Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cinema One Originals 2015 Winners and Overall impressions

C1Originals Winners
Audience Choice Award: Baka Siguro Yata
Champion Bughaw Award: Manang Biring
Best Sound: Bukod Kang Pinagpala
Best Music: Manang Biring
Best Editing: Charliebebs Gohetia (Hamog)
Best Production Design: Bukod Kang Pinagpala
Best Cinematography: Dayang Asu
Best Screenplay: Ara Chawdhury (Miss Bulalacao)
Best Supporting Actress: Chai Fonacier (Miss Bulalacao)
Best Supporting Actor: Bor Lentejas (Hamog)

Special Recognition for Contributions to Philippine Independent Cinema:
Rox Lee
Joey Agbayani
Mike and Johnny Alcazaren
Nick Deocampo
Raymond Red

Best Actress: Teri Malvar (Hamog)
Best Actor: Dino Pastrano (Baka Siguro Yata)
Best Director: Bor Ocampo (Dayang Asu)

Jury Prize: Hamog
Best Picture: Manang Biring

I am happy with this turnout. 

Overall Impressions

Due to schedule conflicts it looks like I won't be able to see Dayang Asu, so I guess that wraps up my C1Originals coverage. It's been a blast writing about the festival and seeing all the films.

Other than Dayang Asu, there were a lot of films that I missed seeing thanks to me being busy as frak, especially the fantastic international films program. Kiyoshi Kurosawa had a film in the lineup (Kishibe no Tabi, or Journey to the Shore) as well as Oscar Foreign Film noms Mustang and Rams. Of course Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then is also there. I might pick up a DVD or something sooner or later. I have seen both The Assassin and A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence, but laziness is the mortal enemy of writing.

The overall lineup for this year was strong. After seeing the first three films I had my reservations but watching the rest of the films made me realize that the best was indeed saved for last. If I had to rank all of the films it would be:

1. Manang Biring is just good. It's overall good storytelling. The performances seal the deal. Feels na kung feels.
2. Baka Siguro Yata is all sorts of wonderful despite its flaws. Smart comedies are a weakness of mine and this one charmed the fuck out of me. It's one of the rare films that made me truly enjoy being inside a cinema.
3. Miss Bulalacao is daring and unique and it has a lot to say. There's a delightful kind of weirdness about it that adds to its overall charm. It's not perfect, but nothing ever is.
4. Hamog is tied with the entry below. It can get out of control at times, but my enjoyment partly stemmed from subverting my expectations about the film. Perhaps it could have trimmed some of the side stories to focus more on the two main character arcs in the film.
4. Dahling Nick is paced too unevenly for me, but overall is a great film. My viewing partner (who is relatively new to Joaquin's works) loved it way more than I did.
6. Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso is a snapshot of an interesting time, but without the context behind that snapshot, all you have is a picture that barely means anything to the uninitiated.
7. Bukod Kang Pinagpala is effective horror, but can be too densely layered at times. I guess that's not necessarily a bad thing, though.
8. The Comeback is loud and funny. The loudness and humor are not for everyone, but those who do enjoy such things will have a great time.

That's about it! MMFF New Wave and MMFF main festival next month. Till then see you at the movies :3

Cinema One Originals 2015: Bukod Kang Pinagpala, Baka, Siguro, Yata, Miss Bulalacao, Dahling Nick, Manang Biring

Okay, so today was a busy day. Five competition films from Cinema One Originals (bringing my total to 8/9). I also ate a cookie at Starbucks. It was good. Today was a good day.

Bukod Kang Pinagpala establishes its atmosphere from its opening scene, and cultivates it from there. It aims and more or less succeeds in making an effective horror film. The horror is superficial, however, and its allegories point to a deeper meaning.

The conflict between mother and daughter could represent the rift between two generations; one rooted deeply in faith and superstition, the other, emerging from those roots with a level of understanding and skepticism. Their situation (the isolated home, the limited amount of characters) seems less like a real thing and more of a representation for something, which unveils itself by the end of the movie. For me, this notion is present from the very start; it is merely camouflaged by the film's exterior.

