Liza (Iza Calzado) is still drowning in grief from losing the love of her life when she receives a visit from the most unlikely person—her husband, whom she left five years ago. With no questions asked and no conditions, Anton (Nonie Buencamino) invites her back to his and their two children’s lives.
Distance establishes its tone, themes, and dramatic parameters with the very first scene: a tilting shot of a beach on a foreign land, patiently and slowly tracking Liza as she strolls up its expansive stretch. A montage of solitude follows, as we watch her spending her days alone, reading a book on a bench and killing time without company in her home. Anton knocks on her door one day, unannounced, unexpected; she offers tea, he declines, she insists. They exchange pleasantries, but Liza does not wait long to break the question: What really brings you here? He replies, I’m bringing you home. There is no need for resistance, and soon Liza finds herself in her old house, which somehow feels colder and stranger than her home abroad. Anton tells her to take the master’s bedroom while he moves to the guest room; she complains, he insists. The house is cavernous, and she goes through its rooms like a ghostly queen wandering in her empty castle.
Brillante Mendoza summons both frustration and pride for Filipinos through a spectacle-free look at a family in crisis.
Brillante Mendoza’s works have always been the stereotypical Filipino ‘indie’. They have always been showcases of the underbelly of society, complete with its persistent problems of poverty, corruption, and vulnerability, as well as its occasional glories—resilience in the face of tragedy, and capability for sacrifice out of love for family. The particular subjects may have been varied, but the approach has been constantly realist, and devoid of any visual spectacle other than what could be witnessed in actual life.
Ma’ Rosa is another entry in this tradition. In his works from the previous years, Mendoza wandered the archipelago: in Taklub (2015), he portrayed the brutal aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas; in Thy Womb (2012), he orchestrated a unique drama out of the cultural norms of Muslim people in Mindanao. Now, he returns to the slums of Manila, the place out of which he built his world-renowned reputation as a social-realist filmmaker.
Kitchie Nadal blends sorrow and hope in this powerful ode to emancipation.
One could take a cursory listen to Malaya (meaning ‘free’) and quickly conclude that it is a song about a break-up. It is easy to see why; Kitchie Nadal reserves the most solemn section of the song for the following lines:
Malaya ka na sa aking piling
Magmahal nang walang
Malayang-malaya ka na
The Tagalog of the first line is ambiguous. It could be interpreted either as “You are free from me,” which indeed sounds like a romantic letting go of a dying relationship, or it could be interpreted much-differently as “You are free with me.” The freedom referred to in this latter sense is not simply a lack of restrictions, but moreover a transcendent type of liberty that is made possible by something great—perhaps sacrificial love, or Providence itself.
Regardless of which interpretation is taken, the rest of the lines can be readily translated with greater certainty:
You are now truly free
Yet, if one listens intently, and looks further into the story of the musician herself, then there would be no doubt left as to what this powerful piece of music really means.
I started watching films from the Cinemalayà festival in earnest in 2010, catching around three films from each annual outing. I won’t deny that part of the motivation to attend the screenings is a not-so-subconscious desire to be identified as cultured—which, as a survey of blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates would indicate, is very much a desirable identity. I confess to enjoying every big-budget, mainstream production that comes out of Hollywood, so you can probably explain my Cinemalayà-watching as a simple curiosity to see a different kind of movie. But, in all honesty, there’s a part where I believe that these films are superior to most commercial movies; in that way, these so-called indie films matter.
Instead of attempting an ambitious and amateurish essay on why the term/categorization ‘indie film’ is problematic, I would just share my opinions on the three movies I saw at Cinemalayà this year.