Movie reviews: All 9 Cinemalaya 2016 full-length films

Rappler movie critic Oggs Cruz has watched all 9 Cinemalaya feature-length films. Watch the films and tell us what you think! Happy viewing! 

Dagsin Review: Unbearable burden of being


Perhaps the most indelible image in Atom Magadia’s Dagsin is Tommy Abuel’s unyielding face with a small revolver pointed right at his temple. Abuel plays Justino, a cantankerous old man who in his younger years was a relentless romantic, a patriotic soldier, and principled judge. The image, which is repeated several times in the film, is a puzzle whose solution requires a judicious examination how a life that is presumably lived in privilege end up in ache and ruin.

Dagsin can be seen as two films. One is period romance that centers on the love story of young Justino (Benjamin Alves) and Corazon (Janine Gutierrez), the brash daughter of an American military officer and his Filipino wife. The romance sweeps through various important events in Filipino history, detailing how the two lovers and their relationship with each other are tested by periods of strife and desperation. The other is an existential drama, with retired Justino struggling to find meaning in continuing to live. Through conversations with characters of observably less experience and cynicism than him, the film explores the inner workings of a complex man who has survived lifetime of joy and trauma.

While the two parts of the film are seemingly disparate, with one part set in various timelines and places and the other mostly stuck inside Justino’s empty house, Magadia nevertheless manages to keep them bound by harsh logic and brash sentiment. It helps that Abuel is impressively persuasive as a man who is battling personal demons while maintain a sheen of perturbing normalcy with people around him. However, Magadia, perhaps by sheer dedication to a material that confronts dualities in style, technique and emotion, has come up with a film that enchants as much as it provokes.


Lando at Bugoy Review: Fatherhood lessons


Vic Acedillo’s Lando at Bugoy is a sweet little thing. The film is about Lando (Allen Dizon), a carver of gravestones who was not able to graduate from high school, and his son Bugoy (Gold Azeron), who prefers to spend time with his friends than to attend classes. After being dared by his son, Lando goes back to school, further complicating his already complicated relationship with Bugoy.

Set in Camiguin, the film takes its time in establishing a distinct local color for what feels like a story that goes for blunt sentiment than anything else. The film’s utility of the setting’s rural and rustic allure sustains an otherwise sparse narrative. By staggering the plot points through what feels like an exhaustive portraiture of small town living, Acedillo exposes his conflicting interests in extolling the virtues of a simple man with a humble but daunting mission and evoking the invaluable charms of his province.

The film can become quite redundant, especially since most of the film’s numerous interactions are between Lando and Bugoy. However, it is impossible to deny that the film’s power comes from both its inherent simplicity and its meager but sincere goals.

In the end, Lando at Bugoy succeeds at being candidly pleasant. Its edges are quaint and indistinct, mostly delegated to Bugoy and his humorously mischievous adventures with his gang. Its heart, however, lies in Lando’s struggle at being a dad to a son who does not have confidence in him. Dizon’s performance here is subtle yet poignant, enabling the film to fully realize its easy ambitions.


Kusina Review: Role playing


David Corpuz and Cenon Palomares’ Kusina is intriguing in theory. The film explores the life of Juanita (Judy Ann Santos) – as a child who learns much about life from her grandmother (Gloria Sevilla) who becomes her foster parent after her mom dies from giving birth and her father is largely absent and disinterested in her affairs; as a teenager who personally witnessed the cruelties of war; as the wife of a man (Joem Bascon) who through years of both discontent and infidelity has decided to leave her; and as the mother of children who grow up during turbulent years.

The film’s obvious conceit, which sets all of the events within a kitchen that has been recreated in a sound stage, is of course a metaphor of a woman’s place in society, which can also be described as a suffocating box that prevents her from exploring her whole humanity. The design and technique are both minimalist yet opulent. The poetry is too overt, and the crafting, too clumsy to really work.

Yet, Corpuz and Palomares’ audacity in attempting to pull off the stunt is laudable. The ambition is evident and clear. It is just that the filmmaking could not match the prescribed sophistication. The film’s visuals remain outdated, with a lot of the scenes shot through angles that betray the design. Despite the opulent artificiality, the film still looks ordinary, more like a melodrama that is set within a studio out of budgetary constraints than an experiment.

What is more interesting is that despite its failure in form and method, Kusina is still emotionally jolting at the very end. Santos, despite being limited within a specific space and an obviously manufactured set, works wonders out of a character that requires both restraint and scope. It’s an affecting performance, one that speaks volumes about the topic of women being encaged in traditional roles and expectations.


