Tag Archive: indie


 

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.

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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.

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.