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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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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Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (2016, Lav Diaz): necessary fiction

In Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic, our nation is a country imagined in monochrome.

Las Islas Filipinas, according to Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), is a nation imagined in monochrome. It is the same vistas: cities of colonial architecture, endless coastlines of soothing seas, and forests of tropical green. Yet, it is not the same images: we see all these filtered in shades of black and white.

In similar fashion, the stories that Hele tells are not tales as they ordinarily are—because the massive ambition of Lav Diaz, the central conceit of his project, is the interweaving of the historical, the literary, and the fantastic.

Let us count Hele‘s narrative threads, all set at the turn of the end of the 19th century, during the Philippine Revolution from Spanish rule.

Note: this essay is not so much a critical review as it is a reading of this film and a commentary, so it necessarily shares plot and characterization details.

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Myths in the movies

There is an abundance of movies loosely based on mythologies coming out these days. Take note on the phrase “loosely based.” I don’t understand why critics and other commentators take issue with these pictures taking their liberty of playing around with their source material, especially when the source material itself is not really immutable. Off the top of my head, I can’t say this for sure regarding Norse myths, but the Greeks had very diverse, and contradicting, stories to tell about their deities anyway.

Besides, I think being “alive” is the most valuable aspect of mythology, and it’s what sets it apart from normal, publishing-house fiction. Myths are fascinating not only because they’re really engaging stories, but because they’re tales that address our deepest questions about the world around us. How did we come to be? How did the sky, mountains and seas come to exist? Why does the sun rise from the east and set in the west? Mythologies reflect the hopes and dreams of the societies that created them. They’re social products in the fullest sense; they’re genuine records of culture.

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