Dyamper: The Leap of the Desperate

Nonoy L. Lauzon

Sinag Maynila, the indie filmfest founded by Cannes-winning director Brillante Mendoza and big-league producer Wilson Tieng, has just opened its edition for the year. Sure to stand out among the official selection is Mes de Guzman’s Dyamper. The film is so good that it should not have any difficulty landing in the main competition of any of the world’s accredited A-list festivals that it may subsequently choose to enter.

From the time he won the Grand Prize Golden Star in Marrakech for his short feature Batang Trapo (2002), followed by the splash he made in San Sebastian with the full-length feature Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong (2005), de Guzman has proven to be one of the very few Filipino filmmakers who truly deserve to be highly esteemed by the international film community.

In Dyamper, de Guzman exceeds all his past triumphs with an oeuvre that could put many films to shame in their stab at social realism. None of them compares with the verisimilitude by which the filmmaker has infused in his latest release to provide audiences a peek into an otherwise unknown backwoods of rural life in the country. In scope and scale, the film is hard to match even by the most revered of European films that have been the toast in recent years of the prestigious film festivals circuit worldwide.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 7.56.08 PM

Kristoffer King, in a scene from Mes de Guzman’s Dyamper

exudes the level of cinema only the likes of the Dardenne brothers, Michael Haneke, and Ken Loach can readily dish out. From the opening frame to its last, the film is every inch a winner with its tapestry of overlapping narratives, each with the stirrings of a morality tale played out against the vast canvas of circumstances indicative, incriminating, and indicting of the failed nation-state of the filmmaker’s affiliation and possible dismay and disaffection.

Unlike many of his contemporaries in the local indie scene, de Guzman has the keen eye for his milieu and the subjectivity to protest and make his stand against the harsh realities that his camera seeks to capture. Not content with offering a mere exposé, he provides immersed viewers with full-blown analysis and dissection of the entire apparatus of social order from which the plot of his film emanates.

Who would have thought that a slice-of-life look at a modus of banal criminality in the wilderness of the country’s northern hinterlands can divulge so much about the character of its people, their general contempt for the law, and an instance of government absenteeism that can only lead to repercussions of untoward devastation?

In employing a unique filmic methodology, de Guzman has come up with a feature that precisely elevates viewers’ engagement into enlightenment and act of resolve – the better for films of today to be truly relevant, fulfilling, and ultimately of great service to all of humanity.


The Sinag Maynila Film Festival will run from April 21-26 at select SM Cinemas.

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Posted by on 21/04/2016 in Film Review


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Young Critics Circle names Da Dog Show best film of 2015

Da Dog Show, Ralston Jover’s film about a struggling dog trainer living with his two children inside a mausoleum in a public cemetery in Manila, is cited by the Young Critics Circle as 2015’s Best Film, while its lead actor, Lou Veloso, bagged the Best Performance award. Jover also won for Best Screenplay.


Lou Veloso (right) plays Sergio, a struggling dog trainer, in Da Dog Show


The best film award is Jover’s second from the academe-based critics group (after he won for 2009’s Bakal Boys) while his best screenplay prize is his third (after 2007’s Foster Child and 2013’s Porno).

Da Dog Show first screened in last year’s World Premieres Film Festival, which ran in several Metro Manila cinemas from June 29 to July 7.

Kidlat Tahimik’s Balikbayan #1 garnered two awards: Best Cinematography and Visual Design and Best Sound and Aural Orchestration, while Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Salvage won Best Editing.

Three films were cited as Best First Features: Ari: My Life with a King (by Carlo Enciso Catu), Dayang Asu (by Bor Ocampo), and Miss Bulalacao (by Ara Chawdhury).

The critics group considered 115 films released in 2015 and narrowed them to a long list of 26 films. After several hours of deliberations, the long list was further winnowed down to a shortlist of 12 films. Per the group’s rules, only shortlisted films are eligible for nomination.

The awards ceremony is set on the 15th of September (Thursday), 3:00 pm at the Vargas Museum (University of the Philippines Diliman).

Below is the list of winners and nominees:



Winner: Da Dog Show, directed by Ralston Jover (Bessie Badilla, Jean Pierre Gimenez, Darlene Catly Malimas, Sven Schnell, producers)


Ari: My Life with a King, directed by Carlo Enciso Catu (Jocelyn Aniceto and Geromin Nepomuceno, Jr., executive producers; Ferdinand Lapuz, producer)

Balikbayan #1, directed by Kidlat Tahimik (Voyage Studios)

An Kubo sa Kawayanan, directed by Alvin Yapan (Alemberg Ang, Alvin Yapan, Ronald Rebutica, executive producers; Andrea Fe Quizon, line producer)

Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso, directed by Raymond Red (Daphne Chiu and Toni Vasquez, line producers)

Taklub, directed by Brillante Mendoza (Loreto Castillo, producer)



