Monday, January 31, 2011

Pasinaya CCP Open House Festival: Film sked

The biggest one-day multi-arts festival spectacle in the Philippines is back!

Catch folk dances, ballet shows, theater plays, Cinemalaya films, and more at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on February 6, 2011. From 8 in the morning until 7 in the evening, the public can choose from the more than 100 performances at a ‘pay what you can, see all you can’ scheme. Opo, pwede ang 20 pesos na entrance para sa mga estudyante.

For more info,
click here

Dream Theater (film zone)

Sunday, February 6

9:00 AM Alamat ng Sili by Julie Susan Lanzuela Almoneda
3 Lapu Lapu by John Aljo Ignite

9:30 AM HALAW by Sheron Dayoc
- won the Best Film award (New Breed category, Cinemalaya 2010)
- was cited “for its timely depiction of the rigors and dangers that Filipinos go through in order to reach Sabah in search of greener pastures, its mastery of the elements of filmmaking and meaningful narrative, and its powerful herald that Mindanao cinema has come of age”
- also won awards for Best Direction, Best Actor (John Arcilla), and Best Editing

12:20 PM Emo by Car Joseph Papa

1:00 PM Laogon by Sael Templado
Imahinaxion by Samuel Elias Kirk Bacsain

1:40 PM Maskara by Alejandro Karlo Zapanta
Clownes by Neil Paul Molina
Perang Kenkoy by Christopher Asa

2:20 PM Lukso by John Kristofer Sta. Clara
Grandfather’s Clock by Marcelo William W. Munoz

3:15 PM TWO FUNERALS by Gil Portes
- won the special jury prize (Directors’ Showcase category, Cinemalaya 2010)
- also won awards for Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography
- is the funniest movie at Cinemalaya 2010. This film also bagged the Audience Choice Award. It tells the story of how a coffin was mistakenly sent to the wrong set of grieving family members. The mother (Tessie Tomas) then treks nearly the whole of Luzon to retrieve the corpse of her daughter.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Presa (2010, Adolfo Alix Jr)

Presa, winner of the Best Indie Film award at the 36th Metro Manila Film Festival, had a limited run at moviehouses. In several theaters, the prison drama was replaced by a foreign film after only a day, or two, of screenings. Is this a portent of what awaits award-winning indie films in the next 12 months?

I've seen only two festival indie entries, Presa and Jerrold Tarog's Senior Year. The former is the better film in terms of story-telling, acting, and over-all direction. Is it the best of the indie slate? I don't know. The film, though, is a pretty good one and probably Adolfo Alix's best so far. Yes, it is not a big deal but at least Alix is no longer contented in churning out pwede-na-yan films.

The prolific filmmaker, with more than 15 films to his name, came out blazing in the second half of 2010 with two excellent films, Presa and Chassis. The latter, about a homeless woman making ends meet as a prostitute, is a fine film marred by a shocking ending that could have been staged and directed more realistically. The castrated victim doesn't even defend himself. He is no Samson that has been deprived of strength. After the despicable deed is done, a freeze-frame of Nora's face would have sufficed. However, the acting in both films is amazing. Alix's handling of his actors is a marked improvement over his horrendous direction in Romeo at Juliet.

Anita Linda gives a tour-de-force performance as a former actress imprisoned for drug pushing in Presa. Every line and wrinkle on her face speaks of her bruising life experiences. She exudes toughness and bitchiness as Cion. She continually carps about the radio being played nightly. When she receives positive news about her release, she destroys the radio. She doesn't fear reprisal because she knows someone will come to protect her. Rosanna Roces plays the squad leader who is a big fan of Cion. She is a former policewoman who instills discipline among the women inmates.

A major effect of prison discipline is clearly shown in the clean surroundings of the prison compound. It is what you may expect from disciplined women who have lots of time. The whole place is like a well-maintained college dormitory. Each inmate has her own bed. They have access to a good bath. There is even a beauty parlor for the inmates. The food seems edible and comes in ample servings. Prison life in this correctional is a far cry from the grimy and violence-ridden jails of Deathrow, Selda, and Ranchero.

