‘Kusina’ (2016): intimate yet epic

Kusina is familiar yet fresh, like a favorite childhood dish served with a spectacular new recipe.

Kusina (Her Kitchen) is a film that focuses on the sources of warmth at home: physically, the kitchen, with its fire and the hot meals produced from it; but also figuratively, a mother, whose traditional domain it is to nourish care and affection from the kitchen, where she learns to live and love.

It is a wonder that Filipinos are gifted only now with such an important work of art. Our society, after all, values dishes and dining more than most cultures. Why else would our native language tell us that the liver, and not the heart, is the true seat of affection?

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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‘Dagsin’ (2016): a weakened force

Dagsin has a strong premise, but technical distractions dampen its overall impact.

Gravity, in the physical sciences, is the weakest of the fundamental forces. In contrast with electromagnetism and the nuclear forces, gravity has little influence over the form and life of our immediate environments. This irrelevance is only a matter of perspective, however, because if we take the wider view, gravity is in fact the most dominant physical force, being accountable for the shape and destinies of planets, galaxies, and the universe itself.

Dagsin (Gravity), the film, is in some ways a reflection of this contradiction.

Consider the promises it makes: from the synopsis, it teases a philosophical crisis for a man whose beloved wife has just died; in the trailer, it dangles scenes with rich American colonial-era visuals; and for the premise, it draws us in with the excitement of a “Pandora’s Box of secrets” unleashed when a character’s diary is opened. Unfortunately for viewers expecting much from these attractions, Dagsin delivers weakly, and its center of gravity is diffused by an order of magnitude.

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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‘Ma’ Rosa’ (Brillante Mendoza, 2016): revealing Filipino family vices and virtues

Brillante Mendoza summons both frustration and pride for Filipinos through a spectacle-free look at a family in crisis.

Brillante Mendoza’s works have always been the stereotypical Filipino ‘indie’. They have always been showcases of the underbelly of society, complete with its persistent problems of poverty, corruption, and vulnerability, as well as its occasional glories—resilience in the face of tragedy, and capability for sacrifice out of love for family. The particular subjects may have been varied, but the approach has been constantly realist, and devoid of any visual spectacle other than what could be witnessed in actual life.

Ma’ Rosa is another entry in this tradition. In his works from the previous years, Mendoza wandered the archipelago: in Taklub (2015), he portrayed the brutal aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas; in Thy Womb (2012), he orchestrated a unique drama out of the cultural norms of Muslim people in Mindanao. Now, he returns to the slums of Manila, the place out of which he built his world-renowned reputation as a social-realist filmmaker.

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‘Umaapaw’ by Ang Bandang Shirley: singular feel, many possibilities

This music-video is Shirley at their heartstring-plucking best, visualized with sublime storytelling.

Awit, masaya ang mga tenga
Sa aking alaala ito nagsimula

In life, as with music, there is movement and then there is stillness. There is sound and then there is silence. When the action becomes too much, we leave the town looking for solitude.

We all have our own places where we turn to for comfort in loneliness. Sometimes it is an old, empty parking lot, at the fringes of the city, close to the forest and free for tired souls to inhabit. You would come there for solace, but what happens when someone else comes wandering into the space you would rather have all to yourself?

Panaginip ang dumalaw

You may choose to keep to yourself, retreat into your thoughts; or you may be enchanted by this other soul. You see her lost in smoke and clouds of thought, and you hear questions in your mind, prodding you to explore, to find out what it is that you share with her that drives both of you to seclusion. You may choose silence; or you may take a deep breath, and open a connection, offer a distant but firm handshake.

A man and a woman share a handshake in the Ang Bandang Shirley music video for Umaapaw, under handwritten lyrics, “Panaginip ang dumalaw.”
Screen capture from the Umaapaw music video, youtube.com/watch?v=9pXZCO3A_8w

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‘Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis’ (Lav Diaz, 2016): necessary fiction

In Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic, our nation is a country imagined in monochrome.

Las Islas Filipinas, according to Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), is a nation imagined in monochrome. It is the same vistas: cities of colonial architecture, endless coastlines of soothing seas, and forests of tropical green. Yet, it is not the same images: we see all these filtered in shades of black and white.

In similar fashion, the stories that Hele tells are not tales as they ordinarily are—because the massive ambition of Lav Diaz, the central conceit of his project, is the interweaving of the historical, the literary, and the fantastic.

Let us count Hele‘s narrative threads, all set at the turn of the end of the 19th century, during the Philippine Revolution from Spanish rule.

Note: this essay is not so much a critical review as it is a reading of this film and a commentary, so it necessarily shares plot and characterization details.

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