With the tagline “The World Will Be Watching”, the ads promoting Cinemalaya 6 features three of its homegrown films that blossomed into international acclaim. Scenes from Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, 100, and Engkwentro were recreated to showcase the plaudits these films garnered in different international film festivals such as Berlin, Sundance, Pusan, Marrakech, Vesoul Asian, and Venice. If you haven't seen these ads, you can watch them here.
The said ads inspired me to make a list of my favorite Cinemalaya films. But before you read my choices, here are some reminders.
1. I do not claim that this list contains the BEST films from Cinemalaya.
2. I only included full-length films that were screened as part of the Main Competition (now called the New Breed Category).
3. I only considered films I actually saw. So no matter how good you think Tribu, Pisay, Tulad ng Dati, Sarong Banggi, or Donsol are, you won’t see them in this list because I haven’t seen them yet. But I will soon.
With that said, here are my six favorite films from Cinemalaya.
6. Engkwentro (Clash)
2009 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival
Director: Pepe Diokno
Starring: Felix Roco, Daniel Medrana, Zyrus Desamparado, Eda Nolan
Engkwentro elicited mixed reactions during its Cinemalaya run last year. Some applauded its bravery and bravura, while some fell asleep or walked out. But I have always been a believer of this film. To quote my review: “Among the ten finalists vying for the Balanghai trophy in this year’s Cinemalaya, Engkwentro has the highest chance of being picked up by international film festivals. It may even snatch the top plum from festival frontrunners Mangatyanan and Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe like a real dark horse.” It may not have won the main prize. In fact, it was the only film from last year’s batch that went home with no award (that “special citation” does not count as an award), but Engkwentro vindicated itself when it bagged two major awards in Venice. All I could say was “I knew it”.
Dinig Sana Kita was my favorite film from last year’s Cinemalaya, but its effect on me is starting to wear off a little. Nevertheless, I can still remember how kilig it made me feel, just when I thought no romcom could touch me. As I said before, it could have easily turned into a cheesy love story if it was made by mainstream film studios. What if GMA Films decide to remake Dinig Sana Kita? Directing duties will be courtesy of Mark Reyes and the leads will be Kris Bernal and Aljur Abrenica. What a horrid thought.
I saw Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe in a private screening held weeks before the start of Cinemalaya. After the last scene, it was as if the audience froze for a few seconds before they clapped. I was not sure about how I felt about the film right after seeing it, but its memory lingered on my mind. I can’t stop thinking about it for days as if I’m under a spell. The film is hypnotic, dreamlike, and unlike any Filipino film I’ve seen. Up to this day, I still believe that Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe should have won the top award instead of Last Supper No. 3. It’s a good thing that this film found its rightful place in Cairo where it received the Golden Award for Digital Films. There is still justice in this world.
3. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros)
2005 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival
Director: Auraeus Solito (Pisay)
Starring: Nathan Lopez, JR Valentin, Soliman Cruz, Ping Medina
Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is Cinemalaya’s first born. This poignant dramedy burst into the international scene and traveled to Berlin, Torino, Montreal, Rotterdam, Las Palmas, Sundance, and Asian First (thanks IMDB for the info). Maximo Oliveros made noise. Cinephiles took notice. Pinoys lined up to see it in SM cinemas. It brought prominence to the then-unknown Cinemalaya. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros started it all. It is the reason why I found myself sitting in Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo excited to see my second Cinemalaya film in 2008. Thanks Maxi for introducing me to Cinemalaya.
2008 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival
Director: Francis Pasion
Starring: Baron Geisler, Flor Salanga, Coco Martin
I didn’t write a review of Jay when I saw it during its theatrical run last year. I’ve included the film in several lists where I was forced to make a write-up about it. But whatever I end up writing, I always feel that it’s inadequate to describe Jay’s complex design. Maybe, it isn’t meant to be written about, but should be experienced first-hand. It’s about distorted reality, sensationalist journalism, and consensual exploitation neatly packaged as a family drama, social commentary, and brutal expose of (un)reality shows. I could go on writing 500 more adjectives to describe Jay, but everything will end up as barebones definitions, so I suggest that you experience it for yourself.
