I spent the afternoon and evening inside the cinema today. I watched three films, two of them are from the Philippines.
OK, let's get this out of the way... the third film is from Pedro Almodovar. Broken Embraces is a typical Almodovar film, which I think is definitely a good thing. Penelope Cruz is, as always, magnificent. Reviews of the film are available in Rotten Tomatoes.
So let's now go to the Pinoy films I saw in this festival.
There were about twenty people inside the cinema at the start of Imburnal (Sewer). By the time it ended I counted only ten audience members. The movie has no clear story line nor plot. Rather, it takes what I call snapshots of the life of the people in the slums.
Sherad Anthony Sanchez's 3.5-hour film was shot in some slum in Davao City and the dialogue is in Bisaya, the first film I've seen in that language. Nice!
(Note: I talked to Sherad after the screening. He's also from Davao.)
Things I liked about the movie... The language is rich and effectively captures the nuances of how real people speak. It helps that the actors were amateurs and actually live in the same slum where the movie was shot, hence there's a rawness to the dialogues. Sanchez also has gift in composing images that give viewers a better sense of the place: squalor, stench, filth, and all. The setting is definitely the main character of the movie.
Things I did not like about the movie... It was overwrought, indulgent, and way too experimental to be palatable to most people. I had the impression that the scenes were extended to test the viewers' patience.
The movie's also replete with what seems like tricks that only serve as distractions. For instance, there's a ten minute sequence in which the screen is completely blank and all the viewers get is the musical score. For ten bloody minutes.
Many of the scenes also do not make sense, although as I said, there's a certain poetry and dreamy quality to them. I really wish though the director had better control of his material so he could have given a much tighter movie.
Having said that, I still like the film for its inventiveness in telling an otherwise typical story (Dios Mio, how many Filipino slum movies do we need ba, aber?).
Speaking of slum movies, there definitely was a lot of that in Manila, the work of emerging Filipino film-makers Adolfo Alix Jr and Raya Martin. Each director was responsible for a 45-minute short that composed the movie. Supposedly they were paying tribute to two great Filipino movie classics: Ishmael Bernal's Manila By Night and Lino Brocka's Jaguar.
Among the Filipino films I saw in this year's festival, I had the least affection for Manila. I don't know, it is not just that engaging enough despite Piolo Pascual. Hahaha. I honestly do not have much to say about the film. It's rather forgettable.
So let's move on.
Today I also saw Raya Martin's Independencia, a tale of a family hiding in a thick jungle during America's occupation of the Philippines.
(Note: A member of the audience was COMPLETELY incredulous that the Philippines was an American colony for forty-nine years.)
The film is unique in magically creating its setting and mood. It's like watching a theater performance. The backdrop is painted and the lighting is controlled. The cinematography is definitely top notch. I think I read somewhere that nearly the entire film was shot in the studio. Save for the movie's last scene, it was shot entirely in black and white to evoke an aged texture.
Also, the characters speak "old Tagalog" (for lack of a better term), hence giving the movie a theater feel to it, as mentioned.
Except for the technical merits of the movie, I honestly feel that the movie is not gripping enough, with the mediocre acting of Sid Lucero and Asunta de Rossi not helping at all.
What was most gripping for me was Kinatay (Butchered), the film that won Brilliante Mendoza the best director nod in this year's Cannes Film Festival, definitely not a simple feat. I love, love this film and after watching Tirador (Slingshot) and Serbis (Service), I'm totally a Mendoza fan already.
(Note: I bumped into him in Paragon yesterday and we had a 20-second chit chat. Yun lang.)
Apparently the film divided the critics in Cannes; one of them even said it is unwatchable (see Rotten Tomatoes reviews here).
It also repulsed a good number of viewers as the movie deals with a police operation that involves body parts and sharp objects. (How difficult was that to write!). It definitely made me queasy but I left the theater thinking of the gore and dismembered limbs least of all.
The movie excels in going inside the mind of a police trainee (the adorable Coco Martin), his terror and moral dilemma especially. Adroitly using shadows and shaky shots, Mendoza also builds the fear of the audience particularly the scenes inside the van in which he takes us on a ride inside an oppressive and evil atmosphere. In that extended sequence, the feeling that something terrible and cruel is about to happen just mounted and mounted.
Cut to the house where they brought the prostitute. This particular part of the movie is way beyond horrifying, and here Mendoza went nearly all out. I squirmed in my seat together with the rest of the viewers.
But then, Mendoza's films have always been about delivering a strong punch in the viewers' stomach. He is not known for restraint, is he? He likes shoving reality in your face the way that Tirador and Serbis are; and Kinatay is obviously not different. (I still like Serbis the most among his films, though.)
Imburnal, Independencia, and Aurora are competing in the Southeast Asian Competition for the festival. (I don't have time to catch Aurora though.) Last year, Serbis and Jay won awards. Here's hoping that the Philippines will bag some this year.