Winner: Da Dog Show (Ralston Jover)


Ari: My Life with a King (Robby Tantingco)

Balikbayan #1 (Kidlat Tahimik)

An Kubo sa Kawayanan (Alvin Yapan)

Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso (Raymond Red)

Salvage (Sherad Anthony Sanchez)

Taklub (Honeylyn Joy Alipio)



Winner: Lou Veloso, Da Dog Show


Nora Aunor, Taklub

Mercedes Cabral, Da Dog Show

Mercedes Cabral, An Kubo sa Kawayanan

Alessandra de Rossi, Bambanti

Ensemble cast (Epy Quizon, Felix Roco, Nicco Manalo, Earl Ignacio, Angela Cortez), Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso

Ensemble cast (Jessy Mendiola, JC de Vera, Barbie Capacio, Karl Medina, Joel Saracho), Salvage

Micko Laurente, Bambanti

Ronwaldo Martin, Ari: My Life with a King

Julia Montes, Halik sa Hangin



Winner: Balikbayan #1, Boy Yñiguez, Lee Briones, Abi Lara, Santos Bayucca, Kidlat de Guia, Kawayan de Guia, and Kidlat Tahimik (cinematography); Kidlat Tahimik (production design)


Bambanti, Joseph Delos Reyes and Ma. Solita Garcia (cinematography), Aped Santos (production design)

Da Dog Show, Carlo Mendoza (cinematography), Deans Habal (production design)

Halik sa Hangin, Moises Zee (cinematography), Manny Morfe (production design)

An Kubo sa Kawayanan, Ronald Rebutica (cinematography), Paolo Rey Mendoza Piaña (production design)

Miss Bulalacao, Christian Linaban (cinematography), Ernest Diño and Philip Sinajonon (production design)

Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso, Raymond Red (cinematography), Danny Red (production design)

Salvage, Malay Javier (cinematography), Joel Geolamen (production design)

Taklub, Odyssey Flores (cinematography), Harley Alcasid and Brillante Mendoza (production design)



Winner: Salvage (Lawrence Ang)


Balikbayan #1 (Charlie Fugunt, Abi Lara, Chuck Gutierrez, Clang Sison, Malaya Camporedondo)

Da Dog Show (Kats Serraon)

Halik sa Hangin (Beng Bandong)

An Kubo sa Kawayanan (Benjamin Tolentino)

Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso (Raymond Red and Erwin Toledo)

Shapes of Crimson (Emil James Mijares)



Winner: Balikbayan #1, Ed de Guia (sound), Los Indios de España and Shanto (music)


Ari: My Life with a King, Gilbert Obispo (sound), Jake Abella (music)

Halik sa Hangin, Addiss Tabong (sound engineer), Francis Concio (music)




Ari: My Life with a King (Carlo Enciso Catu)

Dayang Asu (Bor Ocampo)

Miss Bulalacao (Ara Chawdhury)



The YCC members who took part in the deliberations were Aristotle Atienza (Chair), Emerald Flaviano, Patrick Flores, Lisa Ito, J. Pilapil Jacobo, Skilty Labastilla, Jema Pamintuan, and Jaime Oscar Salazar.

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Posted by on 03/04/2016 in Philippine Film



Kung Makikipagtuos sa Ugali ng Panahunan: Sipat sa “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” (2016)

J. Pilapil Jacobo

Kakatwa ang ibinubungad na panukalang ugali ng pelikula ni Lav Diaz sa harap ng “hiwagang hapis,” salin sa Tagalog ng isa sa mga tatlong mysterium na uusalin sa ulunan ng bawat tagniang dasal sa banal na rosaryo. Ano ang nasa loob ng panukala kung ang kahapis-hapis na hiwaga, na ang loob ay dalamhati, ay dudulutan ng “hele,” ng awiting pampahimbing? At ano ang nagaganap sa mungkahing ito kung sa larang ng pelikula pinangyayari ang oyayi?

Kung lilingon sa araling pambayan, pangunahing dahilan ng pagkagising ng paslit ang paghihintay sa magulang na nasa labas pa’t hindi nakatutupad sa pangakong oras ng pagdating, kaya’t ang katumbas na ganyak ng persona sa awiting bayan ay lubos pang maaantala ang ama o ina sa kanyang lumalawig pang paghahanap-buhay, lampas-takipsilim, at abot-hatinggabi! Samakatwid, habang ipinababatid ng hele ang araw-araw na hapis ng manggagawang magulang, ang kabatirang ito rin ay ipinawawaglit, gabi-gabi. Parikala, hindi ba?

Sa pelikula ni Lav Diaz, na nagwagi ng gantimpalang pilak sa Berlin, nagkakaroon ng ikalawang sandali ang hiwagang hapis sa pagtatapat nito sa kasaysayan ng himagsikan noong 1896, at sa panitikang nagsadula pa ng gayong salaysay sa ngalan ng anyong tuluyan. Tunay ngang lipos ng dalamhati ang yugtong iyon ng panahon ng ating lahi, ngunit nararapat kayang oyayi, ng kabatirang iimpitiin lamang naman sa paghimbing, ang akmang panturing sa kaloobang maligalig?

