Movie reviews: All 10 Cinemalaya ‘New Breed’ 2014 films

Zig Marasigan
A dangerous croc, rowdy millennials, the chaotic world of underground street-fighting – all of these and more figure in this year's Cinemalaya lineup, New Breed category

Note: This page will be updated with reviews as soon as they’re available from Rappler’s regular movie reviewer, Zig Marasigan. This page houses all 10 reviews from Cinemalaya’s New Breed category. Another page will house the reviews for the Directors Showcase category.

Check out our rundown of all 15 entries and our quick guide to Cinemalaya

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1st ko si 3rd Review: Love doesn’t grow old

Cory is a woman afraid of time. Or rather, she’s a woman afraid of running out of it. When Cory (Nova Villa) finally retires from her work as a government employee, she finds herself in a strange situation: she has both too much time, and too little of it. Having spent most of her life with no one but her husband Andong (Dante Rivero), she is driven mad at the prospect of living the rest of her years cooped up in their old house.

But when Cory crosses paths with her first love, Third (Freddie Webb), she flirts with the idea of igniting old feelings at the expense of burning her own marriage. 

But despite the film’s premise, 1st ko si 3rd is delightfully charming. It is frequently hilarious and genuinely clever, headlined by a cast that’s made careers out of delighting audiences throughout their storied careers. But while viewers may expect a full-blown love affair between Villa and Webb (who also happened to play husband and wife in the ‘80s sitcom Chicks to Chicks), 1st ko si 3rd centers around Cory and her journey towards appreciating the life she has led.

Although Villa is the star of the film, Dante Rivero puts on an endearing performance as the persevering husband of Cory. As Andong, Rivero spends his time fixing anything from broken fans to rundown cars. But Andong isn’t oblivious to Cory’s marital discontent, and works desperately to win her back in the only way he knows how, by fixing their marriage.

On the other hand, Freddie Webb is given very little screen time. This may initially put off audiences expecting a two hours extramarital tryst between Webb and Villa, but the decision to relegate Webb’s character to the background allows writer-director Real Florido to avoid many clichés of the Filipino love triangle. But while Webb’s absence is particularly apparent, his character is still a dominant force in the film, guiding, influencing and tempting Cory’s every decision. He is the figment of Cory’s ideal world.

While 1st ko si 3rd is a undeniable crowd pleaser, it misses the opportunity to take its story to the next level. The film remains mostly on the surface, unable to provide weight to Cory and Third’s missed love story. 1st ko si 3rd delivers mostly on the laughs. While this hardly detracts from the overall enjoyment of the film, it does leave you with a sense that the film could’ve been so much more.

In short: 1st ko si 3rd is a delightful ode to the aging veterans of Filipino show business. But it also an ode to the moments we have lost, and the moments we have yet to live, and a cinematic keepsake that tells us that love doesn’t, and shouldn’t, grow old. 

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K’na the Dreamweaver Review: An elegantly woven legend

There is an inspiring ambition to K’na the Dreamweaver. Set amongst the T’boli people in South Cotabato, the film provides a rare glimpse into Philippine culture that isn’t often seen in local cinema.

The film follows the story of K’na (Mara Lopez), an aspiring dreamweaver and the daughter of the village chieftain. K’na studies hard under the tutelage of her grandmother Be Lamfey (Erlinda Villalobos), but is held back by her inability to dream – but her blossoming love for the young tribesman Silaw (R.K Bagatsing) inspires K’na to carry on. But when a war between a neighboring T’boli tribe is reignited, K’na is forced to choose between her love and her tribe.

Although the film is meant as a period piece, there are no conventional time markings for the story. Without paying any attention to the minutiae of the film’s various rituals and outfits, K’na the Dreamweaver could’ve been easily set in a remote corner of the Philippines. The film’s world is its own, drawn from the real life traditions and practices of the T’boli people, but also anchored within the reality shaped by writer-director Ida Anita Del Mundo.

But K’na the Dreamweaver is a not film designed for the impatient, unraveling its story slowly like a gracefully layered melody. Confrontation is minimal and understated, with del Mundo relying on the barest of shots to tell her succinct yet expansive story. However, it is the talented eye of veteran cinematographer Lee Meily that provides the film with an epic, dreamlike quality.

K’na’s journey from young woman to tribal heroine is a clear one, but del Mundo’s screenplay provides very little struggle for the young dreamweaver. It would be unfair to begrudge a film like K’na the Dreamweaver for its lack of plot, but at least for its main character, the lack of struggle and conflict robs her of the transformational gravitas from young woman to peacemaker. However, by the film’s end, K’na the Dreamweavers becomes more comparable to folklore than film.  

