Sunday, March 28, 2010

Romeo at Juliet (2010, Adolfo Alix Jr)

Director Alix is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the local independent scene. He has made a handful of remarkable films. However, I'm still waiting for him to come up with an extraordinary film that will put him in league with revered filmmakers Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz. He just needs to spend more time improving his stories and sprucing up the quality of his films. A few of his films are critically acclaimed such as Adela and Donsol. Sadly, Romeo at Juliet is not among his best.

It is a bad omen when a film starts on the wrong foot. The early credits blended in so well with the background that the film title ended up being unreadable. Maybe the 'missing' title refers to the fact that there are no Romeo and Juliet characters in the movie. The title is just a cunning marketing ploy to haul in curious moviegoers.

The film begins with the birthday of Angel (Alessandra de Rossi). She gets lured into the world of escort services by her friend Menchie (Max Eigenmann). On her first night, she earns a little less than 10,000 pesos. I began wondering what she did to earn big bucks. Was she, errrr, a virgin? A sex machine? Or a great conversationalist?

Subsequent scenes of Angel give us a glimpse of her work but not an iota of her ability to suck in money. There are scenes of sadomasochism that Angel supposedly enjoys. The audience fails to see how much she likes being dominated. Angel just narrates that she loved being abused. De Rossi, handicapped with self-imposed limitations (ie. no torrid kissing, and no nudity), does a lackluster performance as a prostitute. Victor Basa is also not good as Joseph, a doctor-wanna-be who finally gets a girlfriend. When his character witnesses a Hayden Kho-type of a video scandal, his face didn't even register a strong emotion. He also gave an awful performance in the Cinema One film Maling Akala. The actress playing the classy Menchie has a strong screen presence. It must be the genes. Max Eigenmann is a daughter of Mark Gil.

This indie film suggests that parental upbringing plays a big factor in molding character of children. Incest rape pushes Angel to the sex industry. On the other hand, a strong conservative mother turns Joseph into a walking time bomb. Sexual repression will bring havoc to his social life. A mistake by his girlfriend causes Joseph to snap big time.

The characters have a unique way of remembering their past. Memories played on like scenes from an 8 mm film. It is an artistic decision that falls flat. What was the point of that attention calling narrative device?

Romeo at Juliet tries to be different (sometimes too hard) from mainstream romance movies. The story about lost souls searching for love deals with edgy topics such as child abuse and a young man's twisted concept of romance. Below-average acting and some poor directing decisions hinder it from being a memorable movie.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Basura (2009, Hiroshi Shinomiya)

‘Wala pa ring pagbabago. Marami pa rin ang namumulot ng basura para mabuhay,’ remarked Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Shinomiya during an open forum on the documentary Basura. His disturbing film puts real faces to the issues of poverty and hunger in the Philippines. The heart-wrenching scenes include girl prostitutes waiting for clients at Avenida, young boys fighting for position atop a mound of trash, a distraught mother mulling her health care bills, and a cute baby’s face covered with flies.

In 1989, Shinomiya worked on a documentary dealing with poor families scavenging in the Smokey Mountain dumpsite in Manila. His subjects were the Paz family and the Pascual family. The film was titled Scavengers: Forgotten Children and released in 1995.

Twelve years later, Shinomiya came back to the Philippines and re-traced the lives of the two families. The film Basura initially shows some good news. The Smokey Mountain dumpsite was closed down in the mid-1990s. The family of Christina Paz lives in a modestly-furnished unit at a government housing project. Her husband JR works at a junk shop. Their three female children diligently go to school. But, when Christina became pregnant and attempted to abort her child, things turn bad. When she gave birth, her baby had to undergo several tests. The mother and infant had to stay for a while at the hospital. Their hospital bill has risen so high her husband had to take out loans. The family members went back to scavenging at the Aroma dumpsite in Manila.

The Pascual family also had their share of bad luck. The 61-year old Illuminada says that she has lost 5 children. Three children died and 2 remained missing. She lives with her unemployed daughter Naty in a ramshackle hut in the middle of a farm in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte. She works as a househelp, which earns her 80 pesos a day. She still cannot get over the death of Emong. Her son allegedly committed suicide inside a jail.

Lack of health care insurance and lack of access to legal help are just some of the countless problems faced by the marginalized poor in large cities. The children's dream of finishing school go down the drain due to lack of money. Data from the National Statistical Coordination Board showed that the number of poor Filipinos – living on a little less than 42 pesos a day – rose to 27.6 million in 2006 from 25.5 million in 2001.

