While killing 2 hours of my time, I found myself in an unbelievably half-empty CCP Shop. What happened? Somebody should stock the gift shop, quick! It's a national embarrassment! If you need someone to search high and low for Philippine souvenirs, you know who to call. *wink, wink* Sigh. I am so shameless. At any rate, got the two volumes of The Essential Brocka released by Unitel. They include the films Insiang, Tatlo Dalawa Isa, Ang Tatay kong Nanay, and Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang. If you buy all four, it will only cost Php 325/DVD. Individually bought, each will cost Php 450. Carrot on a stick, and I willingly bit into the offer. In fact I already saw Ang Tatay kong Nanay this dawn immediately when I got home, and I enjoyed it immensely. The social conditions have not changed at all, have they?
Now, on with the shows.
First things first. I honestly think the shorts look so much better this year. In fact, they seem to be improving in terms of technicals as the festival progresses, which I think is good. The digital age offers so much variety of technology that it would be a sin for a director not to fully tap this exciting medium. The shots are better, there's a delicious patina to every work, and the editing is more inspired. The stories (the heart of the matter), however, remain stuck to what I have dubbed as the 3 Ks of local indie cinema: Kahirapan, Kamunduhan, and Kabaklaan. How truly exciting.
ANG IBANG MGA PAMILYA (OTHER FAMILIES) by Joel P. Ruiz (Baby Angelo, Mansyon) is about a woman who overcomes the grief of losing her adopted son. Come to think of it, she never really overcame the loss. She was in perpetual grief. Ang Ibang Mga Pamilya had a very promising start. You know it's bound to be special, but it eventually gave way to cliches until it eventually fell apart (talk about unfulfilled promises). The tepid, slow progress of this film makes for a lousy opener and I think the story is nothing special and the narrative is beyond redemption. Great photography and editing though. The film is bathed throughout in a warm, comforting light which gives it the somber mood it's supposed to have. However, quoting A Chorus Line, "And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul / and cried / 'cause I felt... nothing."
DIAMANTE SA LANGIT (DIAMOND IN THE SKY) by Vic Acedillo, Jr. (Screenplay, Batad: Sa Paang Palay) is about two brothers' journey to compete in a kite flying contest. But getting there takes some time. In the end, they face something unexpected and discover something more precious than winning. Like the first short, this work had so much promise in the beginning, but it is rather predictable. You actually already know what's going to happen next. The Director's unique problem was how to attack that predictability and come up with an intelligent or, at the very least, a heartwarming ending. Diamante is another case of the writer-director now knowing when to stop while he's on top of the game. He gave in to a happy ending when he could have stopped shooting when the two boys arrived at the kite festival and realized their plastic-bag kite was no match to the other's. Long shot, fade, music. Hindi naman po ipinagbabawal ang sad endings, di ba? But he didn't because that would be fulfilling audience expectations (because we know that's how it'd turn out at the onset). In the end, it became a meandering video of two boys giving themselves a pat on the back for making it this far. And that last line about their kite being still the best one? We didn't have to hear it, really. We already know.
Nice closing shots of the Pampanga plains though with the unmistakable Mount Arayat in the background. Made me miss my childhood days except that I didn't like flying kites. I threw stones at houses instead (mamuga cung batu kareng bale bale!).
GOD ONLY KNOWS by Mark V. Reyes (Last Full Show; Best Short, 2004 Turin) focuses on the disturbing and gut wrenching tale about the realities of life in the sprawling metropolis of Manila. If this was made by a writer-director who did not grow up here in Manila then I will have to muster up the courage to forgive him (but this is not so, in fact). This film displays complete ignorance of Philippine culture (I wish to discuss a little sociology, but I'm not in the mood to educate. The director happened to be in the room when this was being viewed). Sure, paedophilia is a reality in the Philippines; sure, we have our Payatas dump (and we show it ever so proudly in our films like an old, ragged medal) but surely the writer could care to see beyond all these and find other aspects of the problem to discuss? I can tell he's after the shock value (I felt like laughing), but in this country where we eat scandals and contoversies for breakfast, lunch and heavy helpings of the same at dinner, we do not need to be shocked. We ARE in a state of shock, so much so that we've already almost lost all faculties and facilities for greatness and meaningful action and would rather wait for better times (even the Left says they had to earn a living hence they're not seen on the streets as often as before). Sure, call me manhid, but I believe in the innate goodness of men which is a great alternative to the ineffectiveness of evil forces. It's either we have to believe that we are capable of good, or we have to do actual good to overcome our predicaments, however sad and hopeless. The reason why God Only Knows won't be effective is because it is neither a condemnation nor an indictment of poverty and paedophilia. It doesn't explore the topic and it doesn't offer any alternatives. It just hints at it, and then moves on leaving the audience severly wanting a closure. The story left it all to God which is why only He knows what Director Reyes really had in mind.
ANGAN-ANGAN (DREAMS) by Sheron R. Dayoc (Trails of Water) centers on a mute nine-year-old girl named Satra, whose determination to secure a good education reverberates clearly amid the strictness of her Yakan culture. The Yakan are one of the 13 Moro groups in the Philippines. They mainly reside in Basilan, Mindanao. The technicals went haywire on this one and we saw it twice without an audio. A jury member got incensced and called up someone to fix it. While this was all happening, the Caucasian jury member sitting comfortably on the couch in front of me was already asleep (is this what one calls a "detached" view of things? Only God knows). Anyway, after a few minutes, we finally got to view Angan-Angan with full sound. I imagine Angan-Angan to have been made with funding agencies in mind (or perhaps supported by one) because if I were to see it in that light, I can say that it has achieved its mission. Otherwise, it has zero commercial value given the non-familiarity of the territory and the subject matter to most audiences in Manila. The film also assumes that you are familiar with the Yakans, the current situation in their territories, and about the Bangsamoro Movement so if you've been living under a rock, this film can be be your eyeopener. Or maybe not. As an aside, there's been a recent breakthough in the negotiations in Malaysia.
Hailing from Mindanao myself, I wish to have this work seen more in its home island where poverty and strife continue to divide its peoples. I hope it brings understanding and appreciation of how education can be instrumental in ending the root cause of all clashes in the Promised Land. Director Sheron (who also attended the Ateneo in Zamboanga like I did; think Mayor Climaco assasination) brings to fore the spirit of magis in his work. Kudos to the director for first, choosing a girl as the main subject and second, for ending the film on a positive note. Angan-Angan truly reflects the unique realities of public education in the Philippines where the girls outnumber boys (and they stay far longer in schools, too).
ANDONG by Rommel "Milo" Tolentino is a story about a six-year old boy's obsession, family dynamics, and the real value of a hard-fought twenty pesos. If there's anyone who's really got his ears close to the ground, it's Rommel Tolentino (he even got us fooled with the trailer!). Andong packs a whallop in the heart department, the only film where the audience - already sleepy from the first four offerings - finally came to life and rewarded Andong with a well-deserved round of applause (at this point, the Caucasian juror slowly came to his senses). The quirky and playful editing worked wonders for this film and the low-grade camera feel didn't even get in the way. Why, the story was very simple but the narrative was tight, witty and the children actors were very charming and natural! It was like being there yourself. Truly, a fitting ending during Typhoon Helen's last evening in Manila. Congratulations, Director Milo, for this endearing and memorable work.
Hey man, Thank you for all the kind words on ANDONG, I sincerely appreciate it. Salamat.)
Proof that directors do read reviews, haha!