Bona Fajardo talks about the real reward of filmmaking, and other thoughts on Filipino cinema.
As the media conference for the film I Found My Heart in Santa Fe was wrapping up, we approached the director, Bona Fajardo, only to ask for a quick word. He noticed us and remarked, “O, ‘eto mga bagets,” and motioned us to sit down with him.
It was as if he sensed what we, the bagets, were curious about—his thoughts as on old-timer in the film industry. He’s been active since the 1990s, having served as art director for the landmark films Jose Rizal and Muro Ami, both by the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya. He has since aligned himself with the pioneers of independent, digital filmmaking in the country. At the 2002 Manila Film Festival, he won Best Production Design for Jon Red’s Utang ni Tatang. His own debut feature film, 2005’s Miss Pinoy, was Judy Ann Santos’ first indie. “Lagi kong sinasabi sa mga presscon, ‘Ah, hindi ako mainstream ah’,” he says, and laughs.
He witnessed first-hand the transition from celluloid to digital technology, but while it has democratized film production, he laments that no similar revolution has taken place for distribution. “Maraming mga filmmakers na nabigyan ng opportunity, pero ang malungkot doon, hindi naman nasakop ‘yong distribution, ‘yong venue, ‘yong pagpapalabas sa sine.”
Sa pagsasalin ng mga kuwento, ang mga banyagang kaligayahan at pasakit ay ganap naring nagiging atin.
Takaw-pansin ang makulay na pabalat ng Layag. Tila pino itong lambat na humuhuli sa madulas at malabnaw na atensiyon ng mga katulad kong mahilig luminga-linga sa bookstore. Nang makita ko kung tungkol saan ang aklat, hindi na ako nakatakas sa pang-aakit—madalian ko nang binili.
Paano ba naman, nagkataon na may kasalukuyan akong pagsisikap na magbasa ng mga akdang klasiko. Minsan hindi ko matiis ang pagbabasa ng ‘importanteng’ panitikan. Isang antolohiya ang Layag ng mga maiikling kuwento at salaysay ng mga sikat na Europeong manunulat, ng mga tulad nina Guy de Maupassant at Luigi Pirandello. Halos lahat ng mga awtor ay pinanganak noong gitna hanggang hulihan ng ika-19 na siglo; karamihan ng mga akdang kasali ay naglalarawan ng mundong Kanluran sa panahon ding iyon, at sa mga batang dekada ng ika-20 na siglo.
Sa totoo, akala ko dadagdag lang ang Layag sa tambak ng mga babasahing iniipon ko sa bahay, ngunit sinimulan ko agad at mabilis ko itong natapos. Hindi ko kasi maitanggi ang husay ng sari-saring estilo na itinatampok sa lipon ng mga kuwento. Iba-iba ang pakiramdam na dinudulot nito: may nakakatawa (Ang Pagligo sa Araw ni Janko Jesenský), may nakakasabik (Pagtakas Tungo sa Buhay na Walang Hanggan ni Stefan Zweig), may nakakapanlumo (Ang Hosier at Ang Anak Niyang Dalaga ni Steen Steensen Blicher), may nakakatakot (Ang Horla ni Guy de Maupassant) o nakakakilabot (Satan ni Ramón del Valle-Inclán). Ngunit, pinakamadalas, ang naiiwang pakiramdam ng mga kuwento ay pagkalumbay. Marahil ay dahil ito sa paksa, lugar at panahon na pinagmumulan ng mga kaganapan: ang romantikong Europa ng nakalipas na siglo. Sa pagsunod ko sa mga kaganapang inilalarawan ng mga salita, kusa na itong ipinipinta ng aking isip sa mapanglaw na mga kulay. Natural sa Layag ang taglay nitong nostalgia.
Like the haribon, the film is graceful, breathtaking, and powerful.