Anong uri ng tanaw sa kasaysayan ng himagsik ang masisipat sa pelikula? Paano ito nababalutan ng hapis? Kung tutuusin, may salimuot na sinusuong ang proyekto. Pinaghuhugpong ng panulat ang salaysay ng dalawang nobela ni Jose Rizal, at ang naratibo ng naunsyaming himagsikan ni Andres Bonifacio, sa loob ng madawag na kabundukan na kailangang bagtasin ni Ibarra/Simoun upang makarating sa lunduyan ni Padre Florentino at minarapat namang galugarin ni Gregoria de Jesus upang matalunton ang kinaroroonan ng bangkay ng kanyang bana. Magkaibang katha, subalit maaari namang pagsabayin upang makalikha ng langkapang pagsipat sa mahabang huling tagpo ng ikalabinsiyam na dantaon sa Pilipinas, bago naitatag ang Republika ng Malolos at dumaong ang Estados Unidos, pangunahing imperyo ng bagong siglo, sa pampang ng Maynila.

Bagaman halos walang hugnayan ang dalawang lakbayin, at magtatagpo lamang sa isang piging ang mga pangkat ni Simoun at ang lupon ni Oryang, naimamapa ng dalawang pagbabagtas na ito ang isang “madilim, gubat na mapanglaw” na nagsisilbing lunan ng hapis na sinisikap na hubdan ng kahiwagaan ng pamemelikula ni Lav Diaz. Sa pamaraang ito ng salaysayan kung saan naghuhugpong at halos tuluyang naglalangkap ang dalawang uri ng katha (nobelistiko at historyograpiko), nagagawa na ngang sipiin ng dulang pampelikula ang higit na maagang salaysay ng himagsik, sa pagbanat nito ng panahong sakop ng malay-panahon mula sa 1887, kung kailan inilathala ang Noli Me Tangere, tungo sa 1838, kung kailan naman inilimbag ang Florante at Laura, awit ni Francisco Balagtas na itinuturing bilang pinakamaringal na tula ng panitikang Tagalog at isa sa mga unang tekstong sumipat sa panloob at panlabas na kasawiang dulot ng kolonyal na kaayusan. At kung tatanggapin ang panukalang basa ng iskolar na si Rolando Tolentino sa diskursong binubuksan ng pelikula, na tugon sa bunsod na paglalahad ng suliranin ng kritikong si Epifanio San Juan, Jr., hinggil sa saysay ng uri ng sanglarawanan ng bayan na isinisiwalat ni Diaz, ang ultimong larang ng pakikihamok ng kritiko sa texto ng pelikula ay matatagpuan sa diskurso ng isang pangunahing corrido ng panitikang Pilipino, maihahalintulad ang hamon ng pagsubaybay sa pelikula sa mga sugat na kailangang pigaan ng dayap upang magapi ang malalim na himbing na dulot ng pitong awit ng Ibong Adarna.

Ang totoo, hindi naman ito ang unang pagkakataon kung saan tinangka ang langkapang hulagway ng kathang isip at pangyayaring historiko sa kontemporaneong pelikulang Pilipino. Sa mga may matatag-tatag pang gunitang pampelikula sa kasalukuyang manunuod, maaaring sipatin ang lubos at labis na imahinasyon sa Sisa (1999) ni Mario O’Hara, at maging sa Jose Rizal (1996) ni Marilou Diaz-Abaya. Lampas pa sa husga kung naging matagumpay ang larong katha ng mga pelikulang ito, mahalagang tanungin ang layunin sa likod ng astang naniniwala na maaari ngang magbanggaan ang mga tauhan ng kasaysayan at panitikan. Kung erotiko ang motibasyon ni O’Hara, at epiko naman ang kay Diaz-Abaya, ano kayang modalidad ang maaari nating itaguri sa panunumbalik ng gayong proyekto kay Diaz?

