film festivals

REVIEW: Highlights from Sinepiyu 2024 (All Tamaraws)

Lé Baltar

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REVIEW: Highlights from Sinepiyu 2024 (All Tamaraws)
We highlight 4 films from the 2024 Sinepiyu by the FEU Film Society

With the theme “Paglibot sa Kawalan,” the 2024 Sinepiyu, put on annually by the FEU Film Society, dares to scout terrains unknown, unseen, and untenanted by both its viewers and creators, albeit to mixed effect.

At turns rigid then slack, earnest then emotionally playful, the films in the selection, which streamed recently on JuanFlix: The FDCP Channel, are buoyed but at the same time limited by their topicalities, their keenness to track the temper of our times, whether by highlighting personal histories or wider political conversations.

At one point you begin to notice a film’s proclivity for servicing a central theme; at another, you appreciate its sheer will to deliver. 

In “All Tamaraws,” one of two categories in the festival, most of the entries require further incubation, if largely because the outcomes aren’t as polished as its creators hope to be – lapses that, in many ways, point to funding issues or the lack of adequate institutional support. After all, no film, especially in educational settings, is an individual project.

Be that as it may, the potential is still there, and what’s important is that student film fests such as this continue to exist, whether as launching pads for emerging voices or otherwise, a space that extends them the grace to make mistakes and figure things out, instead of killing their ideas altogether, instead of treating them as dispensable.

Here, I’ve written about four titles included in “All Tamaraws” that I regard as personal highlights in the selection.

From Seeds to Blossoms by Aizel Marfil

Just by its title, From Seeds to Blossoms feels like it’s already spilling the beans. Blunt as such imagery may be, it still points to a relatively contained narrative. Corporate worker Olivia leads a routine life: she waters her plants, waits for a ride, and busies herself with urgent tasks – all of which get disrupted following an abrupt layoff.

The film mines so much of its drama from close-ups: the listless gaze into the abyss, labored breathing, nerves settling in. And although the visuals appear like they were mostly shot in one or two locations, the rendering still looks so clean, precise, and lush, as though teeming with more life in its bareness, blending well with the rich soundscape.

Baka Sakaling Umabot sa Ulap by Patricia Anne Callanga

I don’t think Baka Sakaling Umabot sa Ulap peddles anything particularly groundbreaking about how we contend with grief, about the many weights we carry. I don’t think that is the point, really. The story at its heart, observing a lovely friendship between two boys, isn’t even as daring as the rest of the shorts in the lineup. Admittedly, it could also use a little bit of shaving, especially at times when the whole thing feels too indulgent.

But the film, which utilizes wide shots to great effect, makes up for all that with sheer heart and profound care for its subject. Of course, much of the material’s appeal has to do with how Callanga wields the rapport of actors Prince Nathaniel España and Alexander Lucas Martin, whose onscreen presence is so endearing and effective, even if the dialogue is at times stilted. In this way, Baka Sakaling Umabot sa Ulap forges a pocket of space for reflection, for all things we can’t articulate. Healing, it argues, does not have to be so pronounced.

patient 08: the case of Seraphiel Manolito’s divine potentiality – year 20__ by Vien Simbre

Over half of the entries in “All Tamaraws” suffer from their duration, overlooking the fact that unnecessary stretching can make or break a material. Vien Simbre’s patient 08: the case of Seraphiel Manolito’s divine potentiality – year 20__, lengthy as its title may be, doesn’t have this problem. Under nine minutes, I think, is just the perfect length for a short of this kind to get its argument across. Of course, I don’t mean to say that its premise is something I haven’t encountered before, but what I find interesting is its steadfast clinging to this mode of cinema that refuses to service logic, to only be understood in ways clear and singular. 

In fact, even if the logline lays bare all details to the viewer, the film, with its monochromatic, grainy texture, still excavates something beyond what the obvious might readily suggest. A boy, who supposedly holds god-like power, is under experiment, if not surveillance, and gets overwhelmed by specters of both the past and future, whether such specters be considered in the context of evolution, war, political violence, or the demise of the planet, and the way the director handles this feels particularly deft, commanding.

At one point this film is an exercise in form; at another, it’s an attempt to come up with a dynamic coherence, an enlightenment of sorts, about the world: the state as panopticon, history as glue and residue, the future not as a point of revelation but a ubiquitous phenomenon. 

Bilanggo ng Kinahinatnan by Euxim Valonzo-Garcia

Some would point to this film’s parallels with the work of Lav Diaz, perhaps due largely to its monochromatic approach. There’s really a tinge of that influence here in the many ways it lingers, how it positions its camera at a certain distance from its subjects, or that it contains a level of speechifying that has come to define some of Diaz’s films, for better or worse. As it turns out, not all of it works, as it feels aimless at particular points, or the viewer begins to notice the mishaps in color grading. 

But the film finds a saving grace in the work of its actors, Adam Labador and Bembol Roco (a welcome presence, if I may add), playing two bodies and two souls trying to make sense of their predicament in a remote, barren version of the afterlife. The film surfaces its emotional inclination by toying with its characters’ skepticism toward each other, with the history they share, and thereby endorsing its broader pronouncements about our nation’s woeful past and how it shapes similar threads in the present and future, with some crisp images at that. Which is to say, it’s good enough. –

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Lé Baltar

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist and film critic for Rappler. Currently serving as secretary of the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR), Lé has also written for CNN Philippines Life, PhilSTAR Life, VICE Asia, Young STAR Philippines, among other publications. She is a fellow of the first QCinema International Film Festival Critics Lab.