Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (2015): watching the end of the line

Watching this story of a romance approaching the end of the line is like searching for the right person to love.

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Ang sabi mo walang hanggan, pero ‘eto tayo sa dulo.” (You said there would be no end, but here we are standing on the edge.)

If it were not for these words from the film’s original sound track, Walang Hanggan by Quest, it would have been easier to miss the purpose of Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa‘s restless settings. Throughout the film we see the characters in places of motion: sitting in a taxi or on the steps of a bridge, waiting on train platforms, walking between stations. Always in transit, Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa never lets us forget that the characters are in love, but that this love is transient. As much as they would want things to be different, the road will always come to an end, the train will always come to a stop.

The camera in this film has a similar obsession with buildings under construction: hinting at things not quite formed yet, things with perhaps no certainty of completion or fulfillment; without proper labels, like the love between Sam (Nicco Manalo) and Isa (Emmanuelle Vera).

We do not need to see the entire film to understand these metaphors for a relationship that has run its due course. They are apparent enough in the music video for Walang Hanggan that uses clips from the movie. Indeed, the resonant, heartbreaking song is responsible for much of the crowds that went to see the indie picture in its commercial release. The social media campaign for the film banked on the song’s hugot or heartbreaking ‘feels’ to draw the sawi, the romantically frustrated. People went to the theaters expecting to be brought to tears, maybe seeking legitimate comfort in a movie, or perhaps simply curious yet prepared for a good cry.

For marketing itself in this way, it is worthwhile to think of the film in explicit contrast to conventional Filipino romance movies.

Note: this review includes spoilers.

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

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

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’.

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