Category: Cinema


*****First of all, allow me some time to patronize and congratulate myself for the timely resurrection of this blog. I can’t believe that it has been two and a half years since my last post – my fault entirely. For a time I thought that I had lost my passion for writing. I never considered myself a disciplined writer. Hence, it is only now that I’m playing catch-up!*****

(First of 4 Parts)

When any Filipino film buff is asked to do a rundown of the best Philippine movies of the second golden age and beyond (the second golden age is a term coined to refer to a rather sporadic exhibition of local films from 1974 onwards that are characterized by a strong sociopolitical message or those that exhibit innovative techniques when it comes to filmmaking), one would always recite the Cannes film noirs of Lino Brocka (Maynila, Insiang, Jaguar, among others), the cyclical films of Ishmael Bernal (Nunal sa Tubig, City After Dark, or Himala), or the intriguing allegorical works of Mike de Leon (Kisapmata, Batch ’81, Kakaba Kaba Ka Ba?). Perhaps the list would also have a sprinkling of films by Peque Gallaga, Eddie Romero, and Celso Ad Castillo.

The showstopping works of these filmmakers are great indeed. Truly, these films reflect an important milieu in our history as a nation, and they have withstood the test of time. There’s no question there.

However, a number of equally brilliant films have unjustly been off the radar of the average film buff. These films are not as celebrated by film critics and film lovers alike. They are often absent in the perennial “Top 10/20/50 lists of most notable films.” And if these films are ever included in such a list, they often occupy the tailend notches in the ranking.

They say that the Filipinos love to champion the underdogs. And true to form, this article aims to celebrate the most underrated Filipino films from the 1970’s up until the present time. Any such list is always subjective, obviously. But there is no denying that these films ought to be remembered and discussed as much as the other cinematic greats!

The films are listed in chronological order according to the movie’s year of production:

1. Pagdating Sa Dulo by Ishmael Bernal (1971) – This writer cannot believe that a leading website that consolidates an exhaustive list of Filipino film classics did not have this film in its Top 100! Absurd, indeed! Bernal’s debut film is one of those that tackle the art of filmmaking. This movie-within-a-movie focuses on the lives of a taxi dancer and her lover as they are catapulted to stardom – making a mess of their personal lives in the process. The film is unforgettable not only for the tour de force performance of Rita Gomez, Vic Vargas, and Eddie Garcia but also for the poetic screenplay and assured direction of Bernal, who was still a rookie on the director’s chair during this time. Brocka made a similar film a few years after called Stardoom, but it ultimately pales in comparison to the Bernal’s arthouse hit. Who would ever forget the final scene where the characters of Gomez and Vargas ascend the stairs of the moviehouse – their faces showing a bewildered, questioning then defeated look.

2. Sino’ng Kapiling, Sino’ng Kasiping by Eddie Romero (1977) – Romero’s intimate study on the psychology of marriage and infidelity boasts of strong performances especially from Daria Ramirez and Lito Legaspi. Excellent characterization lends utmost credibility to the film’s portrayal of couples who realize that their respective marriages have hit a dead end. The well-written script underscores every person’s need for a sense of purpose and affirmation. Sadly, the film’s excellent acting, well fleshed-out characters, and excellent screenplay were not complemented by the film’s rather dismal technical elements, especially the lousy camerawork.

3. Hubad na Bayani by Robert Ylagan (1977) – This film established Robert Arevalo (Ylagan is his real surname) as an equally good actor/director. To say that this is an important film would be a huge understatement. Set during the 1920’s, it depicts the miserable lives of peasant families who are terrorized by landlords, brainwashed by fanatical cults, and drawn to fight for a cause by rebel groups – depicting an emerging nation brewing with social ferment. The depiction of rural Philippines as a feudal and agricultural wasteland of oppression and injustice is truthful and carefully studied. The ensemble cast is excellent and the film’s scope still rings true up to this day. Behn Cervantes made a similar film the year before which he called Sakada. However, Cervantes celebrated work appears too theatrical, slow, and preachy for the contemporary viewer. Here is where the merits of Ylagan’s film lies. Though far from perfect technically, the film as a whole looks and feels more organic, in sharp contrast to Cervantes’ “street-activist” aesthetics.

4. Ang Tatay Kong Nanay by Lino Brocka (1978) – This is perhaps one of Dolphy’s finest films. The Philippines’ comedy king will forever be credited for originating the flamboyant gay in Philippine Cinema – long before Vic Sotto, Roderick Paulate, and Vice Ganda came into the picture. This dramedy stars Nino Muhlach, Philippine Cinema’s child wonder of the 70’s. Dolphy, on the other hand, plays foster father to Muhlach’s amusing and cutesy character. His love for his son and his desire to give his son a normal family life has led him to conceal his true sexual orientation from the inquisitive boy. When he is finally outed towards the end of the film, the concluding scenes will forever be remembered as one of the most poignant and touching finales in Philippine cinema – and in a Dolphy film at that! Dolphy’s pioneering depiction of gays as flamboyant and histrionic is balanced by the film’s quieter moments. Brocka here powerfully merges commercial appeal and artistic integrity. The end product is funny, grounded, affecting, and believable.

5. Ikaw At Ang Gabi by Danny Zialcita (1979) – Not until it was later found out that this film was carbon copied from the American miniseries Torn Between Two Lovers, this excellently crafted melodrama features commanding performances from Dindo Fernando and Chanda Romero. An adult tale of failed relationships and broken marriages, this film sort of foreshadows Jerrold Tarog’s innovative Sana Dati. Love in this film that was made towards the end of the 70’s is portrayed in a very unromatnicized manner. It is not in the sweeping saccharine declarations of affection. Rather, it is found in the little things – in acceptance, forgiveness, and the commitment to give it one more try. Sappy concepts it may seem but thankfully, the film does not dissolve in too much pathos. Technical elements are all outstanding (relative to Philippine melodramas that are often convoluted, manipulative, and overdetermined) – from the cinematography to editing to musical scoring.