It can also be interpreted as a warning to those who too easily follow figureheads of faith, unaware that they may be demons in disguise. Scenes from the very end of the movie seem to indicte that the conflict between the two is reflected in our society as a whole.

In any case, the film paces itself deliberately. Although there are a few side plots here and there, the plot keeps it simple until the tension ratchets up by the third act. For all it's worth, Bukod Kang Pinagpala is a decent slow burn horror film that needs to be scrutinized further to reveal its multiple layers of meaning.

I have to admit, I've never had as much fun watching a local movie in recent memory as I did watching Baka, Siguro, Yata. It's made up of three love stories of couples reuniting, meeting for the first time, or coming to terms with the 'next level' of their relationship in the context of present day society.

The story often concentrates on the story of Carlo, a young professional who seems to be in a rut following a recent breakup, and Melissa, a photographer who has no real aspirations to have a relationship. In a plot development paralleling Judd Apatow's Knocked Up (2007), Melissa gets... knocked up. This event ripples outward, affecting Carlo's divorced parents an Melissa's sister and her boyfriend, leading them to reexamine their respective relationships.

The movie mostly works because of the script. It's natural, funny, witty, and accessible to the audience; in the screening I attended, many seemed to enjoy every minute of it. The entire ensemble cast is laudable, but props have to go to Dino Pastrano, who plays Carlo. He nails the comedic timing for most of his lines and his character seems like an okay guy to hang out with.

The social landscape for relationships in today's world - including our norms regarding love, sex and who to take as a partner - are changing more than ever. Many recent films (basically, anything without a cookie cutter plot) have taken steps to portray both heterosexual and homosexual relationships in the context of this paradigm shift.

It's by no means a perfect film. The filmmaking feels a bit safe in a lot of places. The ending could have been expanded a bit more, but I don't mind what I got. In the end, I really don't care, I enjoyed the hell out of this film.

Miss Bulalacao begins (on a nicely framed shot, too) with the question: what is the essence of being a woman? The film then proceeds to fill its running time ruminating on this question until the very end.

Dodong, a.k.a. Donna, a drag queen, lives a relatively quiet life in the sleepy coastal baranggay of Bulalacao. He gets the shock of his life when he realizes that he is pregnant. The film hints at the origin of this seemingly miraculous birth, but many residents believe the pregnancy to be of religious significance and treat Dodong's unborn baby to be the second coming of Christ.

At the beginning of the film, Dodong answers "motherhood" to the above question. And we see bits of this burgeoning motherhood in Dodong. It's obvious he is happy to be carrying the child, even up to the conclusion of the story. He basically obtains the "essence of being a woman." But this still doesn't mean that he is equal to women in the eyes of his fellow townsfolk; at first many treat him with the same prejudice that he received as a non-pregnant drag queen. His palpable reaction to his pregnancy is also a search for his own identity, one that he hopes will bring him closer to the womanhood he yearns for.

Dodong is not the only character that struggles with identity and faith in the movie. Many of the other characters exhibit biases and exert their own prejudices based on how they were brought up, or how our society treats LGBT individuals. We still have a long way to go. 

Some of the other plots don't pan out. The religious angle is played with, but is not as fully realized or explored. I wanted to see more of Dodong taking on the role of expectant mother, but the movie doesn't delve into it as much as it could have. Maybe that's the point, however. Even now, in our society, traditional norms and/or restrictions tied into our society's close bond with religion prevent some of our countrymen from experiencing motherhood, regardless of gender. In other words,  dogmatism and adherence to outdated traditions sometimes takes away our right to be what we want to be (i.e. mothers.)

The film takes a very unique approach to its central thesis, and I've seen regional filmmakers from both Visayas and Mindanao pushing the limits of narrative storytelling - telling very distinctive tales tied into their own culture. There's a certain sense of daring, bravura if you will, from the way they make their films. It's all very exciting stuff.

Nick Joaquin was a fantastic writer, one of the best (if not THE best) our country ever had. I learned about him in what little English classes I had in high school and college. There's a certain kind of lyricism in his prose and his poetry, and his persona was larger than life.

Dahling Nick explores Joaquin's life by dramatizations of his works, documentary-style interviews, and dramatizations of life events. On the whole it is utterly fascinating and a bit touching too.

