Movie reviews: All 10 films at the 2018 Cinemalaya Film Festival
Distance review: A study of space and manners
At its best, Perci Intalan’s Distance is an exquisite study of space and manners. At its worst, it is a drama so careful and inert, its emotional heft seems outweighed by a pressure to be immutably elegant.
The crafting and aesthetic are consistent. The restraint is actually quite apt and admirable, as it is a film that thrives in silence, in all the repressed emotions evoked through knowing quiet but knowing looks and subtle gestures. Distance is a family drama that is able to patiently wait, to simmer, before fully exploding.
The effect, however, is a different story altogether. The film dwells in emotional crests and troughs, with moments that resonate deeply and others that don’t quite land.
The film hinges on the quality of its performances. Iza Calzado, who plays the film’s central figure, a statuesque woman plucked from England by her ex-husband to again live with the family she abandoned, effortlessly carries the film from start to finish by sheer presence, by the fact that she’s so conspicuous in a family that has learned to exist without her.
It is, however, the very precise performances of Nonie Buencamino, who plays the ex-husband, and Therese Malvar, the unrelenting daughter, who grant Distance both grit and gravitas. The film truly works, despite its imperfections and indulgences. Its parting long take aches and trembles with the burden of relaying the consequences of loving against all odds. There are certain points of no return that people take, rendering being part of the family less a joy and more servitude.
Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon review: Close to the Heart
Carlo Catu’s Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon is an achingly tender rumination of love and life nearing their twilights.
Delicately directed with a focus on the nuances that define relationships either strengthened or diminished by the passage of time, the film is splendid and buoyant. It whispers its meditations over the resilience of emotions through elegantly worded conversations between characters who are linked together by romances at different times in their lives.
While the narrative is grounded on the love stories of Teresa (Perla Bautista), who is happily living with Celso (Menggie Cobarrubias), suddenly intertwining when her former husband (Dante Rivero) is diagnosed with cancer, the film intuitively skirts melodrama and instead humanizes the experiences, provoking potent impressions about the complexities of human connections and the intricate emotions that fuel them.
The performances, including the understated portrayals of Romnick Sarmenta and Che Ramos, are all compelling. However, it is really Catu’s deliberate and sensitive depiction of the characters’ that allows the story to fly.
There’s a sublime elegance to the images that Catu conjures. More specifically, the scenes set in the unkempt ancestral house, where cinematographer Neil Daza expertly plays with light and shadows, evoke an unspoken history of better times, of a forgotten grandeur that is being resurrected to no avail.
All in all, Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon is beautiful and quietly powerful. Each frame is to be relished. Each poignant phrase being muttered by its characters who have been mellowed by time is to kept close to the heart.
Kuya Wes review: Late bloomer
In James Mayo’s Kuya Wes, Ogie Alcasid, who has carved a career in cinema playing the always cheery and often hyperactive comic, reins in his familiar vivacity to portray the film’s titular wallflower, a worker at a remittance center whose only source of joy is the monthly visit of a woman, played by Ina Raymundo, who collect her family’s allowance from her expatriate husband.
It is a caricaturish but ultimately endearing performance, one that is apt in a film that centers on a socially different but earnest man’s belated coming-of-age and first encounter with both the pleasure and pain of loving. Alcasid is amply complemented by Moi Marcampo, whose portrayal of a blunt-mouthed but doting workmate emphasizes the stark difference between the affection he gets at his work place that he does not find in the apartment he shares with his brother (Alex Medina) and his family.
Almost reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002) in the way it portrays awkward outsiders who are suddenly submerged in a romance, Mayo’s film thrives in the little moments of inexplicable joy that spark the otherwise morose life of its protagonist.
Here, love, or at the very least, attention is a drug, an exhilarating respite from a routine defined by invisibility from the very people one is expected a semblance of devotion from. In a way, the quirky narrative of the film which centers on a man whose existence to the people around him is rooted in his ability to give, mirrors the lives of the men and women whose primary significance to their loved ones are hinge on the amount of money they earn in foreign lands which they selflessly remit back home.
There is definitely more than meets the eye to this seemingly simple tale of a lonely man whose name has been replaced by his function to the world.
Liway review: Rousing tribute
Kip Oebanda’s Liway is not just an elegant and rousing tribute of a son to his mother, it is also a testament to the importance of telling stories.
The film revolves around the experiences of Dakip (Kenken Nuyad), a young boy who has never stepped foot outside the confines of a camp where his parents, rebel commanders Liway (Glaiza de Castro) and Ric (Dominic Roco), are incarcerated for several years.
