Cinemalaya 2014: The good, the bad, and the melodrama

NEW BREED - The Philippine Star

Mariquina (Milo Sogueco)

Mariquina hangs everything on the overlap of three tropes we’ve seen fold into each other many times before: the father who cheats, the estranged daughter, and the other woman that comes between them. And it immerses you into its time-jumping universe with such a lulling sense of familiarity, it takes some time for its misdirection and inversions to sharpen into relief. But when it becomes apparent that this is less a film about patriarchal failure as it is about a daughter who commits the very crimes of apathy and infidelity and betrayal she accuses her father of, the emotional wallop it packs is tough to deny and even tougher to resist.                                          — Dodo Dayao

Sundalong Kanin (Janice and Denise O’Hara)

Children are casualties of war. It’s a fact made blatantly explicit in Sundalong Kanin, a film about a group of boys who become unlikely guerrillas during the Japanese occupation. Though the O’Haras populate the film with cutesy tropes from the coming-of-age genre, they have no trepidation of killing childishness to expose the realities of war. The boys’ loss of innocence is instantaneous, and they’re forced to choose to live as lackeys or die as heroes. Backed by the sincere performances of its young leads, this unapologetic take on war becomes a vivid drama that’s more jarring than the booming of gunshots. — Jansen Musico

Dagitab (Giancarlo Abrahan)

What Dagitab mines isn’t exactly the circumstances that lead to the dissolution of a marriage, but the numbing alienation that swallows us whole. Issey (Eula Valdes) and Jimmy (Nonie Buencamino) are married, but Abrahan makes it a point to render them as two separate human beings, lost in their own worlds and only intersecting at times, hinting at the possibilities of the romance that they once shared. Issey spends most of her time either drinking or smoking, a state of regression that she slowly inhabits as she wallows in her own unhappiness. Jimmy, on the other hand, is consumed by his research work on a mythical sword, which takes him to the mountains over long periods of time. Dagitab is lovingly steeped into its literary bearings, taking its sweet time as it unveils the great perhaps that its characters constantly pursue; the resulting work a complicated but immersive look into heartbreaks and little tragedies that make up our own fractured remembrances.

 — Don Jaucian

#Y (Gino M. Santos)

It’s tough to make a film on millennials; they will either end up looking like wizened young adults, scarred by the ills of the real world, or smartphone-wielding, whiny sons-of-bi*ches. #Y fortunately ends up on the former, but putting the bulk of the film’s emotional load on a clunky actor is a tall order — especially if his character happens to be the film’s psychological core. The rest of the cast performs brilliantly, making Coleen Garcia, Kit Thompson, and Sophie Albert new talents to watch out for, but Elmo Magalona crumbles under the weight of Miles, a depressed college student surrounded by privilege and the bright, f*ck-yes! disposition that most kids his age are prone to having. #Y invites us to plumb Miles’s psyche, confounded and exhausted by the artifice of life. A better actor might have given the film its full potential: voices speaking to a generation about how the monster under your bed is actually the company that you keep.   — Don Jaucian

Ronda (Nick Olanka)

There are three layers to Nick Olanka’s Ronda: a surface layer which follows SPO-3 Paloma Arroyo (Ai-Ai de las Alas) through a mundane night of patrolling Manila’s streets, a subtext layer in the form of ominous radio commentary and political dialogue that aims to paint a picture of the broader society in parallel with Paloma’s principles, and a final layer that contains all the subtle clues which, when pieced together, foreshadow the film’s bitter finale. It is this last layer, so easily overlooked by distracted eyes, that reveals the artful complexity of this seemingly simple story of a working mother and her son.              Jansen Musico

Bwaya (Francis Xavier Pasion)

Francis Pasion has maintained a compact filmography of works that tackle in various degrees of success the powers of filmmaking to objectify (in Jay), and to humanize (in Sampaguita: National Flower). In Bwaya, Pasion attempts to explore the power of filmmaking to heal by recreating real events surrounding the death of a young girl and her mother’s subsequent hunt for her body. As with all of his works, Pasion, by making his own methods of filmmaking as bait for discourse on the thin line that separates art and exploitation, establishes countless layers within a simple tale of grief, making Bwaya a film that satisfyingly perplexes as much as it sensually pleases.    Oggs Cruz

Children’s Show (Derick Cabrido)

Fight after fight, hit after hit, we become complicit in Children’s Show’s (almost])fetishistic stylization of violence in its titular bout between children. Boys and girls of different ages (probably from 10 to 15) spend nights duking it out in a seedy fighting ground in what seems to be an abandoned compound, punching each other’s bodies and smashing skulls until someone bleeds to death. Cabrido initially flits from one harrowing fight to another, the bloody end hanging in the air like a dark cloud ready to burst. And when it does, the film heads for a melodramatic route, centering on the tale of two brothers (Buboy Villar and Migs Cuaderno) who make these fights the main source of living. Cabrido builds an interesting world off these characters, with Villar and Cuaderno’s chemistry fleshing out their uncanny zest for life despite the miserable world they live in.

