. He’d planned for her to notice him, aware of the risks of being mistaken for a stalker, confident in knowing himself charming enough to disarm an ‘on guard’ girl who had met a string of bad luck in a day. He knew he’d succeed in his ploy.

So there. They gradually, emotionally connected that night. The woman was an interesting case, someone who brightened the darkness and alerted him during their conversation. It could be the stories she told, the lilt of her speech, the attentiveness of her pretty face. The effect was it’s as if the moments were all their own and the faces around them were blurs. But girls, they do have crazy cute little ideas inside their heads sometimes. They capped the evening with a kiss, but Celeste with all her character’s strength ended it with an ultimate tease. Let’s not destroy the moment. Let’s leave things as is, and not meet, she somehow said. Jesse respected that. They didn’t bother each other for years.

Four years later, they crossed paths. We knew then despite moving on with their lives, something was unfinished. Something was kept like a preserved fruit. Sex had to come. The jam had to be tasted. They did it and from the looks on their faces after, it was good, probably even magical. But they knew that they had different worlds to inhabit outside of this second chance encounter. Some dreams to fulfill. Some significant other waiting for a call. No one could just fling these other things and variables away too easily unless they were certain that it was a great love they had. So many questions, goes the song. Sometimes, couples are afraid and unsure to commit into a relationship, and that’s fine. We let time decide. Jesse had to leave after their morning coffee, that time confused and sad with pregnant silences. Only one day again together. Celeste cried.

What was going to happen in their meeting in St. Gallen, Switzerland?

I needed to leave them for a while to let them sort their dramas themselves because I must not miss the visuals before they’re gone. I shifted into being touristy. I paid attention at the ornate and elaborate ceiling designs of a library and a cathedral, in the baroque style, like foams of ice cream with brown, gold, yellow, and blue candy toppings melting in milky-white frothy goodness. I saw a Christmas village, snowcapped roofs and snow-covered roads, people wearing jackets and bonnets, rows of specialty shops that must have sold coffee, breads, cookies, toys and sparkling trinkets. And this wasn’t enough. I wanted more of the vistas, more shots of trees draped and decorated with frost. I wished for some images of rose windows, pastel-colored walls, more details of filigree-designed columns, local artists’ paintings. Probably a trip to a museum for my maximum pleasure should have transpired.

After I relished, registered, and held in my head a little longer that foreign world, Jesse and Celeste reminisced their past. They were either trying to go against their destinies or fulfilling them. Jesse felt sure of his feelings this time. We expected them to end their narrative by continuing what they neglected, layers of unexpressed love, love incrementally compounded that already there could be monuments inside them, starting from the base of their stomachs, the apex of the little pyramids atop these obelisks had already reached their throats to hurt more–which meant that they should not turn their backs on what they feel and should face their fears–or they’d live regretful. But was that how their romance was fated? Was it going to end with them rolling on carpet beside the mistletoe with their lips locked and tears rolling on their cheeks as if, finally, half of their missing selves was found, although initially evasive?

Find out what happened next. I report that Bela Padilla did energize the scenes with her mere presence, her unpredictability and spontaneity. Carlo Aquino meanwhile communicated effectively with his emotive eyes. Together, they were riveting in their long, talky sequences, their exchanges had jumped from topics such as pigs’ orgasms to solitude, from dream travels to personality changes.

And yes, they were able to talk about the love between them–light, it initially seemed.

A love that could shatter layers of snow with its heat, just thinking about it. Libraries and books could fill us up with knowledge and information to try to forget it but we couldn’t be diverted. Cathedrals could temporarily shelter and and give us solace to escape it, but most of the time a litany of prayers could still not erase. This kind of love lives on and bursts, like a waterfall amid ice.

Favorite Filipino Films of 2017: Ramblings and Reviews (Part 1 of 3)

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Dark Room (Pedring Lopez)

Different ‘sizes and shapes’ of self-conscious and hatable millenials visited a haunted house to summon ghosts. The group wanted to make a movie out of the experience of capturing supernatural events. With their many videos and cameras set, they must be thinking no evil spirit would actually show up. Or if ghosts do appear, they could be outsmarted, the fools must have believed. These youngsters’ curiosities proved themselves kittens. As the story proceeded, your teeth flashed and with it you tried to cut the darkness in the theater, blamed yourself then for that callousness and good riddance mode you’d displayed. You took a shower at home to wash that negativity away, only to find after, that your loathing for this group still posessed you despite almost always annually being awarded Mr. Congeniality in the office, and despite surviving some Kris Aquino show episodes in the past. You picked up your cellphone. The movie’s character-irritants were super-effective that it made you open your social media accounts to forget and scan and skim the stories and photographs for nearly a day, with no meal but just chips and a bottle of water for nourishment. But similar faces paraded and aroused again the hatred you tried to overcome. Everywhere, brats: in Facebook, IG, Twitter, all the right places–they’re present to annoy. You closed your socmed accounts and it did not help. Those kids’ shrilly chorus pierced, like pointed-mouthed worms insistent to enter your head through your eardrums. They had pestered you with their mere presence for a long time and this felt like an advanced test of patience, with technology and the web enhancing these kids’ possibilities to irritate and to make you more anxious. “Vanity gets people into trouble,” director Pedring Lopez seemed to pontificate. You imagined him saying, “It’s fine not to feel sorry for those young ones. It was just a movie, and it was done primarily for fun.” You realized that, but much later. Frisked skin. Clock ticked. You allowed that unwelcome feeling to be. You began to smile, remorseless, remembering the movie and those teenagers’ fates.

Triptiko (Franco Michelena)


a picture or relief carving on three panels, typically hinged together side by side and used as an altarpiece. ~ Wikipedia

It’s unfit to link these three short stories to an altarpiece, especially with a middle narrative that features pus and with an opening tale with a villain so into violence. If you’re searching for moral lessons here, it will frustrate you. Throw that expectation out of the window and just be lost in the movie’s strangeness. Swerte, the first in the tryptych, sounds like someone’s going to win in a lottery. But no. It’s the first in a series of events that would make you scratch your head. What an emotional and mental torture-themed delight though. The joy attached to a keepsake underwear turns into this fear in witnessing a murder. Hinog, the second installment, brings sweet fruits on the table with its title, but bears scenes that test what you could stomach. Art Acuña creeps the shit out of us in his portrayal of a dirty, murderous-looking, punk healer in this second tale. Musikerong John, the final piece, features at its spiritual center, that which we see in the alleyways scavenging for food in a garbage can before leaving soundlessly. Sometimes she scratches a piece of wood to say hello to her stray friends who make occult sounds when they are horny. Bits of funny, charming, and pained music reflect the emotional arc of singer-songwriter-club performer John while his girlfriend struggles with her mental condition, and that worsens. It’s a feat to have these three stories shifting between what’s realistic and fantastical. They’re all gripping and enjoyable, little absurdist gems against a sea of rom-coms and mostly forgettable features. It highlights the commitment of all the actors who didn’t doubt the fictional worlds they were made to inhabit, and who gave us the necessary if-not-perfect then close-to-perfect emotions. Franco Michelena, in creating this movie, makes Chaucer, author of Canterbury Tales, smile from above, or makes some infamous, besotted, but respected goth yarnspinner not twitch any of his dead frizzled moustache hair, or relaxes the jaw bones of a dead MC so as not to complain and grumble from the underground.

Ang Maestra (Lem Lorca)

Ang Maestra is delicately written, with no flamboyant antagonists like Cruella de Vil, no kidnapping scenes or explosive action sequences, like the stuff melodramas and local television are teeming with. It features Iah, Gennie, and Espie–three generations of teachers who meet at a review center and who succeed in their individual plights and advocacies. It could’ve been easier and more attractive for scriptwriter Archie Del Mundo to capitalize on the sentimental potential of the material, to embellish these real life stories with heart-wrenching and physically draining sets of scenes with dramatic and artistic license as excuses, to give it some sure-fire, box-office ingredients like one-liner dialogues, or cutesy-damsel-in-distress locked eye with Mr. Right. But he chooses a different path. There are light romantic moments here too, but they are interstitched with the character and story arcs. Instead of a series of surprising events or spots for loud confrontations, we sense a flow, we feel no abrupt motions, spikes, or dramatic boulders (Although the ‘cutting’ in the first parts of the movie is fast, it’s integral in establishing Iah’s sacrifices. You don’t question it; the rhythm feels right). The ‘classical’ rise and line to climax is blurred. Take this scene. A poor family eats Bangus crackers as viand, but the direction doesn’t milk or exploit what’s tearjerky in the strip. That even leaves a slightly celebratory effect on us, this image of a family which affirms that they are together in the struggle and they have dignity despite being poor. The heroines aren’t one-dimensional and purely virtuous as well. Many scenes humanize them. Iah nips a coin-sized bologna on pizza while her tutored student is away. Gennie and her husband exchange sexual hints–something you wouldn’t see in generic rom-coms and could spell disaster like lifted from an ST film if not executed right. Conversations on poverty, environmental conservation, and racial equality are well-placed and -spaced and don’t feel heavy or didactic. We have to give credit to the actors Anna Luna, Angeli Bayani, and Gloria Sevilla in giving their characters earnestness and credibility in delivering those important lines. The stories also do not show the females muscling the males out to show strength. The two sexes work as counterpoints and complements. Being generally character-driven, Ang Maestra shows real people who are resilient, patient, dedicated, and positive. It’s a film that presents itself as a ‘gentle form of activism,’ rarely-produced nowadays, but needed in these deceptive, divisive, and violent times.

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B (Prime Cruz, 2016)

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Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is a hybrid film, a seeming horror genre with a touch of romance-drama. It’s clever to get that love ingredient in to lure a bigger audience. Because these days that’s the one that sells. Twist a genre element here and there, add social media buzz, and we have a possible hit. If these strategies continue to work, then expect many who are not so much attuned with their mushy selves to ignore those similarly-themed theatrical releases. For them to watch those future clones conjures to me a scene that starts with a mix of giggling, laughing, and sighs of swooning turning into a mass hara-kiri inside the cinema. 
The movie is set up initially like a romance film. Jewel (Ryzza Cenon), a young woman all by herself, with no backstory,  a resident of a drab, urban medium-rise apartment, ‘fancies’ a partner. The TV and radio romance shows which she patronizes must have convinced her to try to be in a relationship. She then begins to strike conversations with a new neighbor, Nico (Martin del Rosario). She helps him when he gets mugged in a bar. She befriends his grandmother. But as the movie progresses, that direction focuses towards that monster angle. 

She is a cannibalistic creature, of folkloric import, a woman who is supposed to auto-bisect her body, one half starting from the waist down. But she is not completely soulless based on how the initial scenes depict her. She doesn’t always gaze at someone’s jugular like hidden is a fount of strawberry juice there. I do not remember her expose her sharp canine teeth even in her ‘transformations.’ In fact, she just has one metamorphosis. She victimizes without much change, in her naked human state, preying for some usually sexually ready member of the male species. Like a female mantis, Jewel lays each of them on twin beds of pleasure and pain. And then, no more male–bye, bye, life.

One, two, and three kills a movie is not frightening at all. It’s not even close to the thousands already executed in this current regime’s anti-drug war, and–we’re not shocked, so what’s to fear? Jewel’s extraction of the hearts of her victims are not too graphic to make us even lose the stamina to munch cracklings and lick our greasy fingers while watching. A few points. The creators must have opted to temper the violence. They must have thought to project a stylish anti-heroine, with her back a few times memorably facing us.  Jewel has looked at the vast urban landscape once, like a Marvel mutant demigoddess scanning the horizon not for someone to save but for someone to chomp. In key scenes, she’s beautifully pictured, accentuated in the background by green and red neon specifically at that time when she cared for her pet turtle. The laserlights in the clubs strike her, usher a superwoman witch, with bloody red or black lipstick and with a bun at the back exposing the fullness of her round face, Egyptian, pencil-shaped eye edges, and supple, desirous and desirable lips.

