1. Rody Vera, Loy Arcenas, and the cast of Niño
It’s hard to believe that Rody Vera, the acclaimed playwright and writer of Niño, hasn’t written more than seven film scripts, and that the film is the directorial debut of US-based stage designer Loy Arcenas. Niño is a sumptuous feast of a movie, with nary a false note throughout its 103 minute-running time and peopled with pulsing three-dimensional characters portrayed by a terrific cast. Here’s hoping that Arcenas will stay in the Philippines for good and that Vera will write more film scripts.
2. Glaiza de Castro
De Castro has three major roles in this year’s festival: as a new schoolteacher who has a crush on the school principal in Patikul, as a funeral shop intern/videographer in I-Libings, and as a vocalist of an upcoming rock band and love interest of a fellow band member in Rakenrol. She was the sole beacon of light in the dark sewerage that is Patikul, and her performance in I-Libings lifted the movie from being a run-of-the-mill coming of age story to being a believable poignant film. But her biggest and best role is in Rakenrol, where she gets to showcase her quirky personality. It’s not hard to believe that the Jason Abalos character would fall in love with her. With this film, she has cemented her status as the newest crush ng bayan.
3. Marissa Sue Prado
Prado piqued the Pinoy film world’s curiosity when she bagged the Best Supporting Actress award in last year’s Urian for the film Himpapawid, where she essayed four different roles. This year at Cinemalaya, she again terrifically plays four different minor roles, but this time in four different movies: as a bored nurse in Bahay Bata, as a hesitant drug mule in Cuchera, as a scared schoolteacher in Patikul, and as a mysterious woman who captures the heart of Alfred Vargas in Teoriya. Hopefully she will be given lead roles in the near future.
I was out of the country for the past three Cinemalayas, and this is the first time that I got a festival pass and it’s great! The pass costs P2,000 and I had the chance to see 21 feature-length films and 10 short films. Because of scheduling conflicts, I only got to see 16 features and 10 shorts, but since a ticket costs P150, I would have paid P2,700 had I not bought a pass. So I saved P700 and got priority seating in all screenings. Not a bad deal at all.
5. Sold-out tickets and celebrity sightings
It is undeniable that the best movies being churned out in the Philippines these days are indie films. Sure, Star Cinema films and the MMFF blockbusters still get the most money but I believe the local audience for indie films has been expanding every year. The long lines at CCP and Greenbelt (and I’m sure at UP in the next few days) prove that there is a growing appetite for non-mainstream fare. I even spotted some mainstream celebrities who were not involved in any entry this year lining up. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the person sitting in front of me in one of the screenings was Mother Lily Monteverde! I believe she was on the lookout for movies to purchase. If that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time before we see Star Cinema and GMA Films bigwigs scouting at Cinemalaya, if they’re not already doing so.
1. Realizing that a Palanca Award for Literature doesn’t mean shit
When I learned that Kristoffer Brugada, who wrote the screenplay of Patikul, won first prize at this year’s Palanca Awards for writing the Patikul script, one esteemed institution came crumbling down in my mind. I have always associated the Palanca Awards to be the pinnacle of literature success, but awarding an awful script first prize? What made it prize-worthy? The fact that it had Mindanaoan dialogue, so it’s realistic? The fact that it emphasizes the role of literacy, even if the treatment is very amateurish? Who judges film scripts submitted to Palanca, anyway? Carlo Caparas?
2. Second consecutive grant to Joel Lamangan
I haven’t seen Sigwa, so I can’t say whether Lamangan deserves a second consecutive grant from the government to direct Patikul. In any case, I still believe that there are more talented directors who deserve the slot taken by Lamangan. Cinemalaya should impose guidelines that will limit the number of films directed by one person for a certain number of years. If not, then Joel Lamangan might direct Maguindanao Massacre for next year’s festival, if Carlo Caparas hasn’t beaten him to it yet. God help us.
3. Ticketing system
One of the most maddening things this year is the sloooow dispensing of tickets, especially at CCP’s Window 3, where, at one time, the average time to buy a ticket was 8 minutes. I actually timed this while waiting in line, where I’ve heard many complaints and not a few curses at the pace of ticket-selling. I’m not sure if it’s the system itself or the people manning the machines that need to be made more efficient.
4. The Natural Phenomenon of Madness
Speaking of madness, this film, about a woman who was “raped” by her one true love, is just about as bad as it gets. It follows all the tropes of an “art” film: black and white photography, check; slooow pace, check; characters speaking from a distance (ala Yi Yi), check; changing perspectives mid-film (which didn’t make sense, btw), check. The natural phenomenon of pretentious artsy-fartsy stuff.
5. Remnants of poverty porn (a.k.a. The School of Brillante Mendoza)
Responses to both Bahay Bata and Cuchera have been mixed so far. Those who loved Cuchera, for instance, say that they appreciate the in-your-face, almost horror-film treatment of the subject of drug mules, and that subtlety will never work for such subject. Those who didn’t like it think that the film just follows the trend of shocking First World-sensibilities by showing Third World stark realities, which is actually what Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is making fun of. I am in the latter camp. I’m sure that Bahay Bata and its underage mothers and dozen kids per woman, and Cuchera and its bloody orifices and sex-starved drug dealers will be highly appreciated in film festivals abroad, where First Worlders will praise the films’ “neorealism” and feel a little guilty that they’re living in a more civilized world.
Joseph Laban, the director of Cuchera, said in his introduction to the movie that even if one doesn’t have anything good to say about the film, the fact that there are more than 600 Filipinos languishing in jails all over the world because of drug trafficking should still be mentioned. There, I mentioned it, but I still don’t understand how mentioning it can do anything about the plight of the imprisoned drug mules. Should they be pardoned because the reason they committed drug trafficking is poverty?