SPOILER ALERT! Proceed with caution!
The Cinemalaya, the Philippine Independent Film Festival has recently started showing its films in cinemas. With 20 entries (10 full-length and 10 short feature films), the festival is the country’s biggest indie film festival, having promoted the production of 136 full-feature independent films and 118 short films, some of which have won local and international film festivals and competitions.
I must admit, I have never watched a Cinemalaya film before, but my curiosity grew after I watched the festival’s opening movie, BuyBust. Growing up in a middle-class family, I was given the impression that quality local films are quite a rarity. I only learned of Filipino film greats such as Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal during my Humanities classes in college.
For an average movie-goer like me, factors need to be considered before watching a movie: (1) Has the movie gained enough renown or infamy to warrant my attention? (2) Is the cast reputable, or as some friends would say, “fan ba ako ni (celebrity name)?” And most importantly, (3) Is this what my date/significant other wants to see? In any case, I considered none of these factors coming in. I needed to write about it.
Cinemalaya Film Review #1: Liway by Kip Oebanda
The first movie I watched is Liway by Kip Oebanda. The film is about an NPA dissident (Glaiza de Castro) from Negros and her family living in Camp Delgado after being captured by the government during the Marcos era. The story was written by Oebanda and Zig Dulay, based on the true-to-life story of anti-Marcos rebel Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, who hides under the name of Commander Liway.
It’s hard writing about this film, not because I have nothing to write about it but because in doing so, I might spoil the best parts of the story. Oebanda doesn’t spoon-feed his viewers with the premise. He lets us take everything in. He uses shadow puppetry and flashback sequences to build up the story. And at the end of each sequence is a pleasant realization that makes you more interested in the story.
My problem with this movie is the consistency of story-telling. I wish there was a smoother transition from using shadow puppets to portray fiction, to flashback sequences to narrate facts. Or maybe this wasn’t how they wanted it to feel because the introduction used puppets. It just felt like I was watching two different movies.
The movie efficiently used De Castro’s talent for singing in the most touching scenes. She also played the part of a mother rather well. However, I wasn’t as convinced with her playing a rebel leader. Ric/Commander Toto (Dominic Roco) and Dakip (Kenken Nuyad) felt more like brothers than father and son. It just didn’t feel natural to me. And it wasn’t because of the lack of the Negrense accent – I didn’t mind it, really.
Roco didn’t have a strong presence in the movie. Nuyad’s acting comes off as over-the-top. And this was a problem for me since I had a hard time figuring out whether Dakip is just naive of the events happening, or if he’s just being a spoiled kid.
On the other hand, Soliman Cruz (Sulpicio) was exceptionally good as a warden with a conscience. Sue Prado and another actor (I wasn’t able to get his name, apologies) played convincing performances as Day and Ric’s fellow detainees. Ebong Joson portrayed a very frightening villain in the movie.
I recommend you watch this movie. With its good premise and compelling story, the film had me in tears when the film credits rolled.
Cinemalaya Film Review #2: Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon by Carlo Enciso Catu
Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon is a well-woven love story about Teresa (Perla Bautista) and her longtime partner Celso (Menggie Cobarrubias). During a family celebration, Tere receives a call from estranged husband Benedicto (Dante Rivero) who is stricken with cancer.
The story then centers on how each character deals with this news. Tere, in spite of Bene’s past faults, continues to care for him. Celso, the ever-supportive partner, will do everything to make Tere happy. And all Bene wants is the forgiveness of his family.
John Carlo Pacala wrote the story and screenplay of this movie. Viewers will appreciate how the story builds up. The character introductions are subtle but meaty. And when the story starts connecting the characters, everything seems to naturally fit in.
The brilliant ensemble cast of this film needs further appreciation. All three leads were wonderful. Even the supporting cast members were just as good. Romnick Sarmenta’s performance as Tere and Bene’s son was moving. Equally superb was Che Ramos who played Celso’s daughter. Notable also is the believable use of the Kapampangan dialect in the movie.
What I liked about this movie is that it didn’t need loud, crazy outbursts to make its scenes dramatically effective. Each character is so delicately portrayed that their restraint makes for a powerful performance.
If there are any regrets in my watching of this movie, it’s having to see the horrible MTRCB PSA before the actual film. Watch it.
Cinemalaya Film Review #3: School Service by Louie Ignacio
The premise, as shown in the first few minutes of the movie, is promising. The film opens with a school service vehicle driving through a dark street in the evening. The voice of a young girl is heard; she’s directing the driver to drop her off at her place. But the van drives past her house and we realize that the poor girl is being kidnapped by a small-time syndicate.
In the succeeding scenes, we are introduced to her kidnappers and the band of children who, like her, have become victims as well. Maya (Celine Juan), the “school service’s” latest victim, is now forced to beg for alms in the street and return her earnings to the syndicate. Rita (Ai-Ai delas Alas) is the stern leader and mother figure of the group. With her is her brother (Joel Lamangan), her brother’s lover (Kevin Sagra), and their ailing father. I can’t recall their character names, I’m sorry.
The acting is actually pretty good. Ai-Ai shines when shifting between her maternal and criminal duties. Though all she wants is the success of their daily operations, she still looks after the kids and shares personal stories with them. Joel and Kevin are convincing as lovers. And when their characters’ motives are questioned at the climax of the movie, they deliver exceptional performances.
But story-wise, the film falls short. The movie feels episodic. I was left wondering if I should root for Maya’s escape, Rita’s objectives, or her brother’s love story. It could’ve been split into three episodes of MMK.
Cinemalaya Film Review #4: ML by Benedict Mique Jr.
It doesn’t take a lot of brain work to guess that this movie would be about Martial Law. And with that being the only information I had when entering the cinema, everything else about this movie was a complete surprise. My first guess was that this is a period film set during the Marcos era. I thought it might even be a documentary. Little did I know that I was watching a thriller.
Eddie Garcia plays a retired METROCOM colonel with psychotic tendencies. In his crisp military uniform and well-groomed hair, he mercilessly kills a dog with a hammer after it barks at him while he was opening the gate to his house. We sense something peculiar about this character. The shots, as well as the great choice of music, make his character more interesting as the story progresses.
Carlo (Tony Labrusca) is a college jock whose views on Martial Law are problematic. Like his classmates, he believes that the Marcos era was a time of prosperity and all Filipinos had discipline. Though adamant in his beliefs, he takes on his History professor’s assignment with an open mind. He needs to interview someone (not related to him) about their experiences during Martial Law. After seeking advice from his neighbors, Carlo visits the colonel for an interview.
Here is where we see what’s wrong with the colonel. Already in the twilight of his years, the colonel’s dementia makes him think that he’s still living during Martial Law and that Carlo is a political activist. The colonel manages to tie him up in the basement. And after luring his friend Jaze (Henz Villaraiz) and later on, his girlfriend Pat (Liane Valentino), the colonel subjects the three to various forms of torture.
The twists and turns of this movie were definitely thrilling. Garcia’s colonel is terrifying. The students didn’t have much to say as they were gagged most of the time. However, each grunt and jerk will make you cringe and cover your eyes as you can almost feel their pain.
The movie reminds me of 2016’s Don’t Breathe, probably because of the cast and the genre, but the film is completely different. I recommend that everyone (Marcos apologists included) watch ML. And if this film doesn’t scare you, let’s hope this doesn’t happen to you in the future.
Related: Your Average Joe’s Film Review: BuyBust by Erik Matti