QCinema 2017 reviews: ‘The Chanters’, ‘Dapol Tan Payawar Na Tayug 1931’, ‘Medusae’

Films tackling tradition, history and mythology.

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The Chanters

The Chanters is a comedy-drama film about Sarah Mae (Jally Nae Gabaliga), a 12-year-old school girl, the granddaughter of the last chanter of the Panay Bukidnon tribe. She obsesses with pop culture and readies herself for the visit of a sensational TV star to her school. As she perfects her dance, her grandfather, Lolo Ramon (Romulo Caballero) suffers the onset of dementia. As her Lolo starts losing his precious memories, Sarah Mae is tasked to help him complete the last of the remaining 12 epics, their tribe’s vanishing tradition.

The Chanters is presented in a peculiarly narrow (approximately square) aspect ratio. This allows for appealing compositions that look unique, though not exactly cinematic. Add in the bright, pastel coloring, and what we have is a film always poised for a screen-capture, to be posted on social media for bite-sized consumption.

The Chanters uses its unique format to communicate an idea. (Towards the end, it even manipulates the aspect ratio.) That idea is about the relationship between popular and traditional cultures, between the modern and the ancient. This recalls the themes of Respeto, and like in that film this relationship is personified: in The Chanters, Sarah Mae carries the future, Lolo Ramon holds the past.

When modern and ancient cultures meet, the representation is often one of conflict, of clash: the new against the old. This is where The Chanters does something different. Here, the initial relationship between the youth and the elderly is indifference—a situation more difficult than direct competition. Sarah Mae takes a lot of selfies with her phone, documenting only herself in the process of living her daily life, all while her grandfather struggles to record, with pen on paper, their tribe’s oral epics—that memorized document of countless generations.

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Review: ‘El bar’ (Álex de la Iglesia, 2017)

Ordinary citizens in the wrong place, in these extraordinary times.

In El bar (Álex de la Iglesia, 2017), an ensemble of citizens find themselves trapped in a bar in downtown Madrid, when a customer is gunned down a moment after exiting the establishment. A claustrophobic crisis ensues, and the characters are predictably overcome with paranoia.

This is a film inspired by current world headlines, particularly those circulating in Europe. The trapped group argue hysterically about what is happening, and the first suspicion, naturally, is that the shooting was an act of terrorism. A litany of 21st-century European anxieties pour out next from the individuals: xenophobia, prejudice against migrants, fear of epidemics, even worries of a conspiring, authoritarian government. To the film’s credit, this first act of theorizing and bickering includes a few eerie moments, and at one point the mystery is such that it felt anything could happen in the film: that it could pivot to horror, or even surrealism.

Nevertheless, and perhaps as respite from the gravity of its themes, El bar fills itself with humor. Comedy indeed comes from desperation. After the cast of characters has been persuaded that there is no terrorist among them, one becomes convinced that they are all, in fact, merely dreaming. It is not the case though, and the party continues.

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Review: ‘I Found My Heart in Santa Fe’

Like a forgettable vacation: the movie suffers from an uninspired premise and poor storytelling.

I Found My Heart in Santa Fe is a movie with an efficient title. All the information you need to set your expectations—on the film’s genre, tone, sensibilities—can be inferred from those choices of words.

It is also a film proud that it was independently produced, yet it has an overwhelmingly mainstream flavor. In aiming to please crowds, it refuses to strive for originality, even when its mode of production gives it all the freedom to do something different. The freshness of its setting is therefore lost in the familiarity of its tricks.

I Found My Heart in Santa Fe is a self-assured rom-com about a half-Filipino tourist, Viktor (Will Devaughn), falling in love with a morena islander, Jennifer (Roxanne Barcelo). In this film, there are provocative slow-motion shots of the leading man taking off his shirt, as well as of the leading lady emerging from the sea in a bikini. Jennifer has a support group of friends, with stock, cartoonish personalities, who have no discernible life of their own and exists in the story only to cheer our protagonist in her quest for love. Early in the film, people burst into dance, in the town and on the beach, to the tune of Roxanne’s catchy and pun-filled ‘Morena’. (“Mamahalin mo rin, mo rin, morena ‘ko…”) Later, when it is time to bring out the kilig, the film conjures another song by Roxanne, this time a yearning cover of ‘Morning, Noon and Night Time’.

None of these are bad elements, and for the most part the film pulls them off with technical skill. But neither are they memorable, and any viewer’s enjoyment (or at least tolerance) of this film hangs on acceptance of such tropes. They add nothing to a film that, from its conception, is already challenged with leaving a mark.

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Cinemalaya 2017 review: all 9 full-length and 12 short-feature films

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.

Nabubulok

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.

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The deliverance of ‘Dunkirk’

Not a spectacle of combat, but an immense story of survival.

The enemy is faceless in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. We know who they are—but as our protagonists, the Allied troops, are gunned down on land, their ships sunk at sea, their planes shot down from the sky, all we see of the enemy are the bombs they let fall, the holes their bullets puncture, the war machines their air forces fly.

Clearly, this is not a war film where combat is the spectacle; it is a survival story. On land, the Allied armies are fighting for a shrinking patch of territory, against the vicious foe surrounding them. At the shore, the troops await evacuation and form lines, in defiance of the featureless, infinite beach, sky and sea. But neither is the water any refuge. The merciless enemy delivers setback after setback to our protagonists on the English Channel: bombed ships, flooded decks, burning oil. From the sky, they rain bullets, and propaganda.

The escape from Dunkirk took place in the early years of the Second World War. It saw the Allied armies rushing out to sea, a movement in reverse of what would happen on Normandy, on D-Day years later. Normandy would be an invasion: the soldiers would storm the beaches from the sea, with a mission to reconquer Europe. The soldiers who waded onto land on D-Day had a mission, and they were prepared for it. It was not easy, many men would fall; we have seen its brutality in films like Saving Private Ryan. But Normandy would not have been possible if not for the miracle at Dunkirk—where the escape from disaster was met with further disaster, where the weary soldiers had no mission but to survive.

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