Whammy Alcazaren established with his first film Colossal that he wasn’t interested in making small films. Despite his young age and his limited resources, he delivered a really ambitious film that reached for an artistic scale rarely seen in our cinema these days. He continues that ambition in Islands, which mainly seems to be a meditation on how long it takes for people to say “I love you.” The film is primarily split up into three sections. In the first, an old woman (Marita Zobel) lives alone in her house, occasionally visited by her daughter (Irma Adlawan) and grandson, who urge her to move with them to the US. The second section spends some time following the routine of a pair of astronauts (Benjamin Alves) on a lonely spaceship. And the last section is about a tribesman (Luis Alandy) hunting strange fauna in a dangerous jungle.
Does it work? Kind of. Your mileage may vary. But that’s the natural consequence of having ambition. The film tries a couple of strange things that might leave one cold or simply baffled. But there are sections of the film that express this alluring if youthful perception of what love is and what love can be. And it does this through exceptional production design and an ear for poetic language. There came a point in this film where I decided that I really liked it. But then the film takes a postmodern turn that explicates the themes of the movie. Then I decided I didn’t like it as much. But still, I’m really interested in what else Alcazaren has up his sleeve.
Adolfo Alix Jr. tackles a lot of big issues in Alamat ni China Doll. The film mainly concerns an article written by a disgraced journalist (Cesar Montano) that goes into the story of a young woman who as a teenager was part of a terrorist group. That woman, codenamed “China Doll” (Angelica Panganiban), is in witness protection, and with the story published, her life is once again in danger. The film goes forwards and backwards through time, following the journalist, her handler (Phillip Salvador), and China Doll herself as she tries to live a relatively normal life.
There’s a lot of story to tell, and Alamat ni China Doll doesn’t seem to get to all of it. It speeds through the events of the story, rarely having the space to let any of it settle. It’s a really interesting story, though. It’s this really intriguing exploration of power dynamics in this society, portraying a world where every friendly face only really seeks to take advantage. And it’s put together rather inventively at points, with nice, clean production work that brings to life the seediest corners of the metropolis. It could be noted that Lav Diaz, known for crafting really long movies, wrote the script for Alamat ni China Doll. It feels like there’s a much larger movie to be made from these elements. This movie provides an interesting and often appealing sliver of that story, but it’s still just a sliver in the end.
There have been many films that have equated being an OFW with being some sort of hero. But Miko Livelo’s Blue Bustamante takes it to another level. George Bustamante (Joem Bascon) is let go from his job as an engineer in Japan. He tries and fails to find more work as an engineer, until his friend Roger (Jun Sabayton) gets him a gig working as a stuntman on the Super Sentai show Force Five. He plays the costumed Blue Force, defending planet Earth from aliens on a weekly basis. Back home in the Philippines, his son Kiko is trying to adjust to life without his father, finding comfort in new friends and their favorite new TV show from Japan.
Blue Bustamante could use some polish, but it’s thoroughly affecting anyway. The typical OFW film operates on some kind of tragic event: these noble Filipinos suffering from horrific hardship and abuse from their employers. Blue Bustamante is smart enough to realize that there already exists a tragedy in the situation even if nothing truly terrible happens. It is enough that parents are so far from their children, that the only way they can express their love is in buying gifts. It is more than enough tragedy that the kids can’t really understand why their parents have to be away, that they have to see their friends with their intact families and wonder why they have to be different. It’s powerful stuff, and that the film is able to tell this story through the often funny use of elements of Tokusatsu shows is just icing on the cake. Blue Bustamante, despite its production hiccups, turns out to be a really beautiful film.
Cinema One Originals Festival 2013 runs until November 19, 2013. Screenings are held at Trinoma, Glorietta, and Robsinsons Galleria. Screening schedules below (click on images to expand), schedules subject to change without prior notice.