“Always dream, K’na,” the aging Be Lamfey advises her young granddaughter. Its advice reserved for K’na, but one can’t help but think that the elderly dreamweaver is speaking to us as well.

In short: K’na the Dreamweaver is near magical in its quality, with a tone that is both poetic and uplifting. But it is, more importantly, a testament that dreams like those of the T’Boli tribes in South Cotabato should not be forgotten.

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S6parados Review: The male dilemma

There’s no mistaking the clear mainstream intent of S6parados (pronounced “Separados”). From its trailer alone, the film feels like an odd fit among the rest of the Cinemalaya entries. Should that matter? Hardly.

The underlying problem of S6parados isn’t that it aims for mass appeal, but that it misses the opportunity to discuss a topic that has long been shunned by other romantic dramas.

S6parados follows the story of six men, Santi (Victor Neri), Maricel (Ricky Davao), Pancho (Alfred Vargas), Armand (Jason Abalos), Rico (Anjo Yllana) and Christian (Eric Santos) . All six men are faced with the prospect of leaving their respective significant others played by Angel Jacob, Melissa Mendez, Diana Zubiri, Althea Vega, Sharmaine Arnaiz and Iwa Moto. All their stories are tangentially related, but ultimately converge at a wedding that acts as the framing device for the entire film.

While the stories of the six men are all distinctly different, all of them are threaded together by a pervading sense of emasculation, seen, for example, in Santi’s inability to satisfy his wife in bed, Rico’s incapability to be the breadwinner for his family, or Christian’s powerlessness against his physically abusive wife.

Particularly in the context of mainstream cinema, male characters are often grossly underrepresented. It’s common for men to be relegated to either objects of affection or simple stereotypes. S6parados, however, aims to level the playing field by finally offering a romantic drama through the eyes of men. But while the film provides 6 stories from male-centric perspectives, the film trades quantity for depth.

During the gala of S6parados, audiences burst into laughter during an especially important scene. Christian, played by Eric Santos, is being physically abused by his wife Erica, portrayed by Iwa Moto. If genders were reversed, audience reaction, one might guess, would be the exact opposite. But since it’s a man being abused by a woman, the effect is suddenly comedic.

While it’s difficult to assume that screenwriter Enrique Ramos and director G.B Sampedro had intended the scene to be funny, the audience reaction only proves that Philippine culture has a long way to go before breaking certain male stereotypes.

In short: Though S6parados makes the valiant effort of accurately representing the male romantic lead, it fails at depicting them as anything else but. 

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Sundalong Kanin Review: Bravery, brutality and boyhood

Sundalong Kanin may very well be one of the hidden gems of this year’s Cinemalaya film festival. Although it lacks the push of giant stars and a marketable premise, it provides something far more invaluable: a compelling story.

Set during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Sundalong Kanin centers around 4 young boys Nitoy (Nathaniel Brit), Benny (Isaac Cain Aguirre), Carding (Akira Morishita) and Badong (Elijah Canlas). As friends, they all dream of playing soldiers, and are bound by a seemingly unwavering loyalty to one another. But when the war comes marching into their town, the friendship of the 4 boys is tested when they are forced to face the invaders head on.

But what appears to be an intially predictable premise about the brutality of growing up ends up as one of the most engaging stories to come of this year’s festival. The film’s exemplary story, strong characters and solid plot all help explore these themes in brand new context.

Although the young boys are initially bystanders to the invasion, director Janice O’ Hara throws all them into the thick of the conflict. But it isn’t simply a manner of giving the boys rifles and swords. Despite the children’s enthusiasm, it’s their youthful naivete that stunts them at first.

“Hindi basta laro-laro ang gera dahil mga buhay ang nakasalalay,” the boys are warned. (War isn’t all fun and games because lives are on the line.)

But when the Filipino guerillas are forced to use the young boys as military assets, Nitoy and his young comrades quickly find themselves on the front line of the war. But what gives Sundalong Kanin the ability to expand past its initial presence is how it treats all the characters around the young soldiers-to-be.

Perfromances from the cast are astounding, but special praise goes to Arthur Acuña as Japanese officer, Captain Tanaguchi.

In short: In Sundalong Kanin, there are no innocent victims. There is no good and evil. Everyone, from the highest ranking officers to pedestrian civilians all play a role in the brutality of conflict. It is ambitious film, not simply because of its setting, but also because of its complex script. Fortunately for audiences, it all comes together in a way that makes Sundalong Kanin one of the must-see films of the festival. 

