The banner for this year’s CineFilipino Film Festival is “kwento ang hari” (“story is king”). This is the dreaded undertaking which the festival, now on its third iteration, has imposed to its entries. Luckily, the films included in this year’s lineup, made up of a whole spectrum of stories, follow through on that promise. Well, for the most part.
What follows below are our thoughts on all eight feature films included in the 2018 CineFilipino Film Festival. By the time we’re finished—hopefully by the weekend—our festival report will be complete, which will hopefully give you a good sense of which films you’d be interested to watch.
If you’re watching this weekend, you might want to check our festival guide here.
Mga Mister ni Rosario
The premise of “Mga Mister ni Rosario”, though it sounds like a 90’s subversion of the religious drama genre, imagines the inconvenience of marrying a method actor. The punchline sticks quite late—o.k., so you’re married to Christian Bale, he takes his work at home, and it so happens he’s shooting a sequel to “American Psycho”—but it sticks quite the same. It’s an obvious satire on method acting, and Gamboa, always the unruly mountebank of Philippine showbiz, is perfect as Yogi, supplying the wackiness the character demands while building an unflinching portrait of a fractured mind underneath.
But the film’s breakout star, should there be one, is Kate Alejandrino. She plays Sari, a superfan-turned-stage wife, a character who, in lesser hands, is likely to fall inane. Alejandro’s performance is joyous and endearing. As Sari, she brims with boundless energy that though there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, you don’t question her insistence to stay with her husband, even when things escalate from fun foreplay to legitimate physical danger. “For the sake of art,” she intones, like a prayer for a rosary—her namesake. “And because I’m a good wife.” She repeats it a handful of times, each with a shifting nuance more distinct than the one before.
Direction: Alpha Habon
Cast: Joross Gamboa, Kate Alejandrino, Kim Molina
Bea is the perfect stage wife to his method actor husband until he gets the role of a lifetime and threatens to kill her “character”.
The contrast in comedy and suspense in “Hitboy” can be the film’s method of showing that to Alex, the weight of the world is on his shoulders but to the merciless antagonists, this is just another day to be laughed off. Or it can be the film’s satirization of men in power: insane, ruthless, and for the most part, legitimate dimwits. This is smart on paper, but here, in the film’s execution, it becomes one of the film’s pitfalls. The film’s structure renders itself wobbly and incohesive, making it difficult to connect with Alex’s ineffable plight. That plenty of the film’s characters are one-dimensional caricatures, doesn’t help either.
To be fair, “Hitboy” has its redeeming moments. Juan Miguel Salvado, who plays Alex’ younger brother Jay-jay, is a gem among the film’s younger actors. Soliman Cruz and Mon Confiado seem to have a grand time portraying the film’s villains to cartoonishly maniacal extremes. It’s remarkable how these seasoned actors mold characters that without sweat is able to switch from hilarious to menacing to even fatherly.
Bor Ocampo’s stories are set in a dreary ol’ country called dog nation, a sullen panorama that casts its people in a contraption of rote and recursive tragedies, big and small. Ocampo’s debut feature, “Dayang Asu”, left an indelible mark in its matter-of-factness, unflinching in its essentially detached way of telling us the horrors that we already know of. His new film, “Hitboy”, takes a different and less successful approach.
Where “Dayang Asu” triumphed in its cruel resolution, “Hitboy” stumbles in its absurdity. There’s the odd but welcome casting of Mon Confiado, who in Ocampo’s fictitious dog nation, much like the roles that he plays, moonlights as a full-fledged hoodlum (or is the other way around?). His arc is preceded by the film’s titular assassin, played by Adrian Cabido, from whose perspective we see the film. For a tween who’s forced to make ends meet, and going as far as taking other people’s lives, his situation is bleak and doubtless scary, but faced with men in power who does it for fun, the film shifts its tone from darkly humorous to downright laughable. The film’s message is not lost in this shift, but in its inherent delicacy, and the film’s less so execution, the impact of its message has all but been lost.
Direction: Bor Ocampo
Cast: Adrian Cabido, Soliman Cruz, Mon Confiado, Rosanna Roces, Rea Molina
At 15, Hitboy Alex is a full-time kid who plays a game of survival as a part-time gun for hire.