Pagdating sa Dulo-71- photo- Vic Vargas-Rita Gomez- Eddie Garcia-sfimgresimagesIkaw at ang Gabi-79- Beth Bautista-DindoF-sf Sino'ng Kapiling Sino'ng Kasiping-77- photo-sf

Advertisements

Favorite Films From The 90’s

Hi everyone!

Apparently, it is my rundown of my favorite films of the 80’s that has garnered the most views in my blog. Thanks everyone for messaging and for commenting.

At some point, many are correct when they say that the 80’s (especially the first half) was indeed a landmark era for Philippine Cinema, both in quantity and quality. Ironically, the repression of the Marcos regime also ignited the blooming of a national cinema that discussed the pressing issues of the times. Veiled or outrightly exposed, the notable Filipino films of the 80’s truly depicted a turbulent era in Philippine history and reflected a much talked about social milieu for the movie audiences to see.

But soon enough, things started to nosedive.

The 1986 EDSA Revolution may have restored democratic rule in government but did very little in temrs of uplifting the social and economic conditions of many Filipinos. In the FIlipino film, the Aquino government accomplished ZERO when it comes to improving the quality and industrial conditions of a much-patronized artform. Hence, the golden age of the early 80’s would end sometime in 1986. It can be said that the unabated crass commercialism of Philippine Cinema and its stunted artistic growth would continue way into the decade that followed.

And that is the topic of this long overdue blog post.

The cinematic output of the 90’s would really pale in comparison to that of the preceding decade. For one, the 90’s saw the deaths of two very important pillars in Philippine Cinema—national artist Lino Brocka, who perished in a car accident in 1991, and fellow national artist Ishmael Bernal, who succumbed to a sudden heart attack in 1996. On the other hand, other luminous directors of the past decade such as Mike de Leon, Laurice Guillen, and Celso Ad Castillo, went on inactive status and only made films sporadically.

Another thing is the continued dominance of the Hollywood film when it comes to box office performance. We often see Filipino films unashamedly copying Hollywood plots, storylines, and for crying out loud—-even characters and whole titles for that matter! Producers also stuck woth tried and tested formula films that were sure to make money at the tills.

It is in this manner that most of the notable films appearing on this list have a few things in common. One, they are undoubtedly compromised works. Some films may ride on a popular genre (melodrama, action, love story, the youth film, sex film, etc.), while others capitalized on the so-called “star system” in order to recoup their capital. Few from the films on this list actually made money, but nevertheless, these films are fortunate because they were directed by gifted filmmakers who learned how to compromise between commercial appeal and artistic integrity. Save for the last film by Mike de Leon, none of the films from the 90’s that appear on this list is worthy to be called a “classic.” Nevertheless, they deserve mention because they are symbols of hope that a well made film could still be made amid a monolithic system of films made to dumb down the masses.

1. Andrea, Paano Ba Ang Maging Isang Ina by Gil Portes (1990)- This brave film was a box office nightmare. Nora Aunor essays another powerful performance as a mother who leaves her son to her bestfriend to become a political rebel. It is very interesting how the home, politics, motherhood, citizen, friendship, family, and the dichotomy of classes all come to play in this engaging and intriguing social melodrama. Aunor essays another powerful and affecting performance but actress Gina Alajar is also excellent. Gil Portes’ direction though is upstaged by the gravity of Ricky Lee’s script which is truly reasonant and relevant for the times.

2. May Minamahal by Jose Javier Reyes (1993)- Heavily attached to the romantic comedy formula, May Minamahal is gifted with topnotch scriptwriting from writer-director Jose Javier Reyes. A rehash of the rich boy poor girl format, the film rises above mediocrity thanks to convincing characterization, taut editing, and controlled acting. This film, which earned millions at the tills, shows how disciplined Jose Javier Reyes is as a director in the sense that he ner goes overboard. Aga Muhlach, Aiko Melendez, and Ronaldo Valdez turn in memorable performances.

3. Sana Maulit Muli by Olivia Lamasan (1995)- This is probably the forerunner of the OFW films that followed years after this intelligent melodrama came out (1995). The film tells the struggles of two Filipino young professionals in California, who also happen to be lovers, played excellently by Lea Salonga and Aga Muhlach. Everything seems to work in this commercial film. Intelligent scripting, assured direction, affecting performances especially of its lead actors, above average cinematography, astute editing and scoring, and competent sound. Olivia Lamasan is a good director in the sense that she uses the romantic movie foil to communicate relevant issues to her audience. Her 2004 film Milan, is another testament to her insightful storytelling.

4. Bakit May Kahapon Pa by Joel Lamangan (1996) – Another brave film done in a Brocka-ish manner, Bakit May Kahapon Pa is another story of a political rebel, a daughter of a peasant who goes to the city to seek revenge against a greedy and corrupt military man and his entire family. The images in this film seem to come out straight from the headlines —massacres, farmers losing lands, rural violence, corruption in the military, and the seeming apathy of the urban rich to the plight of the masses. Aunor gives a rather heavy handed but convincing performance.

5. Madrasta by Olivia Lamasan (1996) – This is the film that made Sharon Cuneta an actress. It is truly amazing how Cuneta discards the acting conventions and predictable roles that had prevented her growth to a truly competent actress. This controlled melodrama is the story of a woman who had to balance her roles as stepmom, wife, and career woman. A feminist film directed by a female director, the film made a killing at the box office, with the gamble paying off for Cuneta, who made this film outside her mother studio.

6. Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa by Chito RoÑo (1998) – Another feminist and melodramatic film, the film tells the story of Lea Bustamante, a social worker and a mother of two kids from two different men. This entertaining but important film examines the role of women in Philippine society. Hence, roles are questioned, prejudices are junked, and men are placed in the periphery. This film benefits from a keenly observant script by Lualhati Bautista, the excellent acting of its actors especially Vilam Santos, Carlo Aquino, and Serena Dalrymple, and the competent direction of Chito Rono.

