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Monthly Archives: April 2015

Pagkilala sa Pinakamahusay na Dulang Pempelikula ng 2013

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

Tinutukoy at kinikilala ng gawad na ito ang retorika ng pagsusulat para sa pelikula na nagpapahayag ng kasalimuotan ng buhay panlipunan o personal na ligalig sa natatanging estruktura ng naratibo o politikal na paniniwala; o sa pamamagitan ng pinag-isipang dramatikong tensiyon na sumisiyasat sa tunggalian ng personal at politikal, ng indibidwal at ng kolektibo, ng pribado at ng publiko.

Maliban sa nakakamit ng gawad, may pito pang pelikulang nominado para sa kategoryang ito: Akda ni Alvin Yapan, ang Mga Anino ng Kahapon ay itinatampok ang dinaranas ng isang babaeng may sakit pangkaisipan habang tinutukoy ang malalang karamdaman ng pambansang lipunan. Sa Babagwa, na isinulat ni Jason Paul Laxamana, ipinapakita ang pagkahulog ng isang Facebook hustler sa mga patibong na nakasanayan na niyang itakda para sa iba. Inilalantad sa Badil, na akda ni Rodolfo Vera, ang takbo ng korupsyon tuwing panahon ng halalan sa isang munting bayan sa baybaying-dagat ng Samar. Sa Debosyon, na isinulat din ni Yapan, mararamdaman ang pagdurusang hatid ng pag-ibig at pananampalataya sa isang lalaking deboto ng Birhen ng Peñafrancia. Akda nina Armado Lao at Mary Honelyn Joy Alipio, ang Dukit ay sinusundan ang buhay ng isang taga-ukit ng mga rebulto habang siya’y nakikipagbuno sa kanyang nakaraan. Sa Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, na isinulat ni Mes de Guzman, sinusuri ang pakikipagtunggali ng isang walang bahid-dungis na manggagamot sa tukso. Sinisiyasat ng Quick Change, na akda ni Eduardo Roy, Jr., ang ekonomiya ng kagandahan sa isang pamayanan ng mga transgender na babae.

Maging ano pa ang kahusayan ng mga dulang pampelikulang nabanggit, nangingibabaw para sa amin ang Porno, na isinulat ni Ralston Jover. Gamit ang mga hibla ng pornograpiya, nagtatagumpay ang dulang pampelikulang ito sa paghabi ng kakatwa at kataka-takang tapiseryang inihahain at ginagalugad ang matitinik na daan sa pagitan ng lunggati at kamatayan.

Si G. Ralston Jover (kuha ni Jeffrey Bernardo Copiaco)

Si G. Ralston Jover (kuha ni Jeffrey Bernardo Copiaco)

 
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Posted by on 30 April 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Pagkilala sa Pinakamahusay na Editing ng 2013

Skilty Labastilla at JPaul Manzanilla

Sa genre ng horror, kinakailangang makuha ang simpatiya ng manonood upang makagaanang-loob nila ang mga pangunahing karakter at masabayan nila itong sumigaw, magulat, magulantang, at matakot kapag minumulto na sila o hinahabol na ng mga masasamang elemento kahit walang malakas na panggulat na tunog. Sa pelikulang Pagpag ni Frasco Mortiz, tagumpay na napagtagpi-tagpi ng editor na si Jerrold Tarog ang mga kuha o shots at namuhunan ang manonood sa mga sinapit ng mga tauhang ginampanan nina Daniel Padilla at Kathryn Bernardo.

Maliming hinati ng Porno ni Adolfo Alix, Jr. ang mga kwento ng ugnayang sekswal upang mailahad ang natatanging kalagayan ng pagnanasa. Pinutol ang naratibo sa ilang piling akda ng libog at katuturan ng paghahangad. May tungkol sa magsing-irog na galing sa magkaibang lahi, dubber sa mga pornong pelikula, at tirador at puta (o babaeng nagbebenta ng laman). Maging ang mga pribadong bahagi ng katawan ay ipinakita upang bigyang-kahulugan at suriin ang danas ng pagnanasa.

Ginagawad ang parangal sa Pinakamahusay na Editing ng 2013 kina Jerrold Tarog para sa Pagpag at Aleks Castaneda para sa Porno.

Sina Jerrold Tarog (kaliwa sa kaliwang larawan) at Aleks Castañeda (kanan sa kanang larawan)

Sina Jerrold Tarog (kaliwa sa kaliwang larawan) at Aleks Castañeda (kanan sa kanang larawan)

 
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Posted by on 30 April 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Pagkilala sa Pinakamahusay na Tunog at Orkestrasyong Awral ng 2013

Aristotle Atienza

Tumutukoy ang Tunog at Orkestrasyong Awral sa paglalapat ng mga aspektong may kinalaman sa tunog sa pelikula, musika, likas na tunog, sound effects habang ang mga ito ay isinasalungat sa o inaayon sa lengguwahe ng mga imahen, at kung gayon ay nagiging makahulugang sistema ng pananagisag mismo.  Iginagawad ang Pinakamahusay na Tunog sa sound engineer at sa tagapaglapat ng musika.

