Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bisperas (2011)

Bisperas (Jeffrey Jeturian, 2011)
English Title: Eve

Set on Christmas Day’s eve in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, Jeffrey Jeturian’s Bisperas (Eve) details a family’s return from the traditional panunuluyan, a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay involving the members of the parish, only to discover that their house has been robbed. As they account for what has been stolen from their belongings, long-kept secrets are uncovered, revealing the ironic dysfunctions of what seems to be a model middle-class Filipino family.

The film is deceptively simple. It faithfully follows the dysfunctional family trope, with no sharp turns in the narrative, just incidents piling upon incidents until everything explodes predictably at the dinner table. It is shot with hardly any pretense for cinematic prettiness or flair, just the drab interiors of a typical subdivision house, illuminated only by sparse room and Christmas lights. It is expertly edited, with scenes stitched together in near seamless fashion, importantly establishing continuity in the story that exists within a very short period of time.

Bisperas is a superbly acted film. Tirso Cruz III plays the beleaguered patriarch with controlled ferocity. Raquel Villavicencio, on the other hand, playing the family’s very tolerant matriarch, blends into the subtle drama with admirable ease, putting in a mannered performance until the exact moment when hysterics become necessary. As the couple’s grown children, Julia Clarete, Jennifer Sevilla, and Edgar Allan Guzman give the brood of discordant adults ample chemistry, making the strict distinction between emotional attachment and distance among them so deliciously apparent.

It is as if the film was willfully made to look ordinary and feel familiar, owing to Jeturian’s agenda of having the film mirror the pretentiousness of the Philippines’ bourgeoisie, a class as beholden as any other to the Catholic Church but displays such attachment to religion with near-absurd pomp. By bookending the film with public displays of faith and religiosity, where it appears that the Church has been successful in tending its flock to follow the ways of Christianity, Jeturian enunciates the ungodly difference between what is displayed in public and what is kept from public.

Jeturian sprinkles the film with a little too much of symbolisms and visual cues that make it a tad more pedantic than what is required to effectively communicate its message. Uneven only because of certain portions when the film is carried away by an understandable eagerness to reveal the failures of an overbearing Church and its shallow flock, Bisperas is a film that triumphs when it is low key, when its affronts to Catholic hypocrisy are gestured instead of zealously announced.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (2011)

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (Marlon Rivera, 2011)
English Title: The Woman in the Septic Tank

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank), directed by Marlon Rivera from a screenplay written by Chris Martinez, earns most of its laughs from the misadventures of director Rainer (Kean Cipriano), producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman), and production assistant Jocelyn (Cai Cortez), an overly ambitious troop of filmmakers who are out to make their dream film entitled "Walang Wala" by exploiting the picturesque poverty of Manila. As they brainstorm on the casting, the look, the story, the poster design, and down to the English translation of the title of their precious project, the film takes shape inside the mind of perennially quiet Jocelyn (perhaps Rivera and Martinez’s homage to the production crew rendered voiceless by noisy auteurs and capitalists), showcasing what’s depressingly wrong in the current state of Philippine filmmaking in the most hilarious of ways.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank delights in caricaturizing filmmakers, films, and the business of making films. There are practically no real characters to speak of, and no real story for the characters to navigate in. The filmmakers are just comical representations of deplorable traits of filmmakers tend to have. The plot is essentially what happens in a typical day in the pre-production of the film, where meetings, pitches, and location checks are crammed within the few working hours of the day in true independent film fashion.

Rivera and Martinez thickens what essentially is a thinly plotted experience with wit and exaggeration, creating both a chilling and charming indictment of Philippine cinema for creating monsters that feed on fame and fortune at the expense of the truly marginalized. Unfortunately, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank trips on its own trap. In its quest for some sort of comeuppance for its erring characters, it draws up a twist that makes use of the most common stereotype of poverty, which is abject criminality.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank’s biggest commodity is reliable Eugene Domingo, who plays the various versions of "Walang Wala"’s Mila, the hapless mother of too many children who is forced to sell one of her kids to a pedophile to survive. She also plays an overly distorted version of herself. Domingo hilariously hams up the role of the overly-pampered product of mainstream projects and television shows.