The documentary parts of the movie involve esteemed writers, columnists, journalists and bigwigs in the Filipino literary scene. They are filmed as if you were having a drink with them somewhere, sharing bottles of San Miguel Beer (Joaquin's favorite drink). It helps in the immersion and hearing these colorful, respected literary men and women reminisce about Joaquin's life and works could constitute a movie unto itself. At the end there are eulogies for the man, and one can't help but shed a tear seeing how this man impacted the lives of others.

Joaquin is played by Raymond Bagatsing and he gives life to a man who sparred with his friends with his intellect, his wit and a certain amount of irreverence. These segments culminate in a scene during the Martial Law era when Joaquin's contemporaries were being persecuted by the Marcos government. These scenes are made even more timely given that next year's elections involve a Marcos. The Martial Law days were horrible times, and in an environment where free speech was largely suppressed (the antithesis of literature and journalism), people had to fight the system in their own way, with some sacrificing their honor and principle for the sake of others.

The dramatization of his works are probably the weakest part of the segments, as the editing ends up without restraint, resulting with some scenes being too long for their own good. Standouts, however, include a reference to his most famous short story, May Day Eve, and the sequence at the end of the film.

While the first half is too slowly paced for my taste, the second half of the film is marvelous, and well worth the three hour running time. Fans of Nick Joaquin and Philippine literature are in for a treat.

And finally, I was really interested in seeing Manang Biring after viewing the trailer. Not only did it seem like it would be an interesting character study of a woman with a terminal illness, it was also a rotoscoped animation film, the kind we've seen with Richard Linklater's Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006).

Manang Biring's story, that of a woman with terminal cancer desperately trying to stay alive to be able to see her estranged daughter, is very personal to me. Many close relatives of mine have struggled with cancer; my very own grandmother succumbed to breast cancer when I was a young adult - it helped catalyze my eventual pursuit of a medical career.

And thankfully, the movie really works - Erlinda Villalobos' portrayal of Manang Biring shows a woman grappling with the reality of her eventual death, and the moral and ethical decisions she has to make to keep herself alive. Her performance is nuanced, identifiable and heartbreaking at the same time. 

This doesn't mean the film is all doom and gloom - the film manages to find moments of levity in many of the situations it finds itself in. Much of Manang Biring is comedy, a very Filipino trait of finding humor in even the darkest of situations.

I have met and spoken with many cancer patients of differing backgrounds and their experiences mirror Biring's struggle to survive. It's a difficult battle, one that is helped by the support of family and friends. She may not have immediate family on hand, but Biring manages to attract a number of colorful individuals because of her condition. She serves a thief robbing her home a meal and gives him a job, perhaps out of loneliness and a desire for companionship. She engages in several businesses to help fund her chemotherapy. And as the final few months approach, she takes crazy measures to ensure a good Christmas with her daughter, at any cost.

The rotoscoped animation avoids being just a gimmick and adds to the overall impact of the film. They expand the limitations of filming normally, creating scenarios and images that can only be achieved with such a medium.

If only for its scope and ambition, Manang Biring is a fantastic film, one of the best in this year's festival. But its effective character study and an amazing performance by its lead actress both serve as icing on the cake.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cinema One Originals 2015: Shorts Program,, Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso

My second day attending Cinema One Originals was at Newport Mall beside Resorts World Manila. I have to say other than IMAX those are the most comfy theater seats in any theater I've been to. Today, we talk about shorts and one competition feature.

Anino, a classic short by Raymond Red, was first up. Our main character, goaded by an enigmatic being (played by John Arcilla, no less) encounters life outside of his relatively sheltered existence taking photos for churchgoers. It seems arbitrary but it's not. It's very open to interpretation, and we are left wondering who the mysterious person is (is it part of the protagonist's psyche? a devil hovering over his shoulder? his conscience?)

Junilyn Has
sets up a punchline, and it ends up really sticking to you in the end. Enter the ironies of amorality through moral facades. It's true that Junilyn Has (meron si Junilyn) but the phrase has a double meaning as well.

continues the trend from Martika Escobar's previous Pusong Bato in exploring one's fascination with nostalgia and the past (notably the cinematic past of our country.) This time it's about a boy's search for his father through the films they shared together. Dindo takes the fourth wall and drops a nuke on it. It's cleverly written.

