Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino is only in its sophomore year, but already it has its fair share of buzz and clamor. The brainchild of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, PPP the only national film festival other than MMFF. It kicks off today, premiering a whole lineup of films from filmmakers like Chito S. Roño, Jun Lana, Adolfo Alix Jr., and more.
Per usual, your Unreel Crew (this time, it’s just me…*sad face*) sets off to binge the festival and share with you our thoughts on the competing films.
Ang Babaeng Allergic sa Wi-Fi
Can craft ameliorate a weak film? Jun Lana, who directs and writes the new film Ang Babaeng Allergic Sa Wi-Fi, tries hard in making his story less of a syrupy overproduced rom-com romp into a more palatable drama about disconnect in the digital age, but ultimately fails. In it, a young woman is afflicted with hypersensitivity to electromagnetic fields, specifically cellular reception and Wi-Fi. That yields some cute moments—certainly as a product meant to peddle “kilig” to viewers who will take it, this passes as a hyper-polished grade-A prime meat—but many of them feel ultimately empty and stereotypically teenager-ly, diminished even further by the film’s tendency for overwrought moments. The final act is less of a crescendo to which the characters’ stories screech and more like a last ditch effort to give the film weight that it gravely lacks.
“When people say done is better than perfect, they mustn’t mean Bakwit Boys, a technically crummy but ultimately endearing musical drama and one of the two entries Jason Paul Laxamana has in this year’s lineup. Folded in its central story—four equally gregarious brothers meet a wide-eyed pixie girl (Devon Sawa) who wishes to help them produce music—is an interesting examination of privilege, corruption, and issues far bigger than strumming patterns and harmonies. And that’s exactly what’s frustrating about it. Laxamana crafts a flawed but affecting story, one which is sadly bogged down by the haphazard quality of its sound and music—two elements that you’d expect to be spot-on in films about music. Like Sawa’s idealist music producer, I long for the “cleaner, recorded version”.” -Armando
Dark is the Night (Madilim ang Gabi)
“The title of Adolfo Alix Jr.’s new film—Dark is the Night—is as accurately foreboding as titles can get. Squashed in its slinkier 3:4 frame, is a thick atmosphere of fear and paranoia in Barangay Matiktik in Tondo, a pandemonium in which pushers, corrupt authorities, and executioners are pitted together. The suspense comes from the fact that at this point, one doesn’t know who is which of the three, or if that makes a difference at all. Such tension is masterfully built by Alix’s use of the frame—within the frame, making his subjects look like prisoners behind bars—and central performances from Gina Alajar and Philip Salvador. Its script-less approach transpires clearly to the final product, but that does little to wane the film’s final moments and what the film, ultimately, is trying to say with its industry-strength, all-star voice box: the title speaks for itself.” -Armando
Pinay Beauty: She’s No White
“All beauty, no shade—that’s a concept that’s about as foreign as it gets to Annie (Chai Fonacier), a woman obsessed in getting fairer and whiter skin, thanks in large part to the colorism that pervades her surroundings. But pretty hurts? That, she understands. So much so so that she accepts her boyfriend’s aid in supporting her plastic surgery. Like a chant, she intones: “I’m happy when I’m beautiful.”
From this springs the film’s very heartfelt central message, told vehemently through the eyes of Fonacier’s damsel in cosmetic distress, who audits her physical beauty to ping-pong between ugly and dismayingly ugly. That somewhat offsets the film’s hiccups, many of which are sadly brought about by Jay Abello’s scattershot direction and Allan Habon and Rod Marmol’s wobbly screenwriting. Pretty dissatisfying.” -Armando
“Say this, if nothing else, about Signal Rock. Chito S. Roño is one of the best filmmakers we have. That’s nothing new to your ears, I know, but let it sear into your cortices. Or, you know, don’t take it from me. Just watch Signal Rock. Please, watch Signal Rock.
It’s a stirring drama set in a small, seaside town whose only connection beyond its ocean is the eponymous rock transformation that towers high enough to get cellular service. It’s there that Intoy, played by Christian Bables, awaits calls from his sister, who lives with her Finnish husband overseas, and it’s there that the film unfurls into a stirring drama about Filipino diaspora and a heart-rending ode both to those who leave home and those who are left behind. This is one of Roño’s best films, and a perfect double-feature alongside Roño small-town thriller, Badil.” -Armando
The Day After Valentine’s
“To my frustration, I’ve reconciled with the fact that Jason Paul Laxamana is a truly commendable filmmaker. He doesn’t concern himself with making a mere gay-sploitation film, a horror-thriller, or a musical. He wants to make a film about cybercrime, Fil-Am identity, and privilege, and when he puts his heart and mind to it (like he did in Magkakabaung), the end-product turns out pretty great. That’s not the case for The Day After Valentine’s, the lesser PPP entry between it and Bakwit Boys. What could have been an engrossing romantic dramedy about depression is ultimately bogged down by a structurally wonky screenplay and a handful of questionable filmmaking choices.” -Armando
“Miko Livelo’s self-indulgent, fourth-wall-breaking, brilliantly wacko new film, Unli Life, is also his best so far. That says a lot, especially if you also made a great movie called Blue Bustamante, a heartfelt dramedy that veils its deeper themes under the facade of make-believe sets and a markedly cartoonish aesthetic. That sprightly, zany spirit lives on in his new film, with an amusing lead star to match. As the nucleus of this insane, pop culture-conscious head trip, Vhong Navarro’s infectious energy is something to behold; he serves as the guinea pig to Livelo’s many visual gags, and he’s amusing to watch each time. Though poised as a rom-com about a man caught in an emotional pit after a stingy breakup, Unli Life sprawls into a much bigger story about control and making peace with its absence in our lives.” -Armando
We Will Not Die Tonight
Punk isn’t dead, but Kray (Erich Gonzales), and her ragtag group of small-time hustlers, might be as they head straight into a human trafficking den. All good—they exist in Richard V. Somes’ green-and-orange world, whose goons can’t shut up about skinning someone alive and where the official aesthetic is “Freddie Kreuger’s bro-pad realness”.
It’s clear from the get-go that his new film, We Will Not Die Tonight, isn’t the kind of film from which you can expect a working narrative, much less a compelling one. And admirably to an extent, Somes embraces that with glee, coming out with one of the trashiest survival thrillers we have. It’s dirty, grimy, and very often downright ugly. Managing to sit through its hideousness is something to celebrate, like having a roll of tissue paper at arm’s length—sometimes having human dung to wipe is a blessing…question mark?