Gasgas mang sabihing mahalaga ang papel ng tunog at musika sa pelikula, pero pansamantalang patahimikin ito, ilagay sa mute, malaki ang nababagong pananaw sa halagang ginagampanan ng tunog at musika sa pagtatakda ng kapaligiran ng eksena at sa daloy na idinaragdag nito sa paggalaw ng mga tauhan at sa pagtatagpi-tagpi ng mga eksena ng pelikula.  Matagumpay na naisasagawa ng anim na pelikulang binibigyan ng pagkilala sa kategorya ng tunog at orkestrasyong awral ang karaniwang gamit nito upang lagyan ng espasyo ang naririnig sa pagnanasang “matapat” na makapaglarawan ang mga imaheng nakikita.  Isa ay likha ng “maaasahang” industriya habang ang lima ay hinulma mula sa mga laylayan ng tinataguriang sineng indie na tinatangkang baguhin ang mga hanggahan ng naririnig nang nanunukat at naninimpla.

Kuwestiyon mismo ang naririnig at nagsasalita sa pelikulang Porno (Adolfo Alix) na nasa disenyo ng musika ni Albert Michael Idioma at tunog ni Ari Trofeo. Sa pelikulang Babagwa (Jason Paul Laxamana) malinaw ang natatanging panlabas na tunog bilang espasyong pantastiko sa ingay ng dumi at gulo ng urban sa Pampanga sa musika nina Lucien Letaba at Joseph Lansang at disenyo ng tunog ni Addiss Tabong.  Matatagpuan naman sa musika ni Carmina Cuya at disenyo ng tunog muli kay Addiss Tabong sa pelikulang Badil (Chito Roño) ang ingay ng panganib na sumusuporta sa pagtatangka ng pelikulang itanghal ang praktis ng eleksiyon sa isang isla sa Pilipinas.  Samantala, nananakop ang musika nina Teresa Barrozo at Jireh Pasano at tunog nina Ray Andrew San Miguel at Andrew Millalos upang manahan sa saklaw ng pangitaing binubuksan at isinasara ng pelikulang Debosyon (Alvin Yapan).  Sa musika at tunog ni Armando Lao sa pelikulang Dukit (Armando Lao), nagsasanib ang nanunuot na koro ng awiting relihiyoso sa relihiyosidad ng pag-ukit hindi lamang sa kahoy na nagiging sining kundi sa buhay na nagiging talambuhay.  Panghuli, abusado, dahil inaasahan, ang musika nina Francis Concio at saka ang tunog ni Arnel Labayo sa pelikulang Pagpag (Mortiz) na nagtutulak upang hindi seryosohin ang lagim ng familia de horror.

Pero sa huli, ibinibigay ang pagkilala sa Pinakamahusay na Tunog at Orkestrasyong Awral ng pelikulang taon 2013 kina Albert Michael Idioma para sa disenyo ng tunog at Ari Trofeo para sa tunog ng pelikulang Porno.  Hindi dahil sa dami at tindi ng eskandalosong ooh at aah sa pelikula na ikahihiya sa piling ng iba pang manonood sa sine o pahihinain naman sa oras ng sariling panonood kundi mismo sa pagbabalik ng pansin sa pagnanasa bilang konstruksyong nililikha rin ng tunog.  Hindi lamang pornograpiko ang biswal.  Dito pa lamang ay nagiging pagsubok na kung paano patitingkarin ang karanasan ng realidad sa pelikula lalo na sa detalyadong paglalarawan ng mga paggalaw sa siyudad, interior man o exterior.

Sina Albert Michael  Idioma (kaliwa) at Ari Trofeo

Sina Albert Michael Idioma (kaliwa) at Ari Trofeo

 
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Posted by on 30 April 2015 in Philippine Film

 

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Fervent Investment, Fresh Impetus

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

The process that leads to our Annual Citations is an arduous one, even setting aside the attendant logistical and administrative requirements of mounting the event. For the year ended 2014, we considered over 120 titles to form a long list of 7. Following a discussion of the artistic and technical merits and demerits of each film, a shortlist of five was produced; it is only from the shortlist, per long-established practice, that films can be nominated for any of our six award categories.

