Cinemalaya is synonymous to discovery and surprises. Year after year, the independent film festival has been consistent in two things: (1) launching up-and-coming directors to the big league; and (2) awarding surprise, and to some extent unlikely, winners. Acclaimed directors Auraeus Solito (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Pisay), Adolfo Alix (Donsol, Adela), and Chris Martinez (100, Here Comes the Bride) are just three of Cinemalaya’s homegrown talents. For the past five years, the focus of Cinemalaya is to discover a new breed of indie filmmakers by giving them a financial grant to fund their movies.
Speaking of surprises, everyone was caught off-guard when Mario O’ Hara’s Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio, considered as the frontrunner in the Director’s Showcase category, went home empty-handed. While Gil Portes’ Two Funerals nabbed four awards including Best Director, Special Jury Prize, Best Screenplay, and Audience Choice.
Pilar (Tessie Tomas), the bereaved mother of a road accident victim, is outraged when she finds a middle-aged man inside the casket of her daughter Charm (Princess Manzon). Little does she know that her daughter’s corpse is already en route to Matnog, Sorsogon to the family of the middle-aged man. This funeral parlor mix-up sends Pilar and Gerry (Xian Lim), Charm’s fiancé, to a road trip across Bicol to retrieve the remains of their dearly departed.
Two Funerals doesn’t feel like the archetypal Cinemalaya production. It can easily be mistaken as a mainstream offering. It rivals the work of Wenn Deramas (Hating Kapatid, BFF: Best Friends Forever) and Jose Javier Reyes (Status: Single, My Monster Mom) in terms of comedic excess. The humor is farcical, the jokes are lowbrow, and slapstick is plenty. Sketchy characters such as foul-mouthed drag queens, a raped sexagenarian, a politician with “lechon-glossed” lips, and a former gay guy going gay again are shoehorned into the storyline with the sole purpose of delivering the mandatory gags. Just when I thought Kimmy Dora and Here Comes the Bride upped the ante, it seems we’re back to Facifica Falaypay and Petrang Kabayo all over again.
Two Funerals claims that it is not a comedy, but a black comedy. A black comedy finds humor in the unlikeliest places – be it in politics, religion, race, and other taboo subjects. It discusses a serious topic in a not-so-serious manner. Its intention is to illicit uncomfortable laughter while making us ponder on a specific issue. Two Funerals should have taken its cue from Jay, also a product of Cinemalaya. Jay is about a TV producer who exploits an impoverished family to make a sensational documentary. What’s interesting about Jay is that it deadpans its way into his jokes. It doesn’t feel like any of the run-of-the-mill comedies with all the batukan and habulan. You can’t even tell that Jay is already telling a joke but you’ll find yourself laughing at the absurdity of it all. That’s a black comedy. Unfortunately, Two Funerals doesn’t seem like a black comedy to me.
What is lacking in script and direction, it makes up for in the acting department. In the last three years, we’ve seen Tessie Tomas in three memorable performances: as the mother who can’t accept the imminent fate of her cancer-stricken daughter in 100, as the aging widow who struggles to keep her business alive in Sanglaan, and as the crazed Imelda fan rumored to be a powerful medium in The Red Shoes. Tessie adds another memorable performance on that list. While the rest of the cast are hinged on campy and loony, Tessie stirs dramatic scenes and punctuates them with unrestrained grief. The centerpiece of her performance is when she finally saw her daughter’s remains. In an almost hysterical moment, Tessie perfectly captured the feeling of bereavement and loss. There is no single emotion misplaced. In addition, the comic performance of the supporting cast (composed of Benjie Felipe, Mon Confiado, and Epi Quizon) is also commendable.
Earlier, I mentioned that Cinemalaya has consistently awarded surprise, and to some extent unlikely, winners. I do not question the Audience Choice award given to Two Funerals. It can be credited to its stars, its masa appeal, and its brand of comedy. As for the other three awards, that’s a different story. Whether Two Funerals is a surprise winner, an unlikely winner, or both is up for you to decide.
*published on PEP