Lately, Philippine cinema has been represented internationally by the films of Brillante Mendoza which are predominantly focused on lives persisting in extreme cases of poverty. With the success of Mendoza and the demand of film festival programmers for exoticized visions of third-world penury, other filmmakers followed suit, filming various stories back-grounded by mountains of trash, acres of slums, and never-ending violence.

The Philippines, sadly, is proud of a cinema that most of its citizens have not seen. It is proud of a cinema that is taken hostage by the international film festivals that dictate upon it its inevitable direction. It is proud of a cinema that is only part of a vicious cycle of international demands and artists too willing to fill in these demands. Of course, that is only one spectrum of the debate. The other spectrum belongs to what’s right in Philippine cinema, which is obviously not the focus of Martinez and Rivera and would have made the film a less effective parody.

With its brave and seamless sense of humor, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is a sure crowd-pleaser. However, let not its comedic machinations be mistakenly considered as the summation of the bigger, more complex and more beautiful thing that is Philippine cinema.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gayuma (2010)

Gayuma (Alvin Yapan, 2010)
English Title: Pilgrim Lovers

Gayuma (Pilgrim Lovers) is a film borne out of love and sheer dedication. Armed with a budget that is minuscule even if pitted against other independent productions, director Alvin Yapan and producer Alemberg Ang ventured on to mount a film based on one of Yapan’s oldest stories, a concept developed and evolved from an exercise among literary comrades in college who dared each other to come up with a story that ends with the sentence “I love you.” The result is evidently imperfect. However, despite its obvious imperfections, the film perseveres with the strength of its story, making it a testament to Yapan’s boundless imagination.

In a parochial Bicol town, a statue of the Sto Niño suddenly started talking and dancing, prompting the town’s parish priest to visit to investigate and to exorcise from the statue whatever spirit that is haunting it. With him is Delfin (Kalil Almonte), his sacristan and assistant, who is advised by the verbose Sto Niño statue to concoct a love potion so that he can easily woo Carla (Mercedes Cabral), a rich girl who is already in love with another man, into leaving her man for him.

The film is divided into two parts. The first half focuses on Delfin who is enveloped by his longing for unreachable Carla and therefore takes the Sto Niño statue’s advice to easily win the affections of the girl. The second half focuses on Carla. Carla, under the spell of Delfin’s love potion, carries Delfin, who mysteriously fell in a coma, through fields, mountains and forests, to a pond that will cure Delfin of his affliction. The two parts are differentiated by mood and feel. With steady visuals, the first half establishes the traditionally masculine conviction and determination of Delfin in his pursuit for Carla’s undivided attention. The second half, characterized by markedly jerky camera movements, visualizes Carla’s stereotypically feminine confusion and uncertainty as she carries Delfin, inspired either by the sure effects of the love potion or true love.

Gayuma is ridden with details that pertain to certain agendas Yapan may or may not be that successful in fleshing out, like a certain extended scene with the gay beautician who fancies Delfin and an extraneous scene with certain rebels who rescue Carla from rapists in the forest (Yapan’s commentaries as to how homosexuals and communist rebels, respectively, are being used in Philippine cinema). It also suffers from lacking polish that could have added a little bit more of dread in the earlier part or dreaminess in the middle part or danger in the latter part.

However, despite the immense gap between what Yapan wanted to say and his budgetary limitations, the film still manages to communicate the harsh complexities of love and loving within a story that is simple yet brimming with color and flourish. There is poignancy in Delfin’s succumbing to ease of romance, and wickedness in Carla’s torturous trek towards the healing pond to rescue the man he may or may not actually love. There are no blacks or whites, just damning greys in Yapan’s peculiar love story. That “I love you” that was whispered in the film’s final second trumps all the “I love you’s” carelessly and emptily spoken, shouted, and written in other films I’ve seen before.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Patikul (2011)

Patikul (Joel Lamangan, 2011)

There is no denying the sincerity of veteran director Joel Lamangan in making Patikul. Education is after all an issue that can never be overemphasized. It needs to be talked about because there is an alarming lack of it especially in the riskier and more remote areas in the Philippines. Patikul was born out of that very noble intention of educating the public on the deficiencies of the policy on education in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the film is as effective as a lousy kindergarten teacher teaching calculus to a room full of monkeys.