Amid these challenges, and cognizant as we are that the culture of awards is a severely debilitating one—perhaps especially in these parts—why then do we, the members of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle (YCC), carry on this annual exercise of conferring recognition upon what we believe to be distinguished achievements in Philippine film?

In keeping with the commitment of the body to bring into the analysis of film an approach that is not only interdisciplinary but also “young”, which is to say inflected with “the daring of the new and the courage to be different”, we arrived at and became members of YCC by way of different paths, but what we share together is a fervent investment in the possibilities of cinema, in its constitution of an expansive and fluxive horizon of social discourse, with and against which to negotiate human experience. Through our rites and writings, what we seek to cultivate and encourage, including among ourselves, is critical practice that diligently engages with, responds to, and invigorates film.

The deliberations that led to this year’s Citations proved historic: for the first time in its quarter-century of existence, the YCC named no nominee or winner for its Best Screenplay and Best Film categories. The outcome of procedures that we had agreed to follow, we stand firm by it—we would not at all prefer to resort prize-giving for its own sake, charges of obscurantism or obtuseness notwithstanding. Indicative of a house sharply divided, the result was, of course, surprising; upon reflection, however, it was also a heartening one, in that discourse can only be sustained by difference and debate. It is a moment certain to be revisited and pursued to the farthest possible end during future discussions, giving us fresh impetus to evaluate the critical tools at our disposal and how we wield them.

We take heed, in this regard, of the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who was once given occasion to declare, “There can be no criticism for all time, nor even much time. Criticism is itself an art form, and like all art forms it must evolve, or atrophy and die.”

 
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Posted by on 24 April 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Identities, Violence, Redemption, Magic: The Best of Philippine Cinema in 2013

Skilty Labastilla


In the 25-year history of the Young Critics Circle Film Desk, the year 2013 recorded the most number of nominations in four of the six categories that the group hands out each year. Of the 13 shortlisted films, eight were nominated for Best Film, 15 for Best Performance, eight for Best Screenplay, and 11 for Best Cinematography and Visual Design. The confidence that YCC has given to this many films in a single year speaks much about the abundance of talent among the current generation of Filipino filmmakers.

riddles

The preoccupations of the films that YCC took notice of in 2013 are as significant as they are diverse, yet can be grouped into certain themes. One is identity, films that interrogate the positioning and constant repositioning of the self in view of the wider milieu. There is Riddles of My Homecoming, Arnel Mardoquio’s hypnotic cinematic puzzle about a young lumad whose soul journeys back to his homeland upon his death. The surrealistic film touches on many levels of domination that indigenous Mindanao has endured over the years as a consequence of unregulated commerce, of perennial government neglect, of religious conversion, of environmental exploitation in the name of “progress”. The lumad, the island’s original inhabitants, now find themselves in the remotest margins of their own land, and Mardoquio’s dirge of a film is his premonition.

Jason Paul Laxamana’s Babagwa also grapples with questions of identity and how it can be even more conveniently manipulated in the age of social media. The film comments on Filipinos’ obsession with gaining as many “friends” on Facebook, with users giving premium to popularity and physical attractiveness as key criteria for adding or accepting distant acquaintances to one’s network. Laxamana wants viewers to be more circumspect in navigating the online world, especially when our privacies and our emotions are at stake. He skillfully uses cinematic sleight of hand, gradually unspooling the story’s web on the audience to parallel the trickery that its characters are taking part in, and even when we have already figured out the twist before it is revealed, we still breathlessly await the climax because we would like to be the ones to tell the naive characters, “I told you so!”.

Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Quick Change introduces viewers to the colorful world of barangay gay beauty pageants and undercover body enhancement procedures, yet beyond the film’s examination of spectacle, it invites serious contemplation on Filipino notions of masculinity and femininity. The film’s protagonist is a transwoman who opted not to undergo sex reassignment surgery, and this has been a source of conflict with her boyfriend, who has shifted his attention to a younger transwoman who underwent the said surgery and now feels like a complete woman. The film in a way challenges this idealization by the trans people themselves of this transformation to make them more secure of their womanhood and to satisfy their straight male lovers, ironically perpetuating the homophobia of the heterosexist world that is marginalizing them in the first place.

Violence also figures prominently in 2013’s best films.  Alvin Yapan’s Mga Anino ng Kahapon astutely imagines the horrors of Martial Law brutality and surveillance as a nightmare that a schizophrenic patient is trying desperately to escape from. Without being too obvious about it, the film serves as a warning against collective memory lapses that some quarters fall into when recalling life during the Marcos era. If schizophrenia can now be cured by a drug, art, like Yapan’s film, will continue to “cure” damaging historical denials.

Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana conflates state violence with domestic violence in a real-life tale set in 1950s Quezon, where a Philippine Constabulary member out to track down Huks in the province woos a beautiful local, beds her, and, over time, beats her to death out of extreme jealousy. The film works best as an anatomy of abuse, capturing the perfect recipe for domestic violence to happen: overly jealous macho man and martyr woman who rationalizes the abuse out of fear of and pity for the perpetrator. The unflinching portrayal of brutality is necessary to emphasize its devastating emotional effects on those who suffer and witness it.

lauriana

Chito Roño’s Badil meticulously documents the inner workings of politicians’ barangay-level lackeys days before local elections, including vote-buying, vote suppression, harassment, and, if necessary, killing. It is that rare political thriller that refuses to abide by stock characterizations of evil politicians taking advantage of unblemished hoi polloi. The film shines a light on the age-old issue of patronage politics by zooming in on corruption at the grassroots level, away from the glare of “national” (read: Manila-centric) media.

Redemption is another subject shared by three films cited by the group. Armando Lao’s Dukit tells the story of a celebrated Kapampangan woodcarver who grows up resenting his father who left his family for a younger woman. Over time, the sculptor learns to forgive his father as he finds fulfillment in his work. The film employs an often entrancing observational documentary-style technique that masterfully cuts across three stories of three generations, crafting narratives of simple lives scarred by the past and healed by love and forgiveness.

Sari and Kiri Dalena’s The Guerilla Is a Poet recounts the story of writer and activist Jose Maria Sison during the turbulent years of Martial Law, from his capture in the mountains to his nine years of imprisonment and his birth as a poet. While Dukit features a non-actor portraying himself, the film is still a fictionalized story. The Guerilla Is a Poet, meanwhile, features interviews with the real Sison interspersed with dramatizations played by actors. While the film successfully captures the look of the period through ingenious cinematography and styling, the decision to include Sison’s interview snippets unfortunately cuts off the film’s momentum and makes it feel like an episodic televisual, rather than cinematic, output.

guerilla

Peque Gallaga’s and Lore Reyes’ Sonata tells the story of a famous soprano who loses her voice and goes into a self-exile in the Visayas, befriends a young boy, and regains her life. The film, though technically well-made and features great performances, especially from Cherie Gil, is hobbled by a class-blind script that appears to be concerned more with trivial upper-class existentialist woes than with directly addressing the lopsided power relations between the elite and their servants.

The last four films deal with magic, the exploration of that mystical universe beyond the realm of science. In Frasco Mortiz’s Pagpag, a Filipino death superstition is turned into a seemingly run-of-the-mill cautionary tale that punishes the young for ignoring traditional rituals, yet, upon closer inspection expertly uses the horror genre to denounce mainstream society’s preoccupation with heterosexual unions and natural procreation while relegating to the sidelines alternative sexualities and family forms.

In Mes de Guzman’s Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, a faith healer in Nueva Vizcaya wrestles with a dilemma as she chances upon a bag full of money that could solve her current financial problems and would set a good future for her granddaughters. Deeply in tune with nature and the cosmos, she gets constantly confronted with what she divines as signs from the universe that tell her what to do with the blood-tainted money. Told in a simple yet whimsical style, the film achieves its status as a classic morality tale minus the moralizing.

Alvin Yapan’s Debosyon tells the tale of a young Bikolano farmer who falls in love with a mysterious mountain-dwelling woman who turns out to be the embodiment of the most significant women in Bikolandia’s myth and religion. The genius of the film is its idea of love as an all-encompassing, all-consuming act. It seems to be reminding us to love without conditions. If Oryol and Daragang Magayon and Our Lady of Peñafrancia are not inherently different from each other, we can all let go of our predilections to compartmentalize our emotions and actions based on society’s edicts. We can love our lovers the way we love our myths, our literature, our gods.

Lastly, YCC’s best film of 2013, Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Porno, tells three separate stories that are linked by the porn industry, from production (the illicit recording of lovers’ trysts in motels) to post-production (the dubbing of moans to match the undulations of bodies and degrees of arousal) to distribution (the transferring of files to discs and sold as “scandals” in sidewalks, or uploaded online to user-generated porn sites) and, finally, consumption. Alix and writer Ralston Jover, though, are interested not so much in the pornography process as in the individual stories of the three main characters (an assassin, a porn dubber, and a trans club performer), all of whom encounter the supernatural in different ways. The assassin gets assassinated by a satyr masquerading as a friend, the porn dubber is haunted by an online ghost, and the club performer is tricked by hallucinations of her son that she left behind. The film, immaculately designed and photographed, successfully creates a mood of mystery, undoubtedly aided by a script that suggests that the seemingly disparate stories are linked not only through pornography but through the main characters’ identities as well.

