Anino sa Likod ng Buwan is set in 1993, years into the military's campaign in rebel-controlled Marag Valley. The opening text explains that many people were forced out of their homes due to the violence. The film follows married couple Emma and Nardo (LJ Reyes and Anthony Falcon), who are among the refugees of the valley. They are friends with soldier Joel (Luis Alandy), who at the start of the film is playing cards with them, and is dropping off some food.
The film then plays out in real time in one long take. It's a crafty bit of staging that plays fairly well to the film's theatrical roots. It's also shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the whole thing was altered in post-production to emulate the look of an old video cassette, perhaps playing into the heightened emotions that will eventually play out as the movie goes on. The film, to some extent, looks like a sexy melodrama from the era in which it takes place. c
What actually takes place in the film should remain shrouded in mystery. Suffice it to say that no one in this movie is being completely honest with their intentions towards each other. Passions run high as secrets come to light on the night of an eclipse. The film studies morality in light of a conflict that is largely immoral. It asks if the social mores still apply in a valley of death, where both soldiers and rebels are found dead on a regular basis. These people, having seen the horrors of war, are made to consider what it is that makes them still human.
It's an interesting idea question that the movie doesn't seem fully equipped to answer. It really does become more and more about the reversals as time goes on. The emotions don't quite hold together when all is said and done, the various betrayals by each of the characters making them narrative husks, the truth of their humanity scooped out so that they may he filled with soapy content. The film is so much about people putting on acts that it becomes a little difficult to invest in who these people really are. It also doesn't help that each reversal tends to come with a burst of exposition that feels much less natural than the rest of the dialogue.
Having said all that, this movie is still pretty satisfying. It does not fully support its themes, but the attempt leads to some dynamite cinema anyway. The staging on its own is really impressive, and combined with Lana's knack for poetic dialogue, the film is pretty captivating. And the acting is terrific. LJ Reyes plays the role full hilt, leaning hard into the most melodramatic material. And she makes it work, providing an enthralling human center to this story. Luis Alandy and Anthony Falcon are good as well, but they're undoubtedly taking Reyes' lead.
Anino sa Likod ng Buwan is a very unique mishmash of styles. And as with anything distinctive, it has moments where tones clash and ideas don’t quite come together. It is a story that gets weirdly soapy while in a context that places it within a very real conflict. Its aesthetics don’t feel entirely necessary, but still manage to add something to the conversation. It is a film that even its flaws manages to produce something compelling. It is an admirable application of craft that is rarely seen in our cinema.
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