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Movie reviews: 2019 Cinema One Originals films Part 1

Oggs Cruz
Oggs Cruz's review 'Sila, Sila,' 'Tia Madre,' 'Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo,' and 'Utopia'

Screenshots from YouTube/Cinema One

Sila Sila review: Speaking volumes


Perhaps the biggest hurdle for queer films is the bridging of sensitivities specific to the community to a much wider audience. Hence, what results are films that tend to romanticize – to a fault – queer experiences or patronize to the point of being problematic. What happens is that instead of contributing to the discourse, a lot of the queer films teeter towards being spectacles of non-mainstream sexual language or antiquated melodramas that abuse the advocacy for shallow and erstwhile emotionality.

Giancarlo Abrahan’s Sila Sila is a starkly different example of queer cinema. It opens with a gesture not of compromise in favor of an audience who may not be apprised of the peculiarities of queer living but of absolute normalcy. Two gay men (Gio Gahol and Topper Fabregas) in a car in a secluded street decide to first make out and then have sex. Afterwards, they argue brought about by old issues awoken by the beep of a dating app. They break up. That’s that.

Without a whiff of sensationalism of the two men’s act of lovemaking or a need to sentimentalize their abrupt breakup, Sila Sila plunges its audience in a world of complex relationships and even more complex emotions of a gay man. The film adamantly refuses to lionize its protagonist, exposing his scars and warts, revealing him not as a sufferer or hero or martyr as other queer films would more likely do but as a human being who continuously annoys and frustrates with his insecurities and hesitations.

The film understands the proclivities of existing as an outsider not just on the basis of sexual preference but also of personal experience, temperament, and even whim. Instead of treating its subject with a grandeur that doesn’t fit the intimacy of the concern, it decides to meander and fully exhaust the unpredictable routine of what could be described as an aimless stranger to a once-familiar landscape.

Abrahan’s film shines in its many moments of irresistible urgency and sincerity. It feels small and secluded but its beating and unprejudiced heart speaks volumes.



Tia Madre review: The horror is a child


At first glance, it feels like Eve Baswel’s Tia Madre is a horror film of very slight ambitions. It opens with hardly any warning of its viciously uncompromising trajectory of mining a child’s fragile and malleable innocence for both real and figurative horrors. It ends up as a truly ferocious portrait of domestic awe and dread that is frightfully experienced from the perspective of a child.

A mother (Cherie Gil), quite observably stressed and undergoing some unspoken tragedy, and her daughter (Jana Agoncillo), seemingly oblivious to her mother’s strange disposition, move into an old house in the province. With wide-eyed curiosity that slowly creep towards untrusting suspicion, the daughter starts to change, resorting to ill behavior and violence in an effort to keep up with what could have been some trauma from the past or a fantasy for a better present. 

The film takes its time. It doesn’t see the need to rush towards its nefarious destination, supplying its audience with only hints of its eventual shift from traditional scares to something more lasting and abominable. Tia Madre’s parentage is more Hereditary than Insidious in the sense that its non-judgmental portrayal of what the audience perceives as amoral and evil is the core of its horror. It is clever enough to play around with expectations and to divert prejudices, and is almost similar to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant or Rosemary’s Baby in the manner it utilizes the growing confusion on what is real and what is not as elements of suspense. Its persisting silence is oppressive. Its creeping and pondering pace is brutal. Its indelible parting shot is indisputably haunting.



Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo review: Much ado about nothing


Denise O’Hara’s Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo is literally about nothing. It spins in circles trying to make sense of the label-less relationship between Alex (Jane Oineza) and Carlo (JC Santos) only to arrive at a conclusion that may be emotionally fulfilling in the sense that it puts to a rest an exhausting relationship discourse but flat in the long run. Thankfully, the film is entertaining with amusing scenes that put the spotlight on the palpable rapport between the two actors. As it is, it is light and harmless, a film with some wisdom that is only good for erstwhile enlightenment. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a film of meager ambitions. Sadly, Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo has traces of loftier goals than what its limited content achieves. O’Hara aims for currency, to capture within a narrative of a boy and a girl who seem to be perfect for each other except for their readiness for commitment present relationship attitudes. She also aims to tweak the romance to favor the working female, to give the underrepresented and often misrepresented sector a resounding voice to air their longings and reservations when it comes to love and the bonds that come along with it. O’Hara’s screenplay is disappointingly uncertain whether it wants to be a satisfying but slight foray into present-day lifestyles or a stubborn melodrama that hinges on overly familiar narrative threads. When it digresses to rationalize Carlo’s antagonism towards labels by giving have a convoluted back story, the film regresses, lowering its aim of being a portrait of modern-day affairs to just another fictional account of broken hearts and their stubborn inability to move on.


Utopia review: Chaos desperately seeking order


Dustin Celestino’s Utopia aspires to be a magnificent tapestry wrought from interweaving threads of varying colors and textures. The aspiration’s quite noble. The end result sadly isn’t as magnificent as it would like to be. Imperfect and rough on the edges, the tapestry that is Utopia may not inspire awe and wonder but succeeds in its purpose of sounding off a relevant truth in this age where any reminder of the value of humanity trumps gloss and spectacle. The film’s ambition is clearly its greatest liability. Think of the film as machinery with hundreds of small parts that need to work in unison to function. Some of Utopia’s parts are ostensibly fun, fueled by the type of humor that caters to the male psyche with punchlines that poke fun on either the toxic men that meet some sort of comeuppance or the man-children who are rewarded for adorable incompetence. 

However, the appeal quickly wears off, and once it wears off, what’s left are the observable wrinkles of the production. The editing isn’t as smooth. The musical cues become grating. Even the jokes become repetitive. The transitions from the many narrative threads do not result in any real emotional pay-off because the film latches on the supposedly clever conceit of tying the fates of its disparate miscreants.

Utopia is far from perfect. Perfection, however, is not a prerequisite for the film to relay its important message, which is a resounding call to restore not just kindness but simple dignity and humanity in this world where vileness and violence have suddenly become supreme.


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.