7. Bayaning Third World by Mike de Leon (1999) – This film is perhaps the “Film of the Decade.” A deconstructionist and post modern film, the film received little patronage from the moviegoing public due to its “arty” structure and the very intellectual handling of the material. An investigation on the heroism of Jose Rizal, Bayaning Third World is the director’s answer to a centennial Rizal film that was full of factual errors and shallow historical research. Shot in black and white, the film boldy violates many conventions in filmmaking – temporal and spatial limitations, characters talking directly to the audience, film genres discarded altogether, and black and white photography at the close of the twentieth century. This film is probably the best film to come out of Philippine Cinema since Lino Brocka’s “Orapronobis.”

ROTONDA — MISERY OVERKILL

 

Life is a never ending cycle of misery.

 

            This rather pessimistic outlook, seems to be the unifying element of Ron Bryant’s third digifilm “Rotonda.” As some of you may already know, Rotonda is the Spanish term for circle. In layman’s term here in the Philippines, Rotonda refers to anything on a road that is circular or oval-shaped (the borders of Quezon City and Manila as well as Manila and Pasay City both have such a structure). The digifilm revolves around the lives of thieves, street thugs, whores, drug addicts, and crooked cops and the similarly tragic events that intertwine all of their lives.

 

            The principal character of the film is Abner, portrayed excellently by Mark Gil. Abner is a tabloid reporter who, in the first few images of the film, is seen walking aimlessly into the filthy and clogged streets of Manila. This rather aimless walking typifies Abner’s existence in the whole film, and come to think of it, the rest of the characters throughout this bleak and dark movie. Abner, half consciously entering a cheap nightclub, is drawn to Racquel – a professional whore who has pinned her hopes and dreams on her younger sister, whom she later finds out to be a victim of sexual molestation and pimping by Racquel’s own live in partner, the heartless and avengeful Dima, played by theater actor Mario Magallona. Dima, on the other hand, is planning to get back at his former kingpin who unsuccessfully tried to liquidate him in the past and is now a cripple, the character played by Celso Ad Castillo. Being a cripple, he is now under the care of an amateur drummer, Chito, played in the film by Jeffrey Quizon. Chito, on the other hand, while religiously performing his onligations to the now crippled godfather, is also a drug pusher and one of his regular suppliers is a rather wealthy colegiala who  in turn is under the not so welcome protection of a crooked cop, played by Emilio Garcia.

 

            If the storyline seems complicated, maybe because it really is. The director aims to show the abject hopelessness, desperation, and moral depravity of the characters in the dog-eat-world that is the city of Manila. In the end, some of them are killed, the others manage to escape, and yet others find some artificial form of redemption and thus continue to survive in the city’s dark, filthy streets. Yet, they find no release from their hapless conditions, and there would surely be a day when tragedy or the liberating pangs of death would get them. The title of the film reflects this vicious cycle of desperation and hopelessness, with one character who happens to play an idiot is seen curiously wearing a filthy dress of blue, red, and white, hence alluding to the reality that the lives of these miserable characters are directly connected to the national condition.

 

            The characters in the film are all real and realistic. Perhaps once could find an exact equivalent of each character in the film in any slum area within Metro Manila. However, while the actors perform their parts in an above average manner, the fact remains that the characterization is thin and even caricaturish for some. The character of Celso Ad Castillo is thread-thin in terms of characterization, and the part played by Emilio Garcia is forgettable, if not ridiculous. Nevertheless, Mark Gil is perfect as the desperate journalist. He fits his role to a tee that his every facial expression and acting nuances effectively communicates the deep emotional scars of this wounded man. Truly, he is one gifted, if not underrated thespian who happens to come from an illustrious family of highly respected actors. Jeffrey Quizon is in his usual competent self. This actor is admirable in the sense that he can turn a short role to a meaty and engaging performance. Personally, this author would even dare say that this Quizon is better than all the other Quizons who went before him – even his father!

 

            But perhaps the greatest revelation in this film is Merryl Soriano. When she entered the indie scene, it is already clear that she had the makings of a fine actress. In Rotonda, she sheds her black and white image as the prostitute who has been numbed by her troubled past but has retained an all too human heart.

 

            It could have been much better if the script has been fully realized to include a deeper characterization for all characters. Admittedly, this could slow down the pace of this tautly edited picture. Unfortunately, to some extent, the sacrificing of characterization over pacing spells a sort of missed chance for this film, turning it into a well disguised melodrama on urban poverty.

 

            While the cinematography is competent, the film is overscored at times. Initially, the sound may be irritating as the noise of the streets and the verbal jousts of the characters combine with diegetic music emanating from the radio or the television set. But towards the middle, you get the idea that the film seems noisiness parallels the chaotic lives and emotional clogs of the characters. The production design is rather impressive. The motel room where Abner and Racquel checks into underscores the feeling of imprisonment, paranoia, and desperation that both characters are facing. The mammoth house where Chito and the ex-kingpin live also resembles the disparate treatment of the two residents to one another as their disfunctionality and neediness also becomes the source of their alienation. The film could only hint at the true relationship of both characters.

 

            Ron Bryant’s direction in this indie film is a big improvement from the heavy handed Baryoke. And though his film may carry a very dark message, he drives his point to the fore and through the heart.

 

            All in all, Rotonda is ultimately a competent melodrama masquerading in the tough exteriors of the gangster film. And though the director of this independent film may frown at the thought of classifying his film, it can be said that the film doesn’t really communicate much in the end – or at least something that we are still unaware of.

Favorite Filipino Films from the 80’s

As I was ending one of my classes in Humanities I (Art Appreciation), I had a rather spirited conversation with some of my students regarding local films, particularly of the 80’s. Of course, this decade was embraced by a dose of really monumental works from the country’s acclaimed filmmakers. Yet, this was also a time of severe commercialism in film, so much so that in 1987, a notable group of film critics refused to give out the usual yearly citations and recognitions for the simple reason that there were no deserving nominees, much more winners.

Back to my class. I ended up recommending a few films from the 80’s to some students who looked really interested. Though I may not be as helpful in looking for the actual copies of these films, I believe that somehow, I was able to enhance their knowledge on Philippine Cinema especially its rich and checkered history. These kids practically grew up in a national cinema that featured dizzying close ups of matinee idols and Fil Ams who probably know nothing but wooden acting. Thank heavens for the indie revolution!

