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New Breed, New Life for Philippine Cinema?

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Pinoy MoviesJuly was independent film season again for auteurs and Cultural Center of the Philippines habitues.

Despite the mishap at the opening film screening (film froze towards the end, mouse pointer visible on the screen), I enjoyed watching several of this year’s entries. Following are some of the independent films I was able to catch during the 6th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trials of Andres Bonifacio)
Beginning with a duel between Magdalo and Magdiwang soldiers, moro-moro style, the film Ang Paglilitis ni Bonifacio by acclaimed director Mario O’Hara should not be seen as a recorded narrative. Nor is it the type of film to use for film showings during national holidays so audiences (students) have no choice but to watch it.

Andres Bonifacio (Alfred Vargas), also known as the Supremo of the Katipunan, was put on trial for charges of sedition and treason along with his brother Procopio. Bonifacio was accused of bribing Pedro Giron, a fellow Katipunero, for 10 pesos to assasinate Emilio Aguinaldo (Lance Raymundo), the president-elect of the Revolutionary government.

Bonifacio’s camp, particularly his brother Ciriaco, was also accused of starting the exchange of gunfire between the Magdalo and Magdiwang parties. What follows is a series of flashbacks showing the courtship of Bonifacio and his lady love, Gregoria de Jesus (Danielle Castaño) and the goings on in Aguinaldo’s camp.

The film is a critique of film-making itself, and makes a statement through its presentation of history, while remaining faithful to the transcript of Bonifacio’s trial. O’Hara has his actors to exaggerate enunciating lines, acting gestures, and facial expressions as if acting in a play in front of a temporary audience.

The setting switches between the realm of theater (a Moromoro or Zarsuela stage, complete with the proverbial castle/ house doors for character entrances and exits) and film (different outdoor locations and old, ancestral houses in Cavite).

O’Hara also adds a central intelligence (Mailes Kanapi), a genderless, ghostly and bald creature, who would interact with characters and taunt them. As if not genre-defying enough, O’Hara incorporates poetry, song, and the myth of the Legendary Bird of Piedras Platas (Alamat ng Ibong Adarna) into the film. Andres Bonifacio portrays the myth’s protagonist Juan, the youngest son of King Fernando of Berbania and the last son to be sent forth to seek the Adarna bird, believed to possess powers to restore the ailing king’s health.

The Adarna myth was cut short, perhaps, symbolizing the failure of Bonifacio to find a silver lining when he was sentenced to be executed at Mount Tala. De Jesus, mad and feverish, wanders through Tala’s forest to look for her husband. Aguinaldo sheds a tear as he prays for forgiveness inside a church.

No actor in this film outshone another. Camera angles were artful and unlike anything you will ever see in mainstream Philippine cinema. In a nutshell, everything was brilliant.

The Leaving
For an emerging film director, Ian Dean Loreños is adept at creating beautiful and poignant images, getting authentic performances from his actors, and torturing his audience by keeping them guessing until the end of the film. The film is set in Manila’s Chinatown (Binondo), in its shabby restaurants, desolate alleys, and old apartment units. The episodic film follows the lives of three Chinese Filipinos. Martin (Alwyn Uytingco) is a twenty-something struggling to find a job in the city. He is torn between leaving the country for America’s greener pastures to join his parents and staying to continue life in his homeland. Joan (LJ Moreno) is a perky travel agent having an affair with a married man named William (Arnold Reyes). She’s planning to leave the country to try her luck in Singapore. Grace (LJ Reyes) is a traditional Chinese Filipino housewife who discovers her husband’s cheating ways and finds comfort in the arms of her neighbor Martin.

Loreños develops the plot by incorporating the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Chinese equivalent of All Soul’s Day. The theme is the pathos of alienation, which we experience during times of failure and heartbreak, set against the backdrop that nothing is permanent in this world.

The film also touches on the issue of diaspora, dying Chinese traditions, and the objectification of women in Chinese Filipino society. It blurs the line between the struggles of the Chinese Filipino community and the rest of the country. Loreños pays homage to Asian film directors (Wong Kar Wai, for instance) in his playful use of reds and oranges in the cinematography, as well as 360-degree follow shots (like in the scene where William and Joan dance atop a building), and establishing shots using romantic, old Binondo come nightfall.

