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

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

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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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‘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’.

Continue reading “‘Dagsin’ (2016): a weakened force”

Cinemalayà 2015 Shorts B

Five short films by young directors make up the second set of competition pieces in this year’s Cinemalaya festival.

Lisyun qng Geografia (Geography Lessons)

Writer and director: Petersen Vargas

In Lisyun, Tib finds an old map as he sweeps his belongings into travel boxes, in preparation for some unmentioned journey. The handcrafted map, however, distracts from his future plans and sends him to a detour, an intimate journey to his past. This is how the viewer is introduced to the centerpiece of the film: a beautiful parallel between the geography of the outside world and the terrains of personal relationships.

Tib’s map is not a mass-printed, scientifically-accurate guide but a personal record of the landmarks of his younger years. With the quaint sheet on-hand, he retraces memories of his hometown in Pampanga: afternoons spent on a dirt road, evenings outside his old home, a twilight at a secluded corner of his high school. It is not difficult to imagine the crushing nostalgia that Tib experiences as he revisits the physical triggers of his memories. After all, memory is intertwined with location; and Lisyun shows us that identity is a function of geography.

Crucially, Tib’s map is also filled with pictures of himself and his high school best friend, Tric. We learn through flashbacks that the map was made by Tric, and the night when he gave it was the turning point of their tragic relationship. Their friendship used to be innocent, joyful, and comfortable—but it developed into a tense attraction that left them both groping uncharted territories of their personalities. Tib’s eventual reaction was denial, and rejection; and Tric, confusion and desperation.

The flashbacks end here, and we imagine how the relationship fell into neglect after that passionate confrontation at night, and in the intervening years as Tib left for university. In the present, the map leads Tib through town, and he finds some structures gone, constructions sites replacing the familiar landmarks. Places are dynamic: no matter how intimately we may come to know places at some point in our lives, they will inevitably change, sometimes subtly, sometimes violently. And they will become both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, like an old face, or a faded relationship.

In the end, when Tib comes into the place that witnessed some of his old friendship’s happiest memories, he runs into Tric, who by appearance alone is now a changed person. After a long silence, they simply acknowledge each other’s names—and a new, unexplored path of redemption opens up. Somehow, we know that areas of Tib and Tric’s map will have to be redrawn, with brighter colors.

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