Perhaps the biggest problem of Mañanita is that it is just too predictable.
Paul Soriano takes the path of the least resistance. He does come up with a work that is indisputably a towering achievement when compared to his previous works, but falls short in displaying not just his statement as a filmmaker but also his soul and convictions.
A Lav Diaz screenplay
The screenplay is by Lav Diaz.
Predictably, it must feel like a Lav Diaz film. Mañanita is thus full of long takes of characters waiting for things to happen or downing their sorrows with rounds of alcohol. It is narratively sparse, relying predominantly on the emotional suffering of its main character to telegraph its political currency. It is unsurprisingly a test of patience, the reward of sitting through its staggered moments of melancholic banality is hopefully a poignant and poetic realization of the cruelties of contemporary life as dealt by the inequities promoted by political forces. The film is unmistakably birthed from Diaz’s concerns for his homeland, as its very bare depiction of a woman’s search for revenge crosses paths with the dwindling morality of a nation deep in a war against drugs.
Soriano interprets Diaz’s tale with such fervent religiosity.
What Soriano contributes is that typical gloss that seems part and parcel of his works. While that varnish would’ve worked in making the island romance in Siargao (2017) or the love-centered tragedy of First Love (2018) more compelling than they really are, here, it only renders all the long takes and depictions of a woman suffering alone distant and separate. It is that distinct difference between Diaz and Soriano’s cinema that makes Mañanita a tad implausible and suspect. The film feels more like an audacious attempt to marry glaze and purpose, with the former winning out. The aesthetic here is not borne out of an invitation for the audience to immerse itself with the gnawing pain of a troubled character but is more a design, an experiment, a one-time thing.
This isn’t to say that Mañanita is a failure.
It’s just that the film seems to be the strange offspring of odd bedfellows. Soriano just overshadowed. Perhaps it is intended, since he seems to ape Diaz in both pacing and minimalism, but it turns Mañanita into an experiment, although a very elegant and worthwhile one. The voice of Diaz is more resounding. His politics is apparent. His obsessions with fractured souls being morally tested in an even more fractured society prevail.
It might be unfair to see Mañanita only for its lineage as it is still a formidable film.
Bela Padilla, who plays a retired sniper who drowns her sorrow with beer while waiting for that precise opportunity to rid herself of certain traumas from the past, is amazing. The film’s incorporation of songs and ballads is a nice touch, adding a certain magical quality to the overwhelming moroseness of nothing happening.
Cohere and commingle
Overall, the film engages amidst elements where source and crafting do not always cohere and commingle. – 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.