The 14th edition of the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival kicked off today with hordes of patrons swarming to the cinemas to watch independent films. The Unreel crew decided it best to experience the fest in its chosen home for thirteen years, the CCP (Cultural Center Philippines).
Much like editions that precede it, Cinemalaya 2018 is a complete haze of bumping into fellow cinephiles, finding the tastiest shawarma race, and keeping up with a tightly scheduled programming (usually five screenings in one day). To this end, we’ve compiled the team’s reactions to the films below, so you’ll have some sort of primer going into the festival this week.
Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon
“In Carlo Enciso Catu’s Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon (Waiting For Sunset), we see two contrasting stories: one is about a happy old couple, Tere and Celso, living comfortable senior lives. At the other end of the spectrum is Bene, a lonely old man, living in a large but decrepit home. Like the unhurried movements of its characters brought by old age, the film lingers even in the most mundane moments, savoring the feeling of nostalgia in its scenes. It’s a slow yet endearing love story that presents its own brand of “happy endings”, one in which every character finds his/her own peace in the end. This movie is one of my favorite entries so far.” – Geoff
“The most fascinating thing about Liway is its own conception. Kip Oebanda, the film’s director, dramatizes events from his childhood as chronicled by his mother, Kumander Liway (Glaiza De Castro). And though the film is uneven in parts and far from perfect as a whole, it unfolds with such deeply felt resonance that it becomes easy to forego its flaws. Truth be told, there are less pedagogic films about Martial Law than it, but few are also as impassioned.” – Armando
“A tear-jerking story veiled as comedy, Denise O’Hara’s Mamang brings both laughter and tears. Celeste Legaspi is adorable as Mamang, an old lady grappling with ghosts of her past brought to life by dementia. Her son, Ferdie (Ketchup Eusebio), takes care of her to help keep the sanity in her blurring sense of reality. Despite its quirky and optimistic characters, the film doesn’t let its sense of desperation and worry looming over their predicament get lost in the periphery. The film lives for the “twist” that it presents towards the end, which sadly loses its impact when it’s supposed to land. Overall, it’s a feel-good film that I’d happily sit through for a second viewing.” – Geoff
“A stirring family drama, Perci Intalan’s new film, Distance, tails an estranged wife and mother named Liz (Iza Calzado) as she tries to reintegrate herself to a family she had abandoned years ago. Up until its denouement—a spit-first, top-of-your-lungs deluge of pent-up rage and frustration—the film seems content with a detached sense of expression with nary a proper emotional response to Liz’s sudden and unwelcome return. Exactly how, I’m sure, families resolve their issues big and small: let it simmer until it boils to a war far colder than what the Soviet Union can muster. Running at 100 minutes, though, the film feels pretty loose; a two-minute flashback scene plugged in towards the end for exposition feels completely disjointed from the film tone-wise. Still, this feels at par with what Intalan can bring to the table, and I’m genuinely interested to see what he makes next.” -Armando
Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma
“Eshal (Junyka Sigrid Santarin) is a young Muslim girl in Marawi caught in the midst of an age-old feud between clans. She’s left with her infant brother, she must find ways to survive, waiting for their father to rescue them from the forest and their clan’s enemies. Lionel Arondaing tells Eshal’s like how a chronicler would tell the tale of his own people—like telling a myth. Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma is dreamlike, mystical even, with a storyline set against beautifully taken shots and inventive cinematography coupled with evocative music. It’s interesting how the film incorporates both Christian and Muslim elements in telling Eshal’s story, which speaks to the universality of humanity and morality regardless of religion. It’s a beautiful film that artfully captures the violence and suffering in these clan wars, though not without the umistakable tendency to be preachy.” – Geoff
“The Lookout is one of those films that are absolutely ridiculous and unapologetically bad that it actually becomes an entertaining watch. The events are confusing, the script cringe-worthy, and the storyline is just so absurd that at some point you wonder if its ridiculousness is intentional. I wish that the cast had better material to work on. If there’s anything good about the film, it’s the fact that when I saw it, the audience enjoyed its hilarity, so much so that it ended up feeling like comedy. I’m glad that I was able to see this film, but don’t think I’d recommend it for anyone to spend his or her money on.” – Geoff
“A troublingly cathartic suburban thriller about a young student making the perilous mistake of talking to a PTSD-stricken Martial Law colonel. That’s fertile ground for actually smart discussions on Martial Law (which I hope the film did), but ML seems set on havinglaser-sharp focus on existing solely to transgress—somewhere, Eli Roth is feeling all sorts of sensations on his willy—and delivering one of the most ridiculously twisted villains the genre’s ever seen, played expertly by Eddie Garcia. Also, just to see EJK apologists get on the gruesome end of what’s happening right now in our country is a simple delight I’ve no problem indulging in.” -Armando
“This is what happens to a film when thespic forces (Ai-Ai Delas Alas, Joel Lamangan, and Therese Malvar are pretty great in this) far outweigh its writing and direction. Louie Ignacio makes interesting flourishes to an otherwise bland screenplay, written by Onay Sales, but ultimately fails to tell new truths about poverty and street children—frustratingly, subjects he’s built his filmmaking career on in his past couple of films. The visual approach, too, feels like an arbitrary choice. In the whole, this is a maddeningly okay independent film where Ai-ai Delas Alas (and in this case, the rest of the cast) does all the heavy lifting.” -Armando