Director Shinomiya, fluent in the Filipino language, also noted that as long as the feudal system is dominant in the country, poor people will continue trooping to metropolitan cities because farming benefits mostly the landowners. He remarked that the Philippine government is not wealthy enough to provide the needs of the poor. He made the documentary with the goal of getting help from fellow Japanese. Through volunteers and cash donations, he established the Basura Foundation, which is managed by Christina Paz. The foundation does its own share of alleviating poverty and hunger at the Aroma dumpsite. Happy ending?

The film ends with a shot of a young kid scavenging through the sea of trash. Will he/she be able to earn enough money to buy a meal?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

indieSine: Quo Vadis?

The buzz these days in the independent film scene is the closure, albeit temporarily, of indieSine at Robinsons Movieworld Galleria. The unexpected closure came about after the film Last Supper No. 3 was abruptly yanked out after a day of screenings to give more screens to a blockbuster film. The indieSine theater had been the only mall-based movie house to consistently show independent films almost every week for the last three years.

The first two years of indieSine was the best in terms of programming. The price of a movie ticket was below 100 pesos. I watched an average of two films a month during the first year. Most of the 2007 Cinemalaya entries had their one-week theater runs just months after their premieres at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). It was a joy to catch up with cinematic gems. However, it was the festival screenings that brought me to cinema nirvana. Among the rare and memorable films screened at indieSine were Mike de Leon’s Signos, Manuel Silos’ Biyaya Ng Lupa, Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita, and Lav Diaz’s Heremias Book 2.

Year 2009 saw me slow down on my movie watching days at indieSine. There were two reasons behind the drastic change. First reason was the price of an admission ticket had gone up to140-160 pesos. Taking a risk with an unheralded movie is no longer practical. I remember watching a gay film. It was terrible. I foreswore to keep off gay-themed movies unless they are critically-acclaimed such as Rome & Juliet.

The second reason was most of the films programmed were gay-themed movies. There was even a two-month period when I think six or seven such movies were shown. It should be noted that even UP Film Institute fell prey to this gay movie mania in 2009. An unforeseen altercation with the Movies and Television Ratings and Classification Board shook up the UP Film Institute to tidy up with their programming.

Philippine Independent Filmmakers’ Multi-purpose Cooperative (IFC) official and filmmaker Cris Pablo remarked that ‘gay films can protect straight cinema.’ The IFC even held the QueerLoveFest in February 2010 with the sole purpose of raising funds for other IFC programs, like festivals for women and human rights. Still, indieSine closed down. It will take more than gay films, even great ones, to save indieSine.

Here are a few suggestions to the IFC people:

1) Avoid programming gay-themed movies consecutively. Sure, such movies bring in the money. But, try to cater to other tastes of moviegoers

2) Improve audience numbers by cutting down the price of an admission ticket. I might take a risk with an unknown movie if the price is right. Other moviegoers may do the same

3) Elevate quality of programming. Program prominent Cinemalaya films at indieSine after their runs at CCP and UP Film Institute. With the improving quality of Cinemalaya films, majority of them deserve to be given a week-long theater run. Please, please, please don’t program cheap films made by workshop participants

4) Featured film at indieSine should be guaranteed five days of screenings (Wednesday to Sunday). Not everyone have time to catch a weekday screening

5) Manage updated online sites. Screening schedules and film information should be easily accessed by moviegoers

6) Ape guerrilla marketing strategies of UP Film Institute. Fix monthly screenings so people can anticipate their viewing days. Spread information about screenings via emails

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Red Shoes (2010, Raul Jorolan)

Combining the technical competence of a major studio film and the refreshing storytelling of an independent film, the debut film of Raul Jorolan is a winner. Using a non-chronological editing not unlike that of (500) Days of Summer, the film gets to the bottom of a relationship gone sour. It may also be dubbed as (5000) Days of Bettina. A young boy named Lucas caught a glimpse of a petite ballet dancer. That lovely girl named Bettina became his companion and lover for thirteen years.

The inventive script by James Ladioray situates the love story in the waning years of the Marcos regime and the early years of the post-Edsa People Power Revolution. It is peppered with references to human rights abuses. The screenplay was initially a finalist to the 2007 Cinemalaya competition. The filmmakers worked on it for a while but decided to pull the plug after encountering some budget problems. They realized that a beautiful script can only be filmed once, so they did not force it. The project remained stagnant until Unitel came to the rescue.

The Red Shoes was showered with the same loving care and quality befitting a production of Unitel, maker of La Visa Loca and Crying Ladies. It boasts of superb performances by a wonderful cast led by Marvin Agustin and an ingenious story about a filmmaker, footwear, fetishes, Film Center tragedy, forgiveness, forgetful Filipinos, and the follies of the former First Lady. The lush, glossy cinematography by Ike Avellana contrasts the red dress of a sobbing Liza Lorena with the blue sky and the verdant field.