The 'good' prison life though is not the be all and end all of inmates. They desperately want to get out of prison. Daria Ramirez plays an inmate nearing completion of her jail sentence. She expects to be reunited with her husband, who is also scheduled to be released soon. Meanwhile, the other inmates go on with their prison life with the hope that their time will also come soon. Jodi Sta. Maria portrays a hardworking, martyr mother. She earns enough money by selling merienda items and laundering clothes. She then gives the money to her son during prison visits. These fleeting reunions with family members are cherished by the inmates.

Unsatisfying endings and lack of special attention to details are usually the weaknesses of several Alix films. This film luckily doesn’t have both weaknesses. However, I have a minor, minor gripe with the awkward way Tetchie Agbayani fell into the pool. A collision with a fellow running inmate must have been a better catalyst for Agbayani's dunking and surprise eloquence.

The fantastic finale elevates the fine film into a great film. Amidst the bevy of memorable performances, the artistry of Anita Linda shines brightly during the breakdown scene and the shooting segment. Cion (Linda), a self-proclaimed award-winning actress, has a hard time getting her act together during a film shooting. The pain she undergoes is wrecking havoc on her concentration. She bungles her dialogue, which speaks of her happiness over an inmate’s release. The tough, unrepentant octogenarian becomes a mere stammering softie.

Kudos to a briliant script by Alix and Agnes de Guzman, a volunteer at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong. Alix has always been known as a multi-awarded scriptwriter. With this film, he shows maturity as a film director.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 2011 film sked at UPFI

Can't find anything worthy enough to watch at the cineplex? Trek to the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) and savor some film gems and award-winning movies scheduled this month.

Cinema One Originals 2010 :
Jan 26 Wed
3 p.m. Sigfried Barrios-Sanchez's Tsardyer
5 p.m. EJ Salcedo's Third World Happy - Cinema One Originals (Best Supporting Actress)
7 p.m. Richard Somes' Ishmael - Cinema One Originals (Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, & Best Editing)
9 p.m. Remton Siega Zuasola's Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria - Cinema One Originals (Jury Prize) and Cinemanila 2010 (Best Southeast Asian Film)

Venue : Cine Adarna / Main Cinema

Jan 27 Thu
4 p.m. Himpapawid - 33rd Urian Awards (Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, & Best Cinematography) and 1st MTRCB Film Awards (Best Drama Film, Best Director, & Best Screenplay)
7 p.m. Himpapawid

Jan 28 Fri
4 p.m. Himpapawid
7 p.m. Himpapawid

Venue : Cine Adarna / Main Cinema


Free movie screenings at the UP Videotheque:

Jan 18 Tue
5 p.m. Bomba Star
7 p.m. Temptation Island

Jan 19 Wed
5 p.m. Temptation Island
7 p.m. Bomba Star

Jan 20 Thu
5 p.m. L'Avventura - Cannes Film Festival (Jury Prize)
7 p.m. Red Desert - Venice Film Festival (Golden Lion)

Jan 21 Fri
5 p.m. Blow-up - Cannes Film Festival (Grand Prix)
7 p.m. Zabriskie Point

Jan 25 Tue
5 p.m. Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors
7 p.m. The Color of Pomegranates

Jan 26 Wed
5 p.m. The Color of Pomegranates
7 p.m. Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors

Jan 27 Thu
5 p.m. The Circle - Venice Film Festival (Golden Lion)
7 p.m. Offside - Berlin Film Festival (Silver Bear)

Jan 28 Fri
5 p.m. Offside
7 p.m. The Circle

Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising (1977, Mike de Leon)

I am a huge fan of films megged by Mike de Leon. I've yet to encounter a de Leon film that disappoints me. What makes it doubly amazing is the fact that, just like Stanley Kubrick, he dabbles into various film genres, turns them inside out, and still comes out with unique, masterful films such as the thriller Kisapmata, the horror pic Itim, the musical-comedy Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, the political film Sister Stella L., the short feature Aliwan Paradise, and the dreamy tale, Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising. The latter can shame most romance films churned out by Star Cinema and GMA Films.