             Don Jaucian

1st Ko Si 3rd (Real Florido)

Cinemalaya is no stranger to films about old age, but what separates 1st Ko si 3rd from films like Bwakaw and ICU Bed #7 is its insistence in answering the great “what if?” Cory (the endearing Nova Villa), struggling with the freedoms of retirement, asks herself this question when her first love, Third (Freddie Webb), shows up and gives her an opportunity to make up for lost time. The film is charming, and the care Real Florido gives his main character is obvious, but his tendency to experiment with cinematic tricks takes away some of the film’s earnestness.                            Jansen Musico

K’na the Dreamweaver (Ida Del Mundo)

For a film about a dreamweaver, it never really gives its audience a chance to see or appreciate the significance of K’na’s (Mara Lopez) handiwork or her role in the tribe. Though the film frames K’na’s drought of dreams as a pressing plot point, it is quickly swept under the rug to make way for an ill-fated love story. But what the film lacks in focus, it makes up for in culture. Ida Del Mundo’s reverence for the T’bolis shows, as she fills the screen with moments of dance and music, and glimpses of life events steeped in tradition. — Jansen Musico

S6parados (GB Sampedro)

What is S6parados? A vehicle for Victor Neri’s comeback? An hour-and-a-half-long advertisement for Lola Café? Another chance for Ricky Davao to play the closeted married guy? Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t good cinema. This movie, featuring interlocking tales of six men who separated from their wives, is full of over-the-top Pinoy soap opera acting, cloyingly sentimental piano music, and shoddily developed characters. And this movie isn’t just awful, it also borders on being sexist: almost all of the men’s problems stem from some character flaw from their wives. How misogynistic. Please, avoid at all costs.         — Vinny Tagle



Hari ng Tondo (Carlos Siguion-Reyna)

One has to dig deep to mine the gold within Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s Hari ng Tondo. On its surface, the film seems nothing more than an unabashed crowdpleaser, with its low-rent gloss and mainstream exuberance. However, beneath the petty songs, the shallow sentiments, the fart jokes, and the melodrama is the story of a man who simply can’t face the truth, that the glorious Tondo that he shares his successes with is not the same as the Tondo he is forcing his grandchildren to live in. Hari ng Tondo transforms from run-of-the-mill entertainment into something else, a film that comprehends the gap between rich and poor, and past and present, within terms that are easily digestible to even the most common of viewers.                                          — Oggs Cruz

Kasal (Joselito Altarejos)

Far from the maddening griminess and soft-core leanings of Altarejo’s earlier work, Kasal is an unflinching look into the lives of gay couples. Altarejos spares us the meet cute, only the dull and painful moments that populate the latter years of a relationship. Paolo and Sherwin (Oliver Aquino and Arnold Reyes, respectively) have been a couple for three years — a feat for a gay relationship in the time of Hornet and Grindr — only with their second year marred by a cheating incident. Altarejos opens the film with the resulting confrontation, putting us behind the couple’s bedroom window as we hear their muffled dispute. Three years later, they put everything behind them, moving on to “the next level” of their commitment. Paolo mulls about marriage, or at least a ceremony similar to it since the country is still years away from even thinking about the debate on gay marriage. Altarejos might be too on the nose at times, using the wedding of Sherwin’s younger sister and a running commentary on LGBT rights, to draw parallels and pitfalls surrounding the sanctity of marriage. When Kasal isn’t busy on the hysterics and the political, it shines as a devastating portrait of an ordeal, one that isn’t just based on homosexuality alone, but the whole emotional machinery of relationships as well.                                        Don Jaucian

The Janitor (Mike Tuviera)

The Janitor has the makings of a badass action film: an elevator knife fight, chase sequences, a cornfield shootout—all caused by a vigilante tasked to clean up loose ends. As Crisanto, the titular “janitor,” Dennis Trillo deviates from the unidimensional action star shtick by delivering a character who is just as feeble as he is lethal. He shows machismo when he kills with assured precision, yet he’s so easily emasculated by his father figures. The film examines the limits of loyalty against truth in a corrupt system, and it does so with the virility expected of a crime thriller.                 Jansen Musico

Asintado (Louie Ignacio)

The climax of Louie Ignacio’s Asintado is highly satisfying, but getting there is a slow burn. The first chunk of the film — about a barrio woman (Aiko Melendez) dealing with the damning consequences of her sons’ (Jake Vargas and Migs Cuaderno) actions — suffers from a bad case of melodrama. The characters, as if plucked from a dreary Dramarama sa Hapon episode, lay the groundwork brick by banal brick before we, the audience, get rewarded with a brisk and arresting final act ushered in by consistently strong performances from Melendez and Cuaderno.   Jansen Musico

Hustisya (Joel Lamangan)

You can see Hustisya’s seams ripping apart as it wobbles off into its final act. Lamangan, who seems to have bitten off more than he could chew, whittles down Hustisya into a tedious game of cat-and-mouse as Nora Aunor’s Biring ascends as heir apparent to the throne of Rosanna Roces’s Vivian (her former partner-in-crime), the queen of the criminal underworld, with gaudy studded gowns and all. Pity, Rosanna Roces disappears midway into the film, that back scratcher of hers mostly offers us relief from the exhausting overwork Lamangan offers up to us in the film’s latter half. What’s even more disappointing is how Lamangan lets go of the tenuous thread he’s built in the first half of the film, an intriguing (and often comedic, thanks to La Aunor’s bite) descent into the seedy underbelly of Manila’s cybersex dens, human trafficking, and high-level corruption. Lamangan uses Nora Aunor as a crutch most of the time, and rightly so. Biring is a character unlike anything we’ve seen for the past few years, a woman unfazed by the perversions and evils that she encounters as she rises above the wreck.

 — Don Jaucian







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