This is the third time I've seen Sanctissima, and I think this was the cut I saw at Binisaya a few months back (I could swear the lesbian couple had dialogue, but I could be wrong.) Fellow moviegoers at the back were cringing at the horrific scenes, so it's still very effective. As a side note, having seen lots of dead fetuses in my line of work, the effects were spot on.

Reyna Christina
is a coming of age tale. Tina's preparations and eventual walk at the local Santacruzan is a journey towards the realization of her own uncertain womanhood, the True Cross to her Santa Elena.

Pusong Bato
is the struggle of man and woman, buried underneath imagery and sound. It is a bit hard to access, as we are left to uncover its meaning through our own interpretation. Also I think I saw a ship that the duo could have sailed to during the last moments of the film.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas reminded me of a much longer film, Ang Kubo sa Kawayanan, except that the other party (in this case, a woman) wasn't as pushy about people leaving them. It speaks a lot about our countrymen who end up leaving the country, little by little abandoning the things that they love (partially symbolized by the camera) until they are left with a promise they cannot keep. Sure, there is a good life abroad, but realities abroad are harsh, and as our protagonist puts down the camera to continue the work, life's not as happy as it seems. (The movie also hammers this in via a rendition of our very own national anthem, playing over the credits.)

I've already seen Memorya in the Binisaya film fest, but this seems to be the remastered version as everything sounds way better than the cut I saw, and the voices sound different. My opinions on it stay the same, aside from the obvious sonic improvements.

The Tenant is the first of two international short films in the program. A refugee lives in an old lady's house. A victim of political oppression, he still experiences PTSD from the sounds of helicopters. The film's ending mirrors his state in a country that hesitates to accept him, leaving him as a man with no country, a tenant with no place to truly call home.

And finally we have A Love Story, which is far more straightforward than I had expected (although of course the genre, being about undead flesh eating creatures, is what it is.) It's nice, but as zombie movies are becoming popular with mainstream audiences, stories like this abound even in places like Youtube.

And I guess it is appropriate to end where we started, with Raymond Red. His previous full length feature, Kamera Obscura, dealt with the filmmaker's relationship with his craft and the 'cinema' he has created. With his latest film, he goes a bit more personal with Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso, which is a fictionalized account of the infancy of Philippine independent and alternative cinema, a movement Red was heavily involved in.

The movie is set a few months after the EDSA revolution that changed the political and social landscape of the Philippines forever. There's a film festival going on, and it's on its last day. Rem (Felix Roco) is supposed to provide the closing film, but something is preventing him from finishing it.

Youthful rebelliousness and the climate of the times birthed creative and alternative movements, in this case, the alternative film scene and the punk scene. I guess there's something about wanting to go against the grain, a revolutionary spirit, so to say, that makes people go out and do unconventionally creative stuff. I've often heard about the beginnings of Filipino independent stories, but many were just anecdotes and fairy tales. This is the first film that I've seen that tackles this formative period in our cinematic history.

This has left me wondering why the director went for a fictionalized account of this event, instead of a direct documentary style treatment, or at least a mix of the two. I'm still weighing if either choice would have ended up better than the other. To many people who are aware of the history behind this cinematic movement, they would appreciate the film more. But without the historical context - the basis behind the film - I feel those viewers will not have appreciated the film as much as they would have had the treatment been different. The Q and A portion after the gala premiere solved much of those problems for me, but I wonder how other viewers, without the benefit of knowledge of these events, will react.

In a sense, many of the things that happened in this movie still happen today; back then, filmmakers also wondered whether to stay underground or go mainstream. Even now, the struggle for relevance and acceptance in a film industry headed by huge studio juggernauts continues. In the indie scene, independent filmmakers still ally themselves with like minded independent musicians - Sleepless, Ang Nawawala and Lisyun Qng Geografia are recent examples.

Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso is a snapshot, and at a brisk 75 minutes, it flies by. As a snapshot of a past generation, details and background information are inevitably lost in its creation. But watching the film only makes me want to learn more about the beginnings of a cinematic culture whose effects are being felt even today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cinema One Originals 2015: Hamog, The Comeback

Ralston Jover's follow up to Da Dog Show is also a tale about the marginalized in society. Hamog is officially translated to Haze for the purposes of this film, which refers to the "batang hamog," juvenile delinquents who live on the street, committing petty crimes.

Hamog tells the story of four such street kids, ho make a living stealing money and materials from hapless motorists. Each one has different backgrounds and different stories to tell, although the film mainly focuses on two: Rashid, who rejects a relatively comfortable life with his father to live in the streets, and Jinky, a fiery young girl who has an unusual encounter with one of her victims.

These kids are not necessarily poor or orphaned, some, like Rashid, have the choice of an otherwise comfortable life, but choose to live the life of the streets anyway, thanks to personal demons and a slew of family problems problems. Others come from very dysfunctional families and broken homes. They treat the street life as a means of escape, a means of freedom in a very restricting world.

And sometimes escape is not enough. One character seeks refuge through a phantom that he envisions might save him from his rut; only to realize that such things are delusion, and the real world has no superheroes.

Haze in another context gives these children invisibility; the police often encounter these children, and social services do exist to give them structure, but the ideal is far from reality. The law is either inept or inadequate to serve them or their families. One such case where Jinky is brought to a DSWD office shows that the usual method of counseling can't solve all these problems. In one scene a character grieves over another as he lays him to rest; but the scene shows that many of these children are children without a god, perhaps desperately searching for one.

The film also makes us ask ourselves if these children should still be treated as such in the eyes of the law, or in the context of crime. Something in these kids has died in the course of their hard life. Maybe you could call it their innocence, but the truth is far more complex. These are kids who are victims of a society who does not have the means or the will to take care of them. Their complex motivations put some of their dialogue into question; one of Jinky's monologues in the end seems straightforward, but in this context, I couldn't help but doubt the truth of her words.

The film benefits from a stellar child cast, of course Teri Malvar and Zaijan Jaranilla deserve accolades for their performance in this film. True to its social realist roots the film uses handheld footage and a palette filled with apathetic gray and light brown tones.

The film's ending  is a bit ambiguous, but my personal interpretation hints at a bit of redemption for at least one of the characters. However, despite that, life in the streets holds its own seductive allure, and for many of the other characters in the film, such a life is an inescapable one.

P.S. Rappler had an interesting look into these kids' lives here, if anyone is interested.

I enjoyed watching The Comeback. It feels relatively light, and it's funny in many places to boot. It, however, hides behind its glossy veneer a deeper story of a woman struggling to find the meaning in her life.

Angela Velasco (Kaye Abad) used to be a popular actress. However, her irascible nature has made her undesirable for directors both indie and mainstream, casting directors and producers alike. Down to the last of her finances, she decides to kill herself, but the arrival of a mysterious urn turns her life upside down.

Angela then encounters a range of colorful characters as she tries to investigate the urn. Their interactions are mostly played for laughs. There are moments of comedy, horror and drama put into a mix.

That said, the plot is all over the place. It even feels bipolar for some reason. There are jarring shifts in tone in some places in the film; one such instance has a very dramatic scene (with an exceptional performance by Maria Isabel Lopez) followed by... a party scene. We are left with little time to process our feelings from the last sequence as we are ushered into a completely different sequence with a completely different tone.

The urn is more or less a MacGuffin; the real story is with Angela and her relationship with herself and others, especially her loyal assistant who serves as her emotional core (whether she knows it or not.) The Comeback tries to make a conversation about people in the throes of depression, but I felt that the film was stopping short of making that conversation. It ultimately hesitates to confront this (admittedly sensitive) subject matter and instead buries that conversation behind comedy, which I felt undermined its ultimate thesis.

Kaye Abad carries this movie from start to finish; I am not very familiar with her body of acting work but I was seriously impressed by her performance here. She'd make a fine contrabida in a TV series (and maybe she is, but I just don't know about it.) A lot of the dialogue in this film was adlibbed, and it was a treat to see the noise and wit here.

First movies are often the most personal, and I really felt it in the treatment for this film. The plot may be a bit of a mess, but The Comeback is otherwise light, entertaining fare.