The haribon—the “king bird”, the Philippine eagle—is an apex predator. It perches atop the food chain, over the forest ranges where it reigns. It is a hunter that is itself not hunted by any other creature—until humans came along. Birdshot is a film whose story precipitates from a young girl’s encounter with a haribon, and its consequences that play upon roles of predators and prey, of kings and pawns.
Like the eagle that inspires the film, Birdshot is a refined, seamless and graceful mystery-thriller. Each sequence is impeccably cut and paced to build tension or conjure dread. Even the dialogue is precise, the characters speaking efficiently, contemplating every word as a hunter preparing for every kill. The film is set in a remote tract in the Philippine countryside: isolated, pure and enchanting, but also brooding with threats of evil.
Birdshot is also a coming-of-age story. The farm lass at its center, Maya (Mary Joy Apostol), possesses a simple, quintessentially Filipina beauty. Her clothes, rough earthly garments highlighted by a red wrap, recalls the plumage of the mayang pula, the humble bird that was the national bird before the haribon took its place. She may be innocent and look meek, but she is not entirely submissive. Once, her grandmother visits and admonishes her for not keeping her hair well-combed. For a while she is occupied with her appearance, but comes to realize that if its sole purpose is to attract men, then it is worth nothing to her.
A round-up of all the main competition entries in this year’s festival.
“See the big picture,” goes the tagline for the 13th edition of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, the premiere indie film fest in the country. Nine full-length films and twelve short features contribute to a mosaic snapshot of Filipino society, delivered in patches of varying intensity and color.
Disclaimer: these reviews avoid revealing major story spoilers, but other elements, like themes, are discussed extensively. Read at your own risk.
A husband takes flight when his wife goes missing.
Nabubulok in style and spirit feels akin to a Brillante Mendoza work. In this film, a crime drama based on a true story, the sound effects are spare, the lighting is natural, and the camera has a habit of following the shadow of everyday characters in short walks around town. It even has that subplot of a family working together, pooling money for an urgent purpose, seen in Thy Womb and Ma’ Rosa. But this is not quite cinema verité: there is more overt acting, and finer cinematography than a Mendoza film would tolerate.
Given the premise and the film’s early scenes, one might expect a crime thriller. But save for a mid-story encounter, the film never really provides the heart-pounding type of suspense. This is by design, not by fault—what the film provides is an atmospheric, slow-burning kind of thriller. Nabubulok could benefit, however, from tighter scripting of dialogue. When Ingrid (Gina Alajar) asks around about her missing cousin, she and others say the same things they have learned so far to each new character they encounter, and the repetitiveness drags the suspense.
Striking visuals, genuine thrills and a few subtleties more than offset the story’s shortcomings.
Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is a horror-romance film that seduces with millennial sensibilities: balancing its brooding atmosphere with injections of humor, delivering eye-catching cinematography and Instagram-worthy production design, featuring a hip and esoteric indie soundtrack, and setting up its scenes with meme-friendly situations. It is a movie that can be enjoyed by the most casual moviegoer—anyone seeking bloody thrills, feverish titillations, and affecting romances—yet it is a film with something to say beyond this enthralling shell of plain entertainments.
Consider, for instance, the intriguing title. For city dwellers, the manananggal is merely an ominous mythological terror, a vague threat lingering out there—but the film’s title locates the creature, makes it present with shocking particularity: she lives in an apartment just like yours, in Unit 23B. This specificity reflects how the film presents the manananggal not as a creature of pure malice, but as a person like the rest of us—only, that she is also afflicted with a monstrous other side, that terrifies her just as much as it does her victims.
The eponymous Unit 23B is not a mere quirk; the apartment points to the film’s central theme. Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B, like director Prime Cruz’s previous film Sleepless, is a story of alienation. Its protagonists, Jewel (Ryza Cenon) and Nico (Martin del Rosario), like Sleepless’s Gem and Barry, are lonely neighbors. Romance springs from this proximity: love conquers the irony of apartments, that as people come to live closer together in cities, they lose the solidarity of neighborhoods; people live together but apart, shuffling and hurrying around in urban anonymity.