Patikul tells the story of Kan-Ague Elementary School in Patikul, Sulu. Two of Kan-Ague’s best students are chosen to compete in the region’s quiz bee. Determined to grab the top prize, the students prepare for the quiz bee with the help of the school’s supportive principal (Marvin Agustin) and teachers. However, the students get caught in the middle of the hostilities between the government and the terrorists.

Since Patikul borrows the name of an actual place for its title, one would logically expect Lamangan to shoot the film in that place. Instead, the film was shot in locations in Rizal and Cavite that could pass for the town of Patikul, or what Lamangan envisions Patikul in Sulu would be. The danger of the convenience-fueled resourcefulness is that it makes the film based on a certain interpretation of a place, an interpretation that is not unlike a ghastly stereotype. Thus, the film is erroneously emboldened by its pretty but empty visuals of rolling hills, dark forests, bustling town centers, and busy coffee farms. However, these locations are just stages, the characters are just performers, and the film is just an explicit exercise of fakery.

Sincerity and conviction are too different things. Patikul is a sincere film that lacks conviction. The confusion shows. The performances are obviously thinly inspired, grounded more on the need to get things done sure and fast than any genuine understanding of what their characters are going through. Agustin’s performance is predictably flat. The performances of Martin delos Santos and Angeli Nicole Sanoy, who gave life to the determined students who were chosen to compete for the quiz bee, are lacking in depth. The other supporting cast-members, with the probable exception of Glaiza de Castro who gives a modestly heartfelt depiction of one of the schoolteachers, are needless pretty faces and familiar names whose only contribution to the film is publicity.

The actors, however, are only acting out what the screenplay tells them to act out. Sadly, Kristoffer Brugada’s screenplay, which surprisingly won a Palanca award, is a horrendous mess. It is ridiculously talky, indulging in dialogue that makes more obvious the already obvious. Its desire to be “full of heart” (for a lack of a better phrase) is too put on, too manufactured.

Lamangan treats the screenplay with reverence it does not deserve. Thus, the result is this confused work whose only merit is that it seems to signal that the type of uninvolved filmmaking that Lamangan has gotten too used to from working as a hired gun for film studios and television stations can no longer work when the film that needs to be made involves the director’s sincerest advocacy that he longs to communicate. That said, Patikul is independent only by association, nothing more.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Niño (2011)

Niño (Loy Arcenas, 2011)

The Lopez-Aranda family has fallen far from grace. Gaspar (Tony Mabesa) was a promising statesman during his younger years but his political ambitions were thwarted by Ferdinand Marcos’ sudden rise to power. Celia (Fides Cuyugan), his sister, was an opera star whose sudden marriage to an inutile man stalled her career.

The second generation didn’t fare any better. Celia’s daughter, Merced (Shamaine Buencamino), is unmarried and takes care of the affairs of the household. Her son, Mombic (Art Acuña), haunted by a failed marriage and business, is seeking employment abroad. Gaspar’s only daughter, Raquel (Raquel Villavicencio), displaced from the Philippines for decades, has had three marriages. The third generation, represented by Reinhardt (Joaquin Valdez), Raquel’s teenage son, and Antony (Jhiz Deocareza), Mombic’s five year old son, bear the cudgels of their family’s inevitable decay.

There is a reason why people are fascinated with ruins, despite the evident disrepair and decay. Ruins are permanent reminders of a distant glorious past. In Loy Arcenas’ Niño, the Lopez-Aranda clan is portrayed with the same fascination, as if the family were ruins on display: the bits of opera that Celia sings to bedridden Gaspar with her aging soprano are the broken columns, the stories told by Gaspar of his blossoming political position are the damaged statues, and the rustic house, its remaining furniture and ornaments and the anecdotes of the loyal household help of the house’s former prominence are the collapsed edifices, the wilted gardens, the burnt arcs, all of which are faint indications of the family’s expired extravagance.