It shows in the care and expertness it’s photographed that the movie’s focus is Jewel’s exterior transformation. Note that a few crucial scenes of Cenon end slowly, punctuated by brief pauses–which are poses. They affect Cenon’s performance and make it look instructed, a bit mechanical and superficial. Also, Jewel’s characterization is weak, caused by this spirit of making the character mysterious. That fails to make Jewel’s interior aspect moving or dramatically significant

She uses an ointment kept in a crystal bottle that reminds me of the wine bottle that is part of the offertory ritual, used by priests in Catholic masses. That ointment postpones Jewel’s tranformation, tempers her desire. With that, she could still dress up like a modern amazon woman ready to attend a rave party. She could still think wisely about the safest and best place for sex before she murders someone and snack on. 

That which Jewel uses to rub on her waist and abdomen stands for the moral and societal norms, rooted in religion, which repress a woman’s sexual desire. Here, that desire inevitably breaks out.

When the ointment has dried up, that’s when the batwings have to unfurl from a sprouted body wound-opening resembling a giant labia. It’s the moment of liberation for Jewel’s femaleness, the masturbation sequence not an accident or an added bonus to arouse prurient interests but a support of that symbolism. Despite equating that ingredient of being a full-blown woman to this being a monster (as what a backward society could demonize a ‘liberated’ woman), the film could have pushed more to be revolutionary and advanced gender politics. That is if it ends with the creature flying in the night doing a slashing, man-tasting, and killing spree. It does a 360-degree turn instead and opts for the traditional and acceptable–but still a cliffhanger–finale. Jewel’s ‘freedom’ turns into her recklessness, and the woman ends up with a man, realises and confirms her fantasy at the crossroad while she’s about to escape her pursuers. That choice, sadly, is some form of captivity too, a union which connotes her subservience.

100 Tula Para Kay Stella (Jason Paul Laxamana, 2017)

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Stella (Bela Padilla) couldn’t get the stars to align to make her dream come true. She wanted to become a popular and signed vocalist of a band or a singer-songwriter. The missing letter ‘r’ at the end of her name was a giveaway clue of her fate. Meanwhile, it’s obvious what the name Fidel (JC Santos) stood for. You’d say he’s foolish to be that faithful,  to carry that love in his chest like forever.  I did the same for years. So I should be ashamed if I make fun of him, or chastise him for keeping it a secret that long. Some things are really hard to express or verbalize. I perfectly understood that.

The impending hopeless romance melted my heart at the onset. It made me more forgiving and patient. I was fine even if the poems sucked and it’s not something like what James, Donne, e.e. cummings or Tarrosa-Subido would’ve written. When JC Santos sang pitchily in some scenes and the students came out praising his talent, I was not bothered. At least the movie was consistent with its ‘musical’ lapses. It made it easier too to accept the murder of a Rivermaya track, Balisong. The offense is a fit with the title. The song’s not that great to be untouchable anyway. I also believed, right from the very start, that Bela Padilla wouldn’t have a career in singing. So kudos to the casting staff. Flaws and all, the movie still made me want to grab some fries and dip it in that imaginary sauce-state some part of me were turned into. Then, I could lick my cheesy fingers.
The two leads had great screen rapport. You felt their stickiness despite their distance, especially in the last quarter of the film. JC was charming and was particularly amazing in his breakdown scene. Bela on the other hand convinced us that she was an ambitious young girl. Her interpretation didn’t make her look like a whore. It didn’t confuse us that she deserved any less than a decent man’s affection.

The movie poised to end ambitiously like some great tragic love-story, but that moneymaking goal couldn’t allow it to veer away from the requisite expectations for this genre. I feel okay snacking on that, okay on the ease and cheese in that final poem-puzzle even if an elementary student could complete that last couplet, no sweat.

Some not-so-nice things had been said about the creator. Creator, because he wrote the story and screenplay and he directed it it’s possible that he felt like god at some point. I understood how he could be feisty and be like a mother in protecting this ‘baby.’ That attitude didn’t make me dislike the picture. I still craved for more movies from him remembering his sophomore work, Babagwa, and how strong his narrative, visual, and comic sense were. We saw spots and glimpses of them in 100 Tula Para kay Stella, undiluted by the bad press. 

REVIEW: Dapol Tan Payawar na Tayug 1931 (Christopher Gozum, 2017) – A Worthy Struggle

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In Dapol Tan Payawar Na Tayug 1931, we hear Fe Ging Ging Hyde’s voice, but we will rarely see her move or see her speak. She is frozen in pictures, in time. There is a shot of a dog, a ricefield, a street teeming with people, a giraffe made of paper mache or concrete, a ‘white lady’ who mingles with the crowd in an arcaded walkway and drags her gown’s hem in the stones and dead grass in the forest, with a semblance to a shackled, ignored spirit of our mother-nation. We listen to Ms. Hyde read accounts of the Tayug uprising and the incidents which preceded it. We hear her voice, initially like an objective commentator, but obviously withholding her passion inside. 

From photo-montage scenes, the movie switches to a silent film. Then to a film of grainy quality. Then back to photo-montage. It feels like the story circles around and doesn’t move forward for a time. Parts of the formation of Pedro Calosa’s revolutionary life, the man who led the 1931 revolt, are included. We see the injustices that moved him to lead, even his dreams which ascribe him a somehow messianic role. All these are seen via a silent film, the older form of cinema.  There’s already a ‘struggle’ for the viewer there, having to switch from moving figures to full screens of intertitles.

And then the docu-style film interview of F. Sionil Jose and David Sturtevant of Pedro Calosa in his sixties.  They joined the enigmatic man in a ‘mission’ and in ‘foraging’ the forest.  Once they’ve settled on a spot, what follow are mostly sitting scenes, conversations, musings, images of Calosa meditating, Calosa lifting his wooden staff like Moses, imperial and deep in thought like King Hidetora surrounded by mountains.

Within these stylistic devices and strips, we find out that the traditional elements of film where we usually latch our interest to are not present, like us expecting a series of events. Engaging characters with some piquant behavior and sidekicks or court jester types to balance the drama with little zaps of comedy do not exist. There are no inappropriately impassioned and loud speeches to lash us back to life. The colors are white and black.

The blues track, the Vivaldi’s compositions, the sound bites from streets, and the sound clips that recreate the actual revolution cohere and aid in the stringing of images despite the switch-jumps in time. They lead to an emotional buildup, then to the repetitions which some people have found excessive. I disagree with those comments. The repetitions are needed to impress those scenes, words, and events on memory. And those who took no offense participated in the process of the film anointing its rightful audience from what deceptively looks like an uneasy crowd.

The film styles represent the period of its ocurrence, the 1930s and 1960s. Why is the present shown as a series of photographs like La Jetée? Being that photography is considered as the progenitor of film, the movie, unquestionably stamped with the love for country all over it, underlines a backwardness of the townsmen and of us as people of a nation. Also the slackened pace and the repetitions seem to counter our short attention spans, like an act of defiance against the many instant blockbuster hits which give us momentary comfort, yet leave us empty. Gozum’s film stays within you like what a nation’s past should be, inscribed in our hearts.

Many times we’ve chosen the same disastrous paths because we ignore history. We have even let the ‘obvious’ slip through–those ugly faces of fascism. We’ve submitted ourselves to obey someone who spews out some of the most disgusting statements we could imagine coming from an elected official. Frighteningly, we allow his minions to multiply to shock us who live in pits of humdrum and busyness, getting us a little electrified with their excellent style of bullying tactics. We either want or pretend to be ignorant, with blinders and gag to the many issues that have plunged this nation, that we should’ve asked ourselves if we now live a morally skewed existence.

Dapol Tan Payawar Na Tayug 1931 reminds us of our forgetfulness of our past errors.  And of the nobility in advocating and even leading a pro-people revolution. 

~Robert Cerda


QCinema 2017 Press Conference: People and Films

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The Quezon City International Film Festival (QCinema) 2017 press conference happened at Gloria Maris in Gateway Mall last October 6. It was a gathering of film production people, stars, press, movie enthusiasts, government officials, and other distinguished guests. After we had eaten for lunch some mushroom soup, vegetable salad, Chinese noodles, fish fillet, butchi, glazed meat and what looked like some leeks with prawns drizzled with golden sauce, there were the usual pre-program chitchats and greetings between friends and acquaintances, some film producers probably eyeing prospective actors, cinephiles and bloggers being civil with each other, wine glasses sparkling against the on and off lights, before the organizers started the presentation.

The presidential long table was covered in milk-white cloth, and seated were the Honorable Joy Bolante, Vice Mayor of Quezon City, Manet Dayrit of Central Digital Lab, Ed Lejano, QCinema Executive Director, and Mike Sandejas, Secretary of QCinema Film Foundation. Flanking that table on opposite ends were the tables of the directors of Cinema Circle Feature and QC shorts. I remembered the names and faces of Pam Miras, Mikhael Red, Emerson Reyes, Khavn dela Cruz, Carl Joseph Papa, Epoy Deyto, and Ice Idanan.

QCinema Press Con

Vice Mayor Bolante welcomed everyone and gave a speech which compared the early years of the festival to where it is now. She even used the term halo-halo, which was appropriate, considering the wide range of themes and subjects of the movies that would be introduced later. More than her joy in celebrating the fifth year of this event, what energized her speech was the vision of QCinema and the Quezon City government she represents. She declared with pride the festival’s difference with other filmfest, with its giving seed money to deserving artists and scripts, and at the same time, letting the creators still keep their legal rights to their works. That fact was worth repeating. Then, she mentioned about a possible additional five-hundred thousand pesos to the current one-million-peso grant per film in the next years. That intensified the applause.

Ed, Manet, and Mike formally unveiled the titles after. Omnibus trailers of different competition and non-competition sections were also shown. “Loving Vincent” by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman opens the festival. The digitally restored edition of Mike De Leon’s “Batch 81” closes it.

In the Q & A portion, Pam Miras answered the question if there would be similarities of her Medusae to a recently exhibited local film. Mikhael Red, whose cap bore the text-print Anti-Social Social Club, explained how his entry, Neomanila, differ from his Oscars-bound film Birdshot. I was relieved that Khavn corrected people from mispronouncing his name. He said it should be with two-syllables instead of one, not pronouncing it like Cannes /kan/.

The press conference ended with group pictures of the industry leaders, directors, producers and stars, with the media bunched in the front row, flashing their professional cameras, tablets, and cellphones.

Here are screenshots and trailers of some of the entries:

Circle Competition: Dormitoryo, directed by Emerson Reyes

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 10.51.00 PM

Circle Competition: Kulay Lila Ang Gabi Na Binudburan Pa Ng Mga Bituin, directed by John Steffan Jobin Ballesteros


Circle Competition: Balangiga: Howling Wilderness, directed by Khavn dela Cruz

QC Shorts: Babylon, directed by Keith Deligero

Asian Next Wave Competition: Snow Woman, directed by Kiki Sugino

Digitally Remastered Series: Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, directed by Mario O’Hara


QCinema will take place from October 19 to 28, 2017, at film establishments within Quezon City.