Dito mahalagang suriin kung paano nagiging kahapis-hapis ang kamalayang pangkasaysayan ng “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis.” Ay, tunay nga namang kahapis-hapis dahil sa kanyang kahungkagan! O, sa labis-labis na pagpupuno na walang ibang katumbas kundi ang wala ring humpay na paghuhungkag! Walang problema sa pag-uulit ng banghay ng mga nobela ni Rizal, sa pagsipi sa mga talata nito, sa paglalakip ng kanyang tula ng paalam sa loob ng mga pagdadalamhati nina Simoun, Isagani, at Basilio. Wala ring mali sa pagsasadula ng hilahil ni Oryang habang hinahanap ang kanyang mahal na si Andres sa Bundok Buntis ng Maragondon, at ng pagdagdag ng pighati ng mga tulad nina Aling Hule, Caesaria Buencamino, at Mang Karyo. At lalong walang masama kung maipapaloob sa dalamhati ng lakambini ang pakikipagtipan ng mga tikbalang sa buhay ng tao, ang pakikilahok ng tao sa salaysay ng bayaning talulikas (salin ng “supernatural/sobrenatural” ng kritiko, iskolar, at historyador ng panitikan na si Oscar V. Campomanes) ni Bernardo Carpio, ang paglawig pa ng dalamhating ito sa paglitaw-litaw ng mga taga-kapisanang Colorum, at ang pagtatagpo ng kani-kanilang dusa sa isang piging bago maabot ang dulo ng kani-kaniyang lakbayin. Kung ganoon, nasaan ang suliranin?

Sa pagbigkas ng mga katagang namutawi sa mga tauhan ng panitikan at kasaysayan sa loob ng mga larawang may bighani naman sa una subalit pinagpapanawan ng balani sa huli, dahil kusang iniimpit ang montahe sa paghihimpil sa eksenang naibibilad na wala palang pakundangan sa kanyang paglulubog sa sariling mangha, tunay ngang kumukupas ang hiwaga, natatanggalan ng panganganinag ng kamera ang panganganino ng wika. Subalit kung ang pagmumukhang tumatambad ay pagmumukhang wala namang loob na mangusap, na ilibot ang kanyang pook upang maunawaan ng mata ng iba (na masugid sanang nagmamalas) ang tanawing mundo mula sa kanyang lupalop ng pangitain, lubhang nababalungan pa ng hiwaga ang inilarawan bilang misteryoso sa simula. May kumpas ang sining na pinahihiwaga ang bagay sa ngalan ng defamilyarisasyon, subalit may hampas din ang kamay ng artista na nauuwi ang lahat sa mistifikasyon lamang. Batbat ng gayong hambalos ang pelikula ni Diaz. Balikan na lamang natin ang pinagpupugayang duweto nina Piolo Pascual at John Lloyd Cruz sa “Ultimo Adios” ni Rizal. Sisimulan ni Pascual ang bigkas sa Espanyol, itutuloy ni Cruz ang usal sa Tagalog, at magbabalik kay Pascual hanggang wakas. Saan huhugot ng simpatiya sa palitang ito? Matapos ang mahaba nang pagtitimpi sa mga walang lamang pangangaral hinggil sa rebolusyon, sa papel ng indibidwal sa rebolusyong ito, napaisip ako habang nakikinig sa kamangha-manghang espektakulo: Tula pa kaya ang natunghayan? O talumpati na lamang? Sa wakas ng paghahalo ng balat sa tinalupan?

Kataka-taka ang gayong paghuhungkag, kung sa kabilang dako ng gubat, sa pagtatapat ni Caesaria Buencamino kay Gregoria de Jesus ng kanyang pagkakanulo ng himagsikan, kahit na ba tilian nang husto ni Hazel Orencio (at tapunan pa ng matalim na pingkian) ang ngumangangaw na si Alessandra da Rossi, ay nagagawa naman ng dalawang babae na isuko sa hapis ang kababalaghang nararapat sa kanyang hiwaga! Sa susunod na eksena, nasa magkabilang panig sila ng makitid na landas, malapit at malayo ang loob sa isa’t isa, ganunpaman may bigat ang hindi ipinapataw na pagitan.

Ito ang suliranin: bibihira lamang may himig ang oyayi, tulad ng inilahad sa batuhan nina Oryang at Caesaria. Kadalasan, lalo na kina Simoun at Isagani, ang tula sa awit ay lubos na pinagpapanawan, kaya’t ang hapis (agony) ay lunos (abjection) na lamang. Ay, labis-labis, kaya’t kalunus-lunos! Walang Pasyon. Kung wala ang texto ng huli, hindi rin posible ang Rebolusyon, ayon na nga sa historyador na si Reynaldo Ileto.