2008 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival
Director: Chris Martinez (Here Comes the Bride)
Starring: Mylene Dizon, Eugene Domingo, Tessie Tomas
I’ve always been fascinated with deaths, in the context of films that is. I am deeply moved when the protagonist suddenly dies at the end. In fact, three of my favorite films killed their major character/s: Satine (Nicole Kidman) in Moulin Rouge, Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecilia (Keira Knightley) in Atonement, and Selma (Bjork) in Dancer in the Dark. Ironically, my favorite Cinemalaya film and favorite Pinoy film is also about death. However, its treatment of death is very different. In the previously mentioned films, the demise of the main protagonists caught us by surprise. Whereas in 100, we knew right from the start that Joyce (played by the brilliant Mylene Dizon) will be six feet below the ground once her 100 days is over. She casually dealt with death as it is inevitable and imminent. She even bought her own casket (as seen on the Cinemalaya 6 ad) and chose her clothes for her wake. After all these years, 100 still occupies a special place in my heart. 100 is truly 100%
The world is anticipating what Cinemalaya 6 has to offer. How many cinematic gems will the premier independent film festival produce this year? Don’t miss Cinemalaya 6 at the CulturalCenter of the Philippines (CCP) from July 9 to 18.
I’m planning to watch all the films in competition, both in the New Breed and Director’s Showcase categories, and to catch up on repeat screenings of some Cinemalaya favorites. I will regularly update this blog to cover this event. Go to the sidebar for a list of articles related to Cinemalaya 6.
If these personality-deficient kids from PBB can be on TV, so can I. No, I won't be in PBB Season 3, or is it Season 4 already? Catch me at The Bottomline with Boy Abunda this Saturday at ABS-CBN after Banana Split, that's around 11 PM. I'll be one of the guest bottomliners for interviewee Brillante Mendoza. We'll talk about his victory at Cannes, his critics, and the state of Philippine independent cinema, among other things.
Shameless Plug: Watch me on The Bottomline this Saturday
Fidel Antonio Medel
boy abunda|brillante mendoza|cannes|Et Cetera|fidel antonio medel|jim libiran|the bottomline with boy abunda|
Out of the ten Pixar films, most of which unanimously praised by kids and kids at heart, I’ve only seen five – Toy Story 1 & 2, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up. I can barely remember what Toy Story 1 & 2 were about. I think Up was mildly entertaining. But I tremendously enjoyed Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Dory (voiced by the effervescent Ellen DeGeneres) is my favorite animated character of all time. I’m not ashamed to admit that Finding Nemo made me cry. Meanwhile, I ranked WALL-E as my 4th favorite film of 2008, beating the likes of The Dark Knight and Wanted. But overall, I can’t really say that I’m a huge fan of Pixar or of animated films in general.
Despite being a banner year for animated films, I only saw two in 2009 – Coraline and Up. Both were tolerable at best. I have the slightest interest to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mary and Max, and Ponyo despite the acclaim they have received. So when Pixar announced that Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang will bounce back to the silverscreen after 11 long years, my reaction was: “Hollywood, when will your addiction to sequels end?” I think a third installment is largely unnecessary. It took a 100% “fresh” rating (not a single negative review as of last week) on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that aggregates movie reviews and ratings from film critics, to convince me to give Toy Story 3 a shot.
As I said earlier, I can barely remember what Toy Story 1 & 2 were about, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. If your memory is as unreliable as mine, fret not. The opening montage set to the tune of You Got A Friend In Me will refresh your memory on the toys’ relationship with their owner/friend Andy. But Andy is already 17 years old and is leaving for college soon. After a garbage bag mix-up, the toys thought they were going to the dump. Tired of gathering dust and longing to be played with, they decided to donate themselves to Sunnyside Day Care. But Sunnyside isn’t so sunny after all, it is ruled by a maniacal, power-tripping, strawberry-scented purple teddy bear Lotso. They are banished to the Caterpillar Room where they are chewed on, thrown all over, and played with by overly rowdy toddlers. In exciting Prison Break fashion, the gang plots their grand escape out of Sunnyside and back to Andy’s house.
