Festival Report – The 12th Cinema One Originals Festival – Part 2

Keith Deligero’s Lily is a strange one, to say the least. It largely follows Manuel (Rocky Salumbides), who at the start of the movie has just landed a job as a security guard for a gated community in Manila. But the film jumps around its timeline. It goes back seven years to when Manuel was still in Cebu, and while high on drugs and hunting for aswang, he encounters the mysterious Lily (Shaina Magdayao). She rescues him from a grievous injury, and ends up spending the night with him. The film jumps between the past and the deeper past, telling the story of how Lily was wronged, and how she means to exact justice.

Lily makes for an interesting double feature with another film in the lineup, Si Magdalola at ang mga Gago. It is also basically a revenge film, but it views it through a completely different lens. It has a more avant-garde approach, and filters the story through a very specific understanding of culture, parochialism, cinema and religion. The film seems to almost give up on telling this story right away, perhaps acknowledging that the basic plot beats have all been done before. So it goes into stranger directions, turning in on itself as it just tears apart structure within scenes. It chops up a conversation between lovers, editing down the lines to their most vital points, hardly ever letting these characters finish their thoughts. It paints a picture of people lost in their lives, unsure of what they’re supposed to be doing, the very nature of society fracturing their understanding of their own purpose. It’s a story people trapped by circumstance, turning into monsters as life pushes them into a corner. This is not the most accessible film, but it has a clear, confident voice behind all the madness. And when it finally slows down to let its characters speak, it delivers genuine moments of profound introspection.

Samantha Lee’s Baka Bukas is basically a coming out story, but it takes it a bit further than that. The protagonist is Alex (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), who is a young gay woman working in various creative fields. She is out to seemingly everybody but her best friend Jess (Louise de los Reyes), who is on her way to becoming an artista. The film spends some time introducing the worlds they inhabit, and only really starts with Jess accidentally finding out the truth about her best friend.

The power of this film is derived from the idea that coming out isn’t a one-time thing. This grand act of courage of self-acceptance isn’t just a hurdle that one must jump over on the way to happiness. It’s complex, and this struggle as represented through Alex’s journey eventually becomes rather moving. But the film does feel youthful to a fault at times. It gets caught up in the depiction of a scene, spending a little too much time within the confines of the tragically hip, mining tepid comedy from people’s unkindness. There are just some sequences that don’t work, the film using visual gimmicks that rob moments of their intimacy. But when it leaves that behind, when it just gets down to studying this one woman’s acceptance of the pain she has to carry, the film comes alive. It helps a lot that Jasmine Curtis-Smith is really good. Key to this film’s power is the actress’ ability to convey the sadness that lies beneath the placid façade, conveying the years of pain she’s tamped down for the sake of surviving in a world that isn’t ready to accept her.

Jose Abdel Langit’s Malinak Ya Labi is a film set in a small town in Pangasinan. A series of opening title cards explain that there is a sacrificial tradition in the region. Blood from animals is sprinkled on various structures to help protect them. It also mentions that for large structures like bridges, it is thought that only a human life will be able to grant enough protection, usually that of a child. The film follows this one community over a couple of days, shifting its focus between characters, all of its leading up to a series of murders.

This is a very intriguing concept, but it doesn’t really work out. One does get a sense of the life of this town: people basically still believe in some form of magic, even while dealing with the very mundane realities of their existence. There is no separation between superstition and religion, the two interacting in both overt and more nuanced ways throughout this story. But it feels like there are gaps in the narrative, the gimmicky structure taking precedence over clarity. And some clunky staging just gets in the way of conveying the complex ideas at the heart of this story.

The festival also premiered the restored version of Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. The restoration is pretty limited, the source apparently beyond full repair. Much of the color has faded, and there are a few scenes where the damage cannot be hidden. But the quality of this film still shines through. It is, quite simply, one of the best anti-war films ever made. It takes the most terrible situation one can imagine, and makes an eloquent case for the inherent complexity of human beings, and the need for us to love our enemies. It is a terrific film that everyone should really see.

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