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MANILA, Philippines – With this year's QCinema International Film Festival Circle Competition in full swing, beautiful films from talented Filipino artists are now being showcased to audiences. (READ: FULL LIST: Winners, QCinema Film Festival awards 2015)
Below, Rappler movie critic Oggs Cruz reviews each film, exploring the heart of each individual story and its resulting impact on audiences. (Full lineup: QC Film Festival 2015)
Apocalypse Child Review: Myths and Mysteries
Mario Cornejo’s Apocalypse Child is astonishing in its calmness. Set in the surfing town of Baler where Ford (Sid Lucero) has lived all his life with the belief that he was sired by a famous Hollywood director, the film withdraws from the demands of traditional storytelling to dwell on moods and affections.
It is mature in its approach to drama, revealing only little bits and pieces of a backstory but enunciating the pains that resoundingly result from it.
Apocalypse Child documents people who are oppressed by their personal histories and mysteries, escaping out of the aches of reality with the erstwhile pleasures of a beach-bound lifestyle. It is deliriously beautiful film, deliberately paced so that its idyllic vistas of small town familiarity can breed acute emotionality.
Cornejo fluently ties the lives of his characters together through interactions that are telling of the filmmaker’s astute appreciation of what makes humans connect. They flirt and fight. They get drunk and wasted.
In the end however, they remain linked, whether they like it or not, by being part of the same family or of the same tightly-knit community. They are caged by the mythologies that have been made up to cover for sins of the past.
Gayuma Review: Dated and confused
GAYUMA (QCinema 2015) Teaser #QCinema2015: GAYUMA is dark tale of fatal obsession and erotic passion that centers on a young student artist mesmerized by a beautiful and mysterious figure drawing model in his art school. Mike is a young student artist at the UP College of Fine Arts. He is happy with his relationship with his girlfriend named Joy who is also a student taking up a film course. A beautiful and mysterious figure drawing model in their school catches his attention and is slowly drawn to her. He gets to meet her finally whose name is Stella, but Stella is quite elusive. Mike's curiosity slowly turns into obsession that leads to a discovery of a dark heritage and ends in deep erotic passion linked from his family's roots.Starring Benjamin Alves, Elora EspañoWritten and directed by Cesar HernandoGayuma is an official entry to QCinema International Film Festival 2015. Posted by Cinema Bravo on Sunday, October 18, 2015
Cesar Hernando’s Gayuma is both dated and confused. The film is basically about an artist (Benjamin Alves) who falls for a mysterious, seductive woman (Phoebe Walker) he starts seeing in art school. He starts chasing after her, leaving his girlfriend (Elora Espano) bewildered and neglected. As it turns out, there is more to the mysterious woman than meets the eye.
The film is oddly reminiscent of that unfortunate era in Philippine cinema where horror was used as a springboard for skin-baring. Sadly, even with the amount of bare flesh on display, the film still fails to excite.
It only makes you yearn for more audacity and less annoying posturing. As it is, it is limp and lousy, a film that struggles for relevance that it surely does not need.
Hernando’s biggest mistake is to use the rickety story to pay homage to the art community he loves so dearly, resulting in a film that is obscured by random references to people and places.
The efforts to graduate the film from its exploitative roots are frustratingly obvious. They only filter out everything that could have possibly fun in the film, turning it into something disastrously unrecognizable. It is loud and obnoxious, horribly riddled by terrible acting, distracting music, and a gross lack of anything worthwhile to say about love, lust, and art.
Iisa Review: Faith in the time of revolution
“Iisa” by Chuck Gutierrez is a thriller about a never-ending war, a town ravaged by a devastating storm and the woman caught in between. Gutierrez is a multi-awarded ﬁlm editor and producer and is co-founder of Voyage Studios together with Babyruth Gutierrez. This marks Gutierrez’ ﬁrst feature as director, with last year’s QCinema grantee, Arnel Mardoquio as co-writer. #qcinema2015 Posted by QCinema on Saturday, October 10, 2015
Chuck Gutierrez’s Iisa opens and ends with rain, but in contrasting contexts. The film’s first shot depicts rain as cataclysmic, with Gutierrez relentlessly focusing his camera on mud and earth, where rebels and soldiers are struggling to stay alive. For the film’s final shot, Gutierrez points his camera to the sky, where rain, looking almost like manna from heaven, trickles down with grace.