I love Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising for a variety of reasons: the luminous presence of Hilda Koronel, the evolution of Joey's Theme, the romantic Baguio setting, the comedic touches, and the sure hand of de Leon's direction.

Hilda Koronel is one of local cinema's loveliest actresses. Boots Anson Roa, in her radio program, said that Koronel and Amalia Fuentes are the only ones that can be cited as picture perfect. Their heavenly faces register well in any camera angle. In this de Leon film, a student gives Ana (Koronel) a rating of 21 out of 21. Breakdown of the scoring is 10 for her beauty and an ace for her sexy body. Indeed, I've never seen Koronel this alluring before. Her initial appearance in the film has her in a bra-less dress. It is no wonder that all eyes are on her.

Ana is a young lady burnt out from an early marriage. She visits her cousin Cecile (Laurice Guillen) in Baguio to get away from her problems and also to finish her term paper. She meets Joey (Christopher de Leon), a direction-less UP Baguio student who is a prime candidate for magna and summa dishonors (ie. magna-nine years / summa-mpung taon sa kolehiyo).

Ana and Joey goes out on friendly dates in romantic Baguio. Cue in scenes showing them sharing an umbrella during a rainy day, having a picnic in mist-covered surroundings, and offering a shoulder to cry on. Add in laugh-out-loud scenes such as the South China Sea-viewing sidetrip and Cecile's putdowns of Joey. Sounds like a Star Cinema film? Well, not quite. The music scoring plays a key part. The evolving theme song is heard in varying degrees. It reflects the thoughts of the pensive Joey. Every good thing and bad thing that occur becomes fodder for song lyrics. A second viewing of the film will reveal the wonder of the song's creation. The beauty of using an original song is the audience doesn't have a clue on how the story ends. On the other hand, titles of Star Cinema movie themes are clear giveaways.

Mike de Leon is a scion of Narcisa 'Sisang' de Leon, head of the LVN film studio. Doña Sisang, along with producer Mother Lily Monteverde, was recently featured in a book of top women in Asian film cinema. Monteverde's Regal Films is responsible for the slew of commercial hits such as the Shake Rattle and Roll films and also critically acclaimed movies such as Manila by Night, Scorpio Nights, and Sister Stella L. On the other hand, Doña Sisang's LVN Pictures is a defunct movie studio known for award-winning films such as Biyaya ng Lupa and Anak Dalita. The company ceased producing film in 1980. The studio's penultimate offering, Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising, is a collaboration of Doña Sisang's son Manny de Leon and his child Mike de Leon.

In an informal survey conducted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2009, Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising was chosen as the best Baguio film by most of the participating movie reviewers and film afficionados. The film's portrait of the city as clean, calm, cool, and romantic must be a big factor in its selection. A participant noted the film's ditching of the tendency to show tourist attractions.The other films mentioned include Bakit Yellow ang Gitna ng Bahaghari?, Dear Heart, and Baby Love. A strong contender but was not mentioned is Dinig Sana Kita. The latter and Baby Love dealt with love happening in the midst of camps in Baguio.

Baguio as a romance magnet? Hmmm, that's probably one of the reasons why P-Noy visited the city. Makapunta nga rin.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Martyrdo(o)m of Women; The Best Filipino Films of 2010

In the just concluded year, yet another bonanza year for independent films, there was a remarkable bumper crop of films centering and foregrounding the various fates of women. Now more than ever, the running theme of these films was martyrdom, as though for women, it is far preferable to a nondescript fate consigned to the background. Women as martyrs then, women as sufferers of hapless circumstance – economic, sociopolitcal, religious, cultural and otherwise – if only to feed the fantasies of the other half of the gender divide, and perhaps the perverse impulses of the filmmakers themselves. Offhand, one can reel off the following films that in varying degrees illustrate the focalization of beleaguered women: Limbunan, Chassis, Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, and Sheika.

Surprisingly, these independent films were not there to make the numbers up. In many instances, these portraits of women attracted the full breadth of the spotlight and received the loud clamor of lionization. They have not just made the rounds of the local independent circuit – Cinemalaya, Cinema One, Cinemanila – but have been invited to appreciative festivals abroad.