His concept of the world is limited to the curious mix of guards, criminals and rebels he interacts with and the stories they tell. Oebanda doesn’t waste resources in highlighting the pleasure and delight Dakip exudes in every story he hears, with the film employing the simple spectacle of shadow puppets to convey childlike wonder to the audience. The film slowly but surely creeps towards more pertinent territories when the child becomes aware of the world beyond the prison, and the stories morphing from fables and fairy tales to very real experiences of strife, suffering and struggle.
This is clearly Oebanda’s best work.
His previous films, Tumbang Preso (2014), Bar Boys (2017), and Nay (2017), ambition to merge social relevance with clever conceits, whether they be complicated sets or manipulations of genre elements.
However, those films are always stunted by how their deficiencies from the perspective of the genre steal points from Oebanda’s social endeavors. This time, there is a certain ease in the storytelling. It is as if the film is unburdened by a need to veil itself with unnecessary metaphors or trappings of sophistication. It is also sourced from a more personal space. It is perhaps because the narrative is structured much simpler, with the tall tales and the flashbacks occupying the same space as stories being told by character to character instead of being an arbitrary and convenient device.
It helps that there is a softness to the visuals, a preference in depicting not the glaring atrocities of the times but the enduring humanity in the midst of all the suffering.
Mamang review: Humor and melancholy
The aim of heartbreak of Denise O’Hara’s Mamang hinges on its ability to sustain its conceit.
Clever but tricky in terms of execution, the conceit mainly revolves around the titular character (a luminous Celeste Legaspi), an old lady who spends most of her time at home being accompanied by her loyal son (Ketchup Eusebio). She relives her past through hallucinations of key figures including her philandering husband (Alex Medina) and a former lover (Gio Gahol) interacting with her.
Humor plays a huge role in buoying the conceit. It veils the melancholy, making it barely as bleak as it really is.
Unfortunately, the film abandons subtlety for flourish. While Lee Briones’ cinematography is crisp and gorgeous, making most of the interiors of a tired but still elegant house to convey the repressed longings of a woman in her twilight, there are elements that are dubious. Outlandish lighting, supposedly to mark when the main character’s imagination is at work, betrays the conceit and echoes the film’s penultimate reveal right from the start.
Nevertheless, Mamang still manages to move with a finale that shines despite the multiple missteps the film takes to get there.
ML review: Audacity to transgress
Benedict Mique’s ML is that rare Cinemalaya film that surprises not because of its outstanding quality but because of its audacity to transgress.
The premise is something that is bound to happen. Mike de Leon’s Batch ’81 (1982) puts its audience in a place of discomfort to depict how the Marcos regime’s authoritarian clutches eerily resemble the amoral demands of fraternity culture.
ML, however, doesn’t make metaphors to convey its point. It borrows a horror cinema trend whose unabashed display of pain and suffering is turned into spectacle, the sometimes obvious point is to punish the bourgeoisie for its many follies, whether it be the bumbling American backpackers whose escapade in Eastern Europe is turned into a gross and violent expression of class divide in Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005), or how environmental activists are ironically mangled by the jungle they are trying to save in Roth’s The Green Inferno (2013).
Torture is a comeuppance for the glaring ignorance afforded by comfort.
Mique’s film falls squarely within the discourse of the horror subgenre it emulates. Set in the present, where current comforts and the broken promises of post-EDSA administrations have given birth to a generation that has forgotten the Marcos regime’s atrocities, the film pits its protagonists, college students dubious of the past, with a colonel who can’t seem to escape it.
The film is blunt and bold, but its effect is definite. The metaphors can be very overwrought, but ML isn’t exactly a film that cares for subtlety. It is didactic because it is fueled by a frustration over a generation’s forgetfulness and revisionist tendencies. With solid performances by Eddie Garcia, who plays the sadistic colonel, and Tony Labrusca, the victim, the film defiantly makes its mark and hopefully its important message doesn’t get lost in repulsion.
Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma review: A tale without a home
There are scenes in Iar Arondaing’s Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma that are just terrifyingly striking, reflective of the mesmerizing draw of narratives derived from communities torn apart by war.
There is one long and staggered frame of a family, rendered immobile perhaps by fear and awe, watching men burn their village. It single-handedly confronts the viewer with the terrible beauty of strife. The film is littered with these images. There is one where a naked woman stands in the middle of the river, staring intently at the viewer. There is another showing the canopy of the mangrove forest with a flock of white birds flying above it. In between more mundane scenes, verses from the Quran are chanted.
Arondaing complements his tale of children hiding in the forest from the dangers of war with ample doses of mystery, setting an unsubtle mythical and primal mood to a story that seems current and pertinent.
For all the film’s endeavor to force its viewers to immerse themselves in a forest, it makes one seemingly negligible but grave and easily avoidable misstep, which is to have its characters talk in a language that inexplicably uproots the tale from its source.
