Movie reviews: All 6 films in the 2018 ToFarm film festival
1957 review: Hope is where the hurt is
The beauty of Hubert Tibi’s 1957 lies in its ability to tackle the pressing issue of land reform not through bullets shot or blood spilt but through the experiences of a family surviving on sheer hope.
It is 1957, and the expected arrival of President Magsaysay in Bicol has given farmers of remote cornfields the idea that the government’s program of redistributing land to the tillers will finally reach them. However, Tibi doesn’t dwell so much on the expected event. In fact, the event is only felt when a farmer, spending precious relaxation time with his family, turns on the radio, and the announcer excitedly confirms the news. The farmer then quickly turns the radio off. Batteries are expensive and have to be conserved.
1957 is also a painfully beautiful film. Tibi, is also his film’s cinematographer, shoots the farmlands, rippling with stalks of corn ready for harvest, immaculately, making it that elusive prize his characters rightfully pine for. The performances are splendid as well, with Ronwaldo Martin and Richard Quan evoking the poignant nobility that define their characters in their quiet but valiant opposition to the iniquitous circumstances presented to them. 1957 focuses on the routine, painting a very intimate picture of a family that is seemingly content in their idyllic existence up until the hope presented by a president’s impending arrival stirs them for the land they are linked to.
The film is intimate in a way that makes the still persisting injustices more heartbreaking.
Alimuom review: Fertile grounds, coarse harvest
It is obvious that Keith Sicat’s Alimuom has ideas that are grossly bigger than what its very meager budget can provide. It is also obvious that the dystopia that Sicat concocts is one that is overly eager to tackle many pertinent issues, from the troubling culture of Filipinos leaving their homes for better opportunities abroad, to the corrupt and incompetent government overreaching its powers.
It is that very audacious ambition that becomes the film’s most impressive achievement. Alimuom is a film that has a palpable scope that is not thwarted by economic and logistical constraints. It is a film that exhausts all possible means to fulfil its promise of defining a world that is not just futuristic in its visuals but also in concept.
Within its straightforward story of a scientist (played thoughtfully by Ina Feleo) in search of her long-lost sister, Sicat explores the psychological and moral repercussions of contemporary concepts exaggerated by the film’s futuristic elements.
The film is most compelling during the scenes where it deftly marries human yearnings with its version of dystopia, such as when Feleo attempts to connect with her physically and emotionally distant husband but to no avail.
It is when the film touches on familiar conflicts that it truly becomes affecting. Sadly, in is its fealty to that boundless ambition that exposes the film’s most glaring misstep. Alimuom falters when it moves outside the minds of its characters and steps beyond compelling conversations. Despite an ingenious production design, the film suddenly feels a subpar derivative of the many films like Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) or George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) that it borrows from.
The result is a film that feels coarser than it could have been had it stripped itself of its influences.
Kauyagan review: A fine song sung flat
Julienne Ilagan’s Kauyagan has all the good intentions in the world. It speaks volumes about cultures in the fringes that are slowly disappearing in favor of capitalistic endeavors. It is eager to talk about the heft of an individual’s responsibility to his roots, how such responsibility can run counter to his very identity. It opens with an immaculate song that encapsulates its very earnest endeavors. If films are only comprised of noble desires, then Ilagan’s film is top-notch. Sadly, it also matters that advocacies are imparted with a semblance of elegance. Kauyagan is just too sloppily crafted. The moments where it verges on being lyrical are mired by very long stretches that are just drab.
Kauyagan is a fine song sung flat. Its biggest problem is perhaps the lackluster performance of Jefferson Bringas. While he sings the many songs featured in the film with ample charm, he portrays Piyo, who abandons his future as his tribe’s datu to become a folk singer, with barely any verve.
There is an obvious disconnect between the bland performance and the character’s emotional upheavals. The film also suffers because of the frequent technical hiccups, whether it be the inconsistent sound design or the visually unappealing footage. It is all very unfortunate because the story that Kauyagan wants to tell is one that deserves to be told.
Mga Anak ng Kamote review: The root is swelling
Carlo Catu’s Mga Anak ng Kamote is a strange, strange film.