SONY DSC

Aside from the 13 shortlisted films, YCC also cites three debut feature films that show much potential and promise for their directors. Angustia is Kristian Sendon Cordero’s intriguing evocation of the encounter between Catholicism and indigenous culture in 16th century Philippines; Puti is Mike Alcazaren’s painterly yet eerie tribute to the Mike de Leon classic Itim, chronicling the nightmares of a counterfeit painter who turns color-blind after an accident; and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin is Randolph Longjas’ hilarious skewering of Filipino-American romance.

All these films offer hope that Philippine cinema is worth celebrating even amid the glut of purely escapist mainstream fare. Mind, though, that independent cinema does not always equate to quality cinema. The group viewed and reviewed many independent films in 2013 and found many of them wanting in either technique or content, or both. While we are aware that our opinion on films is just but one of many, we continue to hope that our citations inspire filmmakers to keep on improving their craft.

 
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Posted by on 24 April 2015 in Philippine Film

 

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YCC Film Desk to hold citations ceremony today

The Young Critics Circle Film Desk will give out awards for best achievement in Philippine cinema for 2013 and 2014 today, April 23rd, 4 pm, at the UP Vargas Museum, Diliman, Quezon City.

Awardees for 2013 are:

Best Film: Porno, directed by Adolfo Alix, Jr.
Best Screenplay: Porno, Ralston Jover
Best Editing: Pagpag, Jerrold Tarog and Porno, Aleks Castaneda
Best Cinematography and Visual Design: Lauriana, Nap Jamir (cinematography) and Edgar Martin Littaua (production design)
Best Sound and Aural Orchestration: Porno, Albert Michael Idioma (sound design) and Ari Trofeo (sound)
Best Performance: Carlo Aquino, Porno and Jhong Hilario, Badil
Best First Feature: Angustia, directed by Kristian Sendon Cordero; Puti, directed by Mike Alcazaren; and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin, directed by Randolph Longjas

Awardees for 2014 are:

Best Editing: Mariquina, Benjamin Tolentino
Best Cinematography and Visual Design: Dagitab, Rommel Sales (cinematography) and Whammy Alcazaren and Tessa Tang (production design)
Best Sound and Aural Orchestration: Sonata Maria, Maki Serapio (sound design), Wrap Meting and Mark Limbaga (sound) and Jad Montenegro (music)
Best Performance: Eula Valdes and Nonie Buencamino (duo performance), Dagitab
Best First Feature: Dagitab, directed by Giancarlo Abrahan V; Nick & Chai, directed by Cha Escala and Wena Sanchez; and Sonata Maria, directed by Bagane Fiola

The ceremony, which is open to the public, is supported by the UP Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (OICA).

Cover

 
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Posted by on 23 April 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Seeds of Hope

Skilty Labastilla

Doris (Chai) Quieta prepares flowers while humming a 1990s pop tune one morning in the kitchen of their makeshift house in Barangay Cologcog, Tanauan, Leyte, while her husband Ferdinand (Nick) looks on. They are off to visit their four children, aged 11, 8, 5, and 1.5 years old, who are now resting in peace along with their grandmother and twelve cousins (all children) in a cemetery nearby. Just four months prior, on the night of November 7th, 2013, the 16 children were seeking shelter along with their grandmother in the latter’s sturdier concrete house in anticipation of Typhoon Yolanda, while their parents kept watch of their own flimsier houses within the same barangay.

Nick and Chai3

The typhoon, one of the strongest ever recorded to make landfall, began to be felt in Calogcog by 4 AM of November 8th, packing winds of up to 195 mph. Alas, even while the one-story concrete house the children and their grandmother were cooped up in survived the winds, it was no match for the storm surges that created five- to six-meter-high waves that inundated many parts of Leyte, wiping out houses, vehicles, trees, and leaving more than 6,000 dead. Most of the dead, including the Quieta kin, perished from the rapidly rising waters.

The film Nick & Chai (2014) chronicles the story of the grieving couple as they cope with their loss with grit and perseverance, despite constantly talking about wishing to be simultaneously reunited with their children. The couple obviously trusts the filmmakers enough to welcome them into their home during a most difficult time of mourning for the deaths of one’s own children. Young directors Cha Escala and Wena Sanchez reciprocate the trust by respecting the couple’s distance and privacy. It is that rare documentary that tackles grief and sorrow up close without being invasive or exploitative, and it certainly never succumbs to misery porn. Sure, the couple is often seen wiping away tears in the film as they recall an anecdote about one of the kids, or when they recount the events of that fateful day. Yet it is the positive spirit of the couple that shines through, and it is what the filmmakers focus on.

