On the first year of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, an initiative of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, twelve local films were screened in cinemas nationwide, barring other films not part of the festival line-up to be screened.
Luckily, this blogger was able to watch all the entries. With only one outright dud in this line-up, all of the entries have noteworthy strengths that make them acceptable to extremely worthy inclusion in the premiere edition of this hopefully lasting endeavour of the FDCP.
Let’s dive right into it.
12. AWOL – Dir. Enzo WilliamsThis action thriller is about Lt. Abel Ibarra (Gerald Anderson) and his quest to avenge the death of his comrades after a bombing incident committed by a terrorist group. He takes the law in his own hands, searching for those responsible for the attack, rendering him labelled as AWOL by the military.
With nothing to serve but shallow drama, oversimplified characterization, bombastic execution, and an infuriating stance justifying extra-judicial killings, the audience is left with a serviceable lead performance from Gerald Anderson. He has been through this genre, with 2013’s masterful On the Job, but he was left with nothing but cheesy one-liners, and off-putting heroics which undermines his acting chops.
It’s a film so simple-minded, you wouldn’t miss anything even if you go to the comfort room or you check your phone while you are watching it. It’s that bad and negligible. [D+]
My Twitter review: “Are we still in the 90s? Trashy plot, cheesy action, shallow drama. Anderson deserved better. Objectionable. Pro-EJK ad.”
11. 100 Tula Para Kay Stella – Dir. Jason Paul Laxamana
This romance drama is about Fidel (JC Santos), a stuttering freshman who falls in love and befriends college rockstar Stella (Bela Padilla). During the course of his entire college life, Fidel writes 100 poems to express his admiration and love for Stella.
As the festival’s runaway audience favourite, the film benefitted from the surge of low-budget romance films in the country, providing moviegoers with instantly quotable lines about love and romance. This film sticks with that and actually offers nothing much to the table in terms of originality.
However, the film is actually not that bad. Its emotional punches are much better than films of the same breed (I’m looking at you, Kita Kita), and it doesn’t feel old to me, even if it is. The build-up is actually suave, leading to the strongly acted Arayat sequence near its ending. It’s a scene of pureness, of clarity, and honesty that seals the deal and culminates the fim’s over-all appeal.
The film would have been more emotionally resonant if it casted actual teenagers in the role, especially with Fidel. I buy Padilla as Stella. Santos as Fidel, not that much. I’m talking about casting, not their acting: Santos is good in the role, and Padilla is much better, adding so much to her occasionally simplified character. I get the appeal. [B-]
My Twitter review: “Miscast. Santos good, Padilla better. Honest, but unexciting. Final 20 mins: those real emotions!”
This realist drama is about a group of street children whose one act of petty theft to a taxi driver goes wrong and leads disastrous results. The film specifically follows the aftermath in the lives of Rashid (Zaijian Jaranilla) and Jinky (Therese Malvar), both neglected by their families.
A true mixed bag, the film is filled with many great ingredients, and yet, it’s lost in its self. Stylistically, it doesn’t always glue together: the camera goes into gritty long takes, and then jumps into jarringly steady shots that does nothing but provide an inconsistent camerawork. The film also has an unnecessarily odd structure: a mid-way shift in perspective, a pointless detour into a magical realist subplot, among others.
And yet, there is the strong ensemble work led by Zaiian Jaranilla and Therese Malvar, showing street-smart maturity that is hauntingly convincing and devoid of vanity. The film also has strong sequences, like the one-take look at Rashid’s residence and Jinky’s discovery of a dark secret in her guardian’s house.
A film that confounded me more than any of these entries, it has elements and glimpses of cinematic potency that can bring this up, and yet it also drops the ball on many occasions too. This makes for a really frustrating, but slightly leaning towards good, experience. [B-]
My Twitter review: “Visual style, structure not always cohesive. Scattershot at times. Potency peaks in grit. Cast excels, esp. leads.”
9 .Triptiko – Dir. Miguel Franco Michelena
This absurdist comedy-thriller anthology follows three young men (Albie Casiño, Joseph Marco, and Kean Cipriano): one who witnesses a murder committed by a policeman, one whose modelling career is ruined by large boils, and one whose girlfriend displaying cat-like behavior.