The Eternity Between Seconds
Serendipity has its moments. Such enliven the better parts of Alec Figuracion’s “The Eternity Between Seconds”, a film that docks a mutable but very real sense of loss and longing in limbo. The sleepy in-between moments in it, glorious in their smallness, are something to behold, languid as they unfurl as if time itself has stopped, be it the unexpected reunion with a friend or a simple game to pass time. The film, aptly, is set at the Incheon airport, whose vast terminals and handsome modernist architecture demand the attention of those willfully adrift.
The airport, cast as buoys to the character’s respective conflicts, make for a proper setting, and Figuracion, who writes, directs, and edits the film, uses it well. It’s easy to get lost in its own little sphere of transience, for which the film has Rommel Sales’ lensing and Swavesound’s music to thank, which together, drizzles the film with such hypnotic effect that you find yourself stuck, suddenly and willingly, in its stillness. The production itself, at Melai Entuna’s helm, looks prim and expensive; it’s incredible how handsome-looking the final print looks, considering its measly two-million-peso budget.
Direction: Alec Figuracion
Cast: Yeng Constantino, TJ Trinidad
A depressed motivational speaker, and an anxious Kopino meeting her Korean father for the first time cross paths in Incheon International Airport, where, together, they attempt to elude time.
There’s more to Rod Marmol’s “Mata Tapang” than meets the eye (there are a lot of eye puns in this review, be forewarned). While it seems like a war film on the surface, it proves more of a supernatural drama about friendship and brotherhood. A few cringe-worthy moments and its wearisome pacing notwithstanding, its interesting premise ultimately makes the film wholly entertaining.
Sergeant Luis Batobato (Edgar Allan Guzman), Bangks (Aaron Villaflor) Yulo (Miguel Almendras), and Razon (Jerald Napoles) are Marine officers who get ambushed during a military operation. Luis, known more intimately by his friends as “Hardrock”, is the lone survivor and loses his eye to the encounter. Ironically, losing his eye allowed him to “see” the spirits of his fallen comrades, who need him to help them resolve their respective unfinished businesses in order to find closure and finally cross to the afterlife.
Direction: Rod Marmol
Cast: Edgar Allan Guzman, Arron Villaflor, Jerald Napoles, Miguel Almendras, Ritz Azul
An absolutist soldier who lost an eye in battle opens a new “eye” that makes him see his fallen brother and accomplish their life missions.
Excuse Me Po
Ronald Espinosa’s CineFilipino 2018 entry, “Excuse Me Po” feels like it wants to tackle many things at once, that it became a hodge-podge of confusing narratives crammed into one storyline. The film has heart, but its intentions don’t resonate well with viewers. Does it want us to understand the motivations of a scammer? Is it a film tackling poverty? Is it a movie about filmmaking? Why did the movie go meta? You can tell that the movie has a lot of ideas that it wants to share but sadly, the structure just doesn’t add everything up.
“Excuse Me Po” skims through surface of the stories it wants to tell, never fully immersing itself within those narratives. We see half-baked arcs of different characters which could have had some potential if only the film was brave enough to delve deeper into those storylines.
Direction: Ronald Espinosa Batallones
Cast: Elizabeth Oropesa, Matt Daclan
“Excuse Me Po” is the story of Hilda, a 65-year-old Senior Citizen who makes a living out of begging inside and outside of the mall.
Delia & Sammy
Direction: Therese Cayaba
Cast: Rosemarie Gil, Jaime Fabregas, Nico Antonio
An ill-tempered old actress Delia, has to find a relative to leave her equally difficult husband with before she dies, forcing themselves back into the lives of people they’ve hurt, estranged and antagonized.
Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus
Direction: Dwein Baltazar
Cast: Soliman Cruz, Nicco Manalo, Anthony Falcon, Dylan Ray Talon
In Avenida, the lives of four men intertwine, searching for something and they all find what they are looking for in one woman called Aileen.
Direction: Roni Supangan Benaid
Cast: Glydel Mercado, Shy Carlos, Yayo Aguila, Mon Confiado, Rolando Inocencio and Chanel Latorre
Claudia, a religious church servant, experiences horrible things after she bought a religious image, she believes is miraculous.
Thanks to Armand and Geoff for covering #CineFilipino2018! 💗 Follow them on their socials.