‘Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa’ (2015): watching the end of the line

Watching this story of a romance approaching the end of the line is like searching for the right person to love.

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Ang sabi mo walang hanggan, pero ‘eto tayo sa dulo.” (You said there would be no end, but here we are standing on the edge.)

If it were not for these words from the film’s original sound track, Walang Hanggan by Quest, it would have been easier to miss the purpose of Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa‘s restless settings. Throughout the film we see the characters in places of motion: sitting in a taxi or on the steps of a bridge, waiting on train platforms, walking between stations. Always in transit, Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa never lets us forget that the characters are in love, but that this love is transient. As much as they would want things to be different, the road will always come to an end, the train will always come to a stop.

The camera in this film has a similar obsession with buildings under construction: hinting at things not quite formed yet, things with perhaps no certainty of completion or fulfillment; without proper labels, like the love between Sam (Nicco Manalo) and Isa (Emmanuelle Vera).

We do not need to see the entire film to understand these metaphors for a relationship that has run its due course. They are apparent enough in the music video for Walang Hanggan that uses clips from the movie. Indeed, the resonant, heartbreaking song is responsible for much of the crowds that went to see the indie picture in its commercial release. The social media campaign for the film banked on the song’s hugot or heartbreaking ‘feels’ to draw the sawi, the romantically frustrated. People went to the theaters expecting to be brought to tears, maybe seeking legitimate comfort in a movie, or perhaps simply curious yet prepared for a good cry.

For marketing itself in this way, it is worthwhile to think of the film in explicit contrast to conventional Filipino romance movies.

Note: this review includes spoilers.

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‘Apocalypse Child’ (2015): crash, tumble, subside

A character-driven drama with force, grace and flow, like a wave crashing and receding.

Apocalypse Child is a film filled throughout with short, seemingly filler shots of characters enjoying the famous waves of Baler. These are images of a sunny, slow-mo disposition, the frames filled with luscious visuals of surf and skin. It is beautiful enough that the film is worth watching even if it didn’t have a narrative, as a music video would.

The visual motif of sand and sea is appropriate for a film that has consistently been called a refreshing contribution to Philippine cinema. (Even its playful, almost absurd trailer is wonderfully unique.) Its distinctive flow and flavor washes over its viewers, then withdraws and drains out with the steady rhythm of water. Seeing Apocalypse Child, for any Filipino cinephile, is almost like the experience of seeing a marvelous underwater world for the first time.

(Or so I imagine, I haven’t learned how to swim yet. But it doesn’t matter—lead actor Sid Lucero, who plays the role of a surfing champion, didn’t really know how to surf yet when he acted in the film.)

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‘Ang Babaeng Humayo’ (Lav Diaz, 2016): time and solace and sorrow

Lav Diaz, inspired by Leo Tolstoy, delivers another distinct portrayal of life’s pains and suffering, as well as its quiet joys.

The manipulation of time is the soul of Lav Diaz’s artistry. As many writers have noted, time is Diaz’s instrument of exchange with his audience: the viewers surrender their precious hours for his films, in exchange for glimpses at truths of the world and humanity, and insights into the fabled human condition. It is not merely about the unconventionally epic lengths of his works, which is apparent enough, but also his penchant for protracted, steady gazes. In the spectrum of pacing in cinema, Diaz’s works occupy the extremity opposite the dizzying, rushed rhythm of Hollywood action flicks.

Lav Diaz manipulates time in this manner often to express both solace and sorrow. In Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), this takes particular resonance. It is the story of Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), a schoolteacher who is imprisoned for thirty years for a crime she did not commit. Her name itself derives from the Latin hora, signifying hour, or time.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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‘Lando at Bugoy’ (2016): simple, sincere, satisfying

Lando at Bugoy lives and breathes its beautiful setting; a restrained tone is its own statement.

Film, being the medium uniquely capable of presenting grand, immersive spectacles, often tempt its makers to tackle topics of epic scope. As they do, their works often fall short of greatness, only proving that an expression of too much can produce something so empty. Sometimes the subject may be ordinary families, yet they expand the story to encompass a fuller range of life and experiences; these types are often more successful, but then there are films like Lando at Bugoy, where the filmmaker deliberately understates, deciding to weave a narrative around a limited, focused idea and setting.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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Review: Cinemalaya 2016 Shorts A

Set ‘A’ of the Cinemalaya 2016 shorts features a few delightful entries.

The short film competition section of Cinemalaya’s 12th edition did not enjoy the same top-billing it had in the previous year, with the return of the full-length category. Regardless, it remains an essential part of the festival, a nourishing ground for promising new filmmakers.

Here is a review of the five works belonging to the ‘A’ set, which, I am pleased to share, features some delightful entries.

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