But to return to the crux of the matter: a good majority of these women films are apt to reveal a sadistic streak; they project their subjects in hopeless and helpless distress. An entry to the Cinemalaya Festival in 2010, Limbunan is a tale of anguished betrothal, counting down the last days of sequestration before a woman’s wedding, held hostage by circumstance and culture. Chassis, newly minted under the auspices of the Cinemanila Festival, is about a homeless woman who lives under cargo trucks and is forced to provide for her child through prostitution. A Cinema One production, Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria charts the travails, by turns suicidal and cynical, of one woman who is forced to ransom her family’s future with marriage to a foreign man. In Sheika, the title character and her two teenage sons – refugees fleeing war in Mindanao – meet a tragic fate worse than what they had left behind. It was screened out of competition at Cinemalaya.

Common wisdom suggests that these films may have, at this point, gone beyond scrutiny and question. They are decorated world-beaters, says one kibitzer. They have become instant classics, says another. They have passed the rigors of academic discourse, says a third. Aye, they are beyond reproach, they all say in unison. That’s that.

Then again, maybe not. Exploitation films have not so infrequently put us on the world map, but often for vulgar reasons. In a way, many of the 2010 films aforementioned are no different from exploitation films. Each spotlights and exploits a social problem that features the suffering and brutalization of women, but the cards are so stacked against these distaff protagonists as to offer little circumvention and subversion of their sorry plight. The heart of the problem always proves bigger and more insurmountable than any woman protagonist can ever handle.

The philistine platitude is that cinema proffers no panacea, so the atrocities against cinematic women should not be taken too seriously. Cinema corrects little and resolves little – not the enormities against the world, not the sad plight of women. But the truth may be closer to the contrary: we, for one, have sworn by cinema like nothing else. In our country, so much faith and esteem are projected onto the icons of cinema that we see them as saviors and liberators from poverty and mundane hardship. We give them pride of place, in more ways than one.

In France, Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or and Isidore Isou’s Venom and Eternity have had such galvanizing power on audiences as to have caused riots at their premieres. In Belgium, the so-called Rosetta Law was enacted to shield and protect its young workforce, all because of a little but potent film made by the Dardenne brothers. In Iran, filmmakers are so feared and regarded as threats by the state that they suffer harsh repression, are imprisoned or exiled. (Jafar Panahi is now serving a 6-year sentence in jail, while Mohsen Makhmalbaf has to go abroad to make films.) That is the transformative potency of cinema.

Meanwhile, our independent filmmakers are still grappling with the weltanschauungs of the past. Limbunan, Sheika, Chassis and Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria: these films, in various gradations, are still peddling antediluvian characters with mostly antediluvian motivations. What is regrettable remains how they naturalize the image of the suffering woman. To say the least, it is not easy to sit through these films. Martyrdom, our films keep repeating, becomes women.

In Limbunan, the notion of extreme self-sacrifice on the part of women extends to Muslim societies. When Ayesah questions her enforced betrothal in Limbunan, she is operating along a sound understanding of her predicament, but curiously she submits meekly to the antiquated traditions of her society. Could she not have made the liberating gesture of flight? No, the film argues, Ayesah has bigger roles to fulfill – hers will be a marriage to ensure peace pacts -- a soothing balm in an uneasy landscape. It is worth looking into a film like Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh for a refreshing contrast, a tale that brooks no parental and cultural edicts stacked lopsidedly against its female character.

Suspiciously analogous to Limbunan is Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria. Central to this film is the specter of another unwanted marriage; this time Terya, the main protagonist, is a mail-order bride, about to be shipped off to her would-be husband in Germany. The trade-off, for Terya’s family, is practical and financial security and prosperity. Terya is inconsolable at first – to the extreme extent that she tries to take her life at the start. Like Ayesah, Terya is presented with the option of flight: she has a man that she can elope with. She doesn’t take it.

