Having seen nine films now, I can definitely say that there are some real strong contenders in this year’s selection. Two of them are reviewed below, both notable for eschewing sensationalism in favor of patience and subtlety. There is a third film that I think deserves plenty of praise, but it requires a bit more thought than this space will allow. For now, I will simply say that Sampaguita: National Flower
is more than deserving of your time. On to the reviews:
Gutierrez Mangansakan’s Limbunan
arrives as an early favorite of this year’s selection. It is striking for its patience, and its graceful exploration of a culture that would otherwise face condemnation in the hands of a less nuanced and open filmmaker. Limbunan
is the tradition of hiding away a young bride-to-be in her quarters for a month in preparation for her arranged wedding. Young Ayesha is the bride-to-be in this case, and she doesn’t quite understand why she has to marry a man she’s never met. Her aunt, her mother and her other female relatives, who serve as her connection to the outside world for the duration of her perceived captivity, try to help her come to grips with the traditions and history of her culture. The film is just beautiful, both visually and thematically. Mangansakan imparts a dreamlike atmosphere to even the most mundane of actions, drawing a connection between past and present, family and culture, tradition and self-actualization. It paints a graceful picture of the nobility of women, who may bear burdens beyond their personal wants and needs. A frighteningly dignified performance from Tetchie Agbayani only adds to the magic. This film is destined to be overlooked, but I’m hoping that it really finds some life during the festival.
I’m not entirely sure what Kim Homer Garcia’s Magkakapatid
is supposed to be. On the surface, it appears to be a serious family drama, telling the story of a family that grew apart as siblings became separated by social class and economic circumstances. They’ve grown so far apart that they don’t even meet up for weddings and funerals. That is, until something goes horribly wrong. Part of me wants to believe that it’s supposed to be satire, that the overall strangeness of the film can be attributed to an attempt at making the vagaries of family relations seem absurd and ridiculous. But the rest of me sees the film as a jumble of confused tones, confounding earnest emotions with violence and jokiness, in the end just falling short of assembling a point. The mess of tones hurts the performance, which run the gamut from subtle to melodramatic to all the way psychotic. A handful of technical issues make the film an even more difficult proposition.
There are no surprises in Joselito Altarejos’ Pink Halo-Halo
. In fact, the synopsis on the schedule brochure pretty much gives away the ending. But that’s hardly the point of the film. Here, Altarejos shares with us a recollection of life as a soldier’s son, delivering a lyrical slice of life picture that explores the rhythms of childhood against a backdrop of creeping dread. Altarejos plays on the dichotomies, the child Natoy living an almost idyllic life in his hometown while endless conflict terrorizes other parts of the country. It points to the striking truth that for most people, news of war and strife almost serves as background noise, the narratives only becoming real as the people they love become subject to tragedy. It’s a terribly sophisticated insight into our country’s precipitous decline into a culture of violence. This isn’t the most explosive film of the festival, but it’s quietly devastating in its own way.
Gil Portes’ Two Funerals
wants to be satirical, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. The movie sets off when a funeral parlor accidentally switches a pair of corpses, delivering them to the wrong families. The body of the young daughter of a Tuguegarao family ends up with a couple of hustlers in Sorsogon, while they end up with the criminal brother of one of the hustlers. The girl’s bereaved fiancée and mother go on a road trip across the country during Holy Week, along the way encountering a whole set of colorful characters, who pretty much just jump into their vehicle. The movie hits broad targets, all the while failing to provide any real insight into all the societal ills it tries to condemn. It then hits a bigger snag as it reaches its conclusion, where a ill-conceived twist only serves to confound things even further.