Ganap na Babae (Garden of Eve)
The three-part film, directed by Ellen Ramos, Rica Arevalo, and Sarah Roxas, tells three arbitrarily-woven stories of women: a prostitute (Mercedes Cabral) living with an African-American lover, a widow (Boots Anson-Roa), and two sisters living in a remote barrio. Cabral’s character is a mother trying to raise her children (from different fathers) while living with an African-American boyfriend who occasionally roughs her up for pleasure.

Despite that, Cabral remains unconditionally loyal to her lover and endures the beating in exchange for money. Boots Anson-Roa’s character, Eos, takes in a lover (Romi Mallari), who fixes her faulty Internet connection so she can chat with her daughter abroad. Mallari, nursing a broken heart from a bad break up, finds comfort in Eos. Eos eventually ends the relationship with Mallari after succumbing to the pressures of society.

The last story is about two sisters living in the middle of an El Nino-ravished farm. The elder sister, unable to withstand a destitute life, applied as a mail-order bride in Japan. Disappointingly attempting to paint irony at the end of the film, the prostitute reveals her name as ‘Pilipinas’ after which the credits roll. Is the film making a political statement?

There was a moment in the third part where it rained—symbolically. So should we wait for miracles to happen? Good things happen to those who wait? While the film is trying to tell the audience that the tribulation of women is the struggle of everyone, there is nothing that the audience doesn’t already know.

Si Techie, Si Teknoboy, at si Juana B.
Art Katipunan’s kinky comedy demands a lot of patience and a stomach for distasteful sexual scenes. No, make that for the unwitting dialogue and catchphrases and preachy characters moralizing the effect of cyberspace on their lives.

Techie (Mercedes Cabral) is a soon-to-be bride who has a cyber-romance with Teknoboy, whom she hasn’t even met. Techie’s best friend, Juana B. (Aurette Divina), is a quirky yuppie who got sacked after being caught on CCTV camera stealing her boss’s laptop. Truth is, Juana B. was asked by her boss to get the laptop for safekeeping.

Techie and Juana B. go on a cross-country trip to meet Teknoboy—who stands them up. It is during the trip that Techie realizes her mistakes and how superficial she is for pursuing an illicit online affair. The film exposes how technology is a bane to one’s functional existence and relationships (the common narrative conflict of man vs machine/technology), and how new media has desensitized us and challenged our morals.

While surfing the ‘Net in their motel room, Juana B. comes across a YouTube video of herself peeing. Instead of being embarrassed, she even thanks her quasi-stalker for uploading it. Other characters are put into focus: a woman compensating for the absence of an OFW husband by having cybersex with strangers; a father who either spends his day playing games on his PSP or getting himself off online rather than attending to familial duties.

The two minor characters reap what they sow: the woman’s son asks her if he can hump his classmate, something the toddler learned from watching online hentai (animé porn); while the father wakes up to an empty living room after ignoring suspicious noises the previous night. Was it entertaining? Check. Worth watching again in other screening locations? No.

Vox Populi
The setting is the last day of a woman mayoral candidate’s campaign. The candidate, Connie de Gracia (Irma Adlawan), attends mass before she sets off to her final sortie. Upon exiting the church, Connie is introduced to the niece of her campaign assistant (Suzette Ranillo), who was laid off from her job at the factory. Connie is compelled to promise the young woman her job back and boards her campaign van.

She meets people from different walks of life on the final trail in San Cristobal, one of which is a homosexual man from the slums who bluntly tells her that he’s not voting for her. With the help of her brother Ricky (Bobby Andrews), who has a number of connections in the municipality, Connie seeks the votes of influential people in town that includes a school teacher, a factory owner, and a crime lord (Jose Mari Avellana).

Contrasting with her campaign to win the people’s votes is an internal struggle of her own: her fear of being overshadowed by her father’s legacy (a former mayor of the town), the stigma of being separated from her husband, and gaining recognition as a woman who has risen the ranks on her own. This culminates in the scene where Connie faces the mirror and practices saying her name.

After successfully getting all the support she can get, Connie rides off to her final miting de avance, with a triumphant smile. Adlawan, as always, manages to deliver a great performance and it’s hard to take your eyes off her for some reason. Director Marasigan tells the story in a linear fashion, with an earnestly banal script and Cinema One type of camera shots; not necessarily a bad thing though. Marasigan’s film is a welcome addition to the roster of films in the Cinemalaya festival during a time when everything is about experimenting and being ultramodern. Because yes, you can be current without being artsy.

Print ed: 09/10


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