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.

Continue reading “Cinemalaya 2017 review: all 9 full-length and 12 short-feature films”

‘Sa Aking Mga Kamay’ (1996): the dual faces of crime and passion

The ‘Cattleya Killer’ thriller is intriguing for Aga Muhlach’s atypical casting, and satisfying for its intelligent writing.

In my recollection of the 1990s, a decade I had the questionable fortune of experiencing as a young kid, Filipino movies were generally of two types. They were either silly comedies that invariably included song-and-dance numbers at the beach, or drama-action flicks that were almost always about crime. The Philippines in the 90s was a society obsessed with crime; it had a dual fascination and dread for the drama and tragedy of heinous violence. Kidnappings and massacres (and frequent brown-outs) filled the news, and filmmakers responded by repackaging these horrifying stories for the silver screen. (Before the decade ended, audience-voters apparently also responded by electing a swashbuckling former movie star into the presidency.)

Sa Aking Mga Kamay (literally: In My Hands), a 1996 Star Cinema picture, fits perfectly into this latter category of my simplistic classification of 1990s Filipino cinema. But what sets it apart—its unique selling proposition—is its featuring of Aga Muhlach “not doing a pretty boy thing,” as a friend put it. Now, Aga Muhlach was quite the household name back then, the actor having enjoyed the status relished these days by, say, Dingdong Dantes. (Although I make such delicate comparisons only approximately, lest some pundits get mad at me). Muhlach was the premier leading man of the time, pairing off with such ladies as Dayanara Torres and Lea Salonga, and therefore to see him play a psychopathic serial killer is a true novelty.

Continue reading “‘Sa Aking Mga Kamay’ (1996): the dual faces of crime and passion”

Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016, Lav Diaz): time and solace and sorrow

Lav Diaz, inspired by Leo Tolstoy, delivers another distinct portrayal of life’s pains and suffering, as well as its quiet joys.

The manipulation of time is the soul of Lav Diaz’s artistry. As many writers have noted, time is Diaz’s instrument of exchange with his audience: the viewers surrender their precious hours for his films, in exchange for glimpses at truths of the world and humanity, and insights into the fabled human condition. It is not merely about the unconventionally epic lengths of his works, which is apparent enough, but also his penchant for protracted, steady gazes. In the spectrum of pacing in cinema, Diaz’s works occupy the extremity opposite the dizzying, rushed rhythm of Hollywood action flicks.

Lav Diaz manipulates time in this manner often to express both solace and sorrow. In Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), this takes particular resonance. It is the story of Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), a schoolteacher who is imprisoned for thirty years for a crime she did not commit. Her name itself derives from the Latin hora, signifying hour, or time.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

Continue reading “Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016, Lav Diaz): time and solace and sorrow”