For more updates, follow their Facebook site:

For Festival Screening Schedules, please check the link below:

#qcinema #qcinema2017

Sta. Nina (Emmanuel Palo, 2012)

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Sta. Nina is a family drama set with a backdrop of a religious townspeople. The story starts when Paul (Coco Martin) finds the body of his daughter, Marikit, still intact inside the coffin after 10 years. He brings it home. Suddenly the barrio is energized with the news of this ‘miracle.’ They flock Paul’s house and pray for healing and good fortune. Some confirm that they had been healed after visiting the place. A woman confirms that she won in jueteng after praying to the mortal remains of the child. News spread about these and it results to Paul’s house becoming a pilgrimage site. Soon, local government officials join the people in massing the place, anticipating some media mileage. Soon, a few townsmen see themselves on TV interviewed about this phenomenon. They beam with pride as they watch them talk on screen, as if they’ve attained some short minutes of atonement and salvation.

The movie opens mysteriously. Why did Paul have to bring the coffin home and keep it for days for the public to view, against the wishes of people close to him? Where is his obstinacy coming from? Why is he separated from his partner, Mabel? Why is Cora, owner a shop of wood-carved religious icons, mad at him? The digging of secrets is deliberately slow. When the highly charged dramatic scene happens where most of the major characters are present to blame each other of the curse that have hounded them, their revelations are not enough. We still need the flashbacks towards the end to finally completely make sense of everything.

Each time we discover a thing about Paul, we unearth pain, trauma, or forbidden love. In spite of it, Coco Martin as Paul tries to keep himself composed until it is time to let his few tears roll as the narrative secrets are shoveled. His makeup though, which tans and dirties him to make him look like a natural everyman, sometimes distract instead of make his portrayal more authentic. His delivery of dramatic lines sometimes sounds forced to the point that he mumbles some of the words. You wish he just remained silent and went on to internalize, his close-ups emphasized as they are his strengths as an actor.

Meanwhile, Allessandra da Rossi provides a nuanced and a more effective performance as support. Angel Aquino, Irma Adlawan, Anita Linda, and Nanding Josef also prove themselves to be reliable parts of an ensemble. Except Leo Martinez. His role as the bishop looks anomalous, his being cast clear with what could be the director’s perspective about religious authorities, obvious in his choosing someone like Martinez who is known for his skits as a corrupt politician. That would’ve been fine and sufficient by itself. No need for more exaggeration. But Martinez makes his version of a bishop act inappropriately cartoonishly evil, in the manner he delivers his lines, with a lilt and intonation that is comical and irritating. As bishop, being that your believers troop the church to ask for Marikit’s miracles to at least be considered to be a saint , Paul and his supporters having traveled by foot for miles, tired, thirsty, and probably starved, he should not treat them with apathy and not speak to them with a tone tinged with condescension.

Actually, that whole sequence is hilarious. Which makes me ask: Are there some form of lobbying from countries or from groups in the Vatican for the beatification of individuals or canonization of saints?
But overall it’s a pretty film. Many technical aspects are praiseworthy. It has a mise-en-scene and color palette which quite attempt to recreate the atmosphere of Bernal’s Himala, with the sand dunes replaced by lahar and with the shots of people with deformities and physical disabilities queued to see Marikit’s ‘relic,’ aside from the tip on the apparition of the Blessed Virgin. Those long shots and frames of a rubble or what looks like a quarry site, in their ordinariness, are notable for their composition and texture.

As we ask questions on morality and as we try to research on when the concept of incestuous relationship began, on why it became a moral stigma when what I know is that the history of the aristocrats favored this setup of pairing relatives to keep their wealth within the family, Paul plunges deeply into self-blame and some of his kins join him in a procession of penance.

In this movie, religious icons are present, close to ubiquitous in every frame. It could mean that religion and religious faith are dominant, controlling, and in this case, traumatizing ‘agents’–as they have predestinated the main character who has committed a specific sin into a life of shame and guilt.

The church is depicted too as apathetic to this event. The movie underscores this institution’s lack of interest and patience, and its subsequent failure to convince and educate her people on how to conduct themselves properly when similar phenomenon occurs.

With the head of religion having been ascribed a somewhat antagonistic role, where a crucifixion scene could also mean an end, and with the final shot of Paul passing by an image of an angel and leaving a statue of a praying Jesus Christ after visiting the tomb of his daughter, those statues white like ghosts, ignored by Paul as if they did not exist, is the movie somehow favoring this option to defect from religion? Does it hint that it wanted the church rule to head towards its obsolescence?

La Vida Rosa (Chito Roño, 2001)

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In La Vida Rosa, The Rosanna Roces of about a decade and a half ago was the perfect femme fatale. She was curvaceous, bold, fearless. It was an anti-heroine role. Feisty and foul-mouthed. She had a son, Enteng (Jiro Manio), about 7 and street-smart, a future mafiosi based on the money and food he was weaned from. Liza Lorena played Rosa’s blind mother, complicit to her illegal activities, a small-time schemer herself–a beggar by day who rode taxis when she needed to or when her daughter required. Diether Ocampo was matinee idol then who took a gamble in his career and dispelled his fright of butt exposures. He was Rosa’s lover, seemingly miscasted as taxi driver slash goon, with his innocent, boyish, chinito features. But no, he had shed his fears (and clothes) for this role. He was convincingly ruthless, murderous when needed, brute and action-star sexual. Proof of his effectiveness was we did not even notice his dimple.

Sometimes these four characters lived in some nicely furnished bungalow. Sometimes they had to stay in the squatter’s area for cover. Wherever they resided, they proved to be individually strong, explosive figures, even the kid Enteng. And we never questioned why it worked that they perfectly belonged together. There’s an energy that bound them.

Rosa and Dado definitely had a boss who’s greedier. It’s expected for well-orchestrated crimes to point up to someone more powerful, but it’s nice that the film underscored that our lovely couple wanted fairness in their criminal dealings. They wanted their just pay. The boss would have to honor their agreement. This hierarchy emphasized, the top guys being more vicious, more callous, physically uglier, a rift eventually happened, and it was not hard for us to side with our fair-skinned smaller-time crooks.

And then it was a nice thing to show that they are humans too, not monsters, or unlike the soulless assasins of EJK. This was with a little backstory on Dado’s character, with some tender moments of Rosa and Enteng here and there, with love for parents, for children, for an ex. With these we were hooked and we sympathized.

But when would Rosa and Dado’s crimes end? Could they still reform and realize a decent life?

The master of this plotline and characters was Bing Lao. His story bristled with energy. On each scene we expected something suspenseful, and we were never failed. The characters had pocketfuls of little surprises, whether in dialogue, gesture, or action. Like when Dado out of the blue bought a karaoke for Rosa. Or like when Enteng reasoned out that he needed to be bought three pairs of rubber shoes because he was told that he had three fathers.

And then Rosanna was Rosa. La Vi-da. The title was close to an anagram for Rosa Vilma, the real first name of movie queen now Congresswoman Santos-Recto. Why would I not suspect? Rosa changed her guises and get-ups quite similar to Vi’s victimizer slasher role in Tagos ng Dugo. There were some crucial mother and son confrontations in this movie–Vi had a few of those which showcased some mother-child dynamic. And then, there was this little bedroom argument between Diether and Rosanna that alerted me of a scene from Relasyon. This strong woman, this sexy Ms. Roces, she was fired up and unblinkingly good in all her scenes. She had that focus, that spirit that was like an arrow, propulsive. There was a scene where her words struck like a machine gun’s, hitting all targets bulls-eye. Her actions, her suave and hysteria was so calibrated with her character and appropriate for the scenes. It was her best performance to date (and it’s 2017). I heard she was a fan of Vilma then before she became close to Nora Aunor. Lorde: Sing more and loudly, Rosanna outdid her ex-idol in this movie, with due respect to that other woman.

Chito Roño couldn’t escape my small tribute. He and his editors cared for their audience. This movie entertained you and leave you with something more: This feeling of certainty that this was a work of art. The good thing is it did not require you to re-watch it to get that feeling, to proclaim that it was intelligently-made. Inside the theater or your bedroom, it did not leave you in the dark.

Rosa and Dado were cunning individuals, but they were not heartless, as shown with how they cared for a girl they kidnapped for ransom. They just dreamed of a comfortable life. In Rosa’s case, she was an ex-sex worker. Her assignments as front-bait-opener of the operations of the gang were perhaps a lot easier for her to swallow than having some customer violate her body, especially when her group initially looked like they were victimizing rich, depraved individuals. It must be thrilling also to outwit someone, the heists or crimes framed similarly like simpler Mission Impossible ventures. The alternate excursions–from highwire acts to personal unresolved issues and drama of our protagonists–provided the right breathing space for viewers. And then the action would re-escalate towards its appropriately generic climactic sequence, with a cat reappearing, a harbinger of the two peak moments of the movie, which led to the film’s necessary plateau midway, and then, to its fitting denouement.

    Kita Kita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

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    Kita Kita could be compared to a gift from a long, lost friend. It felt like it needed to be opened slowly. The act was to unfold. The pace, deliberately not quick, to maximize the full potential to surprise. You knew Empoy Marquez was there and yet his arrival seemed to have taken too long to happen. Let’s focus on Alessandra de Rossi first then. Lea. Brown, Filipina tourist guide in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, carrying a cute backpack. She had a Japanese love interest at the start. There were a few flashbacks and then back to present time. Soon we found her heartbroken and temporarily blind.

    Enter Empoy as Tonyo. Was he Lea’s suitor? Her stalker? An OFW who had the makings of a trying hard, morning deejay at a local AM radio show, thin-voiced, with disheveled moustache hairs which seemed to crawl like wild grass, with strands like cockroaches’ feet, said Vice? And the more they were not really pretty when you find Tonyo at his worst, at the ‘pit,’ his one selfie picture looking like it was digitally altered to show a broken face. It looked a little blurred and pixelated, cartoonish even, like he was Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece, with knocked out teeth. In hindsight you felt that seeing him dirty like that allowed your insensitivity to show. You ask yourself, remorseful, why you had to whimper and smile at the same time at that depressing moment.

    When Tonyo and Lea met, the connection was obvious. She laughed at his jokes. He seemed to be a man with a plan–a sexually tinged one not many would label as such. That was primarily where the electricity and energy were coming from. They were at his fingertips. Heat emanated from his skin when he moved closer to Lea which jolted the real Alessandra I think at some point. Empoy is, really, not an ugly guy after all. Trim or shave his moustache. Keep his pomaded hair as is. Make him wear the same clean, plain, long sleeves and stylishly-fit pants he sported in the movie. Advise him to minimize those make faces and he’s a presentable suitor. He also spoke many times with some tenderness, words which lilt and with lambent ends they could tickle any girl. Such was what many girls jokingly professed in social media that they experienced in watching the movie. That ‘joke’ in social media was the truth.

    It was a simple story which banked on a structure rarely used, hence the movie felt fresh compared to some previously shown local rom-coms. Its freshness was also attributable to the combination of de Rossi and Marquez, an unlikely and unpopular showbiz pair. Their ultimate gift to the audience is their rapport, their genuine joy as they travelled at some romantic spots in Japan: blind girl, finding herself falling for this unknown man who tried hard–and succeeded–to make her smile and giggle. Lea nearly gave her body to him and gave in to the loving feeling. Nearly, maisusuko sana ni Lea ang kanyang Bataan because he earned her trust and fished her heart. You know the romance hook worked when Aishiyu sounded like a term of endearment instead of a sneeze.

    Like with what could possibly be done to a special keepsake or collectible, you were made to witness how to ‘wrap’ (and wrap-up) the movie. That was after having ‘used’ it lightly, having savored its feels, and then having our eyes memorialize it. You take out that red scarf and seal those precious emotions and scenes from the movie you wanted to keep inside your mind. Alessandra’s Lea would live there. Her natural and effortless performance would bring joys when recalled.