Towards film’s end, Terya's family -- that is, her domineering mother -- has a change of heart, and presents the daughter a way out. But Terya, again, opts out of it. Instead, she mysteriously becomes compliant, and agrees to the ruinous marriage after all. As though sleepwalking to the overtures of a headlong script, she goes from attempting to kill herself to becoming a resolute bride-to-be in the space of one schizophrenic hour. Part of the blame goes to director Remton Zuasola's intent of doing it all in one plan sequence. (The one-take poetics may be impressive, but it also highlights the jarring transformations of characters and the zigzagging of motivations.)

Cynical, benighted martyrdom has entered into it: through this marriage, she will be acceding to her family’s requests, but her deeper motive seems to have the weight of scorn and accusation, with the design of disowning her family afterwards. There is the suggestion that Terya will go the same route of her supposedly exemplary cousin who has enriched herself from the same prospects Terya is facing. By implication, Terya has become an exchangeable piece of commodity. Her decision is not just one of senseless self-sacrifice, assuaged with the prospect of hefty monetary recompense, but one that seems to have destroyed her soul.

If women are so frequently threatened and harmed by external forces, Sheika presents a portrait of psychological annihilation and extreme bereavement. Sheika has been variously trumpeted as the latter-day Sisa, or our version of Mother Courage. Like her predecessors in the realm of drama and literature, Sheika loses her children in incomprehensibly violent ways; her life story is so traumatizing that she ends up mute and catatonic in a sanatorium. Even there, her tribulations are not over, she must endure being raped by the janitor, with his masculine act, his masculine seed, consequently stirring her back to life. (For this, Mardoquio obviously steals a page from Almodovar's Talk to Her.)

Chassis, a film about a homeless woman’s extreme poverty, may represent the darkest of the entries here, its tone one of unrelieved hopelessness, but surprisingly, albeit narrowly, it justifies its bleak outlook on the world and its very subject. Nora, a homeless woman, is forced into low-rent prostitution to make ends meet and to provide for her child, but something happens to dispossess her completely. Her final gesture, a symbolic act of emasculation, must be parsed as one of revolt, against a world that offers little, but takes and dispossesses what she has. The violence, too, could be symbolically against us, voyeurs who provide so little succor.

Here then is an array of women painted with a narrow ontological palette, all so martyrized as to seem dramatically interchangeable (Ayesah and Terya: unwilling brides-to-be; Sheika and Nora: bereaved and vengeful mothers). There has to be a hidden page or chapter on creating characters in that slim volume our independent filmmakers keep consulting. But make no mistake about it: there is no invoking here of the dramatic paradigms of, say, socialist realism: the emphasis on hyper-positive characterizations, all rose-tinted portraitures, all idealized and heroic figurations.

Diegetic women, this side of identity politics, can only hope for the same variety of fortunes reserved for the privileged other. Perhaps it remains more naturalistic – and more cinematically dramatic – to depict these women in threatened circumstances, especially according to Third World settings. But, in the final reckoning, let them not be lost causes. Let them transcend passivity and impossible subjectivity. If they go down fighting, if they are vanquished in the end, afford them some measure of moral victory. If they trump their adversaries, let them for once keep their souls intact.

The Best Filipino Films of 2010

Ang Ninanais (John Torres)

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (Mario O’Hara)

Vox Populi (Dennis Marasigan)
Halaw (Sheron Dayoc)

Balangay (Sherad Anthony Sanchez/Robin Fardig)
Kano: An American and His Harem (Monster Jimenez)
Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato (Mes de Guzman)
Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Yelo (Mes de Guzman)

Mondomanila Filmfest Motherfuckers (Khavn dela Cruz)

Chassis (Adolfo Alix Jr.)

