Kubrador

As introduction to alternative scriptwriting, our scripwriting professor asked us to watch a few films, one of which was Kubrador, which I watched last Tuesday at a commercial theater.

True enough, Kubrador, as opposed to movies with traditional three-act storylines, did not have an apparent and cohesive plot. It simply was a narration of the daily life of Amy (played by Gina Pareño), as a jueteng bet collector.

The film was narrated as if everything is ordinary in the everyday life of the film’s characters. Despite being untraditional in its storytelling, I really like and appreciate the movie. It reveals a lot about the situation of Amy and it provides a glimpse into how hard life is for a lot of people in the Philippines.

Back in my first semester as a freshman, I made a short position paper about jueteng. According to a special report in a national daily back in 2000, a total of 64 million pesos is gambled in jueteng every day. That’s as much as 23 billion pesos a year, twice the government’s annual health budget. But in reality, in the case someone wins a bet, he only gets 6 to 15 percent of the total jueteng revenue. A fourth or more goes to the jueteng payola, which includes the police and government officials. Much of the rest goes to the jueteng operators / jueteng lords. And the spoils are left for the kabos and kubradors.

And that’s the irony. Despite the huge revenues this game reaps nationwide, those who toil to bet and collect these bet, remain impoverished. And they will remain betting on jueteng as long as they don’t see a brighter future and better alternatives to escape such situations.

The film, directed by Jeffrey Jeturian, won the International Critic’s Award at the Moscow International Film Festival 2006 and the Osian Cinefan Festival of Asian Cinema 2006, where it also won as Best Film and the Best Actress (Gina Parreño) awards .

Umaaraw, Umuulan

Umaaraw, Umuulan is a relatively short feature-length digital film about a young director (played by Ryan Agoncillo) whose script gets rejected by producers and to make things worse, finds his girlfriend cheating on him on their anniversary, right before he planned to propose marriage. He goes into depression until he meets his dream girl. Before watching the movie yesterday, I read reviews online and was unavoidably spoiled. (I won’t do that here. My synopsis is as vague and neutral as it can get).

Once you know what the whole problem is, the entire movie would feel like a drag. Thankfully, as I’ve said, it was a relatively short feature-length film. It only ran for more or less an hour and a half.

This is not your conventional love story movie though, at least when viewed among typical Filipino romance movies, which makes this movie a breath of fresh air. There were a lot of cameo roles in the movie from actors and actresses, most of whom we haven’t seen much of in the past years. Judy Ann Santos, the lead actor’s real-life girl friend, also has a cameo appearance towards the end, and when looked at that context, their encounter can be really cheesy and hilarious. The comic attempt on the other hand, especially by the Ryan Agoncillo’s supporting characters, were really in bad taste and it annoyed me.

Umaaraw, Umuulan is from Heaven’s Best Productions (of Harlene Bautista, Herbert Bautista and siblings) and was directed by Richard Arellano.

Ang Huling Araw ng Linggo

Ang Huling Araw ng Linggo is a movie about seven individuals with different yet interconnected struggles. From the film’s official synopsis:

Domeng is involved in networking or multi-level marketing business and plans to encourage his estranged daughter Luna to join in this unscrupulous business. Luna is abandoned by her husband and son so she asks help from her mother Aling Tess. Aling Tess is a land lady who lives alone and fancies a young male boarder named Kulas. Kulas is a grocery store employee who aspires to become a store manager to impress Julie. Julie is a laundry shop attendant who is obsessed with a male costumer named Brian. Brian is a nurse in a local hospital who wants to work abroad so he persuades his girlfriend Sally to provide for his “fixer” fees. An accounting graduate who failed to pass the board exam for two consecutive years, Sally enters Domeng‘s networking business in the hopes of proving her worth. When she found out that networking is a scam Sally plans to take revenge on Domeng.

I heard another person within my hearing distance remark (while the film was screening), “Ang agonizing naman ng film na ‘to.” At first I was tempted to agree. The film does not really follow the traditional three-act structure and it would initially feel like the film was dragging in a static narrative for more than an hour. One will eventually appreciate the entire film once it makes its full circle of defining how everything everyone is interconnected.

So, yes, it was sort of agonizing, (also because of the excessive long takes and dialogues), in a satisfying kind of way. It’s a profound film which tries to remind us that everything we do and don’t affect other people and eventually affect us back, and with this realization that we are interconnected with each other, it is important that we see the things that we do as a struggle shared with other people. “Siguro dapat isipin na iisa lamang tayo… Kapag sinaktan ang iba, dapat isiping sarili din ang sinasaktan.”

Click here for more photo stills from the film’s shoot. Ang Huling Araw ng Linggo was written and directed by Nick Olanka, a UP Film Institute graduate. Some of my orgmates from UP Cinema Arts Society were also part of this production.

Batad: Sa Paang Palay

Batad: Sa Paang Palay is about Ag-ap, an adolescent Ifugao boy, who is obsessed with his dream to own a pair of shoes and to explore the world outside the remoteness of his highland home. By its namesake, the movie is set in the rice terraces of Batad, in Banaue, Ifugao. With verdant terraces and panoramic views of the mountains, the movie can be a visually pleasing cinematic treat.

Thankfully, the movie did not over-ethnicize everything. The story was simple and beautiful. In widesight, it brushes up on how Ifugaos struggle with modernity’s onslaught on their traditions and customs. A scene wherein a local teacher was showing Ag-ap a bulul, a wooden Ifugao god, which he plans to sell to foreigners and tourists reminded me of Sionil Jose’s The God Stealer. Similar issues are raised in the film, but going through them might be over-reading the film already. In general, the film invokes social consciousness on the struggles of the Ifugaos and the rice terraces.