Soon after burying their children, the couple scoured through the remains of their home and found Chai’s satchel. Inside was a small bag of seeds. The couple, both graduates of agriculture from the Visayas State University, saw it as a sign from their children not to give up on life and to help others with their knowledge on food production. Relief from government and international aid agencies had not yet reached them, so they immediately went about plowing the soil of their backyard lot and prepared it for planting. Their neighbors thought they surely must have gone insane, what with all of their children gone in an instant. The seeds eventually grew into a lush vegetable garden that the couple opened to the whole community for harvest.

Nick and Chai’s extraordinary strength in the face of adversity coupled with technical know-how and admirable selflessness to help their community even while they needed help themselves made them a source of inspiration for their neighbors. The filmmakers, by chronicling this wonderful story in a frills-free manner—the film never overreaches beyond capturing the basic essence of humanity—gift us viewers with a renewed sense of purpose, reminding us about our own mortality, but more importantly, about our immense capacity for altruism.

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Skilty Labastilla has degrees in Anthropology and Social Development. He is Research Associate at the Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University.

Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Debosyon (here and here), Pagpag, LaurianaQuick ChangeAng Kwento ni MabutiBabagwa, Norte: Hangganan ng KasaysayanSonata, Mga Anino ng Kahapon, the 2013 Best First Features, Sonata MariaSundalong KaninDagitab and Mariquina.

 
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Posted by on 21 April 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Layers of Loss

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

Spanning the course of a few decades, from about the 1970s to the present, Mariquina finds Imelda Nuñez, née Guevarra (Mylene Dizon, and, as a teenager, Barbie Forteza), reexamining her relationship with Romeo, her father, from whom she has long been estranged. Death is what occasions such remembering: at the beginning of the film, an unkempt, desolate Romeo (Ricky Davao), well past his prime as the best shoemaker in Marikina, takes a last bite of a take-out meal and tightens the laces of each shoe—actions, it is revealed, that compose the prelude to a suicide. Amid the general tumult affecting her garment firm on account of a bungled order, Imelda finds herself pressed into service for his wake: her particular task is to secure a pair of wingtip shoes in her father’s size—for all the care that he took during his final moments, he lost his footwear when he made his fatal leap off the railing of a bridge.

An only child, Imelda grows up in the ease and comfort made possible by the success of her father’s shoe factory, but trouble brews and finally erupts between her parents when she reaches high school. Chafing at her marriage to a man whom she loves no longer, Leonor (Che Ramos), Imelda’s mother, reaches her breaking point and decides to strike out for the United States on her own, leaving Romeo and Imelda behind. Into the void created by Leonor’s departure steps Tess (Bing Pimentel), Romeo’s business associate. In much the same way that she helps Romeo steer his company through sundry crises—Tess is a far savvier entrepreneur than he is—she stands by him in his time of need, eventually becoming his lover and domestic partner. Sometime after, Imelda jumps at the chance to follow her mother to Hawaii, setting the pattern that endures into her later years, even after she returns to the Philippines: a life without Romeo.

Mariquina2

Adopting a deliberate pace and working chiefly in hushed tones, Mariquina layers loss upon loss as Imelda, over the course of her search for the perfect pair of shoes, finds herself weighing the flaws and failures of her father against the apathy and abandonment that she visited upon him when he was still alive. Scenes from Imelda’s younger days track the slow disintegration of her family—a process of decline that takes place nearly in tandem with the massive transformations of their locality and country during and after the fall of the house of Marcos.

The character of Imelda requires significant exertion from Dizon and Forteza: Forteza seems perplexed by the challenge to evoke, during pivotal moments, something other than puerile petulance, while Dizon falters in her attempts to add nuance to a stolidity adopted in the face of grief. That the strata of sorrow running through the film build up to compelling effect is more to the credit of Davao, Ramos, and, most especially, Pimentel, whose performance breathes complex life into her shrewd, vulnerable “other woman”.

While the events of the film are aptly grounded in time and space, evoking, by way of the cinematography of Sasha Palomares and the production design of Aped Santos, the surfaces, depths, and textures of its milieu with diligence, the film, to its detriment, exhibits a kind of myopia or carelessness—perhaps both—in its consideration of history and memory, of the personal and the political. This defect comes to the fore when former First Lady Imelda Marcos appears onscreen to deliver a few speaking lines. Her scene as such is of little consequence to the story, and it is precisely for this reason that it is able to disturb: the objectionable implication is that the glittering madam—who has more than once crowed that those who raided Malacañan Palace during the heady days of the first People Power Revolution found that her closets contained only shoes, not skeletons—is ultimately incidental, gratuitous, dismissible.

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Jaime Oscar M. Salazar is a graduate student of the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He works for an international humanitarian organization.

Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Debosyon (here and here), Pagpag, LaurianaQuick ChangeAng Kwento ni MabutiBabagwa, Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Mga Anino ng Kahapon,Sonata, the 2013 Best First Features, Sonata MariaSundalong Kanin, and Dagitab.

 
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Posted by on 21 April 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Krisis

Aristotle J. Atienza

Umiikot ang pelikulang Dagitab (Giancarlo Abrahan, 2014) sa mag-asawang Tolentino na dumadaan sa kani-kanilang mid-life crisis: propesor sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas sa Diliman sina Jimmy at Issey.  Dahil kapwa may pinagdadaanan, kahit maging pagsasama ay malalagay sa alanganin sa kabila ng kawalan natin ng pagdududa na tunay naman nilang mahal ang isa’t isa.  Sabay pa rin silang naliligo, umuuwi, kumakain.  Pero bagama’t titimbanging hindi sapat ang mga gawaing ito ng mag-asawa (dahil nga sa kani-kanilang krisis), hindi naman nila binobola o tinitiyaga ang pagsasama.  Sa lokasyong ito mailulugar ang atraksiyon ng manonood sa relasyong mayroon ang mag-asawa.

Kahit kamera ay nahalina sa kanilang pagsasama dala ng may lalim na pagganap nina Nonie Buencamino at Eula Valdes na bukas at komportable sa isa’t isa na repleksiyon marahil ng tradisyong mayroon ang pamantasang pinanggagalingan at kinalakhan.  Hindi naman siguro masamang sabihing may edad na sina Buencamino at Valdes, at hindi na marahil makapagpapakikilig pa (subalit bakit hindi) lalo na kung lagi’t laging ikinakabit sa tiyak na demograpiko ng kabataan ang pakiramdam na ito, pero bakit may halina sa kanilang dalawa?  Madaling tugunan ito ng panahong nahulma sa pagiging aktor sa mahabang panahon sa mga magkakaibang pagkakataon ng career bilang aktor at aktres pero paanong nagkakaroon ng bigat at tindi ang dalawa lalo na sa kanilang unang pagsasama sa pelikula.  Muli itong pinatitibay sa pagtutugma ng kaibahan ng mag-asawa dahil ipinapaaalala ang kakulangan ng/sa isa’t isa.

dagitabstill1

Napapagod pero hindi tumitigil si Issey habang pursigido naman sa pagkilos si Jimmy.  Ipinapanukala ng pelikula na ang pinagdadaanang sigwa ng dalawa ay resulta na rin ng panahong inilagi sa unibersidad na matagal nilang pinaglagian.  Para kay Jimmy, ito ang ilang taong pananaliksik kay Bulan at ang sundang.  Para kay Issey, ito ang kawalan na sa kaniyang lohika ay hindi naman nawawala kundi lumiliit lamang habang tumatanda.  Sa pagtatapos ng pelikula, matatagpuan ito ni Jimmy, at matatapos na rin niya ang mahabang panahon ng pananaliksik na magkukumbinsi sa kaniyang tuluyang pamumundok.  Si Issey ang malabo dahil maaaring maiwan siya sa Diliman o lumipat na lang ng U.P. Baguio para doon magturo o sundin ang suhestiyon ng asawa na magpahinga lang at hindi lumayo.  Makapaglalabas man siya ng libro ng malulungkot na tula sa tagal-tagal ng panahon, tila hindi pa rin ito naging kasagutan sa black hole na matagal na niyang nararamdaman. Kaya’t nagiging romantiko ang pelikula na pinatitibay pang lalo ng masinop na sinematograpiya ni Rommel Sales at ng metikolosong disenyong pamproduksiyon nina Whammy Alcazaren at Tessa Tang.

Pero kung minsan nakalalasing ang labis na pagmamahal sa ilaw at tagpuan na tumutulak upang timbangin kung saan-saang daan pinatutungo ang mga tauhan.  Hindi na ito katanungan kung makikita ba sa realidad ang nakikita sa pelikula dahil sa una’t una pa lamang ay totoo na ang nakikita rito, at hinulma na ang realidad na ito ng mga aparatong ginamit sa paggawa.  Kung magkaganito man ay marami pa sana tayong mga tanong na kailangang sagutin, mga butas na kailangang punan, mga detalyeng kailangang dagdagan, upang mabuo ang kasaysayang ginagalawan.

