2012: Highlights in Philippine Cinema
It was a year when Philippine cinema was attached to charity. Watch Chris Martinez’s I Do Bidoo Bidoo, Jun Lana’s Bwakaw, Antoinette Jadaone’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, and Brillante Mendoza’s Sinapupunan (Thy Womb) to show you care for the ailing film industry. If money is the sole barometer for the industry’s life, then let it die, I say. It’s about time we separate cinema from the industry that has been declared ailing since we allowed capitalists to have the final say on its condition. From the perspective of an observer who is ignorant of the dirty mechanics of the filmmaking industry except the merits of its various products, money is but a nagging hindrance, an obstacle to noble artistic ends.
However, capital is still a reality that needs to be addressed. It has been the cause of various conflicts of 2012. The very definition of the capital grant of Cinemalaya was questioned when the artistic integrity of Emerson Reyes’ MNL 143 was threatened by the film festivals’ leaders who were only protecting the integrity of their so-called investment. Reyes successfully gave birth to his first film, not by surrendering his vision, but with the help of monetary and creative contributions from both strangers and friends. A number of other films were made with a similar approach, cognizant of the monetary requirements of filmmaking but never too beholden to it to make profit-making an immediate goal.
The best films of 2012 are characterized not by how much money they have earned or how many people have seen them but by the qualities they have that persist to exist despite the lack of money in their making, the lack of desire to make money, or the eventual lack of moneymaking attributes. Joyce Bernal’s Of All the Things is made from the same mold from which majority of the romantic comedies that pollute local cinema with unoriginality and banality are fashioned from. What sets Of All the Things apart from the rest is that it resembles more the old-fashioned romances that Bernal used to make than the ones made recently. Bernal manages to inject the film with a milieu, and make use of her actors’ off-screen personalities, the very fact that Aga Muhlach and Regine Velasquez are way past the age of being crazy in love, to benefit the film.
Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala is clearly a product of a very specific experience, one that belongs exclusively to a social class where conflicts arising from the lack of economic capability are exchanged with conflicts arising from the lack of identity. It is that quality of the film that made it extremely accessible to some and reproachable for others. Gino Santos’ The Animals comes from the same experience. While Jamora seems to be entirely comfortable with its cliquish sheen, Santos approaches it with some sort of rebellious cynicism that makes his film viscerally disturbing.
Lana’s Bwakaw is perhaps the most celebrated film on old age, considering that it was a few inches away from nabbing a slot in the Oscars best foreign film race. However, the film, despite its praiseworthy pacing and acting from Eddie Garcia, is predictably bathed in the same sentimentality that is showered to the elderly. Dwein Baltazar’s Mamay Umeng, on the other hand, makes that difficult decision to be simply about waiting. Its storytelling is amazingly measured, providing only enough to satisfy its feature length status without overreaching to be more than what it should be. Mes de Guzman’s Diablo is also leisurely in its pacing its story of an old woman who has been left alone by her boys who have become too busy fighting over their inheritance. De Guzman withholds drama and instead aptly likens the experience of the elderly to an atmospheric horror film.
Adolfo Alix, Jr.’s Kalayaan (Wildlife) is also about waiting. More than waiting, it is also about man’s need to interact and relate lest he fall into self-abuse. Alix, without declaring it, touches on myths, on politics, on the larger things that affect individuals. Vincent Sandoval’s Aparisyon (Apparition) is set in a period of political turmoil, in a convent that attempts to shield itself from being penetrated by outside forces. Sandoval however valiantly focuses not on the footnote in history he has imagined and efficiently created but on the grays of morality the religious are faced with. Brillante Mendoza’s Sinapupunan has both nature and culture on the spotlight. What permeates however is the humanity of people who are fated to live ironic lives. Arnel Mardoquio’s Ang Paglalakbay ng Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (A Star’s Journey into the Dark Night) is perhaps the most honest depiction of the war in Mindanao, with perpetrators and victims trapped in a world of confusion.