Sa isang teoriya ng tulang liriko, namumulaklak ang lirisismo (ang pagsipi ng musika ng lira) na nakakubli sa isang taludtod sa kakayahan ng wikang poetiko na palutangin ang imahen sa pansamantalang pagpapanaklong ng panahon at paligid. Kung may pagpapaloob ng imahen sa estado kung saan ito’y nahihimpil sa sariling lunan at panahon, ang bisa ng larawang-diwa ay posible lamang dahil sa pagkagapi ng stasis sa kinesis, o kung nais, ng mimetiko sa diegetiko. Hihinto ang lahat, walang paggalaw na magaganap. Wari’y ganitong kilos ang tinuturol ng larawan ni Lav Diaz, sa kanyang mga gawang pelikula, lalo na sa Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis. May pagmamahal sa mise-en-scène, habang tinatawaran naman ang montage.* Mamamalagi si Diaz sa isang eksena, hindi niya ito puputulin, paiikutin, gagawing dambuhala o mumunti; palalawigin niya nang lubos ang stasis. Lahat na nga ay stasis. Ang mundo na ipinalabas bilang may kalooban (kaya makasaysayan!), hindi niya paiinugin. Ang simulaing mangha at punong liksi na bumabalot sa larawan, gaano man siya kagila-gilalas, sisipsipan ng lakas, at sa kabila ng lahat, magmimistulang katawang nasa comatose ang imahen, bibilangan na lamang ng nagluluksuhang luntiang tuldok. Bilangin din kaya ang ugat-ugat ng pakô o ang butil-butil ng buhangin sa malapot na luwad? Anu-ano pa ang puwedeng bilangin sa tagal, at hanggan kailan? Sa komposisyon ng palitan ng dapat sana’y nag-aalburutong si Isagani at naghihingalong si Simoun, may katamlayan, at kung magtatagal pa nga, katamaran, na sa una’t huli mapakikiramdaman. Sa sandaling tumimo ang gayong enerhiya, ng languor/lassitude baga, na nagiging kongkreto na bilang indolencia, patibay sa paratang sa atin ng mga Kastila, doon sila mag-eeskrimahan ng mga berso mula sa Huling Paalam. Paano pa?

At iyon na nga ang dahilan ng pagpapahimbing ng hele sa hiwagang hapis, at hindi ng pagbabakasakali ng kundiman o ng paghimok sa digma ng kumintang: ang paglugmok pa matapos ang lunos. Hikahos pala ang larawang-diwa, kaya’t bumabaling sa palatunugan ng oyayi. Ngunit kung wala namang himig na pinagbabatayan ang mga titik na nakalakip sa taludturan, radyo pala ang estetikang pinapangarap at hindi pelikula? Ngunit kahit sa radyo, sa paglilimi nito sa sariling medyasyon, may sisibol na saysay sa paghuhugpong ng mga bahagi (metonymy) at sa paglalangkap ng magkakaiba (metaphor), tulad ng isang etnomusikolohiya ng alsahan, na nasaliksik na ni Propesor Teresita Gimenez Maceda! Sa pagitan ng insomnia ng pelikula at ng narcolepsy ng tumutunghay sa kanya, hindi talaga matatagalan ang tagal, ang loob ay mawawalan ng loob, kung ang hapis na ubod ng tindi, inaasam na panghinaan, sumuko sa “tucsong mabaomabaoin,” gayuma ng kunwang pagpapahingalay na halos pagkautas na rin. Ito, mga kapanalig, ang saysay ng kritika: ang mabatid na sa mga pelikulang may asta ng walang hanggan, walang lugar ang nakatutuwa’t maluwalhating sandali ng talinghaga (trope), na muhon ng panahunang sasaysayin, isasatitik, ilalarawan.

*Kaisipang bunga ng mahaba-haba nang paglilimi hinggil sa mga tangka ng kontemporaneong pelikula, bunsod ng matalas na pasimunong tanong ni Patrick D. Flores.



Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis: Revolutions eat their own children

Nonoy L. Lauzon

Lav Diaz’s latest epic of cinematic grandiosity should have been several separate movies. But as if by some twist of fate and sleight of hand, the genius in Diaz has managed to squeeze them all into an eight-hour-and-five-minute cut with a cool title to die for, Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, that for all intents and purposes, encapsulates all that the film has to say.

How does one soothe the sorrows of a people? What are the mysteries – man-made and divine – that propel a nation in hell? Do the ways of men actually and significantly differ from the ways of the omniscient God? Does history really repeat itself? Can a country be really cursed? Why do revolutions happen? Is revolution the true path to freedom?  What is freedom or what is it to be free to begin with?


These are just few of the questions that the allegorical film has raised but is not meant to answer. It is all up to the viewers to ponder and resolve to find concrete answers for them. Such is the marvel of the cinema of Diaz that at film’s end, no one is allowed to go scot-free from having to think, reflect, interrogate and investigate on matters, concerns, issues and affairs that it has all laid bare.

As audiences get full immersion into the dilemmas of the characters in the film, the former gets to feel too the latter’s pain and loss and share their burden of confusion, madness, helplessness and hopelessness.

It is most uncanny that the film had its world premiere at this year’s Berlinale, right after the Ash Wednesday, that ushered the Lenten season for the entire Christian world. It opened in regular theaters in its home country on Black Saturday. Needless to say, the timing is most apropos as it bolsters the notion that a Lav Diaz film could not be anything else but a contemporary senakulo, the cultural form most identified with the Filipino commemoration of Lent and that has deep roots in the Filipino psyche and folk religiosity.