It both opens and closes with Iyong (Katrina Halili) working the small plot of land outside her forest hut where she grows sweet potatoes. There are start differences though. In the opening, her face, naked in the sense that her expressions are clear and crisp, almost always occupies the entirety of the frame, which is in an atypical aspect ratio that is comparable to videos shot on cellphones on portrait mode. The effect is suffocating, with a lot of the action limited to characters either looking or being looked at. The ending, however, shows not just the face of Iyong but her entire body, occupying a small portion of her backyard which the audience sees in widescreen.
The rest of Catu’s film explores the journey of Iyong from being encaged and objectified by everyone around her to some semblance of freedom.
Set in a future where the farming of sweet potatoes has been outlawed by the government, Mga Anak ng Kamote doesn’t exactly dwell on its dystopian conceit for its gamut of pleasures. It definitely adds to the film’s mystique, and also contributes to its discomforting familiarity to current realities where the government’s campaign against illegal drugs targets the poor more than the rich.
The sweet potato is, after all, a crop that the poor rely on when the price of rice has turned it into a luxury. For all the film’s clench on absurdity, its story is actually easy to follow. It subverts Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975) with a woman following her missing husband to Manila, having her eyes opened to the city’s wonders. Where Brocka’s film ends with its protagonist trapped, Catu’s reworking ends with Iyong, who spends most of the first part of the film being the subject of men’s gazes, freed from the clutches of the men that encage her.
Sol Searching review: Death in a small town
It takes a while before Roman Perez, Jr’s Sol Searching takes shape. It starts quickly, with stressed-out schoolteacher Sol, played skillfully by Gilleth Sandico, abruptly dying after a sequence of her putting up with her naughty students. After the cleverly conducted prologue, the film proceeds to morph into a comedy of errors where Lorelei (Pokwang), seemingly Sol’s only friend in the entire school, takes on a journey to find a place for her best friend’s wake. The humor here is diverse, ranging from silly slapstick to discerning wit, with the rapport between Pokwang and JM Salvado, who plays Budoy, one of Sol’s students, serving as crutch to sequences that seem to stretch out too long.
The rewards of sitting through what seems to be a hodgepodge of attempts to find pleasure out of an awkward death in a small town arrive belatedly. There is actually more to Sol Searching than its desperate attempts to squeeze the tiniest of giggles from its crowded conceit.
Perez is, in fact, quite a clever and devious storyteller. Beneath his film’s juvenilia, subtly simmering, is a striking commentary on how humanity can be duplicitous in its affairs, and how virtues and vices are often veiled in either outward villainy or nobility.
The film has very powerful moments, all expertly orchestrated by Perez when he is done with piling all the silliness and ready to reveal his film’s essential discourse. The film doesn’t need its too saccharine ending, but what it accomplishes from its meager beginnings makes it a very pleasant surprise.
Tanabata’s Wife review: Green tea over rice
Lito Casaje, Choy Pangilinan and Charlson Ong’s adaptation of Tanabata’s Wife, a short story written by Filipino-Japanese author Sinai Hamada, is a work of astounding precision. It is paced immaculately, taking its time to not just move the story forward but to display nods and details that would graduate the film from merely a visual retelling of the written text to a precious document of how two cultures interweave and clash in the most profound of ways.
What is particularly intriguing about the film is how it bravely ventures to take the perspective of the foreigner, instead of the titular woman. It even borrows its visual cues from the films of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, turning the local landscape into a realm where the arrival of Fas-Ang, played finely by Mai Fanglayan, starts out as awkward before familiarity and romance starts to pervade the artful disparity between the two lovers.
The result is a beguiling and sensual romance, one that acknowledges the preciousness of gestures in foreshadowing love and its resulting heartaches.
It is interesting that for film that is directed by three individuals, Tanabata’s Wife is consistent in its aim and aesthetic. Miyuki Kamimura, who plays homesick Tanabata who first hires Fas-Ang before marrying her in an informal ceremony, takes control of the feature.
It is through the emotions he evokes with astounding ease that the film finds its poignant footing. It is through his experiences as a stranger who quietly works the land and falls in love with one of its natives that the film unearths its discourse on the uncertainties of cultural connections, no matter how immediately charming and attractive they are.
The film’s ending, which is where it markedly differs from Hamada’s short story, is powerful and sensational, a cry that spells a pained uncertainty that takes into consideration the very real repercussions of unions defined by differences more than similarities. – Rappler.com
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