The film ended with a reminder that the Ifugao rice terraces have already been declared as an endangered human heritage site by UNESCO. I only have one negative comment though. Unlike Donsol, where the actors were made to speak in the native language as their setting and characters demanded, here we have Ifugaos speaking in straight Tagalog, even among themselves! (Which can be read as a disregard of the traditional polarity between highlanders and lowlanders). To add to this inconsistency, minor characters within the main characters’ peripheries were speaking in native Ifugao, which all the more makes the main characters seem oddly out of place in the highlands.

Directed by Benji Garcia and Vic Acedillo, Jr., Batad: Sa Paang Palay won the awards for Best Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Actor (for Alchris Galura) at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2006. It was also given the Special Jury Prize.

Tulad ng Dati

Tulad ng DatiTulad ng Dati is a semi-biographical movie about The Dawn. It follows the life of Jett Pangan, a real life member of The Dawn, who suffers from selective amnesia after being assaulted by burglars. He forgets everything that happened after 1988, when his band was at the peak of its career. He is unable to absorb the realities of the present and goes on an emotional struggle of coping up.

Jett Pangan’s surreal confrontations with a Teddy Diaz’s ghost were really creepy. (Teddy Diaz is a member of the band who was murdered on 1988). It actually spooked me more than Sukob did. Which is good. But that’s just me. I also found their “bagay na nawala, hindi mahanap, hindi mapalitan, hindi makalimutan” discourse profound and worth pondering on.

The scenes with Ratbunitata, a ‘rival’ rock band, were hilarious, based on how other people in audience laughed, but for me they were really annoying. And some of their lines were just off. Audiences will also be treated to a few acts by The Dawn, and it will feel like watching a free concert. Some people might not like that though, as they were unsolicited, full-song acts that could have been cut shorter. I liked how the film handled the theme of nostalgia, in light of coming into terms with the present in order to move on.

I enjoyed the movie. But alternative rock band groupies will probably like this much better than I did. There were some lines uttered in the film only they seemed to especially appreciate. This, I think, will be a (minor) weakness once the film goes on the international circuit.

This movie is Cinemalaya 2006‘s best feature-length film. Hopefully, it gets distributed in mainstream cinemas so that more people will be able to see it. There’ll be a last showing later at 9PM in Cine Adarna.

Sukob

The movie bound to be the highest grossing Filipino movie this year to date, was actually enjoyable. As a horror movie, it was engaging and scary. Engaging because it draws you to decipher clues and strange happenings while the main characters also try to search for answers to their life’s misfortunes. And, of course, I liked it because it was actually scary. The use of scare tactics, though not very original if seen among Asian horror films, was effective.

I also liked how the plot was developed as two seemingly unrelated stories which eventually merged towards the end. Sukob, true to its namesake, is based on the Filipino superstition that misfortune will come to a married couple and their family if the wedding is held within months of another family member’s death OR if the wedding is held within the year of another sibling’s wedding. The superstition is ridiculous, but we can all suspend disbelief for a moment for this movie. The movie handled the concept well. You might actually start believing in the sukob superstition after watching the film.

Despite a few (forgivable) setbacks, I enjoyed the movie a lot. I enjoy watching horror suspense films and I enjoyed this one.

Never a private, personal art

Cinemalaya 2006 at the Cultural Center of the PhilippinesJuly 24, 2006. Aside from watching the gala premiere of Donsol last Wednesday night, I also attended the first day of the 2nd Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival’s Film Congress last Thursday. I went there with my orgmates from UP MCO.

Cinemalaya 2006 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines with college friends

Much was talked about the potentials of independent digital filmmaking. Can filmmaking really be independent? Filmmaking is a public art. You make films for other people to see. It can’t really be a totally “I will make movies regardless of what other people say” kind of thing because filmmaking, I believe, will always rely on audiences to thrive, it will always rely on funds to be produced, it will always rely on team effort of a crew. You can’t make films by yourself for yourself. The discussion about a truly independent, no-holds-barred filmmaking for me is an irrelevant discussion. This is simply about the decentralization of filmmaking in the Philippines from the traditional cliques of producers and directors to newer batches of filmmakers. It will still always rely on a lot of other factors, a lot of are beyond the control of any filmmaker.

Donsol

DonsolI watched the gala premiere of Donsol, an entry at the 2nd Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival last night at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The synopsis of the film:

Love is an ocean of emotions. Whalesharks, magnificent creatures of the deep, visit once a year the turquoise waters of Donsol. Daniel, the young guide who swims with the whalesharks, finds himself drawn to Teresa, a woman as beautiful and mysterious as the visitors of the sea. Burdened by past heartaches and uncertain of the future, the two find sanctuary in each other as love surfaces anew. As the tide rises and recedes in a cycle of loss and renewal, Donsol provides the breathtaking backdrop to a story of heartbreak, and the healing power of love.

I like Donsol. It was a very beautiful film with a simple story. I appreciated how it did not romanticize the setting (that much). As with other movies taking on the names of places as the film’s titles, I was half-expecting the film to come off as a quasi-tourist advertisement. On the contrary, it actually showed the struggles of Donsol and the butanding intercut and parallel with the struggles of the two main characters. The whalesharks weren’t there just make the movie stay true to its namsake. The actors also portrayed their roles well. I also appreciate how they made the characters really speak in Bicolano. This film deserves mainstream exhibition.