Cinemalaya 2013: there’s hope for Philippine cinema

Cinemalaya 2013: a surprising mix of good and bad films that shows the Philippine film industry is in a transitionary state; a point where things might improve, and it's about time

Cinemalaya 2013: a surprising mix of good and bad films that shows the Philippine film industry is in a transitionary state; a point where things might improve, and it’s about time

So I’ve been watching a lot of the Cinemalaya movies for this year. I felt bad because I only got to see two films of last year’s Cinemalaya. I saw Diablo, which I hated and that won Best Film, if you can believe; and Ang Nawawala by Marie Jamora, which I loved. I understood that Ang Nawawala is different film, altogether, and not indicative of what the Philippine film landscape has to offer. Diablo, with its weak storytelling and the school of “cinema of intention,” was drab and uninteresting and completely un-cinematic, and is probably much closer to what I think of the Philippine film landscape.

But, I only got to see two films from Cinemalaya last year and that makes for a very poor judgment in casting hopes for the future of the Philippine film industry.

Read my review for Ang Nawawala here.

This year, I’ve been religiously going to watch as many of the films as I can and I’ve been doing pretty damn well. What excites me is that for every bad film that I see, there’s another that’s just as good, and the full tally is 1:1. The good filmmakers are starting to come out and put their unique stamp in the industry. I’m very happy about that. Things are changing and the Philippine film industry is seeing a whole new style come forth, which has been coined as “maindie.”

Maindie is an merging of indie film budgets but with mainstream technical know-how and commercially viable stories. What makes it indie, as well, is that you can tell the creative team has a stronger voice in their work than the producers, who, in the country, just want to make money. This whole “maindie” movement is something I would love to flourish more and more in the country. This is what it needs.

So, I really want to celebrate and say how wonderful Sana Dati by Jerrold Tarog was. It’s a gorgeously written and directed film and the acting was so superb and so tight. I feel bad because I have judged Lovi Poe harshly and this was only based on the trailers of the films she was coming out in. There was something about her I just didn’t like when I would see her in movie trailers. But now that I’ve seen Sana Dati, I can see exactly what the appeal is. She is an excellent actress and she can really carry the movie. It’s a gorgeous love story that is layered but with a very clear narrative. Excellent work from the supporting cast, most especially TJ Trinidad and Benjamin Alves. Sana Dati, so far, is one of my favourites from what I’ve seen.

Another film which totally captured my heart is Quick Change by Eduardo Roy Jr.. This film is just so powerful and had me at the edge of my seat the whole time. Despite its very painful subject matter, it never ventures into melodrama and is confident enough to just show and never tell. The acting is pitch perfect and there are very little flaws. I’m pretty sure that this might be my favourite film in the whole Cinemalaya 2013 line-up and I haven’t seen everything just yet. It’s really, really very good.

And the acting is so good in this one; especially from the lead actor Mimi Juareza and the supporting cast which includes Junjun Quintana and Miggs Cuaderno. This movie is so good. And I hope that this is a trailblazing film that teaches us how to tell stories — that our filmmakers can trust a good script and just let it tell the story without having to punch the theme in all the time.

I’ve seen Babagwa, which has a fabulous first hour and a very compelling plot, but unfortunately, it unravels in the last half of the film and is ruined by Alma Concepcion, who may have been a poor casting choice. Regardless, the first half is incredible and shows the director, Jason Paul Laxamana, can direct. He just needs a stronger script and he’ll be fine. He needs to work more to learn how to finish what he started. It has fine, fine work by Joey Paras and Chanel Latorre.

Ekstra by Jeffrey Jetturian is classic Jetturian, one of my favourite Filipino filmmakers. Co-written with Zig Dulay and Antoinette Jadaone, Jeffrey Jetturian does it again, and shows us a day in the life of; like what he did in Kubrador. Vilma Santos shows why she is THE Vilma Santos and it is an enjoyable film through and through. I’m glad Jeffrey Jetturian is back to making films. I hope he returns. Our film industry needs him.

But for all these good and promising films, there were those that were totally disappointing. I really don’t suggest watching The Diplomat Hotel, Instant Mommy, and Amor Y Muerte. These three films were really sour points for me because it shows all the usual bad habits of Filipino filmmakers. The Diplomat Hotel was all about style and gimmick and no story. The characters are poorly motivated, the scenes are never set up properly, and this is a horror that isn’t scary because the writer and director forgot to tell us what we have to be scared about. It was lazy work through-and-through from the creative team behind this and it was so disappointing, especially since it was the only real horror film in the bunch.

Instant Mommy suffers because it’s one of those films where they expect that the lead, Eugene Domingo, would bring in all the laughs and the desired effect and they forgot to make the script funny or entertaining. It was boring through and through and no matter how good Eugene Domingo is as an actress, she needs good material to work with. She will not entertain just because she’s Eugene Domingo. It isn’t enough to have a big name star with serious acting chops take a role. She has to be in a compelling enough story that makes you want to stay in your seat. I really want to leave. It was awful.

Amor Y Muerte was just wrong on so many levels. Set in the 16th Century Philippines, nothing felt real and everything felt fake. The reality of the world was so false that it got in the way of what felt like a poor attempt at a Nick Joaquin story. The acting was wooden and the dialogue was just wrong. It had a very modern sensibility that did not fit with the 16th Century Philippine setting. It was horrible.

So there are good things and bad things going for Cinemalaya 2013 but there are more good than bad, at the moment; based on what I’ve seen. There is a new crop of directors and filmmakers who are pushing through and who have a chance to change the industry if they have a chance and I hope they do.

I’m actually excited to see Transit by Hannah Espia because I’ve read a lot of good reviews about the film from people I respect and see as credible. This is probably the last film that I’m expecting to be good, and I’m horribly afraid of everything else. But then again, there were a lot of surprises and so I’m willing to be surprised. I want to be proven wrong.

The country has the talent. We have creative and amazing people. I just wished they were allowed to make more movies than showed it, rather than kowtow to the producers who just want to appeal to the tastes of the lowest common denominator just to make a buck. That’s what is killing our film industry, really. And that has got to change.

4 thoughts on “Cinemalaya 2013: there’s hope for Philippine cinema

  1. thanks for these great reviews, wanggo! i was going to make it a cinemalaya weekend and was having a tough time deciding which ones to see. unfortunately, my initial choices were panned by you. i may have to drop “diplomat hotel.” 😉 anyway, your blog is wonderful! thanks again! mwah mwah!

    • Thank you so much. Please, these are just my opinions. I’m not saying I’m an expert or anything. Please make your own opinions about the films. I’m just so happy that you are watching Filipino films and that you get a chance to see some really good ones, like “Quick Change,” “Sana Dati,” and “Transit.”

      • ended up seeing “quick change,” “transit” and “ekstra”. i loved them all! “quick change” it seems to me, is really more of a tragedy masquerading as a comedy. i rally liked “ekstra” as a kind of meta-film–cherie gil was priceless, i love her! but my favorite is “transit”. i cried in so many places. it’s not very complicated, yet it really cuts. 🙂

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