Short cuts
BRIEF HISTORIES - Don Jaucian (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2015 - 9:00am

More than the grit and the doom of Sicario, it is its sound that lingers long after the movie has ended. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s booming score is an apt soundtrack to trawl the byways of Manila, a menacing accompaniment that puts you in Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Mercer’s shoes as she enters the criminal underworld of Juárez, Mexico. Here, she is welcomed by  the sounds of gunshots, the sight of armed thugs murdered as they try to cross the border, and the grisly spectacle of dismembered bodies hanging in an overpass. Mercer joins a shadow government unit pursuing one of Mexico’s most wanted drug lords, though she is mostly kept in the dark as to why she is there in the first place. As the film unfolds, it is apparent that the “sicario” the title is referring to are the two exterminating figures — played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro — that relish the task of hunting down the crooks and kingpins that run the killing fields beyond the border.

Sicario is humorless, grim, and miserable. It never affords its characters a sliver of hope and insists on cloaking them in the fog of despair. When light seeps through, it is instantly obscured by the dark (in one scene, we find Mercer actually dancing with a guy she met at a bar only to find out that he is not the lonesome cowboy that she thinks he is). Villanueve shares this nihilistic streak with Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father, a portrait of a man stretched far beyond his limits as the fallout of a Ponzi scheme consumes him and his family. The pronouncements of joy — the sterling promises of a quick-rich scheme, the salvation peddled by a religious group, and the everyday comforts of a domestic life — are immediately extinguished once the axis of evil sets in, announced by the sickly hues of blue and yellow and a menacing filter of gray, lending an infernal atmosphere to the plight of Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz).

While On the Job was taut and relentless, Honor Thy Father takes its time to unfurl the course of the wicked that controls the system Edgar desperately tries to break. Like Sicario, it is unforgiving, allowing its inhabitants to look into the abyss while whittling down the hours until they finally jump into the mouth of madness. Cruz is fascinating as he disintegrates, released from the chokehold of his glossier films; he seethes with contempt and fury while scrambling to save his family. Come December, as it competes in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, Honor Thy Father will be anointed as a game-changer — quite fitting as we cap a year filled with disappointments and failures.

As a film that opens a film festival, Honor Thy Father sets the bar high for the rest of the competition films in Cinema One Originals. Matti’s film bristles with confidence, each scene crafted with utmost precision — elements some of the films in the competition slate could use. Though it is unfair to uphold the new breed against such lofty standards, it might just make the whole experience a little less troubling. Sitting through Sheron Dayoc’s dreary Bukod Kang Pinagpala in a cold theater, at the end of a long day, can be too exhausting or enduring the shrill ruckus of Ivan Andrew Payawal’s The Comeback too burdensome. Dayoc’s cult-horror has the most interesting premise in the lineup: a paralytic (Bing Pimentel) awakes out of her coma, roused by the devil who appears to her as Jesus Christ. The film could have been a wiry exercise in tension, particularly with its enclosed environment (a creaking house, filled with statues of saints and the Holy Mother, surrounded by a forest of tall trees) and Bing Pementel’s crazed performance. Instead, it ends up as a failed attempt in atmospherics, never fully realizing its potential as a little chamber of religious horrors.

Has-beens, decaying worlds, and families

The Comeback, on the other hand, embraces its kookiness wholeheartedly, thrusting its has-been actress, Angela Velasco (Kaye Abad), into an adventure involving a dead man’s ashes. It is amusing how the whole ensemble of actresses lovingly dedicate themselves to the ridiculousness of their characters; gleefully discussing the dead guy’s dick and his “gifted” ways, the entanglement of their affairs, and their desperate search for love. When they tone down the noise (the shouting matches can be tiring when repeated excessively), the film actually breathes better, allowing it to pick itself up and move along. There is a disconnect though between the resuscitation of Velasco’s (Abad) career and the blunders that she finds herself in. It feels as if the film refuses to make its mind up, which is unfortunate since it could have been a great film about the dynamics between women.

In Ralston Jover’s Hamog, we witness a decaying world struggle with the notions of hope and survival. The film benefits from having two excellent child actors, Zaijan Jaranilla (ABS-CBN’s May Bukas Pa) and Therese Malvar (Ang Huling Cha-cha Ni Anita), run the ills of living as street urchins. Though they are children, they must contend with problems not even a normal adult could successfully fight though. One incident splits their story into two: Rashid (Jaranilla) scrabbles to bury his friend after getting hit by a speeding van, and Jinky (Malvar) is thrown into the chaos of a three-pronged love affair involving a taxi driver that took her in. Innocence was never a currency in the world of Rashid and Jinky — instead, we watch them burn the last rays of grace in their lives, each of them gradually sinking into the city’s underbelly.

Finally, Manang Biring is one of the most endearing finds in Cinema One Originals. Though its rotoscoped footage might be too much of a novelty at first, Carl Joseph Papa weaves a tender tale of death and familial ties through Biring (Erlinda Villalobos), an aging sidewalk vendor who learns she only has a few months to live. Backed by a brilliant supporting cast (Mailes Kanapi and Alchris Galura), Manang Biring is a hilarious gem of a film that charts one woman’s hubris to live a petty criminal’s life and laugh in the face of death, just so she can be with her daughter one last time.

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Read the second part of Cinema One Originals coverage next week. Tweet the author @donutjaucian.



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