Review: Sanglaan (2/5) & Astig (1/5)

Films centered on an ensemble cast, instead of just one or two main characters, is hard to pull off. It demands time to develop each character and make each of them mutually relevant. Each cast member must have individual stories to tell, that when combined together form an encompassing tale. In this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, “Sanglaan” and “Astig” attempt to break the losing streak of Pinoy ensemble films.


THE GIST: People in need of money go to pawnshops to trade in their jewelry and other prized possessions, together with the memories that come along with it. They are right in thinking that sentimental value cannot feed hungry mouths, but it can be very hard to let go of things you have treasured for so long. “Sanglaan” is about letting go and the set of characters whose lives revolve around a dying pawnshop. Tessie Tomas is the owner of the outmoded establishment who faces the repercussions of the failing economy. Jess Evardone plays the security guard who has to resort to unconventional methods of raising money to pay for the hospitalization of her wife (played by Flor Salanga). And then there’s Ina Feleo, the socially awkward jewelry appraiser, who is hopelessly enamored with her high school crush (played by Joem Bascon).

THE VERDICT: We’ve first seen Ina Feleo in “Endo” where she bagged the Cinemalaya Best Actress award back in 2007. Once again, she delivers a charismatic and genuine performance as the reserved but undeniably smitten woman who falls prey to cupid’s arrow. Meanwhile, the film’s production values are undeniably better compared to its contemporaries. Scenes are strikingly lensed, albeit their simplicity. However, the film falters on pushing the right emotional buttons. The talent is there, both on-cam and behind the scenes. But with an insipid screenplay, “Sanglaan” feels remotely ordinary.


THE GIST: Divided into four interconnecting episodes, “Astig” tells the formulaic story of a myriad of characters thriving in the underbelly of Manila. Dennis Trillo plays a hustler slash con man who finally gets a whiff of karma. Edgar Allan Guzman is a young expectant father forced to ‘service’ a disgusting gay customer to afford his wife’s hospital dues. Arnold Reyes plays the Chinoy trying to sell his father’s only inheritance, a decrepit building in Escolta. And Sid Lucero as the overprotective brother of Glaiza de Castro’s character.

THE VERDICT: Even before the film festival officially opened, this G.B. Sampedro film has been hyped as the biggest independent film production to grace Cinemalaya yet. Since the movie is co-produced by Boy Abunda, he brings with him a plethora of well-known celebrities in smaller roles and cameo appearances. We have Ai-Ai de las Alas, Mariel Rodriguez, Bianca Gonzalez, Kim Atienza, Gardo Versoza, Emilio Garcia, Vhong Navarro, Keanna Reeves, and many more. However, it would disappoint viewers to find out that the star-studded cast is the only thing the film has to offer. The screenplay breathes and lives in third world clich├ęs – movie house prostitution, suicide, gratuitous sex, and plenty of foul language. Instead of presenting a new treatment on the worn-out subject, we are left with an overused template of yet another movie about Manila’s squalor.


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