In its ninth year, the Cinema One Originals festival expands to deliver fifteen new films, including five that have been given two million pesos grants. At first glance, it does seem to be a diverse set of movies that continues the festival’s tradition of experimentation and risk-taking. Let’s see if that tradition holds true.
Jet Leyco’s intriguingly named Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na feels simultaneously unified and tossed together. It all clearly springs from the same demented mind, but it also moves in such erratic ways that it sometimes feels completely random. It moves in separate but connected vignettes, beginning with a lo-fi wedding video documenting a shotgun marriage taking place in the middle of the jungle. The next bit follows a rebel guerilla taking his unit on a detour to check on his father. The third part checks in on a sacristan tasked with fetching the priest for the wedding and discovering dark secrets. And the final bit reveals how the rebel’s father ended up where he was.
What eventually unites these scenes, aside from their narrative connection, is their shared aesthetics, which apply science fiction elements to scenes of horror. Every time a gun is fired, for example, the more familiar sound of gunfire is replaced by that of some kind of ray gun. And an abusive priest’s quarters resemble a mad scientist’s laboratory. In doing so, the film turns acts of violence, which have become commonplace in our cinema, seem alien and strange all over again. I’m not entirely sure all of it works, but the film proves to be delightfully weird more often than not. Leyco seems to be having a lot of fun, and his sense of playfulness gives the film a certain exuberance.
Siege Ledesma explores the life of a call center agent in Shift. Films about the BPO industry have historically not been very good. They tend to just be collections of anecdotes with no real theme of focus. Shift immediately remedies that by concentrating on the life of just a single individual, Estela (singer Yeng Constantino), who isn’t at all happy working within the industry. She finds some respite from the grind in her friendship with her gay co-worker Trevor (Felix Roco). She ends up falling for Trevor, and she’s devastated when he falls for another guy.
The film is kind of tricky in that it spends so much time selling the audience on an impossible romance. I’m not even sure if we’re ever meant to actually root for these two to get together, since they’re inherently incompatible. Instead, the film almost seems to turn that relationship into a metaphor for the main character’s plight in life: doomed to live out a seemingly endless cycle, unable to truly pursue the things that she really wants in life. The film ends up suffering a bit from a lack of stakes, but its almost subversive use of mainstream aesthetics to expose the emptiness of the main character’s life is pretty intriguing in the long run.
Ralston Jover’s Bendor follows Blondie (Vivian Velez), a grandmother who makes her living selling all sorts of things, including abortifacient pills on the sly. She also serves as a middleman for an illegal abortion clinic, escorting young girls that want to terminate their pregnancies. One day, her estranged husband gets a heart attack, and she struggles to come up with the money to pay for his hospital stay. And in the midst of all this trouble, she starts something extraordinary: a woman that looks exactly like her, walking the same streets she does.
The film introduces this doppelganger, but doesn’t get too far into exploring the strangeness that it entails. It instead thrives on the jumble of details that make up Blondie’s life. It lingers, for example, on how she puts on her makeup in the morning. And what breakfast is like in her household. Jover paints out a very detailed portrait of this character, keeping the metaphysical elements and the politics just dancing in the background. And the character work is solid enough, and Vivian Velez is always a force to reckon with. But the film feels too tentative about its own themes to leave much of an impression.
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.