“Ostensibly a ruefully tender drama about a timid, soft-spoken clerk (Ogie Alcasid), James Mayo’s Kuya Wes roosts to be a painfully drawn portrait of loneliness and an ode to the invisible. Pulsating underneath its endearing, wryly humorous moments is a kind of melancholy waiting to erupt in a vicious fit of anger—a rage whose release enlightens instead of destructs. Filmed expertly by Theo Lozada, the film is also a deftly crafted exercise in framing. The climactic scene towards the end, the only one that didn’t relegated our protagonist to the edges of the screen, is something to behold and alone is worthy of admission. I can already see this going down as one of our greats.” -Armando
Pan de Salawal
“Che Espiritu‘s Pan de Salawal is the perfect palette cleanser to an otherwise bleak series of festival movies. It’s unmistakably Ghibli-esque—and if you’re feeling nostalgic, unmistakably Hiraya Manawari-esque—in that a mysterious young girl heals a barangay of its literal ills and afflictions. However, the girl’s powers don’t work on a lonely baker stricken with a painful kidney condition. The film itself is filled with plenty heartwarming moments and sometimes borders on pure schmaltz, but it also presents a beautifully written story of hope and paints a moving picture of what the good side of our humanity looks like.” -Armando
Si Astri maka si Tambulah
“This is my third time watching Xeph Zuares’ endearing drama—a Sama Badjao transwoman shackled by prejudice and a heteronormative tradition—and I’m just as enamored as the first time. The film’s drama centers around her and her lover, Tambulah, who helps her make up the dowry money for her wedding to a woman she barely knows. Aided by strong performances and Suarez’ deft touches, the short delivers an emotionally charged drama about an affair that ends in a tragic but noble resolution—a hopeful unshackling.” -Armando
Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month
“Leave it to Carlo Manatad to render manic body-twitching into cutting observations on deep social realities. This punkishly offbeat, blackly humorous night-out with an ideal employee on her last day on the job is absolute anarchic insanity.” -Armando
“I’m at an impasse: I don’t know which is more irksome, Logro’s ending or the fact that it is actually a well-crafted short film with a dangerous outlook on its marginalized subject. The answer, of course, is always the former. In it, a little person decides to journey past unjust and constant prejudices he gets as a marginalized no-name, only to be made a joke to himself. That ending simply rubs me the wrong way—the whole short film for that matter.” – Armando
Sa Saíyang Islá
“A well-meaning fable about family and identity, Sa Saíyang Islá tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a mermaid. In society’s often prejudiced perspective, such an aspiration is absurd, but through the eyes of [young boy name], it’s only predicated on a myth borne out of his family’s necessity—his mother insists that they “offer” something to the mermaids, so their catch be spared from the effects of the oil spill—and his own blooming identity. This yields a heartwarmingly earnest short and a truly affecting watch.“ -Armando
“Glenn Barit’s Nangungupahan maps the different histories housed in a small apartelle. The film flicks from one time period to the next, and later meshes them together in the same frame. The result is an often enlightening insight into how a space as mundane as the film’s subject mean different things to each person. The final shot is a stroke of genius. My favorite short from its set.” -Armando
You, Me and Mr. Wiggles
“Though it has some particularly rousing parts, Jav Velasco’s single-shot quarrel between a sexually strapped feels in the whole as flaccid as the thing that its titular rubber substitutes. The script, for one, is prime stuff, with Denise O’Hara offering screenwriting help to director Jav Velasco, and the soundboard from which Kiko Matos and Elora Españo lock and load which spiteful slurs to expertly throw at one another. Pretty dissatisfying in the whole.” – Armando
“We know from the onset that Keith Deligero’s Babylon is going to be quite the ride. It feels like the smaller brother to Lily—stylish, irreverent, and just as “gago”. Two girls travel through time to assassinate a barangay dictator. Doubtless a simple premise, but the follow-through is much, much crazier. There’s a distinctly fascinating style to Deligero’s films that I’ve always enjoyed, from the off-the-wall Stand By Me-like adventure in Iskalawags to the sultry vampire romance in Lily. Babylon doesn’t stray too far from a style that’s become distinctly the filmmaker’s own. Expect to get a whiplash. Or two.” -Armando
“Kiko centers around a blind gay man who tries to make ends meet for his adopted son, Ton-ton. He supports his family—including a philandering druggie named Rex—by doing the neighbor’s laundry. From this, Jojo Driz crafts a powerful story of self-worth and resilience. Easily a standout.” – Armando
Siyudad sa Bulawan
“Jarell Serencio’s slice of life drama, Siyudad sa Bulawan, is an intriguing look at the lives of child miners and their stolen youth. There’s something distinctly melancholy about how scenes where miners listlessly chisel away from the rocks, never minding the children in their pack. The short’s final moments come abruptly as it does for the film’s protagonists, and though I wished I’ve seen more leading up to that, I think it only an apt resolution.” -Armando
“Yakap is a light, fleeting, and deeply bewitching ruminative dance about one’s resignation to her mortality. The film features choreography that captures one’s fraught, disbelief, and eventual unmooring in their final moments just as vividly as dialogue can. I’m liking that Cinemalaya is adding variety to its short feature sets, and a dance film as finely crafted as Yakap is certainly a welcome flavor.” – Armando
The above reactions are from Unreel editor-in-chief Armando Dela Cruz, film writer and reviewer Geoffrey Ledesma (of Geoffreviews), and Rappler producer and Film Police Reviews editor Tristan Zinampan. Listed below are lists and rankings to offer some form of consensus for patrons attending the film fest.
Recommended in-competition films if you only have time (and money) for three. Plus, the best Shorts in this year’s edition.