A sour note for me is the musical number from the Madame Vange segment. It falls flat for me. I’m also weary of seeing Imelda impersonations. The former First Lady is so delusional and ‘crazy’ that it is a tough act to impersonate/parody her. I prefer the original Madam to self-inflict some damage. If you’ve seen the fantastic documentary Imelda, then you’ll get my drift.

The former First Lady figures prominently in several films dealing with the Marcos years. Her legacy goes beyond the 3000 pairs of shoes. She was hands on with several projects in Metro Manila. A self-proclaimed advocate of the beautiful and the arts, Imelda Marcos was given a tribute by the people of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2009. Several questioned why a kleptocrat was accorded such honors. A similar case is happening with the movie industry people's praise for Cinemalaya founder Tony Boy Cojuangco. Have they wondered where he got all the money used to fund those Cinemalaya films?

Imelda may have done some wonderful projects for Filipinos but she is no hero and definitely not worthy of any tribute. The conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda led to tens of thousands of human rights violations being committed and billions of dollars being stashed away in private accounts.

The film's major conceit is it is alright to forgive the doer but not forget the bad deed. Bettina did the right thing at the end. The film noted that a major problem of Filipinos is they have a tendency to be forgetful. We have an impeached President running once more for the top position at the May 2010 presidential election. According to surveys, his voter preference rating is in double digits. Amazing! Only in the Philippines!

He who does not look back from whence he came from will never ever reach his destination. That saying is attributed to our national hero Jose Rizal. The film takes a glimpse at the dark years of the Marcos administration. Just like Filipinos who never learned their history lessons, Lucas repeats the dark deed of his father and loses the love of his life. May we learn from the film. Junk useless shoes and start treading the path to a better, truthful, and honest life. The May 2010 national elections should be a perfect time to reject useless politicians and elect candidates who will pave the way to a better Philippines.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Celebrate Women’s Month at UP Film Institute

Barring a monumental upset at the 82nd Academy Awards, director Kathryn Bigelow is a lock to become the first female filmmaker to nab the Best Director award. Her film The Hurt Locker, a favorite to win the Best Picture award, will be shown on limited engagement at UP Cine Adarna. It screens back-to-back with another Avatar slayer, Dear John. The chick flick dislodged the science fiction blockbuster from the top position at the weekly box-office.

The 19th edition of the International Women’s Film Festival will be held at UP Cine Adarna from March 9 to 11, 2010. A film congress and free movie screenings await guests and participants. The South African film Courting Justice is the festival opener. Featured in the festival are critically-acclaimed local films of actress Gina Pareño and filmmaker Olivia Lamasan. Titles include Urian Best Picture winners Serbis, Kubrador, and Sana Maulit Muli and Gawad Tanglaw Best Picture winner In My Life. All three Urian winners are must-see films.

For the rest of the month, UP Film Institute unveils the full-run of Alvin Yapan’s Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe and presents choice films of stand-out female filmmakers Maya Deren, Agnes Varda, Catherine Breillat, Miranda July, Kiri Dalena, and Sari Dalena.

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Wed, Mar 3 - 2:30 pm, 7 pm
Thu, Mar 4 - 2:30 pm, 5 pm
Fri, Mar 5 -10 am

Dear John (Lasse Halstrom)
Wed, Mar 3 - 5 pm
Thu, Mar 4 - 7 pm
Fri, Mar 5 - 1 pm

Courting Justice (Jane Thandi Lipman) *** Free admission
Tue, Mar 9 - 7 pm
Thu, Mar 11 - 5 pm

Serbis (Gina Pareño) *** Free admission
An Ilocana matriarch slowly loses grip on her family members and soft-porn movie theater business
Wed, Mar 10 - 5 pm

In My Life (Olivia Lamasan) *** Free admission
A middle-aged female teacher adjusts to life in New York with the lover of her gay son
Wed, Mar 10 - 7 pm

Kubrador (Gina Pareño) *** Free admission
A female bet collector gets lost in the maze of numbers and corruption
Thu, Mar 11 - 2:30 pm

Sana Maulit Muli (Olivia Lamasan) *** Free admission
A successful young lady in the United States ponders her future
Thu, Mar 11 - 7 pm

Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (Alvin Yapan)
Fe deals with real-life monsters and personal demons
Fri, Mar 12 - 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm & 6:30 pm
Sat, Mar 13 - 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm & 6:30 pm
Mon, Mar 15 - 4:30 pm & 6:30 pm
Tue, Mar 16 - 4:30 pm
Wed, Mar 17 - 4:30 pm
Thu, Mar 18 - 6:30 pm

UP Film Institute # 9262722