Tag Archive: art films


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.

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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.

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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!).

Hey everyone! How’s everyone doing?

Enough of the Brown Raise Movement for the moment. Let’s now take a peek at Philippine cinematic output of 2007. I am an avid movie fan and thank God for independent films and digital technology, Philippine Cinema is now coming out of its half-dead state. It’s a joy to finally see the quality outputs of younger and more daring filmmakers, who dare to challenge the formulaic tendencies of mainstream Philippine Cinema. It is just my fervent hope that these new auteurs, while already making their presence felt in numerous international film festivals (Cannes, Venice, Berlin, etc.), are accorded a wider patronage locally. It is still a sad reality that the Filipino audience in general still has an aversion for films with no prominent stars on the cast and they also tend to shun films that feature more innovative ways of storytelling aside from the usual linear method.

While these realities continue to limit the advances made by these new talented thespians, there is plenty of hope that Philippine Cinema will soon take its rightful place in world cinema. This, I firmly believe.

Below is my obviously subjective list of the most notable Filipino films of 2007. I know that we are already in the last 4 months of 2008 and this list is rather overdue. However, it still quite interesting to look at the landmark films of the paste year – a year wherein independent films completely outshone their mainstream counterparts.

The list will feature film synopses first. Detailed reviews of each film will be posted in my upcoming posts. Feel free to leave comments. Enjoy watching, er, reading!

1. Foster Child by Brillante Mendoza (screened at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival) –

Director Brillante Mendoza tells the affectionate tale of a poor family living in the Philippines that is hired by a local Foster Care Facility to provide temporary care and shelter for abandoned babies. Thelma and her husband Dado live in Manila with their two teenage sons Gerald and Yuri. Despite the fact that her family lives in abject poverty, Thelma receive a fair amount of fulfillment in life by serving as a surrogate mother to abandoned children who are awaiting adoption. A young three year-old named John-John is Thelma’s latest charge. Now, as the kind-hearted foster parent prepares to turn the child over to his adoptive American parents, every moment spent with the precious youngster becomes something to be cherished.

2. Tribu/Tribe by Jim Libiran (screened at the 2007 Pusan Film Festival)

The dangerous unlit streets and labyrinthine alleyways in the ghetto district of Tondo in Manila, serves as a claustrophobic backdrop to a random killing that triggers a wild and bloody gang war.
Through the eyes of a 10 year old boy, we are immersed into the normal, impoverished, tough life of Tondo. Through him, we encounter the juvenile yet murderous leaders and members of various gangsta tribes — adolescent thugs and petty criminals whose past time is sex, drugs and their eloquently poetic street rap, delivered in their own unique tongue-twisting machine gun-style.

3. Tirador/Slingshot by Brillante Mendoza (won at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival) –

A tribute to the real potential of digital cinema, Slingshot is a slum epic on steroids. It weaves stories left and right into a shocking tableau about life for the lowest of the low in the Philippine’s poorest and most crime-ridden districts.

National elections are coming up so in the usual attempt to appear “tough-on-crime”, The Big Boys have been sent in to crack down on the local squatters, thieves and miscreants who litter the film like broken bottles. And since no sweep is ever a clean sweep, the cops’ brutal shock-force tactics quickly ripple outwards with jagged repercussions. Starting from the film’s amazing night time raid and climaxing with a candle-lit vigil by those insulted by the empty words of the politicians, director Brillante Mendoza uses the camera’s apparent attention deficit disorder to maximum effect, investigating lives at every turn and blending their true fictions right onto the city streets of Manila for a rich and incredibly immersive feel.

4. Endo/End of Contract by Jade Francis Castro (screened at the Nantes Film Festival)

Graded “A” by the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), Endo is the story of Leo (Jason Abalos), a temp worker who is used to the temporary. Typical of many young Filipinos, he hops from one contractual job to the next in order to earn a living for himself and his family. His relationships are similarly fleeting. When he meets the spirited dreamer Tanya (Ina Feleo), he is suddenly faced by the promise of a better future, but he doesn’t seem equipped to handle it.

5. Confessional by Jerold Tarog (won at the Osian Film Festival)

Lies + Lies = Truth.

