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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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‘Porno’ named Young Critics Circle’s Best Film of 2013

Porno, Adolfo Alix Jr.’s triptych film of individuals linked through pornography, wins big at the Young Critics Circle’s 24th Annual Citations, bagging five of the six main awards, including Best Film and Best Performance for Carlo Aquino who tied with Jhong Hilario for Badil.

Porno2Porno also took the prizes for Best Screenplay and Best Sound and Aural Orchestration, and tied with Frasco Mortiz’s Pagpag for Best Editing.

Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana is named Best Cinematography and Visual Design.

Porno was one of the entries to the 2013 Cinemalaya Film Festival but, due to its mature content, was only exhibited in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, unlike the rest of the entries that were screened in select commercial theaters.

Alix has now won three Best Film awards from YCC, previously winning in 2009 for Adela and in 2012 for Haruo. He has also previously won for his production design in Kalayaan (2012).

Both Aquino and Hilario have been previously nominated for Best Performance by the academe-based group: Aquino for Minsan May Isang Puso (1999) and Baler (2008), and Hilario for Muro-Ami (1999).

Having previously narrowed down the year’s cinematic output to a long list of 22 films, the group last night further reduced it to a shortlist of 13, and, after more than six hours of intense deliberations, arrived at record-number nominations in most categories: Film (8), Performance (15), Screenplay (8), and Cinematography and Visual Design (11). The critics group does not confer any nomination to a film that does not qualify for the shortlist.

To encourage the growth of emerging filmmakers, YCC decided to introduce a new special category – Best First Features, to be given to the three most outstanding feature films of debuting filmmakers. This year, the recipients are Angustia (Kristian Sendon Cordero), Puti (Mike Alcazaren), and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin (Randolph Longjas).

The awards ceremony is set on the third week of March, with the specific date and venue to be announced soon.

Below is the list of nominees for all categories:

 

FILM

Winner: Porno, directed by Adolfo Alix Jr. (Cinemalaya Foundation, Phoenix Features, Deus Lux Mea Films, Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, CMB Film Services, Inc.; Arleen Cuevas, producer)

Nominees:

Mga Anino ng Kahapon, directed by Alvin Yapan (VYAC Productions; Alemberg Ang, producer)

Babagwa, directed by Jason Paul Laxamana (Cinemalaya Foundation, Quantum Films, Kamaru Productions; Josabeth Alonso, executive producer; Ferdinand Lapuz, producer; Chad Angelic Cabigon, associate producer)

Badil, directed by Chito Roño (Film Development Council of the Philippines; Rafaela May Ocampo, executive producer; Han Salazar, producer)

Dukit, directed by Armando Lao (Centerstage Productions, Betis Galleria; Armando Lao, producer; Brillante Mendoza and Florentina Canasa Layug, executive producers; Sonny Dobles and City Heights Hotel, associate producers)

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, directed by Mes de Guzman (CineFilipino, PLDT-Smart Foundation, Studio 5, Unitel Entertainment, Cinelarga, SampayBakod Productions; Rhea Operaña de Guzman, producer)

Pagpag, directed by Frasco Santos Mortiz (Star Cinema, Regal Films; Charo Santos-Concio, Malou Santos, Lily Monteverde, and Roselle Monteverde, executive producers; Enrico Santos and Marizel Samson-Martinez, supervising producers)

Quick Change, directed by Eduardo Roy Jr. (Cinemalaya Foundation, Found Films; Almond Derla, executive producer; Ferdinand Lapuz, producer)

 

PERFORMANCE

Winners: Carlo Aquino, Porno and Jhong Hilario, Badil

Nominees:

Angel Aquino, Porno

Nora Aunor, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti

Adrian Cabido, Lauriana

Carlo Cruz, Mga Anino ng Kahapon

Allen Dizon, Lauriana

Ensemble cast of Porno

Cherie Gil, Sonata

Dick Israel, Badil

Alex Vincent Medina, Babagwa

Daniel Padilla, Pagpag

Joey Paras, Babagwa

Sue Prado, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti

TJ Trinidad, Mga Anino ng Kahapon

 

SCREENPLAY

Winner: Porno, Ralston Jover

Nominees:

Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Alvin Yapan

Babagwa, Jason Paul Laxamana

Badil, Rodolfo Vera

Debosyon, Alvin Yapan

Dukit, Armando Lao and Mary Honeylyn Joy Alipio

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, Mes de Guzman

Quick Change, Eduardo Roy Jr.

 

EDITING

Winners: Pagpag, Jerrold Tarog and Porno, Aleks Castañeda

Nominees:

Badil, Carlo Francisco Manatad

Dukit, Diego Marx Dobles

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY AND VISUAL DESIGN

Winner: Lauriana, Nap Jamir (cinematography) and Edgar Martin Littaua (production design)

Nominees:

Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Dexter dela Peña and Jan Tristan Pandy (cinematography), Whammy Alcazaren (production design), Frances Grace Mortel and Rita Vargas (art direction), and Phyllis Grae Grande (set decoration)

Badil, Neil Daza (cinematography), Jayvee Taduran (production design), and Donald Camon (art direction)

Debosyon, Dexter dela Peña (cinematography), Dennis Corteza and Paolo Rey Mendoza Piaña (production design), Roy Dominguiano and Pat Noveno (art direction), and Omar Aguilar (visual effects)

Dukit, Triztan Garcia, Bruno Tiotuico, Jeffrey Icawat, and Diego Dobles (cinematography), Leo Abaya and Olga Marquez (production design)

The Guerilla Is a Poet, Kiri Dalena (cinematography) and Sari Dalena (production design)

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, Albert Banzon (cinematography), Cesar Hernando and Mes de Guzman (production design)

Pagpag, David Diaz-Abaya (cinematography), Luis Custodio IV (production design), and Daren Francis Raña (visual effects)

Porno, Albert Banzon (cinematography), Adolfo Alix Jr. (production design), and Bobet Lopez (art direction)

Quick Change, Dan Villegas (cinematography) and Harley Alcasid (production design)

Sonata, Mark Gary (cinematography), Emilio Montelibano Jr. (production design), and Richard Francia (visual effects)

 

SOUND AND AURAL ORCHESTRATION

Winner: Porno, Albert Michael Idioma (sound design) and Ari Trofeo (sound)

Nominees:

Babagwa, Lucien Letaba and Joseph Lansang (music) and Addiss Tabong (sound design)

Badil, Carmina Cuya (music) and Addiss Tabong (sound design)

Debosyon, Teresa Barrozo and Jireh Pasano (music), Ray Andrew San Miguel and Andrew Millalos (sound design)

Dukit, Armando Lao (music and sound design)

Pagpag, Francis Concio (music) and Arnel Labayo (sound design)

 

FIRST FEATURE

Winners: Angustia (Kristian Sendon Cordero), Puti (Mike Alcazaren), and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin (Randolph Longjas)

 

Aside from the 12 films nominated in the main categories, one other film, Arnel Mardoquio’s Riddles of My Homecoming, is included in the shortlist.

The YCC members who took part in the selection process and in the deliberations are Skilty Labastilla (Chair), Aristotle Atienza, Patrick Flores, Tessa Maria Guazon, Lisa Ito, J. Pilapil Jacobo, Nonoy Lauzon, JPaul Manzanilla, Jema Pamintuan, and Jaime Oscar Salazar.

 
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Posted by on 08 February 2014 in Philippine Film

 

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