Let me share my personal list of notable films from the 80’s, and just a few reasons why I particularly liked each film.

1. Bona by Lino Brocka – This film is just shimmering with raw humanity. Actress Nora Aunor reveals yet another layer of her acting chops in this film about a slum girl who is obsessed with a movie bit player. Despite numerous technical flaws, the film features topnatch acting and restrained melodrama from the country’s most prominent director.

2. Manila by Night by Ishamel Bernal – This cyclical film from Ishmael Bernal features a cast of sleezy and weird characters from Manila’s underbelly. A film devoid of hope and clean cut morality, it is very interesting how the city of Manila becomes a character in itself, as it seduces, traps, confronts, and eats its own children. While the sex scenes can still be shortened, the real gift of this film is its director, who also happens to be the film’s writer. Bernal here dramatizes his personal tribute to a city so beautiful yet so horribe at the same time.

3. Kisapmata (In The Blink of An Eye) by Mike de Leon – This political film is probably Mike de Leon’s best. He gets everything right in this film – the mood, the acting, the cinematography, the music, everything! This shocking film is probably one of my favorites. It’s just timeless!

4. Salome by Laurice Guillen- The Filipino version of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, the film features a career crowning performance from Gina Alajar and a thespic zenith for its director. The film focuses on the subjectivity of truth, as a housewife is tried for the murder of a cityboy. Issues of rape,adultery,unfaithfulness all come to play in a town plagued by gossip mongers. Watch out for the ending as it truly is poetic and unforgettable.

5. Batch ’81 by Mike de Leon – Another political film from Mike de Leon. It uses the college fraternity as a microcosm of a society suffering under a fascist regime, where acts of violence and inhumanity are disguised amid the lofty ideals of order, unity, and brotherhoood. The fight scenes in this film are just unforgettable, not to mention the highly symbolic production numbers from the three fraternities towards the final third of the film.

6. Himala (Miracle) by ishmael Bernal – This rather philosophical film focuses on religion as the new opiate of the masses. It tells the story of how a woman manages to fool an entire provincial village plagued by drought on how the Virgin Mary appeared to her. Actress Nora Aunor is again at the top of her game and she is backed by an equally spectacular supporting cast. It is also impressive how Bernal uses the location to effectively communicate and enrich the audience’s viewing experience. Though slow and dead-serious in many parts, the film is truly one of Philippine Cinema’s best.

7. Oro, Plata, Mata by Peque Gallaga – This epic film tells the story of two families and how the Japanese occupation left scathing wounds of war and psychological turmoil in their lives. The production design in this film is just superb. Jose Javier Reyes’ screenplay is also keenly observant. Truly, all of Gallaga’s succeeding works seemed inferior to this masterpiece.

8. ‘Merika by Gil Portes – This melancholic film is truly one from the heart. It is an early indictment of the American Dream and how it has affected the lives of Filipinos who have dreamt all their lives to reach the United States. This quiet but moving film is gifted with notable performances from Nora Aunor as the lonely nurse and Bembol Roco as her opportunistic suitor. The cinematography and production design are also commendable. The music underscores feelings of loneliness, nostalgia,and  desperation.

9. Paradise Inn by Celso Ad Castillo – This film is another production that mirrors the nation’s sociopolitical climate during the turbulent 80’s. Despite lopsided scripting and overscoring, the film manages to succeed thanks to memorable performances from Lolita Rodriguez and Vivian Velez, who play mother and daughter who are managing a sleezy bar cum brothel in the midst of a politically charged provincial town. This film uses subtle yet powerful images that call for revolution against a repressive regime. This film came out in December of 1985 — 2 months before the EDSA Revolution that toppled the dictatorship.

10. Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (Lend Me One Morning) by ishmael Bernal – A tearjerker through and through, this melodrama, thankfully, is not devoid of great acting from Vilma Santos, who plays a dying working mom trying to make sense of her life that is about to come to an end. Apart from Santos’ noteworthy performance, the film also features powerful images of life and death, body and would-be-spirit, while at the same time channeling the commercialist workings of melodramas in the Philippines.

BONA: Truly one of Brocka’s best

I was pretty lucky last night during my channel surfing. Mainstream Philippine television seems to offer nothing but sick melodramatic and long-winded stories of young stars in superhero costumes, diva ensembles, and depictions of pathetic beings from fantastic and ridiculous places. But, and the big but is, cable offers a lot of much needed alternatives!

For one, Cinemaone, the cable channel that showcases Filipinop films, has an outstanding Lino Brocka film on their primetime programming last night. A 1980 film that is, though flawed technically, is truly compelling and affecting.

Bona is one of Brocka’s films that was showcased in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival – the olympics of world cinema. Though not in competition, watching the film will convince the viewer why the French truly obsessed with THE Lino Brocka — and why Nora Aunor, in spite of her colorful life, remains to be one of the Philippines’ true thespians.

Bona is the story of a slum girl, played by Nora Aunor, a hopeless fanatic. However, she is not obsessed with a superstar but with Gardo, a bit player, a movie “extra” so to speak, portrayed by Phillip Salvador.

Truly obsessed as Bona was, she would attend to the myriad needs of her “master” everyday – cooking for him, washing his clothes, cleaning his house, helping him take a bath – and in one moment of weakness, even offering herself to her master which she has come to regard as the hub of her life.But Bona’s devotion is never really acknowledged by Gardo, as he continually treats Bona like a slave, even bringing home other women.

Bona’s dreams, bound to be shattered in from the star, ends with the disillusioned fanatic dousing boiling water on her abusive master.

This really affecting psychological film has, as its main strength, the brilliant acting of Aunor and Salvador. It is very convenient to go the easy way and make caricatures out of their characters, but Aunor and even better – Salavdor, envelope their roles with very human qualities and a rare depth. Hence, it is in the acting that the film is able to0 achieve its goal, sans the bad cinematography and sound, misplaced scoring, and haphazard editing.Whiel not technically assured as Brocka’s “Maynila”, the film succeeds in communicating insightful statements as it is very intelligent, not to mention very Filipino.

