Cinemalaya XII : Break the Surface

It’s the time of year, the 12th Festival of Cinemalaya happened last August 5 – 12. These reviews are personal views from me. I’m not an expert in film nor trying to be an expert.


Since there are no tickets left when I visited CCP, I decided to purchased the FIC (Films-In-Competition) pass worth of 1500PHP. As the perks, there would be no queuing in line.

Cinemalaya 2016

Dagsin directed by Atom Magadia

Dagsin means gravity. Although I think it’s the gravity of the “bodies falling to earth” type, on the other side I do think that “gravity” in Dagsin can take to the whole different meaning in the context of this film.

The movie is about an elderly man, Justino (Tommy Abuel, won as Best Actor) who has just recently lost his beloved wife Corazon. Everyday he takes a gun to his head, does a little Russian roulette and pulls the trigger. Through a series of flashbacks we see how this man’s life has been a series of endless regrets and tragedies, offset only by the happiness brought by his wife. That said, the movie takes a long time to get off the ground. The movie goes forward through two timelines – first we see how Justino and Corazon meet and fall in love, and then we go back to the present day, where Justino is looked after by his adopted daughter Mercy (Lotlot de Leon)
The two parts don’t mix up together that well. The film could have touched upon building the relationship between Justino and Mercy in the present day, but they don’t really have much of an emotional arc. Memories during Martial Law are relegated to dinner conversations, and the dark secret being hinted at in the film’s synopsis is addressed once, sort of implied, but not fleshed out. (In retrospect, this might be the point.) The film just takes us around in circles until we get to the climax of the film, where we realize just how deep Justino’s pain is – but by this time it’s too late to have any sort of satisfying emotional conclusion.
I do admire Tommy Abuel doing what he can with the material, with what is probably one of this year’s standout performances. Throughout the whole film you really feel for Justino and sort of understand why he feels the way he feels, the gravity of his life bearing down on his soul. The Film ends up as an idea that feels incompletely realized. I thought the premise had potential, but tis execution fell short of what it could have been.
Lando at Bugoy directed by Vic Acedillo, Jr.
Strained father-son relationships are so common in film and literature. Dad is so wrapped up in himself and in his work he fails to reach out to his son. The boy feels mistreated and treats his dad with hostility. The film, based on the true story of Camiguin teacher Silvino Bajao, inspires without preaching. It entertains without trivializing something as delicate as a father and son at odds with each other.
Honestly, when I watched this film the execution makes it look like its an episode from MMK or Magpakailanman. Lando Amora (Allen Dizon), a middle-aged, high-school dropout and gravestone carver, has a painful relationship with his wayward teenage son Bugoy (Gold Azeron). The latter, taking the path of his father, wastes his chance to a proper education by skipping classes and slacking-off with his ne’er-do-well friends. At the expense of humiliation, Lando accepts his son’s dare to go back to school so as to earn his admiration and challenge him to do the same.

What matters is that everyone makes amends, and look out for each other the way people who love each other do.

Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching directed by Victor Villanueva and Inna Salazar

A religious man who does petty crimes, Ponching, gets into a new venture, text scamming, thinking it will not really hurt anyone. One day, his seemingly “innocent” text scam accidentally cons a recipient into thinking he is the bastard child of their late relative.

Ang Bagong Pamilya Ni Ponching utilizes it delightfully funny lead Janus Del Prado together with Ketsup Eusebio and its story and execution that the audience can really enjoy. I love the soundtrack and scoring of the film. But what I really like more is its message that it will leave the audience.

Rich and poor are clearly unequal in this film – while the poor struggle to survive and often do illegal stuff to move forward in the world, the rich have problems of another kind – problems where issues with money drive them apart, where family name and status come first before love, where a lack of understanding leads to disagreements. Ponching provides a novel point of view for the Dela Veras and helps them see life in different ways. Ponching, on the other hand, goes through a period of self examination throughout the film as well, creating a quirky relationship where both parties help each other.
Ponching’s central structure is not a new concept – films where a new addition to a family changes it (more or less). Ponching wraps it in a fun, well-acted package that makes it the lightest of this year’s Cinemalaya films.
Hiblang Abo directed by Ralston Jover
Hiblang Abo is one of Rene Villanueva’s most iconic plays. Back in the early 2000’s. I managed to see this play as part of a field trip. Its final image, that of an old man, broken and alone, seared itself into my memory. Because of that experience I find it hard to not compare this new movie adaptation, directed by Ralston Jover, to the play I remember so well.
The film take place in a senior citizens’ home. Four old men, go through the twilight of their lives lost in the haze of their own pasts, going through the motions of the day. Death is not uncommon here, as these are men who are, for all intents and purposes, waiting to die. We also see flashbacks detailing these character’s pasts, where the younger version of all four characters are ingeniously played by Matt Daclan. The casting is deliberate, as these four men are endpoints of the same process – a life filled with heartbreak, bad decisions, and regret.
While the movie does start with some lighter moments, things get dark really fast. It’s a mood that sustains itself for the rest of the film, and we join these broken men, hand in hand, as they descend into their own personal hell, as sometimes death is sweet release compared to the agony of life itself. It’s helped by excellent performances by the ensemble cast; Nanding Josef and Lou Veloso stand out. While it may not stick in my mind as prominently as the play did, Hiblang Abo captures the darkness of these four men very well.
IAmerica directed by Ivan Payawal
The film isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be. It begins with an extra shaky cam shot following its heroine, Erica (Bela Padilla), presenting the notion that the film is a documentary-style chronicling of events rather than an intimate exploration of its protagonist’s struggles.
Two visually key moments happen midway in the film: one immediately after a pompous supper in which half-American Erica (Bella Padilla) confronts her father, John (Rob Rownd), upon learning the existence of a stepsister, which, her father asks her to help him find; and another that involves Erica’s mother (Elizabeth Oropesa), who, for the only minute she’s sober in the film, assures her daughter that John isn’t her real father. And there, the glum color of the former scene and the shaky camerawork of the latter, along with everything else in the filmㅡthe actors, the writing, and the directionㅡmake perfect sense, reinforcing the conflict in which Erica is caught at the center of. On and despite all of this chaos, Nonong Buencamino’s score impresses so gracefully.
The film is hampered by the push and pull of its comedic rhythms and histrionic fireworks — extended scenes of characters screaming at each other and pulling at each other’s hairs —  Unfortunately, the film feels too boxed in, too narrow and deeply embedded in the world of Amerasians in Olongapo that sometimes it feels they’re living isolated lives instead of connecting with the cultural hodgepodge that the city actually is.



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