    You would not forget Empoy too, despite his jokes at his recent TV guestings still mostly falling flat. In Kita Kita, Director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo elicited just the right amount of humor and charm from him. I bought Empoy’s pretense of being a matinee idol material on top of his pretense of ugliness. He brought out in his scenes that rare and acute mix of sadness and comic some of them were so close to genius I would call them mini Chaplin-esques. We saw them in his gestures and glances. They were present when he was sitting on a tiny foldable chair, eating his sour soup pork. You could appreciate that posture even in long shots–that cramped yet memorable thriftiness in his occupying a physical space. But even in that somehow inert state, he drew us to him with his soft nasal voice, hypnotizing us with its combination of care and carelessness. His ‘acts’ looked simple and clean, without the flamboyance, craziness, and bigness a jester or a buffoon presents. His was truly an endearing and an effective performance.

    Area (Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio, 2016): Aye-One

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    In Area, Ai-Ai delas Alas’s portrayal of an aging sex worker could be an effortful switch for her, considering the type of comedy she had built her career from. On the big screen and on T.V.,  she had played loud characters and caricatures–that to be able to convince us that she was this experienced prostitute in a poor section of Angeles, Pampanga should be a feat. And she partly succeeded.

    Her strategy was to play the character anemically, an even amount of white powder painted on her face, dark eyeliner on to emphasize her sad eyes. She was Hillary, a woman longing to see her son, the boy separated from her for years since the aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Ai-Ai had to let that snicker and screechy, cacophonous voice she is known for to leave her for this stint to win us over. How she pointed her lips and opened her mouth into shapes while delivering dialogues, how she squinted her eyes at the same time while laughing–they, too, had to go. She spoke softly. Like she swallowed her voice as if filled with shame. 

    She was ready to cry anytime, her stare warned us. Her face was dead-cold when she had sex with some freak, like a suffering saint’s while she pleasured a senior citizen. Forget her chin being her physical asset in comedy.  It had turned into an ID in the brothel. Hearing someone call her Baba (chin) could summon memories of teenage bullying she might have endured in the past. She must have capitalized on what little pain that namecalling could resurrect inside her, which added to her interiority, paled her face more, made her head tilt a few times to its left side, weakened, ready to repose, sucked of her Ang Tanging Ina spirit. 

    She had this rare but appropriate bursting out from her general ‘flatness’ of portrayal. In one long-take, she gave her all, with an absence of self-consciousness, a little of her comic energy coming out of her face and in her cry. It was a pumped-up version of Hasmine Killip’s continuous take in Pamilya Ordinaryo the first time it had sunk in on her that she had lost her Baby Arjan, Ai-Ai looking similarly like Killip, both looking lost themselves.

    Others in the movie displayed a sense of commitment as if they contributed money in producing the film. Sue Prado played her role memorably as one of Area’s sex delights. With Hillary and the rest of the prostitutes, she reared her children inside their ‘casa,’ owned by an operator played by Allen Dizon. Those who acted as kid pimps and sex workers brought life to their roles too and did not disappoint. They helped create this pseudo-reality that was comic and a little carnivalesque. Depressing most of the time.

    I thought the story was about to sprawl into a multicharacter study to depict and represent that squalid place, the ‘area’ reached after passing through a narrow street, which was this ‘portal’ to a wretched wonderland reeking of urine at each turn and fun you could sense there was a sparse number of people poised to play sakla (native card game) soon while some sweaty, smelly, gigantic, bearded, regular customer copulate with a cheaply-priced petite sex worker inside one of the rooms of the small, dilapidated, bungalow, with the sex mismatch you could imagine it’s close to pedophilia but who cared? But to one of my friend’s and to my dissappointment, the movie gathered shape at about two-thirds of its screen time, focusing on two character-story arcs.

    This is not to say that this movie is something to be completely dismissed. Praise it for being another tireless take on poverty and on those symptoms of our society’s malaise. Poverty and prostitution never went away anyway. The film should have also worked better as a period piece. Some scenes better cut short to improve the pace.

    Despite its faults, there was this good vibe I sensed in the whole production that, when I gave in to cry a little at some key moments, I never felt bad or manipulated. Somewhere close to the end of the movie, however, the producer and director unwisely yielded to the temptation of literally stamping their faces in one scene as manifestations of their pride for their film output.

    Ai-Ai should hold her head and chin up high no matter what. She had shown boldness in exposing some skin and in sharing those little circles of keloid scars on her back for authenticity’s sake. Here a tamed hyena, with a generally competent ‘sheepish’ performance, she just had one too obvious awkward moment: when she talked or asked an old best friend how she was doing when she met her in church. That short clip should have been edited out as she looked like she snapped out of character. 

    For the most part, she was fine, especially towards the end, when she was defenseless in front of someone who could be familiar. She unwrapped her nakedness after taking a bath,  was ‘cleansed’ like what the fat, male obstetrician’s findings was of her sex organ after a test–“Non-smelly and beautiful,” he described.  Then, when you were feeling the urge to urinate, that was the time Ai-Ai regained that aura of delicacy, as if the sex profession had amazingly preserved the purity of her heart. 

    It’s all right that this role had been cited as one of her best performances, and had been reaping for her nominations at local award-giving bodies this year. But I won’t be giving her the award. It lacked that peculiarity, that slight shape-shifting of emotions that should have driven women living in such an oppresive condition to act crazily at times, that one dirty word or two here and there coming out of her mouth, some ‘exterior’ proofs of strength that would support how she had thrived in such a place, or at least even that pretense of strength. There were none of those that I noticed, none of that sprinkling of coarseness to enrich her character. Her rendition (or the requirements) of her role was to be too good, too willing to be victimized, too ‘heroic’ and ‘dreamy’ she could be an older version of Kim of Miss Saigon–the movie minus the lovely pop songs that would have entertained us and kept us awake in its unnecessarily prolonged scenes, the movie ending in a bittersweet note because there was an inappropriate narrative closure to it somehow, sweet as it underscored or implied the importance of religious faith, making us leave the theaters feeling good, bitter because the roots of the social ills still existed and remained untouched.

    Sleepless (Prime Cruz, 2015)

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    A few walks away from Emerald Avenue, Ortigas, Pasig City, a little opposite Strata 2000, along Onyx Road, at the ground floor of the Parc Chateau, still stands a branch of Mini-stop. For me, it looked like the actual place Prime Cruz shot the scenes where his lead characters mostly met. Gem and Barry (Glaiza de Castro and Dominic Rocco) were call center agents who visited the convenience store at night because they couldn’t sleep. They downed their cups of noodles and bottled drinks there. Stared through the store’s transparent glass wall. Imagined things and creatures. They came up with crazy ideas which were somehow related to some deep emotional mess they’re in.

    This pair of co-workers did not ‘actively’ do something to escape their individual dillemas. I mean, they were both capable of choosing a more stable and ‘regular’ work. Their current job felt like a harmless diversion while they didn’t have definite plans yet. The work’s monotony drowned their deep-seated hurts.

    They and many among us hadn’t thought this type of employment as a form of slavery though. It’s a cultural re-infiltration, strengthening our decades-old awe with anything America. To specify: Many of these employees had subscribed to imported TV series and talked animatedly of Hollywood movie blockbusters as if they were the only ones worth watching. They consumed those plots and stories like those were the ones that speak truthfully to us, mindless that our habits and tastes continue to be dictated upon by our ex-colonizers. Whatever distinct little things we had left inside us are being blurred and eradicated like how international corporations had been doing for years in subtly subjugating distinct cultures, in having some degree of stronghold on our economic interests.  A.k.a globalisation. In recent years it’s a sad fact too that this call center culture somehow had become influential in aiding this impression that our local TV shows and local films are thrashy, substandard, or unworthy of money and patronage.

    Sleepless didn’t really tackle or go deeply into these themes. It’s about a friendship or, call it, a burgeoning romance. But the more I remembered this scene in the movie, of Gem with her ‘boyfriend’ Vince (TJ Trinidad) dining in a somewhat plush restaurant, also recalling them having a conversation on art inside an art gallery, which exposed the sharp difference in their opinions on the subject, then, remembering Barry’s dream of looking for his son in Canada, the more I thought of words like ‘displacement’ and ‘class difference’ no matter how convinced I was that those associations were quite a stretch.

    To divert my attention, I asked myself these about the characters: What was making Gem more insomiac? Her feelings of being unloved despite her having a charming personality and a facial structure and big eyes as beautiful as an Egyptian princess’? She could attract more deserving men a lot better than Vince, who would give her the importance she deserved. Does Barry need to worry of not being able to take care of his son? I think that’s a virtue rarely depicted in cinema: a young man who searches for his child when the mother doesn’t even require him to send them financial support. There must be something really special between Barry and his ex-girlfriend for him to be too emotionally attached to his boy as if he were his life. Usually a young man would feel relieved that the woman he’s sired with didn’t require him of such a daunting responsibility. But Barry was unlike them. He was responsible, sensitive, and took each relationship and life-event preciously.

    We would learn more what’s underneath Barry and Gem’s young faces–and they’re good at hiding what to others could be so depressing. Glaiza and Dominic didn’t exaggerate or overact their characters’ problems that it was so easy for them and for us to slide and glide to the emotional currents of the movie. I think some philosopher said that life is a continuum of pleasure and pain. That’s how the movie felt, to describe it vulgarly:  well lubricated. There were no sharp spikes. Things felt seemingly light.

    Together, the couple were fun to look at and looked easy to go along with, despite the fact that their speaking decent, respectable English slightly gave me second thoughts if I would pursue making friends with them. They went to some secret meeting place at the office during coffebreaks, at the rooftop, which might make some folks tag them as weirdos, and which made me gravitate toward them and made me quickly forget my initial reservations.  They seemed to love to bask at the vast space at roof decks, somehow owning that space to themselves. And when they’re at the ground level indoors, the colors of the things in a convenience store and toyland and the lights around them served as visually pleasing backdrops. They danced to techno-pop tunes. They created their playful and imaginary universes.

    Prime Cruz  had built a structurally beautiful film, proving himself a good director. Every scene, each frame or funny conversation, was a transition, a ‘plant’, a symbol, or a foreground. We recognized the function of moments and sequences with ease, those visual clues that suggested a problematic relationship or those that insisted something acutely, breathtakingly close to romantic love was unfolding. In one scene, the placement of Gem in the middle of the many little frames of eye paintings and photographs seemed to isolate her, made her feel conscious that she’s being stared at because she knew she didn’t belong, intensified her incorrect self-assessment that she lacked sophistication. The mechanical way Vince and Gem undressed before having sex spoke obviously of the type of love theirs had evolved into. Staring at Gem and Barry sleeping face to face in bed put to a cliffhanger all the sweet possibilities that scene cultivated. These were samples of pregnant images in the film, and there’s an artfulness in making them obvious but tempering them to look not too loud. No frame or sequence stuck out like nodes. The images and events flowed smoothly. The repetitiveness of images and symbols gave the movie a charm for its feeling composed, calculated or structured, yet the nuanced performances and the complete absence of hysteria made it all feel real.

    It wouldn’t end the same way mainstream movies wrap up, but these easy but fertile associations made the story to simmer in our minds into its final images. The level of judiciousness the first-time director Prime Cruz applied in balancing the indie vibe and the mainstream elements was first-rate and impressive. He had provided me my first deeply satisfying movie-theater experience this year.

