Reviews: ‘ML’, ‘The Lookout’, ‘Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma’ (Cinemalaya 2018)

An intense horror satire, a confusing thriller-drama, and a solemn coming-of-age film.

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ML

Direction/Screenplay: Benedict Mique

Carlo (Tony Labrusca), a college student, his girlfriend Pat (Lianne Valentin), and best pal Jaze (Henz Villaraiz) get more than what they have bargained for when they decide to learn about the dark days of Martial Law from an old retired soldier who may be one of its worst abusers.

Early in ML, we are introduced to its burgis millennial protagonists in a classroom, a safe space, where they are discussing Martial Law with a professor (Jojit Lorenzo). Carlo is skeptical about the criticisms of the era, but Jaze is outright incredulous; he parrots the tired old arguments celebrating the legacies of the Marcos regime, about a disciplined public and enduring public works. The professor answers him with the standard, borderline paranoid rebuttal from the anti-Marcos side, telling Jaze that if he were that outspoken during Martial Law, he would be tortured or killed, or he would simply disappear. The professor then switches to an apologetic voice of reason: he admits that his generation became too complacent after EDSA, and that they are indeed to blame for our country’s continuing predicaments. The professor is of course talking to Carlo and Jaze as much as he is to us, the audience; this dialogue is setting the ideological stage for the rest of the film. However, it would also be nearly the last appearance of nuanced discourse in ML, because the rest of the film turns out to be an intense horror-satire à la Jordan Peele’s Get Out, albeit with a heavier hand and a more candid approach.

Continue reading “Reviews: ‘ML’, ‘The Lookout’, ‘Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma’ (Cinemalaya 2018)”

Reviews: ‘Kuya Wes’, ‘Pan de Salawal’, ‘Liway’ (Cinemalaya 2018)

Stories about a love-struck clerk, a miraculous child, and a pregnant rebel.

Kuya Wes

Direction: James Robin Mayo | Screenplay: Denise O’Hara & Heber O’Hara

Wes (Ogie Alcasid) is a timid and earnest remittance clerk who falls for his customer in need, Erika (Ina Raymundo). As Wes offers to help her out, his “relationship” with Erika and his friction with his younger brother Raf (Alex Medina) starts to change him.

Like James Mayo’s own The Chanters and his associate Thop Nazareno’s similarly beloved Kiko Boksingero, Kuya Wes features a cute premise that promises a feel-good, underdog-story film, but as it delivers the charms it also deals a sucker punch, a double-edged blow that tickles your ribs as much as it wrenches your guts.

Wes is a generation older than Kiko and The Chanters’ Sarah Mae, but he is in many ways just as immature. Wes is not his real name, but a nickname of endearment given to him by his regular customers. His devotion to his clerical job is disproportionate to its prosaic repetitiveness. We watch him continually redecorate the remittance center with the latest holiday greetings as the months go on—Valentine’s followed by graduation, graduation followed by Mothers’ Day, Mothers’ Day followed by Fathers’ Day. Erika’s similarly clock-like visits, at one in the afternoon on the 16th of every month, is Wes’s sole hope of joy in his unremarkable life.

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On Lualhati Bautista’s ‘Dekada ’70’

Not merely a ‘Martial Law novel’.

I’ve been seeing the novel Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, on National Bookstore’s Filipino shelves for as long as I can remember. That is the certain mark of a work’s membership in the literary canon, as far as the economics of required readings are concerned. But somehow, in all my years of schooling, I had evaded all the panitikan teachers who would include this novel in their syllabi. Either that, or I’m suffering a combination of faulty memory and a past fear of classic literature.

It happens that I’m currently atoning for my past disinterest in classics, and a friend lent me a copy of the progressive pocket-sized novel. (I imagined—framed—my friend as a concerned citizen discreetly sharing subversive readings to a fellow citizen, for enlightenment in these dark times.) I have no idea when, or if at all, I would ever have read this novel if not for this friend. Dekada ’70’s cover has intimidated me all these years, after all. Every time I would see its stark red, overtly political cover illustration, my mind’s interest-switch flips off. I am all for appreciating realist, social-political narratives on a medium like film, but I’m a slow reader, and I only have so much reading capacity to spare when it comes to grim literature.

I’m glad that I proved my own expectations wrong. Everyone mutters, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the reality is that for the majority of books we lay our eyes upon at the bookstore, we pre-screen them by sight. By their covers, that is. Certainly, we could read the synopsis, cross-check with reviews or recommendations, but before any of this can be accomplished, we would already have instinctively formed prejudices on a book by its face. The book design for Dekada ’70 belies the novel’s domestic tone: there are grim moments in this story, true, and the anxious climate of the titular era is the omnipresent spirit of the narrative, but the entire tale is depicted in such a welcoming, informal manner that the political becomes personal—what would otherwise have caused distant despair becomes a matter of intimate concern.

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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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On EDSA

I cannot claim personal significance on the EDSA People Power Revolution, which took place nearly six years before I was born. My parents could’ve joined the protests during those fateful days in February 1986, but they didn’t; my mother was explicitly ordered by my grandfather to stay home for her own safety. Interestingly, my grandfather was actually a police officer working in Quezon City then. As to why I haven’t heard of any story yet about what he did in those days, I just assume that there really is none—that he simply stayed out of trouble, which would be in theme with all the other stories my mother has told me about him.

That’s no reason for me to ignore history, however. No one in my extended family suffered human rights violations under Martial Law, but that either means we were lucky, or that they were just apathetic enough that they were never a concern for the offenders. I cannot blame them. I can’t tell what I would’ve done myself if I lived back then. But now, the essays, stories, and films on the subject collectively paint a picture of an era that should’ve incited more anger and more protests from everyone who had a conscience.

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