Pamilya Ordinaryo Review: Private lives, public spaces 


Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s Pamilya Ordinaryo opens with a CCTV footage of a random street whose sidewalk houses several destitute families. The silence is unsettling. The artlessness of the framing is disquieting. The opening sequence ends with a kid being hit by a car, which speeds right away after pausing to see the extent of the casualty.

The film abruptly cuts to a street level view of the accident, formally introducing Jane (Hasmine Kilip, a consistently riveting presence), who carries along her baby as she witnesses the chaos that ensues. She later on meets up with Aries (Ronwaldo Martin, who reveals his range as an actor here), her partner and the father of her baby. 

Roy’s methods here seem mundane and straightforward, urgently navigating around the dreary streets of the city as Jane and Aries find ways to locate their son. However, there is reason for the staggered meandering. Pamilya Ordinaryo is a delicate piece of work.

True, the film is harsh and bleak, yet beneath its unrelenting depiction of how unforgiving the city can be is an affinity for anything and everything that can remotely be described as human. The film is most poignant when it puts its characters in situations where they are forced to act not out of nature, but out of shame, sorrow, or sheer hopelessness, all of which are traits and qualities that separate them from the animals that society has relegated them to be. 

On the other hand, the film also captures the stark hollowness of the marginalized souls it meticulously paints. The private lives Roy exposes with the most intimate of details are depicted with utmost realism that discomforts as much as it arouses curiosity. Jane and Aries squabble in the streets. They copulate in the open too, with only a blanket to cover them from prying eyes. They laugh, cry, and fight for all the world to see. Roy turns his audience into invaders, making them voyeurs while he masterfully unravels an irresistible humanity that is best left shrouded from a couple whose lives are entirely lived in public spaces.

Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching Review: Flat irony


The conceit behind every silly thing that happens in Innah Acuña and Dos Ocampo’s Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching is golden. After being egged on by his best friend Mer (Ketchup Eusebio), Ponching (Janus del Prado) sends a text message to a random woman, asking for money by reason of a fabricated tale about his father dying of cancer. 

What he doesn’t know is that random woman (Joyce Ann Burton) actually has a dying brother who is looking for his long-lost son from a previous illicit affair to be the sole heir of his share in the family fortune. What results is what the directors would have you believe is a comedy of errors that rewards with a beautiful message about forgiveness at the very end. 

What it really is however is an unimaginative succession of dryly executed skits that is only funny in parts, with Acuña and Ocampo relying heavily on the performances of their actors to squeeze whatever laugh and chuckle they can out of the shockingly predictable screenplay. Unfortunately, it is only Del Prado that shines here, even if he is relegated to a lead whose possible moral ambiguity is skewed by the convenient decision to turn him into a charming simpleton. The rest of the film’s ensemble is limited to portraying caricatures stuck in situations that are functional at best. 

Visually, Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching awkwardly resembles a low-rent melodrama, with its characters blocked and staged within the frame in the most mechanical manner possible. The sparse design could have been played for laughs, as a token to television comedy. However, the film does not tread that path. It even lacks the verve and vitality of a silly sitcom. Its score is dull and repetitive. Simply put, all the promise and irony the film could have gone for only end up flat and flimsy. 


Mercury is Mine Review: A moment of introspection 


Black comedies are quite rare in Philippine cinema, considering the country’s taste in humor has often been limited by television and commercial movies to slapstick and joke time fare. Black comedies done well and with crystal clear motivations are even rarer. Jason Paul Laxamana’s Mercury is Mine is that rare Filipino black comedy that has both mass appeal and wry sophistication. 

The film is nowhere near perfect, but perfection is so overrated nowadays. The film’s many obnoxious folds and unusual creases are fascinating, and the way Laxamana firmly navigates the narrative back into zones of conventional entertainment is very masterful. 

Sure, there are certain spots in the film where the narrative unfolds in a manner that is either far too convenient or too obvious. Yet, the story’s seductively bizarre grooves are there only to enunciate a convincing agenda about how the Philippines’ history and ongoing bout with colonialism have rendered its citizens infatuated with anybody with a foreign accent and whose skin color is paler than theirs. 

The film’s gamble with relying on two greatly mismatched characters whose combined psychoses and charms are cleverly utilized for both tension and laughs is more than admirable. Mercury is Mine, which tells the story of a distressed American teenager (Bret Jackson) who lands a job waiting tables for the struggling canteen of frustrated mom and cook Carmen (Pokwang, effortlessly engaging), painstakingly explores the highs and lows of a relationship that hilariously belies any concrete definition.

Their interactions are all precious, with each step forward just an inch away from being utterly poignant, and each step backward loaded with just the right abominable notes to force the viewer a moment of introspection.