All in all, Bona is an affecting film about the Filipino’s blind fanaticism, the poverty and subhuman conditions that has rendered the fanatic to be immersed in an escapist universe of silly dreams, blind servitude, and irrational obsessions – with often tragic results.

 

This is how this writer sums up Gil Portes’ latest film. Aptly titled Barcelona, this didactic melodrama is another retelling of the plight of our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s), much in the same vein as the well-made romance/drama Milan (2004), the loud Dubai (2005), and the superior Sana Maulit Muli (1995) from a several years back. Simply put, Barcelona tragically pales in comparison to the other films mentioned.

 

Clarissa is a mysterious young woman who left the Philippines for Barcelona, Spain in search for her lost husband. While in that Castilian city, she meets and is immersed in the plight of her compatriots. There, she experiences utter loneliness, hopelessness, friendship, and the blossoming of new love.

 

The material itself is quite provocative and juicy, as there surely is something new to say about the plight of our countrymen in Spain. Sadly, the film just becomes a silly homily, led by the director’s heavy-handed direction, and the writers’ antiquated and totally contrived vision.

 

The technical flaws were just simply overwhelming. The sound is bad and seems hollow at times, the editing is painfully slow and dull, some parts of the movie were overscored, and the cinematography is bad. Sure, the film is in digital format. But it simply isn’t an excuse to photograph scenes in distractingly dark shots while being overly suffused with natural light in other parts. Even as a travelogue, where camerawork is very important, the film still fails miserably.

 

The acting ranges from mediocre to bad. Alessandra De Rossi, who plays the lead role and Robert Arevalo who played a tormented widower turned in average performances – plain and passable. Tina Paner, who plays herself, acts in a very hectic and unnatural manner. The rest of the supporting cast and extras were obviously waiting for queues from the director, hence performing in a very amateurish manner.

 

Sadly, this has got to be Portes’ and Senedy Que’s lousiest screenplay, as their final output examines nothing new about the OFW experience. Absolutely nothing! None of the issues too were uniquely endemic to the OFW’s of Barcelona that one would even wonder why the filmmakers needed to make a film in Barcelona when it could have been shot here in the Philippines (even name it Tagaytay, Fairview, or Novaliches so as to make it a little less pretentious) with a better cast and much better production values. Moreover, the metaphysical/philosophical twist in the end is not really enlightening nor unpredictable – just plain silly and contrived.

 

On a more tragic note, this film is probably Portes’ sorriest. After the success of his Mga Munting Tinig (which is quite an outstanding film), Portes has been hitting lows one after the other. A calculated melodrama in Beautiful Life, a long-winded narrative in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and now, a really bad and unfortunate film like Barcelona.

 

The public could not be faulted for largely snubbing this preachy digital feature. When this writer saw the film, less than ten people were inside the moviehouse. Save your cash would be the best advice for anyone reading this article and has yet to see the film.

 

All in all, a film like Barcelona is the perfect Christmas present that a respected director like Gil Portes could offer the Filipino viewer. That is, if he hated us – each and everyone of us.

Released commercially this week in Metro Manila Theaters is Stephen Daldry’s female drama “The Hours.” The film captures the lives of three women who lived in three different time periods and environments.

The film gives us a peek into the troubled and complicated world of the female psyche, as it dissolves, deconstructs and subjectifies the myths and quasi-truths that have long been accepted by society as the measures of happiness, fulfillment and all-encompassing definition of the female essence. Thus, the film maintains an ideology that may be halfway through feminism yet detours into the more vague postmodernism.

Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) is a middle-aged woman of the present time who is about to draw a party for her special friend Richard, a gay man afflicted with AIDS. Rewound into mid-twentieth century, one finds Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a simple infanticipating housewife who is preparing a cake for her husband’s birthday. The lives of these two women are intertwined with the life and work of Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), a famous writer of the early twentieth century.

The film opens with a view of the flowing river, easily suggesting a continuity of fate and predicament which is seen throughout the film, as it draws parallelisms in the lives of these three women, intercutting with one period to another, conveying the message that time does very little, if not nothing at all to change how one understands women or if put on a more reflective manner, how society perceives women.

In the film, Virginia Woolf is shown as an accomplished writer. However, her success in her vocation is not enough to earn her the respect of her servants. Her inability to connect with her immediate environment transforms her into a disenchanted outsider. Her relationship with her husband remains harmonious albeit distant.

On the other hand, Laura Brown is a dutiful housewife and mother who sees her environment not as a home but more of a prison. In the early frames of the film, she is shown as a wife and mother who is not even at ease in being one.

Meanwhile, Clarissa Vaughn is depicted as a contemporary woman who takes care of somebody else to distract herself from her own life and existence. Superficially, she is depicted as a compassionate and loving woman with an all-too-human heart. But deep inside, she is cold, selfish, bitter and a coward who masquerades as somebody who takes care of the needy just to show that she has a purpose and that she is important.

Certainly, the film touches on a lot of issues and tries to address and eventually dismantle the myths that have been taken up as facts.

First and foremost, the film conveys the message that marriage and motherhood do not define the essence of a woman. With Laura Brown, we see that being a wife and mother are actually the roots of her unhappiness and misery. She had lost herself by playing roles that she is forced to choose between playing roles and actually living the life she wants in the end.

The film also seems to suggest that the opposite sex has very little to do in terms of defining a woman’s happiness. In the lives of both Laura and Virginia, we see responsible, understanding and kind-hearted husbands that could perhaps be the relish of every woman with a dream to eventually marry and settle down. However, it is evident in the film that these characteristics are not enough to make a woman happy. Throughout the film, we see the central characters as women who have minds of their own, exclusive of their husbands and loved ones. Hence, they are put in situations where they eventually have to face their own existence while on the other hand, trying to run away from it.

The film also conveys that altruism is not as important as the one who is actually performing the altruistic act. The feeling or the sense of being needed becomes a security blanket that prevents one from examining her own life and oftentimes becomes a selfish motive in itself.