While Arondaing doesn’t locate the tale in any specific region, his decision to use Tagalog instead of a dialect that is closer to the source of his inspiration strips his film of any cultural identity, lessening its impact and burdening its pristine motives of peace and forgiveness with simple-minded naiveté. The film looks lavish but there is just that blatant disconnect that prevents it from really flying.
Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma works best when it relishes in imagery. As soon as the characters talk, its shrouds of integrity and genuineness are removed, making it a tale, much like its young characters, that is sorely missing a home.
Pan de Salawal review: Light as a feather
Che Espiritu’s Pan de Salawal is the palette cleanser among the film festival’s dark and dreary entries. It is a film whose grand moments of unadulterated joy and verve outweigh its many weaknesses.
The film is about Sal (Bodjie Pascua), a man who’s had enough living an ironically long but disease-ridden life. While returning from one of his many expensive visits to the dialysis center, he chances upon Aguy (Miel Espinoza), an adorable drifter with a gift for healing.
He spies on the little tyke while she goes about town curing its many ailing residents. The old man and the kid eventually form a bond, which becomes the emotional core to the film that preoccupies itself with many other side plots, all of which tread towards the same predictable point.
The film is surely light as a feather, with Espiritu never scrimping on pushing for levity. It is almost as if the film, even if it is set in a depressed community, refuses to be lumped together with the many other films that see poverty as a repulsive curse whose ugliness needs to be exposed to the world.
Here, poverty is but a setting that adds a layer of relevance to the miracle-driven fairy tale.
The film actually manages to turn the narrow alleyways and the polluted streams as part and parcel of its parable of hope even in the midst of pain and misery. The real miracle of Pan de Salawal is how it effortlessly evokes cheer amidst the sea of suffering it unabashedly depicts. It thrives in kitsch. It isn’t shy about its corniness, and parades it with an earnestness that is quite refreshing. There is true novelty in its guileless filmmaking.
School Service review: Peddling misery
There is nothing novel in Louie Ignacio’s School Service, and that is its most prominent problem. It is just another needless addition to the country’s already vast collection of miserablist cinema.
While there is nothing ostensibly wrong in showing poverty in the ugliness and amorality it breeds, the film seems satisfied on simply being an empty display rather than a diving board for any essential discourse about all the ills it so unabashedly presents. It opens and ends in tragedy, with the middle part, just a repetitious exposé of the sordid lives of children being forced by a family of lowlifes to beg.
There is just too little plot to squeeze out any convincing humanity out of the film’s bleak scenario. When the film attempts to convince that there is compelling drama beneath the depression, it is usually ineffective, as the characters it creates are more props to provoke than actual people to follow
The metaphors are just too obvious. Innocence is but a dream for the film’s abused youth. Hopelessness is a reality that needs to be accepted. The mean streets they peddle their misfortunes for spare change are the educational institutions that will grant them the necessary tools to survive. The film’s world is crooked.
What very little virtues that are present, whether it be the familial love that has been twisted by dire circumstances or the camaraderie that is formed by desperation, are far too scant to create the levity the film is thirsting for.
School Service shows that Ignacio excels in unflinchingly presenting penury in its most depraved form. What he needs to now is to evolve beyond mere exhibition, lest he be accused of peddling misery.
The Lookout review: Barrage of blunders
Afi Africa’s The Lookout isn’t exactly an empty shell of a film. There are traces of something intriguing beneath all its barrage of blunders. There are very good ideas, particularly in the way Africa attempts to concoct a gay romance in the middle of a pulpy narrative involving warring assassin groups.
Sadly, Africa crafts a nearly unintelligible film, one that strives to pile too many things to the point of exhaustion. There is just too many things happening, with the film’s emotional heft buried underneath a lousily plotted police procedural, ponderous sex scenes, poverty-driven melodrama, and a horde of production warts.
The result is a film that, while not exactly empty, is just a torturous slog. It ambitions to be so many things but never attempts to make real sense. It is crowded with characters with motivations that are either questionable or illogical.
It somewhat touches on social issues but it is more for the purpose of pitting its fantastical plot with the real ordeals of the present. It doesn’t really ignite discourse and is more intent in shipping the twists it imagines to be ingenious towards their unsurprising and flaccid destination.
The Lookout is messy and confused. Its pleasures, scant as they are, are too perplexing with all the meandering jabber. With all the ingredients Africa throws into the bowl, the film ends up being a spoiled salad that is far too toxic and bizarre to be served. – Rappler.com
Culture and beyond
We love pop culture. Whether it is TV, movies, or music, we seek to go beyond the news by providing deep dives and explainers on the latest trends happening locally and around the world.
Serious work goes into our brand of cultural journalism. However, to continue exploring the entertainment landscape, we need your support.
By joining Rappler PLUS, you will get exclusive event invites, industry reports, and Rappler Shop discounts.
But more than that, you will enable us to continue telling more stories.
Make your move now. Join Rappler PLUS.