    I worked in a call center in Ortigas. I had an officemate who drew the skyline using M.S. Paint to avoid falling asleep. When the sun began to shine, I marveled at the piece. It was not a realistic drawing, but an accurate representation of a panoramic view of what we saw through the curtain glass walls of the office. I saw on the illustration the slabs and electric poles of old edifices which are now hid or replaced by the Marco Polo Hotel. I could not be mistaken that there was also a part of the facade of the Meralco Building somewhere at the corner of the drawing plane. There they were, vertical lines,  punched square windows, concrete columns, glass enclosements, and steel frames being the stuff our urban forests are comprised of. It’s been years and the coldness and barrenness the memory of the drawing represented still punctured. After periods of  pretending to be numb, after seeing the movie, I realized that the heart becomes crazier in measuring or approximating (and could not escape) the pains from what could be those years together that were lost–the seemingly on-and-off symptoms of an incurable ‘disease’ caused by some cruel but ‘necessary’ distance.

    Sleepless had a three-week run at select SM Cinemas last May 2017, as part of the CineLokal fest, a partnership of SM Malls and the Film Development Council of The Philippines.

    Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (Nestor Abrogena, 2016)

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    “What’s the plan?” That was the immediate question Sam (Nicco Manalo) got from his close friend after he learned late that Sam had entangled himself  in a complicated relationship.
    The question was stressful, insistent, urgent, and had a little exasperated ring to it, probably due to the friend’s surprise. But even the simplest of romantic loves couldn’t be that easy to explain, isn’t structured the same way we compose formal essays to pull up easily an answer to such similar questions as if there was an outline, as if the processing were as accessible as plucking a strand from an abundance of body hairs. This type of love’s the one wired to multiple brain neurons and dependent on those unpredictable surges of hormones and complex appetites, that to control oneself of its after-effects could be crazily difficult. But Sam looked ‘composed’ and reacted ‘well’ that time when his friend gave him some bromantic spanking, asking where had his crazy head gone to to get into such a stupid situation. Sam retorted with a fuck you in jest. He must have subconsciously meant it: who the hell are you man you fucking don’t know what I’m feeling!

    But that was just my thought. There was not a single scene where you’d hear and see any character burst out and break down like in a lot of the romance dramas in the past. In Nestor Abrogena’s Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa, hysterical moments were absent. There were seesaws of what looked like petty disagreements–in one long take, and we would’ve been lucky to hear screaks. Silences occupied voluminous spaces here. As the plot was lean, it couldn’t be just that without pulling out something big in the end, that secret which was an editing success, and was our worthy reward for staying patient.

    Things unfolded slowly so it took time to understand why the couple Isa and Sam acted with limitations, Isa (Emmanuele Vera) using more tact, a little apathetic and insensitive to Sam in school–because her boyfriend Frank (gasp) also studies there.

    But when Isa and Sam were outside the college walls, they shared a cup of gulaman and a small tray of siomai. She slept resting on his shoulders inside the LRT train. They held hands. Flirted. And they got me more interested in them after they shared a journal-book by Kurt Cobain. Isa mentioned about borrowing a guitar, and seeing her hold and play it I thought damn that might be a Hole song she’d do a cover of. To my dismay it was some ballad which she sang instead.

    It initially felt like the girl was just using the guy, Sam who was presented as intellectually superior, having been admitted to some film-related seminar or scholarship in Berlin. But as soon as we learned that Isa had prepared a gift for him, a John  Mayer vinyl record, and when they were finally both in Isa’s room, she was sparse in speech but the warmth and sorrow in her littlest body movements were loaded with tenderness, we became convinced that she had some deep feelings for him too.

    The milieu they moved around was an unfamiliar place for me, somewhere I’m not so excited to be a part of because it smacked of elitism. Wow for a school in a highrise building with those curtain glass walls with a majestic view of the skyline. It was a privileged world, a little too modern and American for my third world country taste, it somehow put me off. The blues and grays, the concrete, the steel and the glass materials in different combinations and design schemes in schools, in trains, and in waiting stations, despite the signages of popular avenues like Katipunan or that shot with Isetann Recto in the background, they made me feel displaced. My eyes longed for the bright bright sunlight, for some Pinoy religious icons on some wall, for some rusty roofing with an old limp tire lying on it. My instinct to affiliate myself with an impoverished location grew more intense in time as the movie played. Not the film’s fault though. It must be trying hard to be different, saying goodbye to the visual template of poverty porn. (That silhouette of the two lovers seated opposite each other in the school cafeteria symbolized their ‘clandestine’ relationship. It could be a frame-homage to Transit by Hannah Espiah.) In fact, the director’s skill, the nuanced performances, and the polished cinematography made this romance drama look authentic, I think. That it made me imagine and ask myself how lovers from the poorest of the poor handle such a similar situation, on top of the nagging aches of the different parts of their bodies which are symptomatic of their struggles to live. Do they have the time to wallow for these types of pains or even realize how complicated it is they’re in when there is so much chaos and cries of hunger inside their heads and in their midst?

    Init (Lino Brocka, 1979)

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    Photo from Video 48

    A sunset bookends the opening montage of Lino Brocka’s Init, with the shadows of mother and daughter Osa and Bayang (Charito Solis and Rio Locsin) who paddle their raft to the beach. Its warm-tangy color, with fluffs of gray and white against the gradations of orange, is pleasant to see. It’s like a backdrop of a painting, prettier than those ‘commercial’ landscapes which adorned the walls of many middle-class residences in the ’80’s.

    Osa and Bayang gather firewood, fish, and tend goats, in the opening clips, like amazon women focused on their tasks, on chopping and splitting the branches into carriable pieces, skilled in jumping into the water and returning with a wriggling tilapia in one hand.

    Because of her stylishness, Charito Solis playing an islander, needs some effortful convincing though . She has that Sophia Loren vibe. What she wore at the first fishing scene could be your washerwoman’s uniform. Despite the attire being loosely fit, however, it looks on Ms. Solis so well that if you ask her to wear heels and to put some choker or jewelry around her neck and on her peeking royalty’s breasts, she’s all set right there and then to attend an awards show, or ready to party at Faces or Copacabana.

    What secrets does Osa keep that they live in a hut away from the many inhabitants of the island? Osa reveals to us later her versions of her past—thrice, in fact. Twice to her ‘houseguest’ Emil (Phillip Salvador), and then once to her daughter Bayang where she ‘sanitizes’ it. The barrio folks are partly aware of that story too: They know that she left her parents for a man from the city and then returned pregnant without a husband. Perhaps unforgiving of persons who attempt to separate themselves from their class or who turn rebellious to fight for their crazy love, the people must have been scandalized by such boldness of this woman to go against her parent’s commands. Perhaps they’re also envious of what wisdom and experience the trees of knowledge of the metropolis have bestowed upon Osa that that envy has shrunk to nada what little genuine care they have left to spare for her when she returned. They must have clearly made known their distaste with Osa’s existence that they successfully made her live like an outcast in their already remote place.

    Except Juan (Leroy Salvador), Osa’s ex-boyfriend. He waits for that chinky-eyed mestiza to love him again despite having married Idad (Laurice Guillen), she who had given him no child in their ten years of union. One night Idad feels the sexual urge and she begins kissing him on the neck and shoulder. She frisks his sides and attempts to touch his private part. But Juan shoos her away like a fly, like a nuisance. Deepseated yet not unknown to his wife, he’s also began to get madly jealous of Emil, the man Bayang found gasping for life on the shore, now living in Ora’s hut, with the youthfulness, looks, and charm of a city dweller capable of stitching ‘magical’ stories which could turn his house companions under his spell. He could convince Osa to leave the island again, Juan fears.

    True enough, Emil makes his moves. He seduces Osa. He deflowers Bayang. The set up would’ve been initially fine for the trio, until Emil and Bayang decide to leave Osa and make known their plan to leave the island.

    It is at that moment that the hidden surfaces appear, that some essential truths about the lives of Emil and Osa are revealed. Suddenly, Osa realizes that it was like the past happening before her very eyes. The memories bring the pains back, and based on her pronouncements, we are invited to speculate how such a beauty slavered to ‘receive’ men nightly, probably feeling like being nailed on a crucifix, helpless in a room lit by the blinking neon lights outside through the room’s small high window.

    It looks like a simple yet interesting story, isn’t it? But the movie doesn’t burn to climax the sure old-fashioned way. The indiscriminately scattered dialogues slow down the movie’s pace. For a film with a lot of sex scenes, not much excites. Those copulations in the forest, beach, and hut feel highly stylized, the compositions angular, that the human fluids oil not warm bodies but ‘mannequins’ or at worst ‘machines,’ and those sexual acts underscore those who are in control and in power more than the burning of libidinal lard.

    Phillip Salvador performs like a newly discovered talent, promising but lacks the depth and mystery needed for the character. Ms. Solis’s unmistakable presence and some close ups where she conveys a mix of whorishness, wildness, and bliss, slowly ‘fades’ away. Nothing exceptional too in Leroy Salvador’s portrayal. Laurice as Idad has something going on with her. Her desire is real, but it’s not yet the Laurice Guillen who is capable of stealing the spot from a co-star who played a nun. Actually, there’s this overall impression that the cast are literally like chess pieces, turning faceless as the movie reaches its end. It must have been because there aren’t enough tics or idiosyncracies that make the characters come alive. With about five persons generally sharing screen time, and being that most of the scenes are sex scenes, the movie is anemic of shots which show a character’s face or a simply prolonged scene of a person in a specific spot which effectively give the audience the ample time to try to connect with the individual’s emotional state or psychological burden. Not even a virginal Rio Locsin, who would prove in the years to come that she is a reliable actress, could escape to look like a mere ornament.

    Init was released after Rubia Servios and before Ina, Kapatid, Anak, and Jaguar. Brocka had already directed two of his acclaimed all-time bests Insiang and Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag before it. I could only imagine the pressure Lino had on himself, in coming up consistently with masterpiece after masterpiece. With about 60 plus feature films under his belt, doing about 3 films per year on average, it would be genius and a miracle to have films of similar excellent qualities and success. He definitely knew that compromises would happen, realistic that he couldn’t do all the the time the films he wanted to make, having to face the reality that moviemaking is also business. He knew that he needed to keep on experimenting until he finds the right formula that would both lure a sizable audience in theaters and turn out as significant contributions to the artform, significant contribution in the sense that the movies become instruments in awakening the audience of the different social realities, inequalities.

    The movie must’ve failed to be a critical success based on the rarity this Brocka work gets mentioned. But it’s a good transitional work, with themes to be plumbed from it. One is that it’s a woman’s film, though anti-feminist–with the three female characters punished for knowing what they want, for liberating themselves from the shy, chaste, and submissive female stereotypes. It looks like the movie is a ‘regressive’ piece for the activist Brocka, but it merely reflects the generally bad perception of strong women of the time. More interesting to note though, caused by flaws in characterization, is that we didn’t see or feel any character genuinely empathize, show love or show concern for another. For the same reason, we are not moved when somebody dies or gets punished. Are we to assume that the emotional links between characters are there? Something we do not need convincing anymore as they are givens, between mother and daughter, between lovers, between sex partners–something we do not need to see? But as a visual medium, this kind of movie should have scenes that render and dramatise the relationships especially if the creators would want to show points of departure and contrasts for maximum dramatic effect. To add, some form of selfishness (individualism) even grips each character. For a movie entitled Init, which is ‘heat’ in English, it is freaking cold in the love and care department.

