Ten years ago today, the heavens smiled upon Manila. Literally, because there was a planetary conjunction involving Venus and Jupiter, that conspired with a crescent moon to form what we would call a smiley, in the night sky. It wasn’t spectacular in the way other astronomical events like eclipses are, but it sure was an amusing sight.
An unsettling portrait of death—of the body, and more so of the spirit.
Death is an appalling thing. Between the moment of demise and the white nothingness of bones, a corpse suffers a disgusting process of decay, giving off foul odors as it becomes more and more disfigured and discolored. Perhaps it is as a distraction from this reality that funerals have always been accompanied by flowers, which—more than being hopeful symbols of rebirth—are a fragrant and beautiful counterpoint to the hideous transformation of death. It is an ironic distraction, however, because ornamental flowers are also dead things, presently radiant but also doomed to decompose, as even embalmed corpses are.
Oda sa Wala (‘Ode to Nothing’) begins with a familiar Chinese tune playing over an image of a lone white light bulb, attended by a small swarm of flies. As with writer-director Dwein Baltazar’s previous film, Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus, this opening combination of image and music is an iconic expression of the film’s themes. (Oda’s opening shot is mirrored in the final scene, like in Hypothalamus, but in a metaphorical way: the light bulb replaced with the moon, the flies with something more troubling.) The Chinese song is Mò Lì Huā, meaning jasmine flower, and like the subject of that song this film is awash with whiteness: an ode to nothing rendered in the color both of purity and of emptiness, an absolute lightness that is as much the color of death as black is.
A heartfelt film about a forgetful mother, and a diverse set of shorts: from the bleak to the charming, even the experimental.
Direction & Screenplay: Denise O’Hara
Mamang depicts an old woman’s struggle against the senility of old age.
In Mamang, the eponymous character (played by the renowned Celeste Legaspi) confronts the relentless hallucinations brought by her creeping dementia. These visions are populated by personalities from her past: her husband, his mistress, a suitor, even a constabulary officer—the ghosts of her memory, characters summoned by the failing faculties of her mind rather than haunted beings coming from a supernatural realm. It is a familiar unreliable-narrator story, where the narrator is an elder beset by senility, although the film interestingly frames its conflict as the choice between normal reality and a more vibrant, more colorful memory-dream world. The reappearance of people long gone confounds Mamang at first, but in the end, the film tells us it is up to her which world she desires to live in; she is a victim, but she is not helpless. Her disability gives her, more than mere suffering, a choice, an option that would in fact be unavailable were it not for her affliction. This way, Mamang places senility under a different light.
Two exquisite dramas about estrangement, and a too-familiar tale about street crime and poverty.
Direction: Perci Intalan | Story/Screenplay: Keavy Eunice Vicente
Liza (Iza Calzado) is still drowning in grief from losing the love of her life when she receives a visit from the most unlikely person—her husband, whom she left five years ago. With no questions asked and no conditions, Anton (Nonie Buencamino) invites her back to his and their two children’s lives.
Distance establishes its tone, themes, and dramatic parameters with the very first scene: a tilting shot of a beach on a foreign land, patiently and slowly tracking Liza as she strolls up its expansive stretch. A montage of solitude follows, as we watch her spending her days alone, reading a book on a bench and killing time without company in her home. Anton knocks on her door one day, unannounced, unexpected; she offers tea, he declines, she insists. They exchange pleasantries, but Liza does not wait long to break the question: What really brings you here? He replies, I’m bringing you home. There is no need for resistance, and soon Liza finds herself in her old house, which somehow feels colder and stranger than her home abroad. Anton tells her to take the master’s bedroom while he moves to the guest room; she complains, he insists. The house is cavernous, and she goes through its rooms like a ghostly queen wandering in her empty castle.
An intense horror satire, a confusing thriller-drama, and a solemn coming-of-age film.
Direction/Screenplay: Benedict Mique
Carlo (Tony Labrusca), a college student, his girlfriend Pat (Lianne Valentin), and best pal Jaze (Henz Villaraiz) get more than what they have bargained for when they decide to learn about the dark days of Martial Law from an old retired soldier who may be one of its worst abusers.
Early in ML, we are introduced to its burgis millennial protagonists in a classroom, a safe space, where they are discussing Martial Law with a professor (Jojit Lorenzo). Carlo is skeptical about the criticisms of the era, but Jaze is outright incredulous; he parrots the tired old arguments celebrating the legacies of the Marcos regime, about a disciplined public and enduring public works. The professor answers him with the standard, borderline paranoid rebuttal from the anti-Marcos side, telling Jaze that if he were that outspoken during Martial Law, he would be tortured or killed, or he would simply disappear. The professor then switches to an apologetic voice of reason: he admits that his generation became too complacent after EDSA, and that they are indeed to blame for our country’s continuing predicaments. The professor is of course talking to Carlo and Jaze as much as he is to us, the audience; this dialogue is setting the ideological stage for the rest of the film. However, it would also be nearly the last appearance of nuanced discourse in ML, because the rest of the film turns out to be an intense horror-satire à la Jordan Peele’s Get Out, albeit with a heavier hand and a more candid approach.