Ryan Pastor knows this by heart. As a small time filmmaker, he knows
how sound and images can be manipulated to say anything. And he’s
tired of the lies—the lies at work, in his relationships, the lies one
must keep in society just to exist. On a whim, he decides to go to
Cebu to document the Sinulog festival. There he stumbles upon a truth
he didn’t ask for and is reluctant to touch. One of his subjects, a
former politician who may or may not be dying, decides to confess his
sins—all the crimes he committed while in office—before Ryan’s camera.

What follows is a story of revelations and bitter truths, of buried
secrets and sweet lies. CONFESSIONAL takes you to the heart of a
criminal…or an honest man.

6. Death In The Land of the Poets by Lav Diaz (won at the Venice Film Festival)

The main character of Kagadanan is a Filipino poet named Benjamin Agusan (played by Roeder Camañag). He is the hapless native who returns to his hometown Padang to witness the aftermath of a super typhoon. Director Lav Diaz shot Kagadanan in Padang, Legazpi City, where a village was buried by landslides caused by super typhoon Reming that hit the Bicol region on November 30, 2006.

For the past seven years, Benjamin had been living in an old town called Kaluga in Russia. With his grant and residency, he taught and conducted workshops in a university. The poet published two books of sadness and longing in the process.

In Russia, Benjamin was able to shoot video collages, fell in love with a Slavic beauty, buried a son, and almost went mad. He came back home to bury his loved ones–father, mother, sister and a lover. He came back to face Mount Mayon, the raging beauty and muse of his youth. He came home to confront the country that he so loved and hated, the Philippines. He came back to die in the land of his birth. He wanders around the obliterated village meeting old friends and lovers.

7. Tambolista/Drumbeat by Adolfo Alix Jr. (screened at the Jecheon Film Festival)

Ever wanted something so bad that you would do anything just to get it?
Tambolista focuses on one boy’s simple dream of owning his very own drum set. Set in the different slums of Manila, the film is taken from the point of view of 14-year-old Jason. A boy on the verge of manhood whose biggest passion is playing drums.

When his older brother Billy (Coco Martin) impregnates his girlfriend, the brothers and their streetsmart friend Pablo (Sid Lucero) try to come up with any means possible to get money to pay for the abortion. These three men show how the struggle to survive amidst their lives of poverty can also be a struggle for keeping their humanity in this intimate portrait of two brothers living in deprivation. The movie also shows how life is similar to the beat of drums, both having high and low points.

Where every beat counts…

8. Selda/ The Inmate by Paolo Villanuna and Ellen Ramos (competed at the 2008 Montreal Wolrd Film Festival)

Set in two contrasting enivronments that undeline the same premise of imprisonment, Selda tells the story of Rommel, a young man who accidentally kills a boy, resulting in his incarceration. Inside the jail, he befriends another inmate, Esteban, who becomes his rock and protector. Seven years later, Rommel is living in the province as a farmer together with Sita his wife. Esteban tracks down Rommel in hopes of renewing a brewing love affair. Rommel and Sita welcome Esteban into their lives, until their intimacy crosses borderlines and results in the undeniable scourge of self-discovery.

Selda is a return to classiscist forms and delivers a stylish, deliberately-paced treatise on love. At moments strange, Selda is a sublime and disquieting portrait of a young man whose search for happiness, innocence and true love is laden with guilt and doubt.

9. Katas ng Saudi/ Toil From Saudi by Jose Javier Reyes

An overseas worker (Jinggoy Estrada) comes home from Saudi and finds that coming home is harder than he thought it would be. He has to reconnect with his children who have all grown without him, and readapt to a lifestyle that includes his family.

10. Maling Akala/Wrong Assumption by Veronica Paraiso and Pablo Biglang Awa

The bittersweet love story of JP and Teta gives us a glimpse of how a gay man/straight woman relationship works… or doesn’t. JP is a fugitive on the run, after having accidentally killed his lover. On the bus, he sits next to Teta, who is 9 months pregnant. When Teta gives birth, JP accompanies mother and child home to their fishpond in Sasmuan, Pampanga. Teta impulsively introduces JP as the father of her child surprising both JP and her parents. When JP and Teta agree to play-act husband and wife, their queer, dysfunctional tale begins.