    Towards the end of the movie, an orange-red sunset appears again with the silhouette of a mob below it. This time the shadows are sharp. I could see clenched fists, sticks, long knives, and other frightening implements in the mix. I remember a red-orange cloth in one of the rooms in my grandmother’s house, with pentel pen-drawn figures of people, placards, slippers, and barbed wires. On the lower part of the plane, written with hardened gray acrylic paint squeezed from a tube, were the words “Justice is in our hands,” like they were piped lettering on a cake. The masses don’t completely get the essence of that line, even if I duplicate that poster and then wave them at the balcony of our second floor bahay-na-bato like flags. Many have forgotten the power that rests in them, and many of those who were once aware are now content with FB trolling and following some woman who’s giving me the Mein Kampf mistress vibe, black dress and sheen black hair and that overall diabolic-vampirish package. Why don’t we ‘ride’ with her and with where a lot of the doomsday signs are seemingly going to? Let’s make some purposeful use of the blossoming chaos, agitate the masses a bit, and then turn the elite, the landlords, and the corrupt politicians to beg and cower to be put in jail rather than they entertain the thought and horror of being guillotined by an angry crowd, as punishment for their cupidity and for the social injustices they propagate.

    The film is available at Jojo Devera’s Magsine Tayo! Tumbler site.

    Die Beautiful (Jun Lana, 2016)

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            Christian Bables ‘turned’ his body into a female’s in Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful, and it was a convincing transformation. I mean he’s not like Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire wrapped conservatively in ladies’ gowns or schoolmarms’ dresses. In the movie, his body was exposed many times. He wore short shorts. He flaunted his shapely, womanly legs, his biceps well-toned yet non-muscular. He’s a doll in skimpy outfits. When he walked wearing high heels, his posterior profile boasted of a woman’s waist, his behind like a rocking pear on a bough, and that straight imaginary line on the soil punctured by his lady shoes seemed to have surfaced when he passed by. 

    He was a knockout. His sharp-pointed nose recreated in our minds how Pauleen Luna or Aubrey Miles must have inhaled and relished the smell of bouquets of fragrant flowers. It’s one of those rare miracle of a performance for such a role where the exterior gelled with the interior. If he were really acting here, then he must forgive us if we believed he’s not, if we thought he’s gay.

    We had for the longest time been supplied in Philippine popular TV and cinema with those loud, extreme, and caricaturish, videoke songmaster-types from the LGBT folks who provide zany, sometimes self-deprecating humor. Mr. Bables and Mr. Paolo Ballesteros’s turns as trans women Barbs and Trisha Echevarria came as welcome surprises because of the right blend of comic and realism in their rendering of their roles. With a good script and good actors’ delivery, the movie projected a naturalness (You’d hear hard-ons and penis mentioned casually in Filipino). Somehow these modified the viewer’s reactions.

    Jokes were intricately knitted with the story and themes. That made us accept the movie’s presentation of humor with some degree of reverence. You felt compelled to hold back laughter compared to the way you react to a good, decent Vice Ganda joke or gag. Many times, you felt like it’s definitely more appropriate to smile than roll on the cinema hallway’s dusty floor carpet laughing.  You’re careful that you might be laughing at someone you know, a relative, an officemate, an FB friend. And you don’t want your enjoyment to be misconstrued by another as offensive.

    During the dramatic moments, the musical score went almost unnoticed. A few scenes were layered with instrumental pieces I’m sure. When it’s non-intrusive, it’s tasteful. It’s as if somewhere inside a glass room, viewing the rushes or the takes themselves, an overseer-conductor like Gerard Salonga was present hushing his strings section, advising them to play it really quietly and pianissimo, some music reserved to the subconscious, subtle and non-flashy. It must have added in stirring you subliminally to make you cry buckets of tears near the end. 

    As the title suggests, the main character, Trisha, had died and she wanted to be made up like a different famous woman each night for seven days before she’s put to her final rest. In between those days, the movie pieced how she came to be, her struggles with  her father who disdained her for her sexuality, her relationships with friends and lovers, with her sister, with her adopted daughter. It narrated her colorful ’employment’ as an untiring and hardworking gay beauty contestant. 

    Her dedication made her come up with tricks to stand out in those contests. One thing she did was explore the wonders of makeup, copy the faces of popular celebrities. The work didn’t prove convincing at first. Her Regine Velasquez had a burnt Rudolph the reindeer’s nose, or looked like someone from the musical Cats. Then she competed in a pageant as Britney Spears, but her modified appearance looked like a cross between Britney and Jessica Rabbit, with skin tone as colorfully crisp as pork lechon. Barbs’ makeup works on Trisha during the wake were the ones that gave justice to a beautiful life lived, close to masterful, nearly capturing the essence of each chosen celebrity, especially her version of Beyonce. Trisha’s corpse was like the Queen of the Damned for one night.

    Louder than the crackling of the chips munched by the couple at the upper row seats in the cinema where I watched, sharper than the biting truths about violence, rape and discrimination this movie comments on, the  movie at its heart is a celebration of self, effortlessly achieved by iteration, and not by shoving into your senses those big loaded words classed under values or virtues. You wonder why the terminal phrase of the answer of Trisha in a beaucon Q & A “…nobody, nobody, but me”  reverberates? It’s partially because you also remember the beat and claps from the hit single “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls which had insidiously made itself part of your cherished memories. Funny and serious. There’s no special need for you to adopt a persona anymore. Unless you’re like me desperate to do a Bob Dylan act. It shouldn’t generally be a neccessity for you to have a facial surgery unless you wanted to hide because you’re Kerwin or a shamed Leila or you badly needed a botox. You should be prideful for who you are. Pamper and affirm your unique spirit. Our society in general lags behind and a lot are still suprised by all the liberating thoughts and opinions about sexuality and morality being disseminated by its advocates. Yet, on another side, we have institutions and persons in power who are still comandeering to keep things as old, ‘normal’, conservative, ‘straight’, and restrictive as before, still fired up to reform in sanatoriums and barracks those who agreed to be stamped as ‘weaklings’ and ‘sick.’ For these institutions and self-righteous people, the Earth is like a humongous ball with lots of hollow spaces inside, ‘appropriately’ managed by moralists and dictators, with rooms for balloons and transparent bottles, shaped, sized, and customized for each ‘fighter-queer’ person to inhabit, to eventually suffocate her and to cut the spread of her ‘infected’ bloodline.

    Seklusyon (Erik Matti, 2016)

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    Erik Matti’s Seklusyon is a thematic expansion of his short film Vesuvius, a hate-letter to the ensnaring pageantry and hypocrisy of established religions, a call for incredulity, an exposé of convents and seminaries as towers also inhabited by tortured souls. 

    It features a girl named Anghela (Rhed Bustamante), whose popularity as faith healer has reached the Catholic hierarchy which responds with an investigation to check the veracity of the girl’s ‘miracles.’ After recently becoming ‘orphaned,’ and cared by her ‘nun-assistant’ Sister Cecilia, Anghela is permitted by the church to stay in a house where deacons have started to live, the young men secluded for seven days before their ordination. Meanwhile, the assigned investigator-priest verifying the miracles worries for the child, distrusts Sister Cecilia, until he learns later about these two females’ secrets. Events are set in 1947. 

    The movie has the usual horror genre elements: murders, twin monsters, girl and lady ghosts, crying religious icons,  candlelit rooms and hallways. These details establish the tone of the film.

    Though the visual elements succeed in  keeping the mood dark and evil, a few factors unnecessarily disrupt focus. The movie’s sound was uneven, some parts a little offensive. Sometimes, especially for outdoor scenes where the camera is focused on the investigator, you could hear splintering twigs or branches–or chirping birds, at almost the same volume levels of the speaking voices. Also, the text quotes from the bible that appear on screen feel like intertitles of a silent film which rob us of our capacity to figure out some mysteries ourselves.  Add to these the weak performance of Ronnie Alonte- supposedly the ‘strongest’ of all the deacons, especially in those crucial scenes where a range of emotion is needed, and what he could give is a good-for-afternoon-soap opera delivery of a dialogue, looking a little self-conscious or blandly motivated, seemingly eschewing the demands of the character at that moment.

    Notwithstanding these ‘negatives,’ the movie is superior in many respects, particularly its cinematography and production design. Seklusyon’s climax, wonderfully alludes to some biblical sacrifices , and ends gloriously ‘celebratory’ it made me ask and wonder what religious denomination Erik Matti belongs to now. Rhed Bustamante is exceptionally good too for a child playing this challenging role, fitting the frames cinematically especially in long shots of her walking in the woods, wearing that white plain gown, her long hair resting on her shoulders when she ‘hounds’ the doubting deacon, or, when she dons a bishop’s mitre and vestments, photoperfect in her stance, eerie and majestic as she gazes and speaks like a sly, old soul. The child actor’s innocence has been wrapped and ‘suffocated’ by shadows, and it’s not just the wonders of lighting or make-up responsible for her convincing turn. Her internalisation is short of being by a genius, her strong and manipulative spirit so natural, which stays and boggles you even when the movie’s done. 

    The film is irreverent and thought-provoking, capable of shaking someone’s faith. Before, we were moved to tears by rituals, moved by staring at the sad-eyed  figurines. During Holy Week these human-sized wooden idols are jammed, together in one covered court, flowers festooning them, wilted. We look at each statue and  wonder what spirits could inhabit or possess them, our country an archipelago of superstitions, a lot of our people curious and amazed by news of the dancing Sto. Niños, of miraculous waters, of  ‘visiting’ relics on parade being protected by big umbrellas while devotees are sniffling and coughing drenched in the rain. We listen to a garbed priest officiate a mass, and don’t completely believe him. He repeats words and prayers. Many times we question his sincerity. Sometimes he delivers them hastily, words blared by cheap speakers also sound like mumblings as a result of a too echoey mic. We’re not ignorant of some priest’s or religious leader’s immoral acts that when we see them in these religious gatherings about to speak, we quickly leave the church building enraged seeing the celebrator blaspheme the event , in the same vein that many pastors declaiming and exclaiming and shedding tears at large-scale rallies sound and feel fake. The truth is it’s just a job for them from which their group’s coffers directly sluice to them leaders’ bank accounts, the sect or group corrupted to financially ‘support’ them and help to construct their own private mansions, to bring their anointed one’s children to study at exclusive schools abroad, to bring them to gain political clout and national renown.

    Seeing those wolves in sheep’s clothing looking triumphant in their mission, ready again to set up another base or territory for ‘business’–is the film’s most terrifying ‘gift.’ We must be careful on who to trust and on where to invest our faith in. We need to be skeptical, believe, not just with our hearts, but also with discerning minds. We need to scrutinize our religious associations, the movie, in the end, warns us.

    ​Every Room Is A Planet (Malay Javier, 2016)

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    White hallways. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. A city skyline at night, seen through a condominium unit’s glass panel walls. Antoinette Taus’s solid, sexy woman’s back. Quark Henares wearing goggles coming out of the bathroom. I’m enumerating stored images–residue-memory of this animal-structure of a film–Every Room Is A Planet. It has, at its center, its most captivating energy buttressed by one breathtaking song–a capsule of a short romance you think, after all those weirdness before and after it, is impossible to happen. But despite the movie’s general  disjointedness in terms of plot, there are elements that hook scenes: binary codes that come and go like a silent film’s intertitles, a sound design that’s appropriately eerie. And tolerable except for that instance of loud volume which must have cracked my eardrums, the time that milkwhite-skinned actress, probably with Polish blood, screams with the violence of pulled bound set of knives with edges scraping the bathroom tiles, and that same sound, overdubbed with the grumbling voices of demons. Those many edged pains were unleashed after the woman was reminded of her missing husband whom she believes had been abducted by aliens. 

    That woman, Yannie (Valeen Montenegro), is neither stranger nor extremely different from the other cast of characters. Elly (Rap Fernandez) looks like an apathetic Japanese who is bored initially with his visits to his sick sister-in-law. Ms. Taus as the psychiatrist Dr. Cara hides, in her icelike mien in public and in her sexually stimulating voice inflections, what could be her feline, kinky, little, wild animal version under the sheets. Pinky Amador as the mother of Elly acts like a mental patient herself, who must be waiting for an antenna to grow, out through her skull through a sliding opening lid on her forehead to reveal a hole.