You’ve probably heard your friends say that Toy Story 3 is a weepie. If you’re the type who laughs at your friends when they cried watching Dear John, I can just imagine how you will berate them after making that bold proclamation that Toy Story 3, an animated film about toys, is a tearjerker. But they were telling the truth, especially if you’re one of those kids who grew up with the franchise. I could hear an orchestra of sniffles playing during the last two scenes (the garbage incinerator scene and the inevitable conclusion), so practice wiping off your tears while wearing those 3D glasses.
Hollywood, take heed, this is how you cap off a fantastic franchise. Damn! What an ending!
But that doesn’t mean that Toy Story 3 will bore kids with its adult sentiments. Pixar stamps it with their signature brand of adventure and joy. Without giving away too much, some of the highlights of Toy Story 3 are Buzz Lightyear in Español mode, Mr. Potato Head in a tortilla, Mr. Prickle Pant's improv, and Ken, Barbie’s metrosexual lover. So I guess it’s safe to assume that Woody and Buzz will be shaking hands with the golden statue next year.A Best Picture nod, a Best Adapted Screenplay nod, and a Best Animated Feature award are within reach.
Note: Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Pixar film on the sidebar.
Given the intrinsic musicality of Pinoys, it’s strange that we haven’t produced a movie musical for a long while. The last one that I’ve seen was the big screen adaptation of the stage musical Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah. But prior to that, it would take us back to the heydays of LVN Pictures and Sampaguita Pictures to find a Filipino movie musical.
Why aren’t we making musicals anymore? Maybe because the industry is too lazy to craft them. Creating a musical takes time and entails a lot of effort. Aside from writing the screenplay, the filmmakers have to worry about composing the songs and choreographing the priduction numbers. It takes months and even years to produce a musical, in contrast to backyard dramas that can be finished in seven days. Or maybe the big film studios don’t think musicals will be profitable in the box office. This gives me more reasons to admire the CulturalCenter of the Philippines (CCP) and Film Development Council (FDC) for helming Emir. I doubt that the producers will recoup the money they invested to make this ambitious project, though I hope I’m wrong. I applaud their dedication to revive a genre of movies that has remained untouched for years.
Inspired by real events, Emir tells the heroic story of a provinciana OFW who puts her life in peril to protect the crown prince of an emirate in the Middle East. Amelia (Frencheska Farr) trades her idyllic life in the mountainous region of Ifugao to work as a nanny of the Sheik’s royal family. Despite her lack of experience, the Sheik’s wife chose her to be the yaya of the newborn crown prince. During the onset of the Gulf War, foreign invaders assaulted the palace. The young prince was hunted down but Amelia rears him to safety, thus risking her life in the process.
The plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) has been translated to the filmic language numerous times. We’ve seen a migrant worker in the Lombard metropolis juggling multiple jobs (Milan), a grade school teacher who opts to work as a healthcare provider in United Kingdom (Caregiver), and a domestic helper in Singapore who is charged of murder (The Flor Contemplacion Story). The basic premise stays the same–the Pinoy works abroad in search of greener pastures. The same is true for Emir, directed with technical proficiency and gusto by Chito Roño. What distinguishes Emir from other movies that tackled the OFW phenomenon is that it is a musical.
The heart and soul of a musical lies in its songs. Unlike your favorite TV-musical Glee, the characters do not break out into a song just for the heck of it. The songs are intricately interwoven into the storyline. In fact, the songs tell the story. They take the place of spoken dialogue. They articulate emotions that are best expressed through music. Emir boasts of over 20 all-original songs. There are emotive ballads like Bakit Ako Naririto, the film’s signature song; O, Maliwanag na Buwan, a poignant song that echoes heartbreak and loss;and Hindi Ko Pinangarap, the powerhouse duet between Dulce and Frencheska. There are also campy musical numbers like Bawang, Mais, at Tabako, the film’s opening act, and Turistang Yaya, sung to maximum comedic effect by the nannies. But my favorite would have to be Buti Na Lang, a sweet love song performed by Frencheska and Sid Lucero, which will make audiences swoon.
However, some of the songs are a bit too long. The beginning may bore the audience with its salvo of song numbers. The first 20 minutes is cramped with too many songs but too little dialogue. But it all goes uphill once the six nannies (played by Dulce, Kalila Aguilos, Liesl Batucan, Julia Clarete, Melanie Dujunco, and Beverly Salviejo) are introduced.
