I’ve been known for making strange comparisons between movies that have little to do with each other. Prepare yourselves for another one. Carlo Obispo’s Purok 7 reminded me of the 2010 movie Winter’s Bone. It is a coming-of-age story of a young woman growing up in a rural community, basically abandoned by her parents. She takes care of a younger sibling basically through her smarts and her ability to survive. The difference is in the setting. Winter’s Bone takes place in the Ozarks. Purok 7 replaces the harsh criminality of that region with the startling compassion of a farming community in Tarlac. What emerges is a really lovely, gentle treatment of tragedy, finding the odd joy that can persist even in the direst of situations.
And the dire situation here is a doozy: the mother of this girl, it turns out, is on death row in China for drug trafficking. But the film doesn’t dwell on the harshness of that reality. It plays out the inability of these children to process an event so abstract and foreign, so beyond understanding. In place of their misery, the film offers up a tale of adolescent infatuation. There is a fierce disconnect between these two sides of the narrative, but that’s exactly the point. To these children, the two things are pretty much equal. The film does feel a little overscored, however. Some of these moments might have benefitted from leaving behind the emotional crutch of the music. It’s a promising debut from Carlo Obispo, however, who has this unique ability to tell stories about children.
Debosyon is a rather captivating exploration of the bizarre intersection between religion and superstition that characterizes our culture’s approach to worship. Description doesn’t quite do the movie justice – it begins with a young man named Mando (Paulo Avelino) entering the forest in search of orchids. He falls off a tree and passes out. It is dark when he awakes, and will-o’-the-wisp leads him to Saling (Mara Lopez), a young woman who lives alone in a hut deep in the forest. She brings Mando to her home, and he falls in love with her. But there is more to Saling than the young man can comprehend. If you’ve ever seen an Alvin Yapan film before, you’ll know what to expect. It’s slow but sensual, the film lingering in the moments between words, finding a seductive rhythm in its depiction of the mundane. This all builds to a remarkable sequence set in the feast of the Virgin of Peñafrancia, where the themes of love, devotion, worship and superstition all crash into an incredible wave of humanity. It’s a beautiful, lyrical work.
I was worried coming in that Ekstra was just going to be a less interesting version of 2011’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay. It turns out that the fears were unwarranted. The film takes a fairly different approach, following one extra (played by the inimitable Vilma Santos) as she goes through one whole day of being a talent on the set of a popular soap opera. The film is as much about the absurdities that go into the production of one of these shows as it is about its titular subject, spending a good chunk of its time railing against the rampant disregard for any sort of quality on these productions. The film ends up depicting a hierarchy of suffering, with the extras at the bottom rung of a seemingly endless ladder to an unknowable top. The film could probably stand to be a little shorter, perhaps a little more economical in its criticism of the industry. But it’s hard to complain when Jeturian’s satirical instincts are so on point, and Vilma Santos is so affecting.
Amor y Muerte casts Althea Vega as Amor, a Tagalog woman married to a Spaniard in the 16th century. While her marriage is blissful at first, the need for the couple to conform to good Catholic values eventually wears away at their bond. Murmurs of rebellion also have the Spaniards on edge, and her family connection to the revolutionary Lakandula further strains the marriage. While her husband is away defending Intramuros, she begins to crave the passion of her Tagalog roots. The movie is poorly staged, badly acted, and irredeemably trite. It operates only in the most obvious of symbols, populating the screen with flowers and snakes and every other kind of visual double entendre. Meanwhile, the characters languish and the narrative never gets anywhere that isn’t painfully obvious.
Cinemalaya runs until August 4, 2013 at the CCP, TriNoma, Greenbelt 3 and Alabang Town Center. For more information, please call CCP Film Office at (63 2) 832-1125 local 1704/05 and the CCP box office at (63 2) 832-3704 or visit www.culturalcenter.gov.ph