Festival Report: The 8th Cinemalaya, Part 2

Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala ought to feel familiar, but it doesn’t. There have been many films about broken families, and even more films about a young man falling in love. But this film has such a specificity of tone and emotion that it feels utterly unique. It tells the story of Gibson (fantastically played by Dominic Roco), a young man who hasn’t said a word in ten years. We gradually find out the reason for his self-imposed silence, leading back to an event that tore his family apart. Meanwhile, he falls in love with Enid (Annicka Dolonius), a vibrant young woman bearing her own issues.

It sounds like standard stuff, but it isn’t. For one thing, I don’t think there’s ever been a depiction of the modern Filipino family quite like this before. The drama of this family is all held in, silence taking the place of screaming matches and tearful avowals of love and solidarity. The silence builds up all over the movie, carrying with it a growing melancholy that bears down on the viewer. It’s stunningly sophisticated stuff, pulled off with a level of production that’s rarely seen in local films these days. The word to describe the film is “thoughtful,” every bit of it gifted with a level of care far beyond what most movies are given. I could see it being shorter, but as it stands, it’s an astonishing piece of work.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Marie Jamora and her co-writer Ramon de Veyra are friends of mine. Feel free to take that as you wish.)

Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Kalayaan is a tough sell to most audiences. The movie tells the story of a lone soldier (Ananda Everingham) stationed on an island in the Spratlys. He spends his time exercising, fishing, playing with turtles, and masturbating to porn DVDs. On the radio, he hears news of upheaval in Manila, as the impeachment trial of Joseph Estrada takes place. As one would suspect from that description, a good chunk of the movie is just made up of scenes of a silent Everingham just killing time. More soldiers eventually arrive, but they’re just as prone to wasting time as the main character.

But then there’s something more to Kalayaan. It offers up a couple of really arresting images that serve as symbol for the utter pointlessness of the conflict over the Spratly Islands. Though the symbolism is a little obvious, the film has enough of a sense of purpose to make it all work. It makes the severe loneliness of the characters palpable, the lack of human interaction taking them further and further away from the concerns of a normal human being. And in the darkness, nature becomes a source of neverending dread. Away in Manila, things change, but not really. And the soldiers continue their solitude.

Lemuel Lorca’s Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino is stunningly romantic in an old-fashioned sense. This might not seem the case, what with the impoverished setting and the lurid sexual content. But those are all just details in the story that wears its heart on its sleeve. It follows Intoy (a remarkably earnest JM de Guzman), a tahong diver in love with his friend Doray (LJ Reyes). But Doray, needing to support her two younger sisters, is forced to enter prostitution. Intoy works hard to save up enough money to take Doray out of Kalye Marino, but fate inevitably gets in the way.

It’s one of the rougher productions in this year’s lineup. I don’t know if they’ve changed this in subsequent screenings, but the version I saw had a sequence that reused footage. The edit as a whole could use cleaning up, and the narrative might have benefitted from a consistency of tone. But I think the movie ends on a stellar note. It offers up one of the most earnest expressions of love I’ve ever seen in this festival. I find much of the movie a little clunky, but it arrives at this moment with surprising grace.

Paul Sta. Ana’s Oros has plenty of great elements. It has a couple of strong central performances, good production values, and a fascinating subject. But these elements don’t quite come together. The movie is about an underground industry that exploits a loophole. With some opening text, the movie explains that while gambling is illegal, the game of sakla is tolerated at wakes. The film follows a group that stages wakes so that the game might be played and money might be made.

The film does a pretty good job of depicting the milieu, of painting out the situation in which this scam is made possible. But it hardly ever goes past the situation, and seems to head towards tragedy simply by default. It offers an intriguing narrative thread in exploring the relationship between brothers, but in the end, it seems to just give up on building its story and just barrels through to an unearned ending. A weird political slant explored through radio broadcasts only muddles things further. The research in the film is clearly solid, but it seems to have trouble making a story out of it.

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