2013: The year that was in Philippine cinema

Oggs Cruz
Hopefully in 2014 Filipino films get to attract more Filipino audiences

2013. Was it really as bright as the 70s for Filipino cinema as critics expected it to be? Graphic by Mara Mercado

MANILA, Philippines – It was a year that was touted by excitable pundits as one of the best years for Philippine cinema.

It’s said to even rival 1976, which saw the releases of Lino Brocka’s Insiang, Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? and Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo.

To others, 2013 was also better than 1982, which brought to the world Ishmael Bernal’s Himala andRelasyon, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Moral, and Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata.

As early as May, the year exhibited promise with the announcement of Lav Diaz’s Norte: Hannganan ng Kasaysayan, Adolfo Alix’s Death March, and Erik Matti’s On the Job as part of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival lineup.

It only got better. By the end of 2013, there were so many films to rave about, all varying in style, theme, and intention. The pundits were correct.

Film festivals

It was also a year that saw the cropping up of more local film festivals, drawn from the successes of predecessors like Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals.

CineFilipino, a partnership between an emerging television network and a struggling film studio, produced a handful of interesting films, most of which come from new talents.

Mike Alcazaren’s Puti was cool and quiet, a fine spectacle until it unraveled itself as a morality play. Randolph Longjas’ Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Din was a hilarious look at cross-cultural marriages. Sigrid Bernardo’s Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita tackled serious issues from the perspective of a young girl exploring her blossoming sexuality.

Sari and Kiri Dalena’s The Guerilla is a Poet, about the life of Communist Party of the Philippines founder Joma Sison, was best seen outside the politics it shrouded itself in. As a love letter to a man admired with such intense passion, the film burst with palpable earnestness, which is strange for biopics that adorn their subjects with cinematic expletives.

Watch the trailer for ‘Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita’ here:


Quezon City, self-proclaimed City of the Stars, finally put up its own film festival, financing the production and post-production of 3 films: Alvin Yapan’s Gaydar, Joel Ferrer’s Hello, World and John Torres’ Lukas Nino.

Unfortunately, Gaydar, about a woman’s inclination to fall for guys who turn out to be gay, seemed a product from a very tired and spent director. Ferrer’s Hello, World, about a teenager off to spend his remaining days in the Philippines before migrating to America with his buds, on the other hand, was fresh and funny, but its heart was overtaken by its humor.

Lukas Nino, about a young boy who discovers his father is half-man, half-horse, was a marvel, marrying Torres’ aesthetic with the nostalgia of cinema from days gone by.

The Film Development Council of the Philippines, on the other hand, produced several features from filmmakers whose careers were birthed in the ’70s or ’80s. The film festival, referred to by the government body as the “All-Masters Edition,” featured films that would showcase talents primed by decades of experience.

Peque Gallaga’s Sonata, about a young boy’s unlikely friendship with a faded opera star, was charming at best, a mere shadow of the director’s more daring work. Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana told the story of an abused woman with exhausting exuberance. Joel Lamangan’s Lihis was woefully ridiculous, a promising script mired by a lack of directorial focus.

Fortunately, 3 directors took responsibility for their maestro status. Jose Javier Reyes’ Ano ang Kulay ng Mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? was heartfelt in its portrayal of an old helper discarded by the family she served for years. Elwood Perez’s Otso, about a scriptwriter who gets too involved with the residents of his apartment, was beguiling in both its shortcomings and excess. Chito Rono’s Badil, set in a remote town a few days before the elections, is tense, taut, and terrifying, despite its focus on small-time electoral fraud.

Cinemalaya, on the other hand, continuously produces quality, if sometimes conventional, fare. Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati reflected on trauma caused by failed relationships. Adolfo Alix’s Porno featured stories strung together by a mysterious force, astounded with its unique tone and atmosphere. Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra, about bit players working in popular soap operas, exposed the pecking order in the entertainment industry.

Watch the ‘Ekstra’ trailer here:


New directors

The so-called New Breed directors offered more intriguing films. Hannah Espia’s extraordinary debut, Transit, exposed political inequity through the struggle of a Filipino family working in Israel.

Alvin Yapan’s Debosyon, a love story between a man and a forest spirit, explored a culture where folk paganism and Catholicism co-exist with surprising ease. Mikhail Red’s Rekorder was a study of a man consumed by his self-alienation from an inherently violent society.