This puts to rest the dispute over the film’s length. Tradition indicates that the Filipinos may have the tenaciousness to sit through a film that may run on hours beyond the usual Western model of big-screen fare. They can be drawn to a viewing marathon in the same manner that they may take to senakulos of yore like fish to water.

Diaz’s masterpiece is also to be credited for an unparalleled boldness. Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis perfectly made sense as Diaz’s brash appropriation of Jose Rizal’s great writing. It is mainly a re-imagining of the novel “El Filibusterismo,” the sequel to the national hero’s only other work of fiction, “Noli Me Tangere.” In this re-imagining, the characters created by Rizal have ceased to be a creative proprietorship by the man alone. They have become Diaz’s as well, and thus are now owned by Diaz in the name of the rest of Filipinos of today, enacting their own celebration of their nation’s passion quite akin to what the Lord of their collective faith went through some two thousand years ago.

“El Fili” the novel has been rendered in Hele the film to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Philippine Revolution of 1896. The incidents that led to the failed uprising in “El Fili” have come to be as palpable as the betrayals that doomed the actual Philippine revolution as deduced from recorded history by situating the novel’s dramatis personae in the very historical setting that witnessed the execution of Rizal by the Spaniards and the murder of revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio by the honchos of Asia’s first republic that the great plebian helped sired.

The film thereby offers an important lesson on how the world must regard the Philippine Revolution of 1896. It is as momentous as the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 – from altering the course of geopolitical order in the world to demonstrating how revolutions always end up eating their own children.



Everything About Her: Studio Fare as Feminist Manifesto (Film Review)

Nonoy L. Lauzon

There are many great things that can be said about Star Cinema’s major motion picture release Everything About Her. It is suffused with the acting prowess that has made Vilma Santos the country’s most enduring movie queen and all-time superstar.  It is officially the biggest assembly of creative women power ever attempted in local filmmaking. Besides Vilma in the stellar role, it has the Santos sisters Charo and Malou for executive producers, Joyce Bernal at the directorial helm, and Angel Locsin as the other lead. It has a ladies’ team behind its screenplay and even its cinematographer is female.

Everything About Her

Surprisingly, the film dispenses with the traits of celluloid soap and has opted to tell its tale of cancer-stricken real-estate mogul in a straightforward trajectory – minus all the unnecessary twists and turns in plot development and doing away with overt sentimentalizing. Bernal’s roots as a film editor manifest all throughout, especially with both the opening and climactic sequences sparkling with dynamism and dramatic action characterized by the interplay and right balance of perk and grace.

It is somewhat a different Vilma that audiences would see in the film as Bernal has done a good job in persuading the legendary actress to cut down on certain mannerisms that could have marred and gotten in the way of what is bound to be another sterling performance of her career. Vilma is ably aided by earnest efforts from co-stars Locsin and Xian Lim, both of whom have managed to create chemistry with the screen veteran in each of the scenes they respectively share with her.

The cinematic devices and motifs the film employs to drive its narrative have given it much advantage. Particularly noteworthy is the symbolism of the chandelier that Vilma is shown to gaze at in one of the many heartfelt moments of quiet drama the film boasts of. The convulsion scene is carried out in a single take that only an actress of Vilma’s caliber could ever pull off with much aplomb.     Vilma proves her comic mettle and efficacy in at least two scenes. One is the long shot of an open field with her voice heard clarifying with her staff the exact number of executive people she is about to have an exclusive meeting with. Another is the one upstairs at her residence as she confronts Angel’s character with the latter’s wrongly sent phone text referring to Vilma’s character as a creature from hell and a whore.


There is no doubt that the film has all the makings of a huge crowd-pleaser with its combination of high-level filmic craftsmanship, disarming story of filial love, and over-all entertainment value. It is the kind of film that people from all walks may savor for its imparted moral lessons that from time to time they are better off to learn if only for the sake of maintaining one’s sense of sanity and rectitude in life.

An early Women’s Month presentation and Mother’s Day treat rolled into one, the film has also been infused with the message of true altruism that goes beyond the terms and dictates of entrepreneurial philanthropy. That a strictly studio fare to be embedded with such a message makes one wonder. Considering the nation’s state of affairs and social conditions for the longest time, it’s an occurrence that comes close to a miracle and must thereby be an instance in the realm of fantasy.

(This review was originally posted here.)


Posted by on 08/02/2016 in Uncategorized


Silong, Game of the Sexes (Review)

Nonoy L. Lauzon

What began as a waltz between a man and a woman slowly drawn to each other dissolves to a dark tango between battling sexes engaged in some bizarre and twisted game.


