Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cinemanila Digital Lokal 2009

Anacbanua (Christopher Gozum, 2009)

Not a narrative film at all, and fortunately so. This is one fierce piece of memorable filmmaking -- a successful experiment in film form that has kinship with the work of film poets like Sergei Paradjanov. Anacbanua concerns a young Filipino poet, based in distant Middle East, experiencing a creative and spiritual crisis. As we see the books at his elbow ( Sartre, Dostoevsky, Camus) there is the streak of the existential loner within him. To reclaim his lost bearings, he returns to his heartland, his home province of Pangasinan. Here he embarks on a pilgrim’s odyssey, touching base with the culture, nature and the creative and artisanal industries of his native place. What makes Anacabanua resonate is the exclusive use of the Pangasinense language on the soundtrack. Reciting sonnets and villanelles in Pangasinense, the poet slowly maps out his lost “parnassus,” taking stock of his own human dimensions, his personal ethos, on his way to rebirth and regeneration. On his journeys his Muse accompanies him and tempers him with illuminations and epiphanies. There is a streak of didacticism in some of the poems, and moments of formlessness and imagistic repetitiveness, but all in all, its searing, tactile, monochromatic imagery recalls Bela Tarr, Raya Martin and Sergei Paradjanov.


Dolores (Lito Casaje, 2009)

Dolores is a pubescent girl on the verge of womanhood. She is beginning to attract the libidinal eyes of men, no wronger than the men in her family. Dolores. Dolours. Sadnesses? Or perhaps Dolores Haze. Lolita. That Humbert Humbert nymphet. Unfortunately the similarity with the Nabokov classic ends right there. Everything goes downhill from here to the abyss of bathos. Alas, if only the filmmakers had the mind to follow the time-honored tradition of adapting literature. No such luck. Director Casaje terms his picture as a “coming-of-age” film, an ironic misnomer as the title character doesn’t even live to grow up from loss of innocence and the end of childhood. What we get instead is unintended comedy, about beady-eyed old men and a shell-shocked young girl. Before the jig is up, there is a long trail of dead, and we can’t help treating it with laughter.

Avoid at all costs.

Iliw (Bona Fajardo, 2009)

Set in Japanese-occupied Vigan, parts in Baguio, it’s the picturesque period story that has been done before, about a young Ilocano lass named Fidela who falls in love with the enemy, a young Japanese captain named Takahashi. This premise is getting shopworn, it’s a variation from Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos and Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Silence de la Mer. In the end it serves its original purpose: it lives up to its tag as “film tourism,” as how the Ilocos governor who was at the premiere introduced it. True enough, the Vigan sights are harnessed and thrown into good relief: fancy-lit ancestral Spanish-era homes, cobble-stone streets and horse-drawn calesas ply the thoroughfares with an eye for idealization.

Passable, commercially viable fare.

Ang Beerhouse (Jon Red, 2009)

For the last few decades in Philippine commercial cinema, the beerhouse has become a common fixture in action films. An action film is not complete, it seems, without a shootout or a brawl at a beerhouse. There is always a fight by alcohol-addled men for the attentions of the establishment’s women. In Jon Red’s Ang Beerhouse, the violence may have been tempered but the dive is no less cleaned up: unscrupulous operators lurk in the background. The titular beerhouse is where men spend their hard-earned money and this is where love blossoms between one of its dancers and the poor man who sells street food across the street. But Ang Beerhouse is a sprawling mess, self-indulgent, too drawn out, offers nothing new, and the conflicts are artificial. But stay tuned, hot-blooded males: you will be rewarded at the end with the ample offerings of Gwen Garci. This is a beerhouse after all.

Worth a few laughs and titillating moments, but neglible.

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