In a way, the film’s opening and ending shots summarize the film’s eloquent stance on conflict as but a figment of human perspective.
Written by Arnel Mardoquio, the film delves into the lives of revolutionaries who have been victimized by a violent typhoon. In the midst of calamity, offenses are obscured, factions are blurred and humanity is tested. Gutierrez directs with overwhelming passion, creating moving tableaus of intense emotions out of damaged lives and landscapes.
However, what is most striking about Iisa is that despite its overflowing sentimentality, it never belittles the movement by unreasonably romanticizing it.
Gutierrez treats his characters with the dignity they have obtained by virtue of their humanity instead of their politics. The film is powerfully subversive. It is quite obvious that faith and religion plays a big factor in Iisa, but Gutierrez, with the help of Mardoquio’s very precise examination of lives that have been marginalized by both nature and nation, dares to bend rules and doctrines. He does so with elegance and craftsmanship that can only leave you moved and disarmed.
Kapatiran Review: City of brutes and bruises
Pepe Diokno’s Kapatiran jumps into its exploration of Manila as a city of brutes and bruises with a seemingly innocent clip of law students dancing to a made-up song about the tortures of law school. What is most telling and alarming about the clip is its punchline where a boy who is awkwardly oblivious to all the other law students’ shenanigans is referred to as someone who is not from the University of the Philippines.
With absolute particularity, Diokno nails it in the head. We live in a society of us and them, with everybody willing to undergo certain demands and trials to connect the dots.
The most obvious metaphor for this is the fraternity system where men face taunts and violence just to be part of a group that promises a certain ease in life.
However, Diokno suggests an evil cycle to this thirst for belongingness. He peppers his film with seemingly unconnected scenes of power plays, declarations of alienation, poverty in the midst of immense hedonism, brothers fighting for the entertainment of others, social struggles, and other societal sicknesses that dwell on the differences that are only made worse by individualistic desires for connections.
Diokno blurs fact and film together, treating all the footage he was able to come up with, whether they are snippets of the story that he has written with Lilit Reyes or confessionals by friends, as equal elements to a disjointed narrative about a country’s blatant dysfunction.
Editor Benjamin Tolentino has been credited in the film as a writer because his perceptive stitching together of the disparate scenes is essential in completing the picture. Kapatiran is absolutely brave in its scathing depiction of a society that has been stunted by chaos and disorder.
Matangtubig Review: The art of oppression
Jet Leyco’s Matangtubig situates a murder mystery within a sleepy town on the cusp of an apocalypse. A fisherman (Amante Pulido) witnesses two local girls being picked up by cops.
The very next day, the lifeless body of one of the girls is discovered; she is believed to have been raped before being killed. The other girl, on the other hand, is missing. Their mothers start grieving. Local politicians take notice of the town, and mediamen from Manila start arriving in droves, all disrupting the rhythms of the fishing village.
What Leyco does with the material is fascinating. He transforms what could have been a plain exposition to the banalities of social realism into a puzzle where the unfamiliar happens alongside the absurd ruckus.
He further mystifies the mystery, creating horrors out of the ordinary and pushes the realms of reality into a place that is profoundly intriguing in its vulgar disruptiveness. In a way, Leyco redoes Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na (2013) here, except that Matangtubig is a lot more sophisticated in terms of concept and craftsmanship.
Leyco creates art out of a kind of oppression. Matangtubig is far from comforting. Sure, it is laced with humor, the type that has irreverence as its core. However, the film never occupies a position of comedy. It's steadfast in enraging with beautifully haunting images and sounds that are woven together not to provide answers, but to complicate.
Leyco does not bare answers to the questions he asks. He is content with provocation, merging images of real catastrophes with wild stretches of the imagination resulting in suspicions and inferences that are more satisfying than easy expositions.
Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo Review: Childhood legends
Another debuting filmmaker is Mihk Vergara with “Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo." This first feature is about a young neighborhood underdog or a “patalo” who assembles an unlikely team of losers to join her in the ultimate battle for the streets: patintero. Vergara previously worked as director of the TV series, “Rakista” as well as music videos. #qcinema2015 Posted by QCinema on Saturday, October 10, 2015
It is unfair to credit Mihk Vergara’s Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo solely for its charm. True, the film is bursting with charisma. Its foray into the minds of children and their naïve concerns about life through the not-so-serious game of patintero is absolutely adorable. However, there is more to the film than kitsch and cuteness.
In its effort in consistently depicting the world from the perspective of children, joy and pain are magnified. The film’s best moments are its tender ones. It erupts with emotions when siblings fight each other for attention, or when tragedy strikes, or when matches are miraculously won, all because Vergara is honest enough to admit that feelings are felt better when there are coursed through the innocence of children.
Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo is guiltlessly merry because it pulsates with an energy that is authentic to its milieu. There are simply no pretenses.
Of course, the film is far from perfect. The patintero scenes are overedited, chopped to pieces perhaps to avoid the difficulty of actually staging the games. Now this is where the charm comes in. Vergara makes up for his film’s glaring faults with color and craze.
Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo is as nutty as it is sentimental. It carries with it the allure of nostalgia for those distant years where everything is larger than life.
Sleepless Review: Of loves that never were
Two former freelance writers from Star Cinema, Prime Cruz and Jen Chuaunsu, collaborate for their first feature, “Sleepless,” an offbeat rom-com on two insomniacs. It charts how they start to bond while the rest of the world sleeps. Drawn together by their nocturnal loneliness, they talk about love, zombies and everything in between. Posted by QCinema on Saturday, October 10, 2015
The beauty of Prime Cruz’s Sleepless lies in its innate understanding of love restrained. Its story is about two call center agents, Gem (Glaiza de Castro) and Barry (Dominic Roco), who develop an undefined relationship, quite possibly a romance under the guise of friendship, over several sleepless nights brought about by the demands of their shared profession.
From a different perspective, Sleepless feels a romanticized portrayal of a specific labor force whose various depictions in media have been rendered cliché. Its characters are quiet and reserved, never under the influence of caffeine abuse. They are never shown with a cigarette in their hands. They are artistic, but never consumed by the angst of being stuck in a job they do not want.
It is as if Cruz and writer Jen Chuaunsu have other things in mind for the milieu they chose to situate their film in.
As it is, the film feels like an ode to Manila by night. Its tender appreciation of the possibilities of Manila’s busy nights adds to the charm of the delicate relationship it depicts. The film could have been a bit more discreet in depicting the life of Gem beyond her work and blossoming friendship with Barry simply because that plotline reeks of overuse, but as it is, the film is lovely.
It is deeply resonant in its appreciation of romances that only exist within individual hearts. Under the blanket of the city’s smoggy nights, what we hold on to are just the fragile beauty of possibilities.
Water Lemon Review: Rural melancholies
At the heart of Lem Lorca’s Water Lemon is Junjun Quintana, who plays emotionally disconnected Filemon with valuable sensitivity. It’s a performance that does not pander to the stereotypes of the affliction that the character is suffering from.
Instead, Quintana plays it by heart, fully understanding that what the film needs is not a performance that screams and shouts for validation but one that adds integrity to the affecting world of melancholy Lorca and writer Lilit Reyes has shaped out of the peculiarities of the quaint town of Mauban.
It is that carefully constructed world that makes Water Lemon so compelling. The film concentrates on the inability of Filemon to connect with the people around him. It also details the entire town’s sorrowful seclusion, how almost everybody who is residing there is thirsting for either connection or escape.
It is quirky as well, with peculiar humor reverberating through amidst the quiet sadness that Lorca depicts with spectacular ease. Somehow, it is the careful sprinklings of comedy that renders the film’s depiction of misery so canny.
It is Lorca’s most coherent film. It is also his most sophisticated. With films like Intoy Shokoy ng Kalye Marino (2012) and Mauban: Ang Resiko (2014), there is no denying that Lorca has an affinity for melodrama and larger-than-life portrayals of anguish and suffering.
However, here, Lorca pulls back, allowing his solemn images to speak for themselves. There are missteps here and there, but overall, Water Lemon is quite a solid effort at painting a picture of emotional struggle in a town where the biggest tragedy is ennui.
Have you seen any of the films? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com