Nasa “pagpapaganda” sa karanasan humihina ang pelikula.  Matatagpuan ni Jimmy ang hinahanap, habang hindi natagpuan ni Issey ang dapat matuklasang magpapabago o makapagwawasak sa kinasasadlakan?  Tila pipiliin pa ni Issey ang kalungkutan dahil ba ito na ang kawalan na nariyan at hindi na mawawala kailanman?  Madadagdagan pa ito ng naratibo ng inaanak na si Gab Atienza na maliming ginampanan ni Martin del Rosario ang kabataang manunulat, na sa pagdidiskubre ng sarili ay mapagtatagumpayang maitawid ang bagong karanasan upang magamit lamang (at makalikha ng maliit na ingay sa maliit na komunidad) sa premyadong sanaysay ang babae.  Bagama’t pagsisihan ito ni Gab sa huli, dahil unti-unti nang matututuhang tanggapin ang sarili, aakuin pa ring lahat ito ni Issey.  Nakapanghihinayang lalo na’t nasa unibersidad nilang mahal ang mga posibilidad upang makatulong na maalpasan ang ilan pang dinaramdam.  Diyan makukulong ang pelikula sa kaniyang sariling pamagat.

*

Sa kasalukuyan, si Aristotle J. Atienza ay guro sa Kagawaran ng Filipino ng Pamantasang Ateneo de Manila, at mag-aaral ng Ph.D. Philippine Studies sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas sa Diliman.  Kasama si Rolando B. Tolentino, pinamatnugutan nila ang Ang Dagling Tagalog, 1903-1936 (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007).

Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Debosyon (here and here), Pagpag, LaurianaQuick ChangeAng Kwento ni MabutiBabagwa, Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Mga Anino ng Kahapon,Sonata, the 2013 Best First Features, Sonata Maria, and Sundalong Kanin.

 
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Posted by on 21 April 2015 in Film Review

 

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Toying Soldiers

A Review of Sundalong Kanin (Janice O’Hara, 2014)

JPaul S. Manzanilla

It has become common to tell a coming-of-age story set in war. Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena showed a boy’s obsession with a pretty woman in the midst of Second World War Italy. Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon narrated a young man’s curiosities in the course of the country’s struggle against Spain and America. In both films and in Sundalong Kanin, adolescence is wrapped up in a drastically changing social body-politic.

We witness how boys fight children’s games, and play out their fantasies even through the war. Things turn out appalling when the games become too real to be enjoyable that their adventure becomes so serious in its childishness and we begin to question how tenable circumstances are.

Sundalong Kanin boys

What transpires is a game of social inversion, seen in how a Nihonggo-speaking servant was appointed by the Japanese captain to serve as town executive and, hence, chief patsy of the occupying force. Tonyo, the then-a-helper-now-a-master, exploited the opportunity to exact revenge upon the former executive who humiliated his family, following his child’s win in a children’s game defeating the boss’s son. This particular fact shows how a local potentate depends so much on a force coming from outside in order to have control over his fellows, revealing in the process the fragility of power in an uneven polity. How can this fragile and facetious authority be subverted?

Accomplished in the film is a brilliant exposition of gray areas in moments of turmoil. The Japanese officer mercifully kills a raped girl to spare her from further suffering and exonerates a boy who confesses of killing a Japanese soldier; tellingly, the child says that he doesn’t want to kill—this after preparing weapons for killing enemies earlier in the movie—and the officer admires him for such wisdom. The audience cannot help but laugh at scenes of a screwball rebel officer aping his unseen American superiors with crackling English we have come to associate with the military establishment. Tonyo’s mother suffers in silence but does all her best to mitigate her son’s wickedness, lecturing a child not to follow his son’s ways. One boy recognized his mother’s rapist from the comrades of his playmates’ brothers; he later exposed the rebels to the enemies and was swiftly punished for “treachery” by his friends. All the kids who played the lead roles, especially the one who played Tonyo’s son, deserve commendation for sensitive acting. And the editing adroitly cuts and connects moments for a careful development of tempestuous scenes, crucially from the instant a Japanese soldier is killed by the boys to the part where their fathers are blamed for the crime—the climax before the climax.

One, however, finds a problem in how things are being reduced to personal struggles. It is as though war is just an extension of the boys and their fathers’ resentments, with the conquering army’s sudden granting of power and its attendant privileges utilized for revenge.While it is true that the internal or the domestic is the decisive element, we also ought to know how the foreign or the outside re-form the entity it combats. If war is politics by other means, we need to ascertain why and how an enemy is defined as one before he is annihilated, or becomes triumphant.

Two boys from opposing sides survive the struggle in the end. We are, at least, offered a chance to hear a retelling of the memories of violence.

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JPaul S. Manzanilla taught communication, humanities, and Philippine arts courses at the University of the Philippines Manila and Filipino and history courses at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Debosyon (here and here), Pagpag, LaurianaQuick ChangeAng Kwento ni MabutiBabagwa, Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Sonata, the 2013 Best First Features, and Sonata Maria.

 
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Posted by on 20 April 2015 in Film Review

 

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