    Early on, we search and wait for logical and emotional connections in the story. The waiting is too much, too long to handle for a time–that some airplane thrust levers appear on the sides of my seat enticing me to pull them up to eject and propel me out of the theater. I’ve seen a few members of the audience dart into the bathroom compartment to take quick breaks from what could be a prolonged nauseating filmic turbulence. Then the narrative haze and din clear up thankfully, after we see Elly and then Yannie watch a video. At that point, the director must have received our telepathic messages saying that we have begun to relate to his work. We feel the characters’ helplessness. We recall that brief tryst and we wish a couple to live happily ever after. 

    When we think that things have finally normalized, the characters become perturbed again. A ‘ghost’ resurfaces. And then, finally, we must go away like Elly who sports the same apathetic look as when the movie started. This time though we can see and feel a thin layer of pain on his face. He must be wishing for things not to turn out ‘normal’ like before, which is really him being consumed with jealousy for sometime as we later would infer–the man victorious in keeping probably this desire to murder someone to himself. 

    Every Room is a Planet gives us a deep space ride. It is a unique exploration of relationships and it takes time to be fully grasped. When you’re forgiving and strong enough to withstand the movie’s puzzles and peculiarities, you’ll find yourself rewarded in the end.

    2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Petersen Vargas, 2016)

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    The main character in 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten kept calling himself weirdo. We accepted it without really giving it much thought. I mean labeling himself as such sounded harmless coming from a seemingly upright boy. Geek. Bullied. Khalil Ramos as Felix was your typical high school overachiever who busied himself with solitary acts more than being socially active. He studied and daydreamed instead of choosing to date, drink, and smoke–instead of learning all those forbidden habits generally experienced by growing-up kids tagged as normal. But at the onset, we had a preview of some sort of the latent wickedness of this character whose growth was temporarily set aside to give way first to more comedy, to suck the audience in, to let them enjoy how light and fun and pressured it was to be young, to literally make us live again in a little world called ‘school.’ The movie also included details that would make it somehow historical, the specificity adding a certain ring of fact and truth to it more than merely making it freestand as an account of a tale: details like the 90’s generation’s fascination with imported Japanese superhero TV series and like how cool it was to carry a Walkman, how to rewind the cassette tape with a ball pen, what of an old neighborhood in Pampanga be looking like a few years after being buried in lahar. These details were convincing enough to transport us back into a specific past, yet the movie never looked outdated to alienate us. That little dream party sequence of three high school students, with laser beams and all, was an economical gen Y rave.

    Felix opened his ‘core’ while he and his tranferee Fil-Am classmate, his tutee Magnus Snyder, were in front of peace-inducing waters which stream above graveyards created by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. There, Felix somehow self-talked about the force of nature and confessed his secrets. He revealed his cruelty when he said that he felt good witnessing their place being destroyed. He hinted at his homoerotic tendencies when he compared the smoke and explosion to a giant mushroom. But Magnus was not carefully listening.

    This story evolved an innocent-looking boy into someone most capable of skinning a kitten alive. The conversion began when he was enmeshed with the lives of the attractive Snyder brothers. Felix emotionally connected with Magnus–and events would make them need each other until his budding love, repressed, became indistinguishable from obsession.
    Jason Laxamana’s story was an interesting mix of comedy and a little psychopathy. His written dialogues and conceived narrative were potent and elicited instant responses from the audience: giggles, laughter, shock. Meanwhile, the film’s cinematography was functional, pretty, and symbolic. Some frames made me remember scenes from my favorite movies, which enriched the viewing experience.

    This commendable first feature could be Petersen Vargas’s homage to Edward Yang, a twisted shorter little niece (in spirit) of A Brighter Summer Day. Not an avid follower of Petersen’s works, but after seeing recently his short film Last Day and having seen the trailer of Lisyun qng geografia, it made me ask: What’s with young characters wearing school uniforms? Are white polo shirts and khaki or dark pants emblems, a fascination or fixture in the same way Hitchcock had his blondes, an early laying down or building up of an auteur’s stamp? Let’s see what he comes up next.
    If his succeeding features come out consistently strong like this, it’s fine nobody should be complaining and making a big fuss out of his preferred themes, if they remain about characters conveniently close to his age moving in a milieu the director is familiar with. Fine too if the school uniform is some type of security blanket, fetish, or lucky charm.

    Mixed Shorts Reviews #1

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    ​Vesuvius (Erik Matti)

    What amplify the creepiness in this Matti-Yamamoto short collabo are the layers of sound, the muffled church song, the sound of boiling water as if there’s this witch concocting an execrable-looking and -tasting potion, with eyeballs and intestines ground and juiced to create that green, tangy soup. Also the dubstep and all sorts of crittery sounds looped, the buzz of the fly that moves from the left to the right and back to the left ear channel, and the tinkling echoes of what could be rubies, jades and quartz and onyx stricken or jangled, blasphemously complementing the most evil yet hip among the versions of lady apparitions. The lady’s face is appropriately ghostly, a little japanese-inspired, that spirit disguised by painting the white kabuki make-up on the face of a mestiza-looking actress. The movie is some kind of a tract, a warning for our being superstitious and credulous; however, evil being too clearly defined here decreased the film’s potential of providing a richer, more interesting and lasting, frightful experience.

    Two Men and a Wardrobe (Roman Polanski)

    Two men from the sea attempt to fit in in town, but obviously their being inseparable from their furniture ostracizes them from their newfound place. If this could be these aliens’ short visit, unluckily for them the trip has turned traumatic. And as we watch them struggle and haggle to be accepted, images of cruelty of men towards their own kind, even to an animal, are shown. So is it a beautiful world we are creating, like what one child does at the beach, building a city of cup sandcastles, when he doesn’t even notice or he’s simply mindless of the two men carrying the drawer pass him by, the duo obviously retreating, unquestionably disappointed with beings considered to have the most advanced minds on earth but whose actions invalidate such perception? The stink and poison creeping from an immoral, self-centered city are a lot more sickeningly fearful than the onslaught of raging waters.


    The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese)

    This short has a Hitchcockian look and feel to it at the onset, with an initial feature of a worm’s eye view shot of a toilet bowl, and with the subsequent parade of details like shower dials, faucet, and lavatory. A jazzy, big band sound arrives nearly at the same time as the appearance of a Caucasian male. Then the man lavishes his face and neck with shaving cream, takes the razor from inside the built-in cabinet beside the mirror, then strikes to clean his face. There’s a ritualistic, even a masturbatory undertone to the act, which feels interminable for a while. The touch of the blade on the skin could be equated to strokes or caresses, and especially with a horn or sax playing on the background. The movie ends with an image projecting and extending a result of what could be guilt for carnal thoughts and acts, the guilt brought about by a puritanical or Christian upbringing. The mind could be sadly unnecessarily unforgiving and violent.


    J’ai faim, J’ai froid (Chantal Akerman)

    The two girl characters in Ms. Akerman’s short film want to grow old and taste life urgently, as exemplified by the racy, hasty, one liner exchanges between them, and the fast cuts or edits of shots. The older girl looks like a butch, and the younger one looks like a diabolical walking doll. They do things as they want: smoke, eat, kiss, and then get their ‘job’ done one time with their charmingly bizarre singing at a restaurant like carolers, which earns them the night’s free meal and hooks them with a man. One will experience that which is supposed to be special and that which ‘normal’ lovers do. But with the quick, cold, final resolve to leave after the implied act, it’s unmistakable to conclude that what they learn out of that brief encounter with the guy isn’t worth all the rush. Probably even disgusts them.

    The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz, 2016)

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    When Horacia Somorostro steps out of the correctional, Lav Diaz gifts us with a beautiful long shot of his heroine staring and standing still on a concrete bridge. It’s as if the director tells us how far Horacia has become disconnected with the outside world. It’s an establishing shot, and a few of these are used at the early parts of the movie, each time the protagonist arrives at a new place–the frame assymetrically balanced. It shows stasis, contemplation points. Horacia literally and psychologically temporarily immobile with her struggle, burdened with her bags and baggage. She is about to claim the justice she deserves for a frame-up for murder which resulted to thirty years of her life spent in jail. Her ex-boyfriend, Rodrigo Trinidad, was the mastermind. After a fellow inmate confesses that she was the one who committed the crime Horacia had been paying for, Horacia was released. Her freedom turns out somehow pointless though, being estranged to her daughter for about three decades, and returning, finding her son missing and her husband, dead. She needs to finish the things she has planned to do if she dreams of moving on.

    The Woman Who Left is Diaz’s most austere work. Like his other films, the colors are bled into black and white. It is also bereft of musical score. When Horacia comes out of prison, the sound of horns and traffic strike her as possibly a little violent. The exchanges with other characters, the captivating tone of her voice being a natural raconteuse, and the sounds of news from the radio she is used to–they are the other sounds that we will encounter frequently, alternating with stretches of long silences as we gaze and focus on people, enlarging from or disappearing towards the station points of one-point perspective compositions. Sometimes a poem Horacia had written is recited. One central piece with lines that have rats, cockroaches, winds, corners and crevices presages a pre- or post-plague psychology, alluding to the string of pestilence in Exodus. But overall the story is uncomplicated. The location and set up are generally unadorned.

    It’s painful and terrifying to plot to kill a former love, to execute revenge. Somehow, meeting characters who are marginalized and discriminated by society lightens the weight of Horacia’s burden, being better off or more stable in many ways than all of them: the hunchback balut vendor, the poor residents living beside the mansions of powerful families in town, the deranged Mameng, the troubled epileptic transwoman, Hollanda. Horacia helps them, empathizes with them. They unwittingly become accessories to her scheme.

    No doubt that Horacia knows that what she’s planning to commit is immoral; hence, the countless times that she has to trail her prospective victim. It’s not really to be methodical about it, but because there is a clash within her. Lav Diaz in fact gives away proofs of her moral struggle: We see Horacia anguish over pointing a gun. We hear her say in her drunkenness that she’s thankful that Hollanda had arrived–or she had proceeded to kill Rodrigo that same day.
    It’s also ironic that we see Horacia go to church but we don’t see her pray. We find her sleeping on the church pews. We find her inside the church closely listening to Mameng excitedly point to her where the ‘demons’ are seated when they attend mass. Diaz opting not to explicitly associate Horacia to a specific religious denomination is telling, especially for a character who would usually need a spiritual connection in her difficult times. The absence of subsequent acts of praying, from her earlier only scene in jail where she joins a group of inmates praying the rosary, suggests that Horacia had lost her religious faith. Religious icons ocassionally appear in the background, like a small picture of Christ on the wall, or an imposing Quiapo Church. But they do not actively affect or influence the character or the story. They carry little to no significance, except to show that as things, they exist.

    Meanwhile in one short scene, we glimpse Rodrigo’s psyche when he confides to a priest. He proclaims his moral confusion, yet such struggle is tainted with arrogance and laziness. His seemingly innocent questions arrive as a philosophical joust with a priest, empty inquiries, not a realization of his errors or a sudden regrowth of conscience, but could be a mockery of the priest’s beliefs.

    Part of the power of the film comes from this contrast between our heroine and villain, I think–this clash between humanity and society’s many evils as represented by Rodrigo. Add to that the dualities, the visual and verbal motifs, and the counterpoints which strengthen the truths that the movie wants to project. We also find as solidifying element the similarities of fates of many characters, in their chorus of cries for social justice.