The film also tackles on the issue of female relationships and female bonding. Hence, it is not more of a matter of women needing men but actually women finding solace and peace in the company of other women, sans any sexual connotation.

As for artistic evaluation, the film is highly commendable for breathing new life to the often saturated melodramatic arena of run-of-the-mill movies about people trying to make sense of their own lives. The aspect of time that is utilized in the film enriches the whole viewing experience. However, there are moments when the script becomes overly serious that it is evident that some humorous injections are sadly lacking in the film, in favor of philosophizing and introspection.

On the other hand, the technical elements of the film- cinematography, editing, sound and production design have all been utilized artistically, except for the music which tends to be obtrusive, unnecessary and overly used in some parts where the use of silence is more properly suitable.

However, the greatest strength of this film is its acting. All three characters deliver such strong performances and they are well-matched by the equally strong supporting cast, especially Ed Harris, who played Streep’s gay friend and Stephen Dillane who was equally magnificent as Virginia Woolf’s other half. Kidman’s prosthetics-enriched performance is worthy of an Oscar nod (although she was clearly inferior to Dianne Lane’s flawless act in “Unfaithful”) but she does not necessarily upstage Streep or Moore in this film. Daldry’s direction, meanwhile, is smooth and assured till the very end.

Finally, “The Hours” is such a sweeping film with a truthful, reflective and honest outlook on women and life in general. It is a poignant film that is definitely, one from the heart.

New directors are much welcome in a desperately wanting film industry like ours, at a time when most of our films are suffering from a drought in creativity, integrity and intelligence And truth to tell, Meily’s debut film from the Palanca award-winning script which he also wrote is a minor cinematic gem on its own.

A very welcome breath of fresh air for the Philippine movie industry ushered in this Christmas season through rookie filmmaker Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies, which is probably the most original entry in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.

New directors are much welcome in a desperately wanting film industry like ours, at a time when most of our films are suffering from a drought in creativity, integrity and intelligence And truth to tell, Meily’s debut film from the Palanca award-winning script which he also wrote is a minor cinematic gem on its own.

The movie centers on Stella Mate, played by the most commercially viable actress for the last twenty years or so, Sharon Cuneta. Stella was previously convicted of estafa and had just come out of prison to start a new life. She seeks for her son which is now in the arms of the boy’s father (Ricky Davao), who has already taken in a new family and is planning to transfer to Cagayan de Oro together with his new wife and his son by Stella. Unable to find a stable job, she accepts the offer of the son of a Chinese man who had just passed away, played by Eric Quizon, as a professional mourner, payed to cry during the wake up until the actual burial.

As for the other Crying Ladies, Hilda Coronel portrays the role of a starlet during the 70’s who just can’t seem to wake up from her dream of becoming famous, which never quite materialized. Angel Aquino, in turn, plays a religious woman who is always torn between saying no and continually sleeping with a married man, played by Raymond Bagatsing.

The situations facing the characters in this movie are not really big. Instead, their problems are the problems of the common man, desperate to find, define, and redefine their purpose in life.

With this much of the plot laid down, it is easy to turn the film into a forgettable melodrama. But the miracle is, this film is actually an intelligent comedy about life, hope and the need to move on.

The scenes which lengthily show crying are actually scenes where the characters really do have to cry, because they are paid to do so. However, as the film tackles the lives of the three characters, the audience is made to laugh and feel amused with the three women, no matter how real their trials are. Stella is about to be separated from her son, which she has made the hub of her life. She tries everything to get a stable job which could earn her the right to keep her son for good. In the end, she still loses him to her son’s father. The other crying lady (Coronel) is still trying to earn credit for her bit role in a silly 70’s film, for it is the only way in which she could feel good and worthy. The last of the three (Aquino) was able to say no to the call of the flesh in the end. But for how long, is still pretty much up in the air.These real situations, finely illustrated in this comedy, underscores the scriptwriter/director’s message of the need to be hopeful, to unhook and move on with our lives. Yet, he tackles this in a non-simplistic way for in the film, none of the conflicts and problems of the characters are resolved fully. Instead, the film ends with a message of hope for the characters as they get another chance in life. Hence, it is enough to say that hope is enough to once again ride the motorcycle of life.

The technical elements of cinematography, production design, music, editing and sound are all outstanding. In truth, this is actually one of the best photographed films of the year.

Meily’s direction is competent as well. He knows how to stage his scenes very well and he gets his actors as well as the technical aspects of the film to work in almost perfect harmony. This is the advantage of being the scriptwriter and the director at the same time.

However, though the cast was generally okay and the actors obviously dished out their best in handling their respective roles, there surely were flaws that unfortunately make the film less believable.

Ricky Davao, who plays a security guard and the father of Stella’s son, doesn’t fit in his role. He looks too clean and even the language that he and his new wife employs does not fall to the socioeconomic class that they are actually portraying. Stella’s son looks like the son of a CEO who lives in Forbes Park and certainly not the son of a securitiy guard and a streetwise mom cum ex-convict. Moreover, Hilda Coronel, whose performance in this film is not bad at all, suffers from a rustic characterization which was taken from earlier films. To her credit, her performance in the film gave her role more meat than it actually has. Lastly, Cuneta, with her smooth-skin and mestiza features, could never make this author believe that she is actually portraying the role of a streetsmart woman who had just gone out of prison. Though she learned the typical moves, language and expressions of her character, her appearance could have been improved through make-up and costume.

On the other hand, Quizon is so effective as the bereaved Chinese son who still has a bitter heart over his dead father. Angel Aquino gave out the best performance among the three ladies, which is actually a feat because she had the least scenes and screentime among the three ladies. So did Bagatsing.

Granted the film’s merits and its undeniable flaws, this movie is actually a giant leap forward in introducing a kind of comedy in Philippine cinema that makes use of the brain, the senses and the heart – amid an industry long enamored with slapstick comedy and toilet humor. Truly, this film is a milestone in introducing comedy in Philippine movies that is polished, realistic and most of all, intelligent.