Frencheska delivers what is expected of her. She is a great vocalist and a decent actress. However, she lacks the emotional range of more experienced actresses. Although she has established chemistry with Sid, her on-screen love interest, she cannot hold a candle to some of her co-stars particularly Dulce and Kalila Aguilos.
The craftsmanship behind Emir is overwhelming. Meticulous attention was given to every nook and cranny of the production–the set design, costume, make-up, art direction, cinematography, etc. This is an epic production in every sense of the word. In fact, I haven’t seen any other Filipino film of this caliber before. Indeed, this will be a defining moment in Philippine cinema.
On May 10, millions of Filipinos lined up in polling precincts and endured the heat that is El Niño to participate in the first-ver automated Philippine elections. The son of a former president and an impeached former president were among the nine candidates who vied to become the next head of state. A sudden wave of nationalistic fervor and political enthusiasm permeated the atmosphere. Baller bands and twibbons (ribbons imposed on one’s Facebook or Twitter profile picture) of different colors were used to show support for voter’s presidentiable of choice.
Filipinos were suddenly talking about politics with renewed interest unseen and unheard of in recent years. It wouldn’t be too soon until the current political landscape is painted on the canvass of cinema, but I never thought it would be this soon. A mere three weeks after the national elections, a Star Cinema-distributed independent film on the subject of president-apparent Noynoy Aquino entitled Noy makes it way to the big screen.
But is Noy just cashing on the aforementioned sudden wave of nationalistic fervor and political enthusiasm? Is it just riding on the popularity of Noynoy, the man of the hour and soon-to-be main man of the country for six years? Here are my thoughts.
Noy is one half melodrama about a poor Pinoy family and one half mock documentary about Liberal Party’s standard bearer. On the melodrama half, we follow the struggles of Noy (Coco Martin) who takes on the padre de pamilya duties for his father-less family. Growing desperate to find means to support his kin, he applies as a journalist for a TV station despite his lack of credentials for the job. He nabs the position, all thanks to a counterfeit diploma. He is assigned to follow his namesake’s nationwide campaign and produce a documentary about it.
What little progress he makes in his career is abruptly negated by a series of unfortunate events. His girlfriend (Erich Gonzales) threatens to leave him, his mother (Cherry Pie Picache) is beaten up by the foreigner courting her, his invalid brother (Joem Bascon) peddles drugs, and his smart sister (Cheska Billiones) goes blind out of the blue. All these conflicts, which climaxed almost all at once, make the screenplay a tad ridiculous to be believable. That’s when this mopefest hits its lowest point.
To give us respite from Noy’s endless misery, actual footage taken from Noynoy’s campaign trail is interspersed between the dramatic scenes. These vignettes show Noynoy shoot political ads and rap campaign jingles. In addition, there are mock interviews between the two Noy’s as well as testimonials from Noynoy’s celebrity supporters (like Boy Abunda, Mariel Rodriguez, Claudine Barretto, Dingdong Dantes, Ai-Ai de las Alas, Ogie Alcasid, etc.). Unfortunately, these are neither insightful nor entertaining. All they do is distract the audience. It’s as if the mock documentary half is a mere marketing ploy to give Noy an edge over other indie weepies by trying to make it relevant.
But Noy is not without its share of merits. More than anything, the film is a showcase of good acting. Taking the exaggerated miseries aside, the dramatic scenes are undeniably potent. Coco delivers the passion required of his breadwinner character. There are shades of angst, frustration, and a little hope. The supporting players, notably Cherry Pie and Joem, are also convincing in their roles. The tragic climax may be overwrought but is nonetheless beautifully orchestrated. The heart-pounding musical score, the powerful acting, and the seamless editing will bring audience to the brink of tears.
Flawed as it is, I prefer the melodrama half over the mock documentary half. Director Dondon Santos has a keen understanding of how to create dramatic tension. There is a balance between smaller, quieter moments and all-out, emotionally charged confrontations–yet both are equally capable of pushing the right buttons. If only the series of unfortunate events are trimmed down to a reasonable level, this could have been the potently dramatic (albeit realistic) film that it aims to be.