One would not guess the twist to what could have been a fairy-tale romance of the adult offbeat variety prefigured in the independent feature Silong.  Starring Piolo Pascual as something of a knight in shining armor, and Rhian Ramos as a damsel in distress. Along the level of the metaphorical, the film was the culminating presentation of last year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival and had its regular theatrical release with no less than Star Cinema as distributor while Heneral Luna marched its way to box-office dominance in September of the immediate past year. Local audiences have the occasion to catch it anew with its current screening run courtesy of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

For a directorial debut effort (from the tandem of writer Roy Sevilla Ho and cast member Jeffrey Hidalgo), the film is quite impressive with its visual flair, knack for arousing intrigue, curiosity and suspense, and fair success in eliciting outstanding performances from its leads. Just when one is convinced that the film is what it exactly professes:  an affectionate drama of two broken souls finding refuge in falling for each other, it turns things around to unravel an unforgettable yarn that totally subverts one’s expectations.

For most part of the film, viewers would find themselves rooting for the protagonists. Both respectively struggle to recover from a love that had gone wasted amidst contrasting circumstances. It is not hard for the audience to sympathize with both characters. They deserve to be cheered and prodded to take a second chance at love. They look good together.  All they need is to surmount the troubles, the wounds and the heartaches of previous failed affairs so that they can then look forward to live happily ever after in each other’s arms. This should have been all there is to the film except that the filmmakers have other things in mind.

It turns out that it is a different ever-after awaiting the amorous couple of the story. At some point, the film lets loose its own sense for the eerie and the spine-tingling.


Needless to say, one has to watch the film to know the real score and actual tale. The beauty of it is that it is still to be seen as a film entirely about love, albeit, of the deconstructed sort that could only arise from the alienation brought forth in the modern world, the culture of impunity that defines the times and the workings of a sick society overrun by miserable people repulsing one another. It is a thriller in more ways than one as it posits and insinuates in all dexterity that the thrill we derive from feeling in love may be the similar burst of energy and mixed emotions we experience in a harrowing moment when we all of a sudden discover ourselves fearing and running for our lives.

(This review was originally posted here.)


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Posted by on 08/02/2016 in Uncategorized


Skilty Labastilla’s top Filipino short films of 2015

Skilty Labastilla

While many Filipino film buffs agree that we are witnessing the third golden age of Philippine cinema courtesy of the thriving independent film scene brought about by the digital revolution since the mid-2000s, most of us only get to see the tip of that filmmaking iceberg, so to speak, which are the full-length films that screen in the various national filmfests. The bulk of the country’s independent filmmaking output, the short films, is pretty much unseen, not only because they are less advertised than their feature-length counterparts, but more because people are not used to watching them.

That is unfortunate because there is a lot of talent and innovation going on in the short filmmaking scene, what with the increasing number of film schools requiring their students to make shorts as a thesis requirement, as well as the country’s indie filmfests increasingly incorporating short film sections.

I was fortunate to get to watch 125 short films that screened in film festivals in 2015. Here are my favorites:

15 – Ang Kapitbahay Ko sa 2014 (CCP Independent Film & Video Festival)


Anya Zulueta’s cheerful story of two neighboring girls who befriend each other from their respective apartment windows goes beyond the cutesy and warms the heart by effectively portraying children’s need for creativity and friendship, notwithstanding their different abilities or the adult world’s indifference to their imagination.

14 – Imahe (Singkuwento International Film Festival)


A father visits the grave of his wife and tells her he misses her a lot and that their children are doing fine. He then goes home and calls his children for dinner. The film’s seeming simplicity is what makes the twist more effective, and Kristofer Navarro’s patient directing and Soliman Cruz’s heartfelt performance make this one a film to remember.

13 – Ding (Cinemalaya Film Festival, QCinema)


Jewels Sison’s tale of a woman who realizes her mistake and goes back to her ex for closure (or a second chance?) strikes all the right kilig chords, courtesy of the chemistry between Pepe Herrera and Vaness del Moral and Sison’s deft handling of emotions: we root for the lovers to get back together but we don’t begrudge the guy for playing hard to get either.

12 – Kaon Durian Aron Managhan (Mindanao Filmfest)

Kaon Durian

Bagane Fiola’s sexy horror about two lesbian lovers who eat Davao’s famous delicacy, come home, make love, and wake to find some company, offers a spine-tingling experience without employing cheap scares that are almost SOP in horror films these days. Fiola, through expert editing and effective mood setting, should make fellow filmmakers realize that it’s the little things that do us in.

11 – Cyber D3vil x Ahas (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)


Speaking of effective editing and mood setting, Timmy Harn’s 90-seconder about the second coming of a monster, last seen in his Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas (2013), evokes more emotions in viewers than most 90-minute films do. We feel curiosity (pangalawang pagkabuhay nino?), dread (snake man! red-faced, silver-toothed devil man!), nostalgia (analog video! cheesy reaction shots!), amusement (bike-riding snake man!), awe (hands-free, back-leaning, bike-riding snake man!), and, as the credits roll too soon, hunger for more.