All in all, Crying Ladies is a completely enjoyable film that does not violate the viewer’s ability to think and take a closer peek into the meaning of living. It is an enduring message of hope that life, in its numerous trials and tribulations, is still worth living.

In the tradition of tasteful comedy films like Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies and Jeffrey Jeturian’s Bridal Shower, Regal matriarch Lily Monteverde presents a comedy that pales in comparison to the other two movies mentioned. I Will Survive, directed by Joel Lamangan and scripted by Ricky Lee, has its dose of funny moments and amusing situations. However, the film is utterly shallow, arguably awkward, and in the end, rather forgettable.

In the tradition of tasteful comedy films like Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies and Jeffrey Jeturian’s Bridal Shower, Regal matriarch Lily Monteverde presents a comedy that pales in comparison to the other two movies mentioned. I Will Survive, directed by Joel Lamangan and scripted by Ricky Lee, has its dose of funny moments and amusing situations. However, the film is utterly shallow, arguably awkward, and in the end, rather forgettable.

The film revolves around the lives of three contemporary women played by Maricel Soriano, Dina Bonnevie and Judy Ann Santos. Adding to the trio is a gay foster father portrayed by Eric Quizon.

The main characters have their own problems to remedy. Soriano has a very sexually aggressive son and a philandering husband who contaminates her with a sexually transmitted disease. Bonnevie, in turn, is a beautiful and much-adored model turned wife and mother of an adolescent girl who seems to be her exact opposite in terms of looks and personality. On the other hand, Judy Ann Santos plays an Overseas Foreign Worker based in Qatar who comes home only to find out that her daughter barely knows her and that her husband, also an OFW based in Australia, has been keeping a secret from her for the longest time. Finally, Eric Quizon is a gay man who is still hiding inside his closet – as far as his two sons are concerned.

Each character stands for certain individuals that are very common in Philippine contemporary life. Soriano is a woman who finds herself caught up in a sexually-awakened society that so easily crosses the line between old-fashioned timidity and sexual promiscuity. Her character also introduces the once taboo issue of women who contract STDs from their promiscuous partners – perhaps taking its queue from reality by way of a TV host/actress who publicly confessed to having STD from her incurably womanizing live-in partner. Bonnevie’s character, on the other hand, tries to reflect the effects of a society that gives too much premium on vanity and one’s physical appearance. In the film, she is a woman much adored by her husband and the people around her that directly causes her alienation from her daughter who refuses to keep up with her mom’s established persona. Soap opera queen Judy Ann Santos is a wife and mother who finds financial security in a foreign country. However, upon her return, she finds her family in a state of disarray. Quizon’s character, lastly, tries to rebuff the notions of what it takes to be good father and what it takes to be a “man.”

In the end, Soriano’s sexually awkward character in the film learns to fully take charge of her own sexuality. Aside from that, Bonnevie learns to accept the individuality of her daughter and Santos learns to forgive herself and her husband. And finally, Quizon is accepted by his first adopted son when he proves himself capable of being “man enough” for his foster child.

Ricky Lee’s light hearted and highly amusing script succeeds in creating realistic and very interesting characters. Rising from stereotypes, Lee manages to embellish his characters with a very “NOW” feel and with a seeming sense of urgency as if the characters were easily one’s neighbors. Of course, his skilled scriptwriting skills and characterizations were well matched by the generally fine performances of the actors. Joel Lamangan, a proven actor’s director, succeeds in bringing out the best in fleshing out the main protagonists. All four lead actors were very believable in their respective portrayals. However, the supporting cast ranged from excellent to so-so. Serena Dalrymple is very good as an insecure daughter who rebels against her mother. So is Tonton Gutierrez as Bonnevie’s overly-adoring husband. However, the rest of the cast are under-utilized and have litmus paper-thin characterizations. Perhaps, the writer and the director focused too much on the four protagonists.

Just like Lamangan’s Filipinas, I Will Survive again has a somewhat erratic cinematography, using improper zooms and silly camera movement in some parts. The production design is just fine and the editing is rather superb. In fact, the movie is fast paced and it wastes no time. Nevertheless, there clearly were some incoherencies when it comes to sound and the dubbing sometimes does not follow the actual speaking of the actors.

What’s rather interesting in this film is its use of song and dance numbers. Regal’s signature musical numbers seen in its films back in the 80’s were again dusted off and marched back on stage in this film. But what separates this film from those silly slapstick comedies of yesteryears is that I Will Survive has a clear intention and is highly committed to good storytelling. As far as the author is concerned, the song and dance numbers greatly added in the film’s entertainment value without violating the brains of the thinking viewer. Moreover, although some comedic attempts are unsuccessful, the film is still miles and miles better than the lousy Star Cinema films starring Bayani Agbayani or Vhong Navarro shown in recent years.

Given the film’s merits and flaws, the biggest turn off in this film is its very shallow take and simplistic resolutions on such valid and realistic contemporary issues such as vanity, sexuality, STD, family, the OFW, and gender roles. Even though the scriptwriter and director clearly had good intentions in the making of this film, the issues presented in the film end up romanticized, predictable, and even taken for granted. They are suddenly resolved through one single action. This hardly happens in reality.

Hence, overall, the film’s ambitious efforts end up in a shallow platter where the real issues that reflect reality evaporate along with the musical numbers. This, sadly, leaves a half-baked effort that is funny and entertaining but suffers in its highly simplistic resolutions and shallow treatment of realistic issues that may be comparable to a doughnut – sweet and delicious on the sides but hollow at the very center.

Hi guys. I am currently importing the contents of my older,inactive blogs to my wordpress blog (for more efficiency I guess). I am now in the process of uploading my older movie reviews.’ Hope that some of you may find it useful. Thanks!

If last year’s festival boasted of quality films like Jeffrey Jeturian‘s Bridal Shower and Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies, this year’s festival, in terms of quality, is headed by Cesar Montano‘s intense drama entitled Panaghoy sa Suba or The Call of the River.