Anthology films are tricky. It is inherently episodic, and yet, there must be an overarching unity in terms of theme, style, and impact. Once the first episode “Swerte” kicked in, I knew I was into something good. The film blasts with energy and commits to the absurdity of the set-up. It only gets better with body horror in “Hinog”, the second episode. However, the film significantly drops when it turns to the final episode, the downbeat “Musikerong John”. Dragging, drab, and aimless, it sticks out as the misfit of the three episodes.
While the three leads deliver serviceable work, it’s the supporting actors that leaves a mark. Two of them stand out: Jerald Napoles is terrifying as a calculating policeman, and Art Acuña is outrageous as the mysterious faith healer.
It’s a film that reaches greatness in its bizarreness, and then takes a disappointing turn by its finale.
My Twitter review: “Achieves dark comedy brilliance in first two episodes, only to unravel in languidly paced, misplaced final episode.”
8. Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B – Dir. Prime Cruz
This horror-romance is about Jewel (Ryza Cenon), a mysterious but timid young woman living in an apartment building where a young man named Nico (Martin del Rosario) and his grandmother also lives. The two become friends while Jewel’s secret is slowly revealed.
By deciding to focus on its distinctively cool atmosphere over clarity in plot machinations, the film absorbs with stylistic control, with noteworthy cinematography, production design, music in particular. It maintains a steady verve that does not always peak, but sustains a delicious ride. Ryza Cenon and Martin del Rosario ignite an effortless chemistry that is more than enough to provide the emotional core.
While there are loose ends in the narrative (as I’ve said, the film hinges more on creating a strong mood than focusing on specificities), the film has a magnetic charm in it that makes it really watchable, if not totally remarkable.
It’s an exercise on style and its tinkering around of themes like horror, sexuality, and love. [B]
My Twitter review: “Highlights mood, atmosphere over narrative articulations. Restrained even when stylized.”
7. Birdshot – Dir. Mikhail Red
This police procedural is about two policemen (Arnold Reyes and John Arcilla) who tracks down the person responsible for shooting the Haribon, an endangered species of bird in the Philippines. Little do they know that the shooter was the fourteen-year-old Maya (Mary Joy Apostol).
The festival’s critical favourite, the film amazes with its singular vision: inspired, clear-eyed, and striking. It has a strong ensemble of four actors. Particularly noteworthy are John Arcilla as the acerbic, experienced policeman and Arnold Reyes as his new companion whose journey is the film’s most engaging anchor.
And yet, the film is slight in establishing emotional connection, perhaps because it stubbornly stays in a slow burn throughout its running time. Perhaps because I was finding it hard to latch on to the storyline of the young female hunter compared to the virtuoso acting displayed on the policemen storyline.
However, the final thirty minutes or so are exquisite. Everything comes together into a heart-stopping finale (with that haunting final shot). I wish I loved it more. [B]
My Twitter review: “Stylistically sophisticated, but curiously distant. Rarely reaches boiling point, stays in slow simmer. Strong cast.”
This romance-drama is about Atan (Garry Cabalic) an Aeta man who, because of native customs, is compelled to marry his friend Ani (Joan dela Cruz). To complete the dowry for the marriage, Atan works in the lowlands, only to meet college student Rain (Anna Luna) doing a research on the Aeta culture.
The film relishes its beauty in the simplicity of life it examines. The intricacies of the Aeta culture explored in the film is refreshing to witness. Acted by non-actors, their evident inexperience actually adds vividness to their portrayal of this culture. The film is strong when it takes time to enjoy the quietness of telling the story in images and untarnished acting.
Meanwhile, the film loses its distinctiveness when the character of Rain enters the story. Though acted with appealing radiance and intelligence by Anna Luna, the film is thrown off-balance when the character start wording out the character’s emotional baggage. The film is much more effective when it leaves things unsaid and undeclared. And the drone shots are distracting. [B]
My Twitter review: “Enamoring cultural specificities. Quietness an asset. Less impressive in wording out drama. Calm that drone.”
And the TOP 5, these films selected as the Best Motion Picture of the Special TFO Awards: PPP 2017 Edition are…..
(in alphabetical order; full reviews at the Special TFO Awards)
Bar Boys – Dir. Kip Oebanda
Pauwi Na – Dir. Paolo Villaluna
Salvage – Dir. Sherad Anthony Sanchez
Watch out for the Special TFO Awards: PPP 2017 Edition to be posted this week where the ranking of the top 5 films will be revealed.