This is the trick to Jerrold Tarog’s movies: he appreciates just how beautiful imperfect moments can be. Movies tend to build around these perfect climaxes, when the characters are brought to an emotional ultimatum where they have to make the inevitable choice that drama demands of them. Tarog’s movies reach that same point, but end up going the opposite direction. Instead of doing what movie characters tend to do, his characters choose instead to be utterly human, burdened by the knowledge that things might not turn out all right after all. And so, the befuddled cameraman of Confessional might choose not to do the right thing. Or the photographer in Mangatyanan might not be so quick to leave the past behind.
It is the same melancholy with the third part of Tarog’s Camera Trilogy, Sana Dati. It occurs inside the tinder box of an impending wedding. Andrea (Lovi Poe) is to be married to Robert (TJ Trinidad). Videographer Dennis (Paulo Avelino) arrives to document the wedding, but he also has an ulterior motive. In broad strokes, the movie doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but it thrives in the details; the little bits of conversation that link the movie to a more familiar reality of heartbreak and compromise. And when the movie gets to those inevitable choices, the characters are able to look past the immediacy of their heightened emotions to find something more painfully true. Sana Dati is just a really sweet film about the beauty of imperfect love stories.
To the credit of Instant Mommy, the film is able to build a fairly convincing setup for its difficult premise. Unfortunately, it also kind of cops out on its own story. That story, as it is, concerns Betchay (Eugene Domingo), a woman pregnant with the child of her Japanese lover, Kaoru. She is supporting her family, and is just waiting for Kaoru to get a divorce so that they can finally be together. But she miscarries, and suddenly her future looks uncertain. Kaoru blows up when she tells him, and doesn't call back for three weeks. And that's when Betchay considers something rather extraordinary. Abaya is most credited for being a production designer, and those sensibilities come into play as the film meticulously plays out its fake pregnancy. And despite the apparent silliness of the character’s choice, the film manages to make work, until it doesn’t. The film dodges the dramatic consequences of the act, and basically moves the emotional center of the entire story. Eugene Domingo is excellent, as always, but her acting doesn’t make the cop out any less problematic.
Nuwebe has a really provocative premise. It’s about a nine-year-old girl from a poor family who gets pregnant. The film doesn’t really get much further than that. The film sifts through the feelings of the family members involved through interviews that reveal even more ideas meant to provoke a reaction. But the film never gets beneath the surface of the provocation. There are avenues in here worth exploring, but the movie seems content to let it stay at the level of outrage. What story is there to tell here? The film presents a bad situation and has all its characters talk about how bad the situation is. It’s a circular argument that risks nothing in the long run. It feels like an exercise in moralistic posturing.
That’s it for the features this year. Compared to last year, the lineup feels a little spottier. The highs are higher, but the lows are also lower as well. It’s an interesting lineup, though, and it does indicate new directions for the festival with the new people at the helm. If the festival can manage to keep on going (and there are always rumblings that it might not), it should continue to produce some of the finest films of any given year.
Out of the fifteen, I can without reservation recommend five: Transit, Sana Dati, Ekstra, Debosyon, and Babagwa. Transit, in particular, has emerged as one of my favorite films of the year. I have mixed feelings about Purok 7, Quick Change, David F, Rekorder and Instant Mommy, but people shouldn’t be deterred from seeing these films if they’re interested in the content. These films all seem to be really trying something, and your mileage may vary in judging how well these experiments panned out. I’m still not too sure what to make of Porno, but it has kept me thinking about it. That’s something worth considering as well.
I’m not a fan at all of the remaining four films. The Diplomat Hotel, specifically, is the kind of film I hope to never see in Cinemalaya ever again. It is astoundingly bad for even its meager genre ambitions. It might go down as the worst film the festival has ever produced. In all the years I’ve attended the festival, I’ve never experienced the kind of consensus that surrounds this film. Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to agrees that it’s pretty bad.
As this goes up, there are five days left in the festival. The crowds at Trinoma, where I saw most of these films, weren’t nearly big enough considering the quality of the pictures. I do hope you all go out and catch whatever you’re interested in. Because while Hollywood continues to homogenize into an endless string of blockbusters, many of these local filmmakers are producing these singular experiences that are really worth seeking out. Give yourself a break from all the world-ending peril. Catch one of these films today.
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