    There is an extreme spotlighted long shot of Hollanda dancing in the street at night, like a tiny ballerina on a music box. She spins, graceful even from a distance. Like the musical object, she resurrects the song in Horacia’s life. Briefly. In Horacia’s house. After Hollanda recovers from gang-rape. It feels like that signals a fresh start for both of them but then the song Sunrise, Sunset the two individuals sang gives us prescience projecting a future which is a mix of bitterness and triumph. Then Hollanda pays back her keeper’s generosity. Horacia eventually leaves Rodrigo’s town to search for her missing son. She will tread on unknown paths and spaces, trudging with a mind constricted by invented memories of what should’ve happened in the past three decades, also as if she’s accursed to return to the place where the movie started and for a long time she was kept. It’s as if she has never left.

    Isla (Celso Ad Castillo. 1985)

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    ​It’s not just this impression that it contains plenty of sex scenes and nudity that should make you search for a rare copy of Isla. The movie should more importantly be seeked being a film by of one of our most celebrated filmmakers, Celso Ad Castillo. Here, he gives us masterful visuals again, different angles and shots of a ferris wheel, long shot compositions of people and nature, georgeous underwater scenes of Maria Isabel Lopez as Isla, naked, which no doubt have made the oysters gasp and the sea ferns wave and sway in approval. 

    What could have been a celebration of sensuousness and beauty turns out to be the story of a young woman who wants to leave the place. Isla needs to escape from being continually molested by her grandfather, Kadyo. She lives in a ‘typical’ opportunistic male’s world, a ‘damsel’ who asks for help but always ends up miserably with a similar male type who sees her as mere sex object, the female’s dilemma versus the male underscored by having the symbols of power in society to be well represented by men with a seemingly singular goal which is a product  of lust.

    Blue Danube opens the film, plays while shots of native and nature images appear. We think the tune is an odd musical score. Then we confirm it’s diegetic, the sound coming from Lolo Kadyo’s turntable. That sequence creates a visual and aural dissonance which confirms the hypocrisy of the owner of the player. It hints and supports Kadyo’s position of  superiority, of his pretense of having ‘culture’, yet he has punctuated the end of that orchestral piece with his quick, short pelvic thrusts  foreshadowing his  barbarism.

    We have already been set to be suspicious. We confirm that Kadyo is protective of his grandaughter, but only does so to prepare her for his time of ‘plucking’ and ‘reaping.’ The visiting priest, in an implied  part of the confession scene, ‘fortuitously’ forbids Isla to allow her grandfather to consummate his advances. He fills the young woman’s mind with the idea that God will never forgive her if she lets it happen, burdens her with guilt despite being the victim, poisons  her mind with a selective, shackling, even a perverted kind of morality. We will know that the priest has his devilish motives.

    Soon enough Isla is shown using her body to help fulfill her dream to leave. She has seduced a schoolteacher, gets entangled with a cuckolded husband who is an infidel himself, approaches the chief of police and barters her body for the trip, and finally thinks she has found genuine love and salvation, however briefly, in the arms of an asthmatic NPA member. She loses her virginity, gets kissed and had her breasts fondled. Sadly, nothing comes out of these sacrifices and peddling. Isla is cursed to be trapped in that island.

    Clear is the movie’s socio-political message and it may well be classed with the overt protest films of the period by Bernal, Brocka or Mike de Leon. It allegorizes a country’s people silenced for years despite the abuses of her colonizers.  At that time, pre-Edsa revolt, it presents a people seemingly acquiescent to an incestuous relationship with her dictator.

    I have waited for an emotional high we usually expect from a pretty straightforward or linear storytelling, but it doesn’t come. A slight edit would have done the trick.  If we learn of the incestuous relationship much later, and similarly, if Isla reveals towards the end that she also wants to leave because she wants to search for her parents, it would have drastically changed the impact . We would have wondered longer what it is which drives her to act desperate to the point of having her body as payment just like that. When those secrets are revealed at the crucial time, it would feel like a literal stab at the heart.

    Isla is a movie of note for its boldness, for its important underlying message, and for its aesthetic values. You’ll also find out out how sharp to listen to a Tagalog word is the first time Isla admits to the chief of police and to her grandparents that she had sex with a man. You’ll also be able to validate one of its themes in the words of Kadyo to Isla, when he says, “Hindi kita kinamkam.”

    Men who have close encounters with our protagonist either disappear or die after. Unlike the blind hobo. He masturbates to orgasm near the beach midway through the story, harmless and unknowing that Isla watches him writhe with pleasure. One brief segment, he’s gone, and then later, he shows up again and creates guttural off notes, tries to mimic the sound of a rusty trumpet but succeeds in sounding closer to the noise created by a hen being strangled. When he’s out of sight, we’re assured he’s someplace, happy, ‘horning’ in his self-contained world.

    Till We Meet Again (Elwood Perez, 1985)

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    Till We Meet Again is an emotional roller-coaster ride caused by events which happen at an admirable pace. You forget to question the logic and coincidences right there and then and to belittle the seemingly overused plot and themes, a compendium of poor vs rich, rags-to-riches tale, evil martriach controlling the affairs of her son who’s in love with a woman the daughter of a household help. The woman is Theresa, played by Nora Aunor. The movie must have one of her most prolonged screen kisses of all time.

    It moves and entertains you unlike what many Star Cinema rom-coms superficially do. It’s primarily the combined skills of the director, editor, writers, and actors which make this romance genre piece energeic, the film, not overt in displaying its deeper significance which lie within its commercial and melodramatic virtues.

    It opens with a montage of the characters of Aunor and Tirso Cruz III (Pocholo) as childhood friends growing up together, becoming sweethearts, while the theme song Till We Meet Again sung by the same loveteam plays on the background. The pair’s vocal harmonies are so good to listen to and the pop ballad is a strong piece like many classic movie theme songs I’m thinking it should’ve been part of an album compilation or should be considered for re-release. There’s no question that fans, even those who were just curious then to brave the queues during the movie’s theater run, must have fought hard–and lost–against the movie’s spell which caused them to swoon then go home dreamy and wasted in screaming with joy, probably sated even if they  had only watched that opening montage alone.

    Later, after the lovers are separated by fate and lies, they meet again, bookmarked by that ingenious short strip in a restaurant where Theresa sings a few lines of the theme song, flanked by the pianist she calls Willy (Was it Willy Cruz?). Pocholo asks a lady he first bumps into in the same place if the woman he sees (and must have heard singing) is the establishment’s resident lady-crooner. Surprising to hear the question asked when in fact never did Theresa sing in any previous scene in the film. The clip hints at the movie’s playful self-awareness and teases and delights us of our knowledge of the lead actress’s other exceptional talent.

    The actors’ performances are made up of the right balance of hysterics and underacting. Armida Siguion-Reyna and Dina Bonnevie are a perfect foil of self-combusting furies to Aunor’s subdued yet devastating replies and glances.
    Clocking at more than two hours, the story happening probably in a span of 6 or 7 years ( excluding the opening sequence), the movie rivals Perez’s other classic Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit in terms of emotional power and scope. Nora Aunor represents again strongly in one symbolic scene the marginalized class with that long shot silhoutte of her and a water buffalo one night, tilling a piece of farmland, while her baby is in a crib alone in their shack, crying, hungry. Poverty convincingly sounded primal and painful at the same time. Scenes exemplifying a mother’s true and selfless love, more heartbreaking and intense than these aforementioned images, ensue.

    Tuos (Derick Cabrido, 2016)

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    Barbie Forteza as Dowokan, the next-in-line binukot princess in the movie magic-realist drama Tuos (The Pact), disobeys and ‘tampers’ herself and the glory and ‘privilege’ attached to her fate. Such ‘misstep’ or action puts Pina-ilog’s (Nora Aunor) life in peril, the tribe’s reigning princess, which forces Nora to fight later the nature spirits that have enshrined and have safeguarded the sanctity of such position.

    It’s somehow a cruel fate to be cloistered inside a hut, barely touched by humans except by serf maidens’ hands and with mostly the cold, beautifully beaded and woven linen of ceremonial dresses having contact with the body. Vanity could be prized by some women, and I guess acceptable amounts of self-love and -admiration is necessary. To stay alluring and attractive even for one’s own eyes is at a certain degree tolerable. But in Dowokan’s case being lavished with gifts for her beauty and being put to a pedestal to be stared at by her tribesmen for years doesn’t matter much. The pervasive nature of different cultures and the onslaught and accessibility of media, must have altered her tastes and must have been influential for her to have the gall to question an esteemed tradition, and must have heightened her primal instincts and passions, especially such boldness to test that early how it feels to love and to break the ‘pact.’Dowokan’s initial intransigence puts to the spotlight again the need to analyze the cultural and traditional role of women, in this particular case presented more like a bane, especially if we take cue from that childlike and spirited hops of Pina-ilog on the beach towards the end, and the projection of the nature spirit as a sexual punitive demigod-beast.

    In this movie Forteza’s character is presented in a series of scenes hence more ‘relatable,’ easier to follow, her actions and reactions laid in a simple story arc. Our understanding of Pina-ilog on the other hand is hampered by the fact that she is presented in pieces, in clues, which I would say is a deft strategy of the plot and direction and in consonance with the mystical nature of her character. Some thought that that cold birdlike eyes of Aunor, probing and staring at Forteza framed on the other mirror, is mere majestic visual accident? No, if they recall it after seeing later Pina-ilog’s ‘reminiscence,’ they would have understood why she stared at Dowokan with a little tinge-mix of dread and anger then. Some should have felt and understood why Pina-ilog, bedridden, had to utter upon waking up from a bad dream her granddaughter’s words with a certain degree of trepidity; but they didn’t, because comprehension happens towards the end, and only in re-watch would they have appreciated that, that at-the-moment’s grandmother’s fear, crushed spirit, which also must have partially caused her sickness.

    Despite their initial mis-appreciations, who could forget that enchanting hawk dance of Aunor, trampling other dance scenes in Philippine cinema in regard to impact. There is no striptease there, only a woman garbed in traditional tribal mandarin  dress, with arms stretched as if readying to fly, regal with each step. When the camera moves to close-ups of her face and does a circular dolly track shot , we gasp and our hearts flutter at the different shades of the face aged with wisdom and grace, lighted and shaded,  the figure absorbing all the warmth, magic and energy around her, and immediately returns to us mini-explosions of her own magic. In the seeming interminable minutes of the sequence, we don’t complain. We are happy to be intoxicated and we recover thankful for the much needed internal mini paroxysms.

    Tuos is a new Filipino film classic. Cabrido’s hands are certain here. Under his direction, the various elements of the movie complement each other, from the opening drably-lit but textured cinematography and production design in the day scenes, to the gloriously lamp-lit night scenes where the facial expressions, the geometric details on clothes, the preciousness of jewelry and headdress, create a filmic wealth of moments that underscore the uniqueness of our tribe and culture. The suture between reality and animation is unnoticeable, the snippets of instrument-playing, and chants and what could be diegetic sounds from the rustling of leaves and branches, to the little cries of animals and insects, further strengthen the transitions.

    With this movie, Nora Aunor steadily solidifies again a new set of body of works apart from an already impressive and enviable filmography. This time the accretion is measured not in terms of the popular label or tag like ‘Noranian moment’ but with the way she consistently disappears as a movie star and actress into her role and then unleashes a little of that star power when necessary. It’s proof that she has truly become better with age. She acts more subtly, more effective here like with that slow inverted arc of her lips in the final scene at the beach, and with gestures and nuances of her body projecting a memorable composite expression of freedom, digging up, from the deep waters of her past and from her more recent ‘errors,’ sympathy, pain, and richness of feeling, a certain group of the rich and elite could only view and admire from a distance because they are afraid to lose their precious wealth and status and their furtive brand of discrimination. Some of their kind are usually the ones who mistake this artist’s recent contributions (and roles) as minor when in reality they are otherwise.