Hiblang Abo Review: Curtain call


Ralston Jover’s adaptation of Rene Villanueva’s well-regarded stage play of the same title is quite precarious film. The play details the past and present lives of 4 old men living in a nursing home. Huse (Lou Veloso) is a former writer. Sotero (Jun Urbano), a farmer. Blas (Leo Rialp), a labor leader, and Pedro (Nanding Josef), a family man. They all harbor secrets from their former lives.

Except for certain changes in the method of storytelling, Jover’s film keeps the plot intact. He also keeps the flowery language, which when spoken by the film’s characters evokes not only a sense of enthralling nostalgia but also a staggering allegiance to the stage.

In a way, the film’s insistence on maintaining most of the references to its stage-bound origins pays off. This, considering that the film’s milieu, a fenced world where elderly men and women are slowly losing grasp of reality while on their way to their respective curtain calls, requires that affinity to make-believe scenarios that the very theatrical dialogues and movements seamlessly evoke. 

There are very clever ideas. Jover casts the same actor, Matt Daclan, to portray the young and virile versions of all four main characters, implicating a sense of sameness in either strife or fantasy in their disparate pasts. Jover fluently communicates the harsh melancholy of aging alone, yet he also understands that bleakness requires joy and verve, moments of scarce happiness, humor and companionship. 

Hiblang Abo resonates emotionally because despite its stubborn leaning towards being more literary than lifelike, it comprehends the complexities of the human condition, how men in their waning years would struggle to live with half-truths if only to prove that there is still dignity even in their most undignified state.


Tuos Review: Women in cages



Derick Cabrido’s Tuos situates the very familiar dilemma of women being encaged in societal customs and traditions atop the forested mountains of Antique, within a secluded tribe that believes that their peaceful way of life is protected from vengeful spirits because of a pact made by their ancestors several years ago.

Pina-ilog (Nora Aunor) is the elderly princess who is tasked to keep the pact, which ostensibly means that she has to keep herself beautiful, know songs and dances by heart, and occasionally get mysterious wounds on her thighs. Young Dowokan (Barbie Forteza), her granddaughter, is being groomed to take her place. However, she is disgusted by the idea of surrendering her life and happiness to what she believes is a tradition that is quickly being rendered useless by modernity. 

The film, written by Denise O’Hara from a concept developed by Cabrido, O’Hara and Ralston Jover, is paced leisurely, seemingly more interested in depicting in meticulous detail the rituals of the tribe than pushing any other agenda. Hints of fissures in the otherwise peaceful life of the villagers are dropped sparingly but effectively, with Dowokan being carelessly in love with one of the village lads, and Pina-ilog seeing things nobody else sees.

In what feels like flashbacks of memories that belong not to specific characters but to the entire village, animated sequences accompanying a haunting chant add further layers to Cabrido’s film.

It’s a rich and powerful film, one that initially feels excessively ornate with its attention to everything exotic and ancient, but later on develops into something contemporary and relevant. Its narrative of women bound into fates they have not chosen is enunciated by Cabrido’s precise utility of various elements of different storytelling methods.

While there are a number of missteps, such as when Cabrido opts to abandon intimacy and perspective for drone shots that advertise his location’s dashing beauty or when the relaxed pacing falls a tad bit out of place, the film never really loses grasp of its prime intention, which is to portray women in the most suffocating of pacts in the form of traditions fighting for freedom. 


I America Review: Identity crisis



There are absolutely beautiful moments in Ivan Payawal’s I America, moments that would reveal what the film could have been if it were shaped with more discipline and restraint.

One beautiful moment is when half-American Erica (Bella Padilla), who just learned that the father she has been communicating with for some time now is actually not her father, confronts her natural mother (Elizabeth Oropesa), an ex-prostitute who now runs her own strip club.

Shot by cinematographer Carlo Mendoza using a handheld camera, the sequence is initiated by a comic mistake, an error so fantastic and unrealistic that it could have been a very well-played prank by a mother who never had any real affection for her daughter.

There is always that sliver of humor amidst the absolutely dramatic encounter, but it never overpowers the intended emotions. Erica spouts a vicious remark. The camera switches to her mother’s face, one that has suddenly been sobered by her daughter’s vitriol. The scene’s disarmingly poignant and beautifully realized. 

I America unfortunately spreads all its emotions too thinly within a narrative that zigzags between the aspirations of unimportant characters whose issues and conflicts could have been condensed. When Payawal indulges, he does so in the most off-putting of ways, resulting in scenes and sequences that abandon the lovely balance that he has proven he can accomplish when there is clarity and precision.

There are parts of the filmthat are very chatty, although those parts are salvaged by doses of wit and situational humor. Sadly, there really is a lovely film underneath all the noise and the mess. I America feels like it is suffering from the same crisis in identity as all of its hopelessly troubled characters. –