Despite its many apparent imperfections, Christian Linaban’s Aberya is that kind of film that is too audacious to be ignored. It is visually and aurally dynamic, providing its four unequal parts irresistible verve. However, Pam Miras’ Pascalina, with its uniquely pixelated visuals, excites the current independent cinematic landscape that has become too concerned with fake gloss and abundance of pixels to have an authentic soul. Miras’ first feature film is full of soul, reimagining the overused aswang myth into an accurate observation of a woman whose humdrum urban life is as lo-fi as the visuals used to depict her story.
Jungle Love is perhaps Sherad Sanchez’s most accessible feature. Its loosely told story of individuals getting lost in the jungle is spiced up by its frank portrayals of longing and lust. Surprisingly, Sanchez’s unapologetic indulgences fit perfectly into his milieu of the strange and the unknown. Exploration has never been this pleasurable.
Gym Lumbera’s two experimental features, Taglish and Anak Araw (Albino), are as different from each other as night and day. Taglish is clearer in its purpose, the way it dissects colonialism through its most apparent symptom: language. By visualizing the corrupting state of the national tongue, Lumbera opens up his personal fears, since he himself is a product of that national duality. Anak Araw treads the same observation, but this time, with more visual wit, and surprisingly, a sizable dose of humor. Its intentions are also more elegantly laid out, paced as if it were a dream where vivid memories of rural life and Tagalog songs sung with American accents are weaved together with figments of remarkable poetic sense.
Michael Collins’ Give Up Tomorrow is often criticized because Marty Syjuco, the documentary’s producer, is a relative of Paco Larranaga, the documentary’s subject. I disagree. The disclosed relationship between the makers and the subject instead gives the documentary urgency and emotional energy, which then turned the documentary into one of the most important films of the year. The same urgency infects Jay Abello’s Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar while taking a look at the inevitable connection between the province’s sugar industry and dying aristocracy from a perspective of one of its participants. Benito Bautista’s Harana is a well-crafted ode to a musical and romantic tradition that is fated to die as soon as its practitioners have passed on.
Lav Diaz’s Pagsisiyasat sa Gabing Ayaw Lumimot (An Investigation on the Night that Won’t Forget) has Erwin Romulo, the late Alexis Tioseco’s best friend, recall the events after the critic and his girlfriend’s untimely death in their home in Quezon City. Diaz makes use of one long take to allow Romulo an uninterrupted narration of the events. The pain of recalling is palpable. Romulo is transformed into a classic Diaz protagonist, a man who is continuously burdened by the grave injustices of society. Like Romulo, Florentina, played beautifully by Hazel Orencio, struggles to recall, her name, her life, her history. She gazes into Diaz’s camera in the hopes that cinema can save her.
It is that single scene in Diaz’s Florentino Hubaldo, CTE that summarizes what cinema should be. It is not about the amount of money that would keep Philippine cinema, or at least the business aspect of it, surviving. It will continue to survive, as evidenced by the millions of pesos, padded or not, that have been reported as profit from the junkfood the Philippines eagerly devour. The question is who is in it and who has been eased out. I frankly don’t care. Perhaps those who have been eased out from the industry can do something better and start making real cinema, not merely products that pander to the country’s collective ignorance.
Top 20 Feature Films of 2012:
1. Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (Lav Diaz)
2. Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins)
3. Pagsisiyasat sa Gabing Ayaw Lumimot (An Investigation on the Night that Won't Forget, Lav Diaz)
4. Jungle Love (Sherad Anthony Sanchez)
5. Anak Araw (Albino, Gym Lumbera)
6. Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (A Star’s Journey into the Dark Night, Arnel Mardoquio)
7. Pascalina (Pam Miras)
8. Kalayaan (Wild Life, Adolfo Alix, Jr.)
9. Sinapupunan (Thy Womb, Brillante Mendoza)
10. Aparisyon (Apparition, Vincent Sandoval)
11. Harana (Benito Bautista)
12. MNL 143 (Emerson Reyes)
13. Diablo (Mes de Guzman)
14. Mamay Umeng (Dwein Baltazar)
15. Aberya (Christian Linaban)
16. Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar (Jay Abello)
17. Taglish (Gym Lumbera)
18. The Animals (Gino Santos)
19. Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There, Marie Jamora)
20. Of All the Things (Joyce Bernal)
(Cross-published in ABS-CBNNews.com)