In spite of the controversies surrounding the selection process of the participating films in the 2004 Metro Manila Film Festival, with most serious filmmakers and art scholars complaining about the utter commercialist path that the festival had taken in recent years, a couple or so films still turn out to be a cut above the rest of the films in participation.

If last year’s festival boasted of quality films like Jeffrey Jeturian‘s Bridal Shower and Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies, this year’s festival, in terms of quality, is headed by Cesar Montano‘s intense drama entitled Panaghoy sa Suba or The Call of the River.

Panaghoy, lovingly shot in Bohol province in the Visayas, is Montano’s personal tribute to the beauty and culture of the said province, especially that area surrounded by the Loboc River. Aside from boasting of the wonderful sights and people of Bohol, the film also aims to revive the long inactive Visayan film industry. Utilizing Cebuano as predominant dialogue, Panaghoy is also an important film because it gives many insights about the Filipino – his history, values, and traits both good and bad. It also has an ideology that champions love for one’s native land.

This period drama is set in the 1940’s. Cesar Montano, who is lead actor, producer, and director in the film, plays Duroy, a young man who earns as a boatman, servicing those people who need to cross from one end of the river to the next. He is the eldest son of a sickly mother played by Daria Ramirez and father to two of his siblings – Ibo and Bikay, as their father had already deserted the family. Duroy is in love with Iset, a native lass effortelssly acted out by Juliana Palermo. Iset is daughter to a greedy father and a materialistic aunt. Though harboring the same romantic sentiments for Duroy, Iset also entertains, upon the prodding of her aunt, American John Smith, the abusive owner of a Nipa business in the barrio. Smith, excessively jealous of any man who would even dare speak with Iset, fires Ibo from the Nipa factory, causing the latter to avenge the injustice done to him. Unfortunately, Ibo dies as a result of a violent confrontation with Smith.

Furthermore, the barrio’s status quo is demolished with the arrival of the Japanese, forcing John Smith to flee for his life. Upon the presence of the new invaders, the barrio’s men organize a guerilla movement and flee to the mountains. The leader of the Japanese invaders, played by Jacky Woo, commands his men not to resort to any form of violece unless needed. His and Iset’s path crosses when the latter’s father is detained in the garrison when fishing dynamites were found under his possession. The Japanese leader falls in love with Iset, much to the joy of Iset’s aunt, who swore to never give her niece away for a starving local. However, when Iset witnesses the execution of the town priest, she turns against her family and flees to the mountains to join the guerilla movement.

The film has to be commended for creating interesting and well rounded characters. Every character is humanized and molded to stand for something about the Filipino, both positive and otherwise.

First and foremost, the character of Duroy stands for the Filipino’s most resilient traits. He is ready to take up in arms to answer the call of the river (the Motherland). He is a hopeful visionary, at the same time a hopeless romantic. Nevertheless, he also harbors great pains from his past that renders him uncapable to give forgiveness. Like the Filipino, he is gentle and passive at one time but when provoked, ignites like a wild animal. Duroy, as a character and as a symbol of the Filipino, stands out most in two key scenes in the film. The first, set on a field on top of the mountains, is when he finally gives forgiveness to his father who deserted them, implying the need for the Filipino to forgive whatever painful past he has. However, on the other key scene, when Duroy beats but surprisingly spares the life of the American who murdered his brother, it is implied that in order for the Filipino to move on, he should forgive but never forget. Indeed, one should learn from his past so as to even begin to move forward.

Iset, though portrayed as a typical Filipina, is also rich in terms of characterization. She is beautiful and charming, causing the foreigner to assert his authority and to attempt to blind her with material things. This is paralleled with how the Motherland has fallen prey to foreign invaders and their blind promises to civilize the primitives and to humanize those who lived like animals.

Iset’s aunt, played by Caridad Sanchez, symbolizes the seemingly conscious manner of pimping and whoring the Filipino to foreigners because of blind materialism and a damaged vision. On the other hand, Iset’s father, tands for the Filipino‘s tendency to become greedy and selfish, exacting affliction to his countrymen and the Motherland in general.

Duroy’s mother, albeit dying early in the film, is also interesting for she manifests a certain degree of nostalgia to go back to how things were before. Here is seen an inner psychological desire to go back to one’s core, to one’s roots, to one’s original mold of perfection.

It is also interesting to see in this film how it characterizes the American as more oppressive and far more brutal than the Japanese. Clearly, the film implies a comparison between a kinder, more sincere, and therefore a more human Japanese character as against an abusive, greedy, conceited, and pretentious American.

> Also, the film also gives a comment on the problematic on the role of religion regarding nationalistic causes. Should the church stay and direct its attention solely on prayer and religious ritual or should it take a more utilitarian and revolutionary role?

In terms of performances, most actors play their parts with flying colors. In this film, Montano outdistances himself in his already accomplished performances in Bagong Buwan and Muro Ami. Palermo was nothing short of a revelation and Sanchez, Ramirez and actors Joel Torre and Ronnie Lazaro were all reliably good. Rebecca Lusterio as Duroy’s only sister gives a memorable performance. Suzette Ranillo, as a nun, gives a short but realistic performance.

The cinematorgraphy is impressive but sometimes obtrusive, the music and sound utilization are all in the right places, editing and production design are above average.

Cris Vertido’s screenplay is outstanding and Montano’s direction is reliably competent.

Nevertless, the film is not unscarred by some flaws. Of all the performances, Philip Anthony as the abusive American is mediocre. It is very obvious that some of his lines were memorized. Duroy’s mother’s faint scene is absurd and unnecesary, and some of the flashbacks require only voice overs instead of entirely showing the scenes again.

However, these flaws certainly drown in the innovative accomplishments of this film. It works as a powerful drama, a love story, a historical film, and even as a travelogue. It holds its candle well whichever way you may want to slice it. Most importantly, the movie justifies itself as the hopeful rebirth of the Visayan film.

All in all, Panaghoy, without question, is the best film of this year‘s festival and definitely, one of the most important movies of this lean film year.

————————————————————————————-

Panaghoy sa Suba/The Call of the River is now available in DVD/VCD format all over Metro Manila and other key cities in the Philippines (eve online!).