Movie reviews: All 5 Sinag Maynila 2019 feature length films
Akin ang Korona review: Behind the curtains
After a shoot having earned his fee for appearance in a televised show that sensationalizes human drama for quick entertainment, Nanong (an absolutely riveting Nar Cabico) and his best friend (Philip Palmos) are walking home. The best friend asks Nanong if he is willing to eat feces while being videoed for a million pesos. Nanong cracks a slew of jokes, deflecting the underlying point his affirmative answer bears on how dignity has lost its value in his rundown life. From there, Nanong goes through an experience that essentially has him bearing his soul for what essentially is a soulless enterprise that commodifies not just human tragedy but also hope and salvation for the cheap and short-lived escape afforded by reality television.
Zig Dulay's Akin ang Korona dissects the entertainment industry to reveal its unsavory guts and excrement. With its brazen depiction of the inner workings of a television program that renders its perpetually stressed agents as having turned into soulless leeches all for the sake of ratings and its desperate subjects as willing victims who become conspirators to a propagation of fakery, the film reveals a society where oppression is a palpable currency that is perfumed with charismatic hosts and meaningless dole-outs. It is truly a harrowing work. Its moments of levity, culled not from put-on gags but from its gay characters who are only fulfilling the very stereotype that has turned them into viable objects of both ridicule and skin-deep sympathies, only make it more irresistibly poignant.
Jesusa review: Addicted to suffering
There is a singlemindedness of endeavor in Ronald Carballo's Jesusa that is woefully stifling. In its staggering study of the titular character, a woman who is addicted to suffering with her knack for loving people who refuse to love her, it always returns to one focus which is drugs. Drugs are everywhere. They are shamelessly peddled by the community chief. They are the subject of the torturous warbling of the musically-inclined rumormonger. The film is literally so preoccupied with the idea of illegal substance's domination over everybody's consciousness, that it seems to be literally under its influence, returning to it any way and any manner it can to the point of cliché and convenience.
It is really a pity because Jesusa is quite competently crafted. It has an unmistakable look, one that lends credibility to its doggedly dire world view where each frame is convincingly bare except for details that scream poverty. It has a stiff elegance in its storytelling, with each scene crawling along like a lurching nightmare that is refusing to end. The performance of Sylvia Sanchez as the central character is devastating amidst its teetering towards stark banality. Carballo has all the pieces to shape a truly heartrending miserablist drama but his story keeps on returning to drugs like a hopeless junkie. Simply put, this Jesusa offers no real salvation to its vast collection of a sad woman's trials and tribulations.
Jino to Mari review: A history of rape
Consent is a recurring concern in Joselito Altarejos' Jino to Mari. The film navigates the seemingly lackadaisical journey of sex workers recruited to perform in a porno from Manila to a remote resort. It exposes its characters absent the judgment that usually come with their profession, focusing not on the moral implications of their job but the values they uphold. Gino (Oliver Aquino), in an early scene, adamantly rejects the eager request of a client for him to perform oral sex, strictly complying with the boundaries he has set for himself. Marie (Angela Cortez), while taking the matter of having sex on video lightly, declares her one rule in her profession, which is to never kiss her clients.
While it may be argued that Altarejos is unnecessarily romanticizing prostitution with his lush visuals and tender depiction of his two leads, it is apparent that his goal is not to put prostitutes on a pedestal but to single out the dignity that would eventually be stripped from them. Jino to Mari moves from what seems to be a banal chronicle of two strangers forced to be together for money to a blistering discourse on how the nation, with its history and its pervading culture as presented by its president's careless rhetoric, is perpetually being raped, literally and figuratively. The film's climax, an operatic orgy where both Gino and Marie are forced to abandon their rules, is agonizingly profound. It is an artful counterpoint of lustful excesses and several decades’ worth of a nation's indignity.
Pailalim review: Low-rent heist, high-stakes concerns
Pailalim shrewdly takes its time carving a distinct character out of the community of cemetery-dwellers, framing its allegories through the routine and day-to-day experiences of a struggling family that is forced to stage a low-rent heist to solve their high-stakes concern. Taking his cue from his mentor, Brillante Mendoza, debuting director Daniel Palacio understands the importance of mining metaphors out of the absurdities of life borne out of the necessity of survival in a harsh and indiscriminate world, molding another reality-driven take on Manila's many marginalized life that would eventually serve as an allegory for a deeper and more pressing social blight. The story is almost like an afterthought. It is the setting, one of the many private cemeteries where the dead share their resting places with families deprived of homes, that is the film's real selling point.
It is however the tense and tightly conducted heist that serves as the film's climax that takes Pailalim out of the crowded pile of recent poverty-related films that are seemingly satisfied in simply identifying the problem without taking a firm stance. The scene doesn't make up for the glaring lack of anger or frustration or discontent but it at least grants the audience a certain thrill, a semblance of having a stake in the meager aim of a desperate father (Joem Bascon) and mother (Mara Lopez) to steal a corpse for a fee they need to pay for hospital bills. Aside from that scene, Palacio fully disappears, stubbornly content in just being a too distant a storyteller rather than a more involved advocate.
Persons of Interest review: All over the place
In Persons of Interest, writer-director Ralston Jover, who with films like Bakal Boys (2009) and Hamog (2015) has mastered depicting children and their fantasies amidst the backdrop of overt penury, again has a child as a character who conjures a fantasy as an escape from the lurid adult concerns that surround him. The child's father (Allen Dizon), a blind cook, is being investigated for poisoning his wife (Liza Lorena), a woman several decades his senior who owns the restaurant he works for. The film is oddly structured in the sense that it eagerly drowns itself in a slew of marital squabbles before indulging in a lackluster procedural which gives way to too convenient an exposition. The film thirsts for a sophistication that fits the absurdity it ambitions for.
More problematic is the insistence of the film to put a spotlight on the character of the blind father, when it is the child that the film's conceit follows and has a more intriguing arc. While Dizon gives a predictable fine performance either as the cornered husband or his more spontaneous alterego, the film doesn't earn favors in following a character whose trajectory is stifled. As a result, the film ends up feeling misdirected and all over the place. It never solidifies as anything as it jumps from being a domestic drama to a shallow dive into the justice system, but never really closes any of its lofty endeavors. Persons of Interest is as blinded as its main character, struggling to make sense of a fantasy that doesn’t stick as elegantly as it should. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass. Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.
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