The film is set just before martial law. Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) arrives at the Adoration monastery and joins the cloistered nuns in their daily duties. She becomes friends with Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon), who is growing concerned with the situation outside the walls of the convent. While walking back to the convent one night, Lourdes and Remy are attacked. The film closely follows the fallout of the event, as the convent locks itself down and tries to deal with the consequences. The film is patient, quiet, and intense, looking deep into the darkness that stems from passivity. Even as the sisters take every measure to move past the terrible event and hide themselves from the outside world, the violence has clawed its way inside their home, and they’re taking it out on themselves. It’s brilliant, mesmerizing stuff.
Emmanuel Quindo Palo’s Santa Niña clearly takes inspiration from Bernal’s Himala. It seems unwise to want to draw comparisons to such a masterpiece, but this film has plenty of guts. It begins with Pol (Coco Martin) unexpectedly unearthing the coffin of his two-year-old daughter Marikit, lost years ago in the lahar. Miraculously, Marikit’s body apparently hasn’t undergone any decay. Not knowing what to do, Pol keeps the coffin at his house, and soon enough the faithful gather to receive the miraculous child’s blessing.
I’ve become really bothered with the way Coco Martin stares off into the distance in scenes where he’s supposed to be talking to someone. Being in soaps has apparently given him a few bad habits. But looking past that, the movie is really strong. It takes a long, hard look at the intersection of religion and superstition that seems to characterize belief in this country. It asks tough questions about the nature of sin and forgiveness, finding powerful material in the places where doctrine and practice never seem to coincide.
I’ve always suspected that Jun Lana would be pretty good if freed from the shackles of the mainstream. I’m no big fan of his movies, but I’ve always admired his ability to find the core of his characters. Bwakaw largely confirms that my faith in Lana wasn’t misplaced. It tells the story of Rene (Eddie Garcia), an elderly gay gentleman who lives with his dog Bwakaw in a rundown house. Rene is mostly concerning himself with preparing for the day he dies. But as he interacts with the people around him, he slowly discovers the joy of living again.
Anchored by a great performance from Eddie Garcia, Bwakaw is smart, funny, and pleasingly human. It does a great job of fleshing out its main character, giving him a life beyond the easy archetypes of local cinema. Eddie Garcia fills in the rest. The strong character writing and acting combine to ground the film even when it takes off into broader comedic territory. I feel that the film runs a little long, the plot concerned with one too many little details. But even when the film meanders, the staunchly human core makes it all a pleasure.
Aloy Adlawan’s Ang Katiwala is the only film in the festival that I actively don’t like. It’s a confused, overwrought and overlong mess that seems intent on talking down to the audience. Carpenter Ruben (Dennis Trillo) gets a job as a caretaker for a property in Quezon City. He soon discovers that the property was once home to President Manuel Quezon. As Ruben spends time in the house, he takes inspiration from the president, and tries to model himself after him. The core of the film seems but simple, but the final product is decidedly not. It’s a mess of misplaced politics, unearned sentiment and loose plot points poorly held together by mismatched treatments. Somehow, this movie makes room for both animated interpretations of Quezon’s life and slow-motion gunfire. To be fair, this might be one of the better performances of Dennis Trillo. But it’s not nearly enough to salvage this mess of a movie.
And that’s it for this year. This year’s lineup was pretty strong overall. There are a few days left in the festival, and I hope you guys take the chance to see some of these films. I would definitely recommend seeing Ang Nawawala, Aparisyon, Kalayaan, Santa Niña and Bwakaw. I still haven’t seen a better version of Requieme!, but I think it’s worth seeing anyway. And the only film I think people should actively avoid is Ang Katiwala. All in all, it was a good year, the quality of the films overshadowing whatever controversy the festival went through. The future seems uncertain for the festival now, but whatever happens next, there’s no denying the sheer quality that was produced this year.