The Best Foreign Films

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard)

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos)

Breathless (Yang Ik-Joon)

Honey (Semih Kaplanoglu)

Copie Conforme (Abbas Kiarostami)

The Robber (Benjamin Heisenberg)

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Florin Serban)

A Retrospective of Films Discovered in 2010

Star Spangled to Death (Ken Jacobs, 2004)

The Parade of Planets (Vadim Abdrashitov, 1984)

Mass for the Dakota Sioux (Bruce Baillie, 1964)

There is No Path Through Fire (Gleb Panfilov, 1968)

The Hart of London (Jack Chambers, 1970)

Don Giovanni (Carmelo Bene, 1970)

Bhuvan Shome (Mrinal Sen, 1969)

London (Patrick Keiller, 1994)

Eika Katappa (Werner Schroeter, 1969)

Strongman Ferdinand (Alexander Kluge, 1976)

Sant Tukaram (Vishnupant Govind Damle/Sheikh Fattelal, 1936)

Hide and Seek (Su Fredrich, 1996)

Free Radicals (Len Lye, 1958)

Top 10 Filipino films of 2010

Making a short-list of the top local films is a breeze the past few years. A major reason is the proliferation of good films churned out and exhibited by the triumvirate of Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, and Cinema One Originals. The hard part is trimming the list down to only ten films. The trio can easily fill in the top 10 slots but, in year 2010, a couple of slots ended up in the hands of a Cultural Center of the Philippines-produced epic and a Star Cinema(!)-produced animation film.

Here are some of the more memorable local films I’ve seen in 2010:

AmBisyon 2010 - is a public service project of cable channel ANC. The anthology consists of 20 short films aimed at helping the electorate get a glimpse of the pressing issues of the country. The quality varies but the film is worth viewing for the few gems. Some of the best short features include Brillante Mendoza's captivating music video Ayos Ka, Jon Red's lovely PSG, Jerrold Tarog's competent Faculty, Henry Frejas' hilarious Hanapbuhay, and the heartbreaking Wag Kang Titingin (Pam Miras), winner of the Best Short Feature award at the Cinemalaya 2010 competitions

Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria – a fascinating one-take film about a lanky mail-order bride from the Cebu island of Olango. The actors portraying the father, Merle, and the recruiter are excellent acting finds

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio - Mario O'Hara weaved his magic and creativity on this faithful recreation of the trial of the founder of the Katipunan. Theatrical elements bring home the message that the trial is a moro-moro. Angeli Kanapi steals scenes as Ibong Adarna and narrator

Donor - Viewing the film is like attending a concise master filmmaking class by Mark Meily. The movie tells the relevant story of a Filipina donor working around a law prohibiting kidney transplants to foreigners

Emir - The impressive musical epic, about a Filipina nanny working in a palatial home in the Middle East, is a showcase for the country's talented singers, songwriters, and dancers

Kano: An American and His Harem – Apocalypse Now on a smaller, personal scale. An American soldier, scarred by child abuse and the Vietnam war, wreaks havoc on a village in the Philippines. A prime example of excellent documentaries churned out by local female filmmakers (eg. MonsterJimenez and Ditsi Carolino)

Layang Bilanggo - The Cinema One Originals 2010 best picture has a glaring fault in its clunky prison infighting segment but made up for it with an elegiac view of senior citizens cooped up in a retirement home. It was this film that I remembered most during the Christmas season and not the other Bing Lao-influenced (and overrated) film Sampaguita. It is true that sometimes senior citizens impede on our shopping and travel plans but it is during this season of merrymaking that they desperately yearn for some attention. The holiday season coincides with the closing of another year. The elders want a bit of assurance that they are still loved and needed. They dread the coming year for it may see them in a retirement home, hospital bed, or in a coffin. The film captures perfectly the anxiety, the regrets, and the reminiscing of past glory by the elderly

Limbunan – a beautiful film about a young lady caught up in a web of religious and family traditions. I see the girl's betrothal to a 'good' man as similar to being handed over to a 'good' religion by the elders

RPG Metanoia – a thrilling movie that plays a lot like a video game. The story tells the importance of experiencing life outside the world of video games and social networking sites. The jaw-dropping animation is light years away from that of Dayo and Urduja. This is the best Metro Manila Film Festival movie in years so try to catch it while it is still showing in some theaters

Sheika - Fe GingGing Hyde gives a stunning performance as a Tausug mother using her wiles to save her children from the evil ones. This film further enhances Arnel Mardoquio's reputation as an excellent regional filmmaker