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Children’s Show Review: No child’s play

 

There is an unwavering brutality to Children’s Show, the kind that sticks to you not simply because it is onscreen, but ultimately because it is real. Make no mistake, this is no documentary. Children’s Show is still slave to the necessities of cinematic fiction. But since its subject is drawn from real life, Children’s Show becomes especially unsettling because it’s the kind of violence happening right under the skin of the city.  

Directed by Roderick Cabrido, Children’s Show is set against the city’s underground street fighting scene. But in this case, the combatants are young boys and girls no older than fifteen years old. The story centers around siblings Jun (Buboy Villar) and younger brother Al (Migs Cuaderno). Both boys work as pedicab drivers by day and street fighters by night. They live with their grandmother (Gloria Sevilla), while fighting alongside Jun’s girlfriend and fellow combatant Kara (Divine Grace Aucina).

In the world of underground street fighting, there is no distinction between boy or girl, young or old. But despite the film’s brutal subject matter, Children’s Show victimizes none of its characters. They are all there by choice. There is no elaborate human trafficking scheme, no den of shackled youths in a syndicate basement. For the young boys and girls of Children’s Show, it’s just a job like any other.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from an inconsistency with its visual language, shifting from the expertly composed to the raw and free-flowing. But it’s the film’s slow motion sequences that become especially problematic. The slow motion segments are gorgeous, but for a film that neither glorifies nor condemns the use of children in underground street-fighting, one can only wonder why the fight scenes were shot with the disarming polish of a television commercial.

In short: There is no denying the exemplary rawness of the rest of the film, not simply in its fights, but its characters. While other films would condemn its subject matter by punishing characters who advocate it and liberating those who don’t, Children’s Show relies on none of those. Instead, it presents its characters in a way that allows audiences to pass their own judgment.

While it’s difficult to assume that Cabrido finds any redemptive quality in the practice of underground street-fighting, he does give his audience enough ammunition to judge for themselves. Because when it comes to the unforgiving streets of the city, we are all combatants. 

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Mariquina Review: Beauty in the ordinary

Most independent filmmakers look to the walls outside of our own for the most exotic and compelling stories. But for director Milo Sogueco, there is beauty in the ordinary. In the case of Mariquina, it’s found right on our feet.

When renowned shoemaker Romeo Guevara (Ricky Davao) commits suicide, his daughter Imelda (Mylene Dizon) takes it upon herself to find the right shoes for her father’s burial. But the task of finding the perfect pair isn’t simply a matter of forcing on any set of loafers.

Mariquina goes backwards and forwards in time as it unearths the story between Imelda and her father Romeo. But there are no conveniently discovered letters or dramatic confrontations in Mariquina. There is only time, memory and regret.

While most local films have defaulted to blaming the father for many familial failings, Mariquina delivers a seemingly familiar story but with an approach that is entirely fresh and remarkably resonant.

Mylene Dizon, Che Ramos, Bing Pimentel and Barbie Forteza all deliver performances worthy of Marinquina’s exemplary script. But this might arguably be one of the best of acting veteran Ricky Davao’s career.

In short: Mariquina is a fine, rare piece of local cinema where all its component parts come together to present a story that is both poignant and moving. It is wondrous in its ambition, but also near flawless in its execution. But at the end of the day, it’s a film about the ordinary. The kind that sits in front us without catching our attention. But when it is gone, there is only regret, and the promise, that maybe someday, we will do better.

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<iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/101687401″ width=“100%” height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/101687401″>Dagitab Teaser #5 (Official 15s)</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/junkfoodjunkie”>Hannah Espia</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

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Dagitab Review: Beautiful, brilliant and bright

The characters of Dagitab are cursed, like the rest of us, to struggle with the inevitability of longing. Issey (Eula Valdez) and Jimmy (Noni Buencamino) are members of the academe, and their marriage has run its course. It isn’t as if this were a telenovela. Their hearts are elsewhere, but at the same time with each other.

Written and directed by Giancarlo Abrahan, Dagitab simmers its story and slow cooks its characters into a fine dish. It’s a serving not made for everyone, but for those with the palate for Abrahan’s particular kind of filmmaking, Dagitab delivers on a subject that is often tackled in mainstream cinema but never quite in the way that satisfies like this.

Dagitab doesn’t limit itself to the story of matrimonial melancholy, but is punctuated by Issey’s young lover Gab (Martin del Rosario) who strikes a tense relationship with a fellow writer (Sandino Martin).  Abrahan’s dialogue is deliberate and unnatural, but it works for a film that blends a magical kind of realism and emotional authenticity. There’s no histrionics between the film’s four main characters, but the friction falls plainly on the fact that there is very little of it.

