Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 in Movies: Cinema One Originals Film Festival Part 1: Original Features

Note: I missed three of the competition entries: Sari Dalena's "Dahling Nick," Raymond Red's "Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso" and Ivan Andrew Payawal's "The Comeback." I supposedly didn't miss a lot.

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63. Baka Siguro Yata (dir. Joel Ferrer)

It cannot be denied that "Baka Siguro Yata" has its heart in the right place: Its attempt at comedy is well-intentioned, and its desire to give the audience a good time, genuine. But ideas alone are never enough, and it's sad how Ferrer's rash and clumsy direction hinders the film from truly taking flight. Some scenes are overplayed, when they could have benefited from softer, subtler tones; others, requiring a largeness in words and actions, are left underplayed. Three intertwining love stories are charted by the film: That of the separated middle-aged couple (Cherie Gil and Ricky Davao, both excellent) now rekindling their sex life, if not romance; the younger couple thrust together by an unexpected pregnancy; and the high school lovebirds whose biggest ambition at the moment is losing their virginities. That last storyline has absolutely no reason to exist (come on, people, what year is it?!) and is representative of the laziness splotched across this otherwise earnest film.

64. Dayang Asu (dir. Bor Ocampo)

"Dayang Asu" is not as literal-minded as its self-explanatory title (which translates to "dog nation") makes it look. It explores an underworld in a place that's too laid-back and honest-looking to deserve such a dirty underbelly. It moves at a steady pace, does not desire to choose sides and presents the eternal fight between good and evil as a long-accepted way of life. The performances, with the sole exception of an ill-fitting Junjun Quintana, blend seamlessly into the milieu of the story, where the most interesting character is a prostitute named Krissy. Still, after all the bullets have been fired, the bodies piled up, the lies told and lives broken, the question remains unavoidable: What exactly is the point of all this? To that, "Dayang Asu" has no desire to give an answer, but it would be a lie to say that the film is incapable of sustaining one's attention. It tells an orthodox story, and tells it decently.

65. Bukod Kang Pinagpala (dir. Sheron Dayoc)

The use of mysticism and an inherently Christian fascination with and fear of evil bestows a feeling of freshness upon "Bukod Kang Pinagpala." The devil, masquerading as naked Jesus, awakens the mother (Bing Pimentel) from a coma, and soon a devotion occurs, the kind that Lou Veloso can turn into a demented gathering with the most random remarks. The atmosphere grows gloomier, the darkness slowly encroaching around the house and the surrounding forest. But then trying too hard has never been a desirable attribute, and "Bukod Kang Pinagpala" tries and tries and tries (and usually succeeds) in delivering the frights, no matter how cheap and convenient and clichéd. "Be scared, be very scared!" it deliberately tells the audience, and in this sense, it is effective.  

Come the third act however, a miracle does occur: "Bukod Kang Pinagpala" manages to renew our interest through an unexpected transfiguration. It abandons all hope of becoming a respectable, if not excellent, horror film (like Eduardo Dayao's "Violator," last year's Cinema One Originals Best Picture winner), and assumes the form of a slasher flick. There's very little blood, actually, but the laughable hysterics are enough to grab your attention and remind you of, I don't know, some scene from "A Nightmare on Elm Street," perhaps. Pimentel is now the deranged mother, and Max Eigenmann is the helpless daughter who gets to shout, "Natatakot na ako!" and locks the door and sobs in the darkness and stupidly escapes to the woods (like that idiot Snow White) and is finally eaten by hell hounds. Cue closing shot of Quiapo, incubator of all things strange and unscientific, just because. Now that's entertainment.

66. Hamog (dir. Ralston Jover)

If "Hamog" were Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice," it would certainly have lost both children in an instant, because here is a film that can't seem to choose which poor child's story to focus on. We're already 15 years into the 21st century, my friends; we've had our fair share of tales about poverty to recognize the blueprints and formulate some relevant expectations. Yet "Hamog" mistakes inclusivity for depth and insists on telling three(!) stories, only one of which really delves into the heart of the matter and carries some semblance of unpredictability. Many things can be said, and faults found, of the plot line concerning Jinky (played with surprising spunk and steeliness by the wonderful Therese Malvar), the waif who becomes OJ Mariano's ward and Anna Luna's Cinderella. But when it does hit its stride, and it does so periodically, "Hamog" becomes compelling viewing, one that locates a sad, sad heart in a cruel, cruel world. The rest of it--the treacly, insubstantial parts--we can do without.

67. Miss Bulalacao (dir. Ara Chawdhury)

The most remarkable thing about "Miss Bulalacao" is how astutely it captures the beat and rhythm of small-town life. The people speak with a distinct slowness, their pauses telling of their origins. The places, though wide and bright and airy, feel so close to one another, it's impossible for secrets to be kept and news to be contained. In this deceptively claustrophobic cradle by the sea, a lowly gay kid suddenly finds himself with child, and the rest of the film is his trajectory, his rise to stardom, so to speak, from cause of his parents' despair to revered local figure. Nothing else, apart from its conceit, is novel in "Miss Bulalacao." Instead, it takes its time to explore what has been explored and portray what has been portrayed in its own unassuming way. The marvelous cast, from the titular character to his conflicted parents to the neighborhood whore, gamely immerse themselves in roles that have seen the dark of the cinema time and again. The trite acquires a sheen of newness, and "Miss Bulalacao," with all its honest laughs and blind mistakes, eventually succeeds in winning your heart.

68. Manang Biring (dir. Carl Joseph Papa)

"Manang Biring" makes you laugh until you no longer can, and then it strikes you deep in the gut. It is cruel that way; it is also what makes it so touching and heartbreaking. The cancer that plagues the title character is almost an aside; the despair it causes her, this need to live just a little bit longer so she may get to see her estranged daughter come Christmas, is the driving force behind this film. But instead of becoming just another cancer movie (meaning cloyingly emotional), or another old-age movie (meaning obsessed with isolation and preoccupied with the idea of death), "Manang Biring" mines its script to the core and gives the viewer life and laughter in the least predictable ways. Glutathione soap, coffee shops, ecstasy, Kalokalike, conyo kids and Mailes Kanapi pushing drugs in a club all find their way to Papa's rotoscoped universe (an argument may be made against the necessity of this device). So we laugh along and forgive "Manang Biring" for its flaws, and by the time the ending rolls along, our tear ducts have been primed and our humanity rendered vulnerable.

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