10 – Kyel (Cinemalaya Film Festival)


Arvin Kadiboy Belarmino’s minimalist take on a junkie who yearns to be reunited with his woman, snorts katol, chokes on his own vomit, and sees an unexpected  visitor is a thrill ride into the consciousness of a low-life. Never has an empathy-building exercise been this more heart-pounding.

9 – Pusong Bato (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)

Pusong Bato Miras

Pam Miras’ quirky love story about a man and a woman stranded in an island, filmed in hand-processed negatives, harks back to the earliest days of cinema, yet more than an exercise in technique, the film successfully melds technology with storytelling panache, reminding everyone that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium.

8 – Pusong Bato (Cinemalaya Film Festival, World Premieres Film Festival)

Pusong Bato ME

It’s hard to resist the charms of Martika Ramirez Escobar’s surrealist yarn of a woman (Cinta, played with the perfect mix of melancholy and idiosyncrasy by Mailes Kanapi) who reminisces the affections of her leading man in a late 1960s teenybopper flick. Even while the story turns into fantasy mode, Escobar’s storytelling sincerity never wavers, and the audience is rewarded with an ending that is one for the ages.

7 – Bayan ng mga Kontraktuwal (Pandayang Lino Brocka)


While the charming Endo (Jade Castro, 2007) has been the go-to film about the country’s infamous labor law loophole (allowing capitalists to exploit the flaw by ending their workers’ contracts before the imposed sixth month to avoid regularizing them and paying them benefits), King Catoy of Pinoy Media Center’s documentary exploring real cases and small victories against big businesses is its perfect complement to fully understand how we ordinary citizens can do something to change the sickening system.

6 – My Revolutionary Mother (Singkuwento International Film Festival)


In seeking to understand how his activist mother decided to abandon societal expectations of mothers (to do housework, to be the primary caretaker of her children) to focus on community organizing in Cebu during the Marcos years, Jethro Patalinghug not only takes us on a historical tour into his mother’s former life during Martial Law (she now lives in the US) but also makes us confront our own notions of expected gender roles vis–à–vis the need to respond to a bigger responsibility.

5 – Walay Naa Diri (Cinemalibre)

Walay Naa Diri

Jean Claire Dy’s deeply personal visual essay is a captivating introspection of her identity as a Chinese-Filipino. After her Filipino mother is rejected by the family of her Chinese father, Dy set out on a quest to find her own identity and community, secretly soaking up the Chinese language, literature, and culture on her own. Her ultimate realization – that racial and ethnic boundaries are nothing but superficial categories made up by humans’ insecurities – is one that seems commonsensical yet is still so difficult to challenge.

4 – Tami-aw (Nabunturan Indie Film Exhibition, Mindanao Film Festival)


Tami-aw follows Igi, a young mother living in a Mindanao mountain barrio who sets out with her son to the town center (after a long walk down the mountain and an expensive habal-habal ride) to withdraw from an ATM her quarterly Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) allowance.  In just 10 poetic, unhurried minutes, Mary Ann Gabisan (with a script by Arbi Barbarona) shows both 4Ps critics and supporters alike how the government aid is a big help to impoverished families like hers and how, at the same time, it is ultimately insufficient to address the systemic causes of poverty in the country’s remotest regions.

3 – Man in the Cinema House (SalaMindanaw International Film Festival, CineKasimanwa)

Cinema House

Bernard Jay Mercado’s  energetic, playful film/performance art serves as both a paean to the roots of cinema and a protest against what it has become. Wearing its influences on its sleeve (Chaplin, Kubrick, Buñuel, to name a few), Mercado’s show features a young filmmaker who shoots (in both senses of the word) Jose Rizal and ends up being chased by a policeman. This is a work of art that is intended to be seen live for its theatrical elements (at one time the actors jump out of the screen and continue their performance in the theater), and while some may see it as a gimmick, the piece is a thought-provoking oeuvre that plays with viewers’ notions of spectatorship/spectacle in cinema.

2 – Ang Maangas, ang Marikit, at ang Makata (CCP Independent Film & Video Festival)


Jose Ibarra Guballa’s homage to Western movies achieves the difficult task of balancing comedic and tragic elements in film, and a period film at that! A visiting brash soldier looks for the house of the town captain to collect debt payment and encounters the captain’s maiden daughter alone at home. The woman’s suitor, a simple farmer, later on visits her for harana, and when the captain comes home, the four of them face off in one of the most memorable scenes in Philippine cinema (short or otherwise) in 2015.

1 – Junilyn Has (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)


Carlo Francisco Manatad’s darkly comic tale follows two underage bar dancers practicing a new, particularly challenging routine at home under the watchful eye of their mamasan during a forced break from work when Pope Francis visits the country and adult clubs are temporarily closed. What could have resulted as a one-joke stunt film in the hands of a less-skilled filmmaker turns out to be a nuanced exploration of a teenage girl’s gradual humiliation and ultimate retribution. An instant classic.

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Posted by on 10/01/2016 in Philippine Film




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