Jason Paul Laxamana’s Babagwa was timely in its exploration of the ins and outs of online scamming. Eduardo Roy Jr’s Quick Change, a follow-up to the exquisitely crafted Bahay Bata, allowed viewers a look at the desires and pains of transsexuals, humanizing and exoticizing them at the same time.

Watch the ‘Transit’ trailer here:

Experimentation

Cinema One Originals distinguished itself by producing features that dared to experiment. Arnel Mardoquio’s Riddles of My Homecoming was a powerful expression of the woes of an island riddled with conflict. Whammy Alcazaren’s Islands meditated on love beyond the borders of time and space. Keith Deligero’sIskalawags was not just a coming-of-age story but an ode to childhood innocence.

Siege Ledesma’s Shift exposed the call center generation’s identity struggle with the story of a tomboy falling for her gay co-worker. Timmy Harn’s Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas wore all the trappings of a low-budget, made-for-profit flick from the ’90s to dissect a film culture where the mainstream and the underground alternative give birth to what we have now. Jet Leyco’s Bukas na Lang Sapagka’t Gabi Na, a lyrical take on the abuses of the Marcos regime, was a potent indictment of institutional censorship.

Borgy Torre’s Kabisera, about a fisherman who discovers boxes of meth in the ocean, studied the nature of greed and ambition from the perspective of a dominating family man. Miko Livelo’s Blue Bustamante, about a father who takes on the role of Blue Force in a sentai show after being terminated from his job, earned a lot of heartfelt tears and chuckles.

Keith Sicat’s Woman of the Ruins situated its post-apocalyptic exploration in a story of a marriage struggling to strive within impossible expectations. Mes de Guzman’s Sitio, about an urbanized family settling in the boondocks, criticized perceptions and expectations. Adolfo Alix Jr’s Ang Alamat ni China Doll, written by Lav Diaz, dissected the nature of truth in a society that is infatuated with it and distorts it at the same time.

Watch the Cinema One Originals trailer compilation here:

Exhibitions

Outside local festival grants, filmmakers still managed to thrive to make films and exhibit them. By documenting the relationship of a Filipino man and his German boyfriend, Baby Ruth Villarama’s Jazz in Love filtered typical fantasies and prejudices out of homosexual romances.

Yapan’s Mga Anino ng Kahapon was, on the surface, a by-the-books description of the progress of schizophrenia. Below the surface, it is a study of a schizophrenic nation, quick to abandon the memories of the abuses of a former cruel regime.

Raya Martin’s La ultima pelicula, co-directed by Canadian film critic Mark Peranson, satirized the film world’s obsession over the death of celluloid by following a fictional filmmaker making the last film on Earth. Less celebrated but no less powerful was Martin’s How to Disappear Completely, a frequently troubling descent into the mind of a girl terrorized by parental authority. 

Lav Diaz’s Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan is a portrait of a country riddled by both physical and ideological torture.

As with previous years, the story remains the same. Several of the titles previously mentioned are bound to be more alien than a lot of the foreign blockbusters to majority of Filipino viewers.

While mainstream film studios have been experimenting with their products, creating worthwhile films like Cathy Garcia Molina’s  It Takes a Man and a Woman, and Four Sisters and a Wedding, Chito Rono’s Boy Golden, Joyce Bernal’s 10,000 Hours, Veronica Velasco’s Tuhog, and more notably, Erik Matti’s On the Job, about political assassinations executed by prisoners, there still remains a smaller market for more imaginative fare outside the festivals that have decided to exhibit them.  

Watch the ‘On the Job’ trailer here:

Work for 2014

The most glaring difference between 1976 or 1982 and 2013 is that the masterpieces made then were seen and enjoyed by the movie-going public. Our recent masterpieces are and will be obscure to most.

Efforts were made by filmmakers to make their films more accessible, employing huge television stars who are more than willing to test their mettle with more challenging roles that only alternative films can provide.

Sadly, the story of Philippine cinema remained the same, festive only during festivals. Celebrations remained within Internet groups and cliques. Outside the many news articles that proclaim the triumphs of Filipino films abroad, the rest of the Philippines will remain oblivious as to why 2013 was a great year for local cinema.

A parting thought is that there is still 2014 to continue working on building that elusive audience that will make these Filipino films truly for Filipinos. – Rappler.com



Francis Joseph Cruz, or Oggs, litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters is Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass. Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.




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