The Metro Manila Film Festival’s side section has brought five new independent feature films for exhibition. This “New Wave” selection has somewhat grown in prominence somewhat in the last couple of iterations. Here’s what they’re showing this year.
Ang Mga Anino ng Kahapon (dir. Alvin Yapan) stars Agot Isidro as a woman suffering from schizophrenia. It comes slowly, with her growing increasingly paranoid of people around her neighborhood, suspecting that she’s being watched by the military. And then she’s talking to people who aren’t there, and bringing her family into this illusion. The film sets out to be a rigorous depiction of what it’s like to live with the illness, especially in a country that conflates mental maladies with superstitious belief. The film can be pretty uneven, struggling to balance the requirements of telling a story with getting across its points about the illness. But throughout it all, Agot Isidro delivers a compelling performance that never lapses into caricature.
Island Dreams (dir. Aloy Adlawan and Gino Santos) is really pretty. It gets a lot out of its Batangas setting, practically every frame featuring some beautiful natural detail. But the beauty doesn't entirely make up for the slightness of the narrative. The film plays out a love story between an unaccredited tour guide and a heartbroken tourist. The story doesn't make much of a case for their romance. There's scant chemistry between the leads, and the writing seems more interested in all the reasons the two shouldn't be together. When the film inevitably lurches into its bid for drama, it rings horribly false. What drama the film achieves is mostly due to the grandeur of its backdrops.
Saka Saka (dir. Toto Natividad) bears a slight resemblance to OTJ. It's a film about assassins worming for politicians, and pulling off executions in broad daylight. But it is much, much dumber. It is thematically confused, the film railing against political violence while embracing violence as a solution to certain problems. At one point, the brothers at the center of this story decide that in order to end the killings, they have to kill someone. The third act is one long badly staged action sequence that further reduces whatever meager standing the film might have had.
Ang Maestra (dir. Joven Tan) casts Perla Bautista as a senile ex-teacher that becomes a burden to her adult grandson Rafael. After an ugly incident, she leaves the house and hides away. Rafael looks for her by visiting her former students and colleagues, and through their stories he learns of her storied past. The point, I guess, is that we shouldn't be horrible to senile people. I don't think we need an entire feature film to get that point across, really. Maestra employs such broad melodrama to deliver this simple lesson, making a lot of it feel unintentionally hilarious. Spoiler alert: the last shot is the Philippine flag. Yes, it goes that far in its naked (and often vulgar) bid for sentiment.
Dukit (dir. Armando Lao) is hypnotic at points. The film tells the story of a woodcarver in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga. It splits the narrative between three timelines. In the 60s, he is a child just learning of his father’s infidelity. In the 80s, he is a young man, newly married, struggling to support his family in the wake of his mother’s passing. And in present day, he is a celebrated master craftsman working on a new commission for Holy Week. And it’s all rather lovely. It would be enough if the film had just documented the craft that goes into one of these religious icons. But it also finds a lovely story in there about fathers and sons, and patience and forgiveness. The film lags a bit in the final stretch as it tries to nail down its point, but its loose, fluid structure creates a compelling rhythm set to the pounding of hammer on chisel.
Of the five films, I think Mga Anino ng Kahapon and Dukit might be worth your time. Island Dreams isn’t bad, either, though it’s not much better than your average local romantic film. This section of the MMFF continues to feel like a token effort at best, with these films hardly getting the support they need to really be seen by the greater public. But any growth is promising at this point. And at least, some of these films are really worth seeing.