In one of the film’s small yet brilliant scenes, Issey watches a display of fireworks in the outskirts of Laguna. The fireworks are beautiful, magnificent, but distant and temporary. She does not watch them with wonder but with longing, because like the rest of us, the sparks are oftentimes too far away. 

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Bwaya Review: Stronger fiction than fact

Bwaya attempts to blur the lines between fact and fiction by splicing real world footage with produced material. Although the former falls short, it’s the latter that stands tall.

Set in the marshlands of Agusan del Sur, Bwaya follows the true to life story of Divina (Angeli Bayani). When her daughter Rowena (Jolina Salvado) is brutally killed by one of Agusan’s crocodiles Divina is forced to cope with the tragedy.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Neil Daza, Agusan del Sur is transformed from an uninviting wasteland into a hauntingly beautiful expanse of texture and lore. But director Francis Pasion doesn’t distract from the danger lurking beneath the waters of Agusan del Sur. As citizens of Agusan dip casually into the water, there is a tension in the anticipation of violence to come.

Bwaya occasionally puts the spotlight on Rex (Karl Medina), the forlorn father of Rowena, but the film is appropriately centered on the grief-stricken Divina. Bwaya is, first and foremost, a story of a mother, and Pasion holds on to that as the film’s emotional core.

The inclusion of actual interview footage of Divina is an ambitious idea, unfortunately, without enough of it to properly contextualize and expand on Pasion’s intentions, he ends up relying on heavy handed sound bites to wrap up the narrative.

In short: The allure of Bwaya is not simply that Divina is a special case among mothers, but that she is special because she is a mother. And that resounding statement, whether it’s communicated through fact or fiction, is elegantly conveyed in Bwaya. 

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Ronda Review: Going in circles

Ronda ends with a scene that feels like a beginning to another film.  It’s a striking sequence that is especially resounding in its significance – but without the narrative body to earn it, the scene sticks out like a firecracker in a quiet street.

Paloma Arroyo (Ai-Ai delas Alas) is a beat cop assigned to patrol the streets of Manila with her partner Tamayo (Carlos Morales). But when Arroyo’s son doesn’t return home, her maternal instincts begin sounding the alarm.

Lead star Ai-Ai delas Alas, known especially for her comic roles, puts on her most subtle performance of her career. And though she occasional inches into the dramatic from time to time, there is something to be said about her ability to adapt to a storytelling style so drastically different from what she is accustomed to.

The events of Ronda unfold through a single evening, with director Nick Olanka committed to following Arroyo on a night out in the city. While Arroyo doesn’t actively seek out her son, her worry is unmistakably apparent. Her focus is on her job, but her concern is elsewhere. Despite its gun-toting characters, Ronda is contemplative and deliberate, avoiding the histrionics and cinematic set pieces that often accompany police dramas.

In short: Like the slow patrol of Arroyo and Tamayo, Ronda travels its narrative streets with no real urgency. Ronda fits comfortably under the abstract guise of “slow cinema,” but by choosing to focus solely on Arroyo, it becomes particularly strange when the film’s most pivotal moment is laid on the lap of her son. In the end, despite spending the entire film with Arroyo, there’s very gain to little gain from the short-lived patrol with her. 

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#Y Review: Defining a generation

When Miles (Elmo Magalona) takes his own life, he leaves very little answers to those he left behind. But aside from his parents, it’s his friends Janna (Coleen Garcia), Lia (Sophia Albert) and Ping (Kit Thompson) with whom he most gravely severed ties.

#Y is a film about suicide, but it is also a film about the millennial generation. It’s a film steeped in hashtags, social media, casual sex, drugs, crises of identity, and blatant narcissism. Directed by Gino Santos and penned by writer Jeff Stelton, #Y attempts to encapsulate an entire generation (or at least, an extremely specific portion) of young individuals through Miles and his seemingly privileged upper-middle class friends.

For better and worse, #Y brandishes its youth like a scar. The film yells for attention with its talkative script and its overly stylized scenes. Its bludgeoning voiceovers suffocate its characters instead of allowing the visuals to speak for itself. But maybe that’s exactly the predisposition of the Y generation, to clamor in the loudest voice possible in hopes that someone is listening. But while the film ends with more caricature than character, it is suicide hotline employee Abbie (Chynna Ortaleza) that helps anchor the film in genuine emotion.

In short: #Y may be described as an accurate representation of the millennial generation, but only time will tell if Santos’ depiction holds true. But the appeal of #Y is that it forces that revelation now. It digs for answers on Miles’ death, and tries to answer the question of youth. Regardless of the case, #Y does manage to find what that answer is, which is to say, there’s isn’t any. – Rappler.com

Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.