A Study for the Skies (1988) is a silent meditation on a young man's futile attempts at flying. He tries out several wing contraptions that are similar to those inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. After several failed attempts, the defiant man does a Vitruvian man. An audacious piece of filmmaking, the film won a Best Short award from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.
Anino (2000) is the Cannes-winning short film of Red. It is a wonderful tribute of sorts to Lino Brocka's Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag. A harried and hungry photographer seeks solace at Malate Church. He had not eaten in a day. Upon his exit from the church, a mysterious man in black taunts him. ‘Prayers are useless.’ ‘You’re a thief.’ The words of the enigmatic stranger cling to him like a shadow. The next time they meet, the hapless lens man had all been eaten up by the darkness and filth oozing from all corners of Manila.
Director Raymond Red will once more explore the themes from the short films (ie. flying as a metaphor for escape, and Manila as hell for impoverished people) in his latest film, Himpapawid (2009, Manila Skies). The story deals with Raul Lakan, a downtrodden man who cannot take the ills of the city anymore. He joins a heist that goes badly. Armed with a grenade, he hijacks an airplane. He then parachutes out of the plane with a bagful of loot.
Is Himpapawid the much-awaited masterpiece of Red? No. The acting of Raul Arellano is too loud for my taste. Directing actors seems to be Red’s Waterloo. I’ve read critics' complaints about poor acting in Red’s earlier feature films Bayani and Sakay. I’ve seen both films way back in the 1990s and the only good thing I can remember now is the sound engineering of Bayani.
The short films of Red still linger in my mind. These are prime examples of great filmmaking. Other excellent short films shown at the festival were Anomi, Bulong, and a trio of Cinemalaya winners (Andong, Bonsai, and Rolyo). These short films were sometimes better than the main feature films that they accompanied. The short films of Red and other non-competing films (eg. Tirador and Altar) soften the disappointments I’ve had with the competing entries.