Do not be mistaken to think that Niño treats its characters plainly as mere objects of art, remnants of a faded legacy. The characters are very human. Their relations and entanglements with each other are grounded on uncomplicated emotions. Arcenas comprehends the allure of disgrace, the way it measures the extent of the family’s sure decline. Arcenas punctuates desperation with class, moderates depravity with sensitivity, and adds levity to the very certain histrionics and melodramatics of the formerly privileged.

For a film by a first-time film director, Niño is a feat to behold. All the elements, from Lee Briones and Jay Abello’s elegant cinematography, to the ensemble acting, to Jerrold Tarog’s intelligently spare scoring, to Danny Añonuevo’s very precise editing, are meshed together by Arcenas with expert precision. The film is marked with disciplined craftsmanship, a rare commodity in a filmmaking culture that has become too forgiving of lazy, careless and depthless technical work. The amazingly tight screenplay, concocted by playwright Rody Vera, is humorous without going overboard.

The film’s accomplished climax, a final audacious attempt to grab onto whatever glory or dignity left, is the film’s poignant crest. The very sight of the country’s best opera singers together in their old age, belting out in voices that are fractions of what they used to be, is both absurd and wondrous. Yet after everything, when the music of the past has faded, when the momentary elation and heightened hope have been replaced by the very real notion that there are things that are meant to wither and that what remains are only echoes and shadows from an era and a family’s sunken splendor.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Teoriya (2011)

Teoriya (Zurich Chan, 2011)
English Title: Theory

An airplane flies past an anonymous Zamboanga cemetery. Outside the city’s airport, reporters are waiting. Passengers from the most recent arrival scramble out of the airport. A man, donned in running gear, is approached by the reports. He won a prestigious marathon in Manila and returns to his native Zamboanga to start running across the island of Mindanao. While the reporters are gathering clues from the runner as to why he wants to run, another man (Alfred Vargas), dressed in typical Manila clothes, appears. The runner, who is still being followed by the reporters, and the man leave the airport in separate directions.

Zurich Chan, instead of following the possibly more colourful tale of the champion runner, follows the other man, as he takes a cab through the streets of Zamboanga he may or may not remember from the childhood he chose to forget and abandon. He arrives in the office of his godfather (Lilit Reyes), the starting point of his journey to find his dead father’s grave. His father bequeathed him with almost nothing, except for a piece of land, a rundown car, and a diary of his father’s exploits as a medical representative. The man rides from one town to another, retracing his father’s footsteps, discovering secrets about him, and inching closer to truly living.

Simplicity has become so underrated, especially today wherein complex plots, social relevance, and shallow intellectualism have become overrated. More often than not, simplicity has been mistaken for lack of originality, thinness of plot, and worse, absence of imagination and ambition. Teoriya could have been about the runner, traversing the dangerous but picturesque roads of Mindanao. It could have dug deeper into the psyche of the runner. It could have been immensely inspirational, a film that puts forth triumph against the stereotypical adversities that plague the island.

Fortunately, Teoriya is not about all of that. It is first and foremost a story, the simplest of all stories, and like most stories, a theory as to what the story’s creator would do had he been in the shoes of the character he is writing himself in. That said, the film, with its unfairly criticized simplicity, is a heartfelt achievement, rife with anecdotes that add not only quirk and humor into the exercise but also rare visual lyricism.

Without forcing issues for the goal of achieving some sort of social relevance, the film manages to acknowledge that personal stories are unavoidably intertwined with the bigger picture, that more often than not, in any journey, there will always be predictable encounters with poverty (the hijacking farmer), with violence (the father’s experience of losing his parents to massacre), with love (the woman among men). These encounters are not caused by some clever circumstance or narrative conceit. It is just how life naturally unfolds. With Teoriya, Chan celebrates the frustrating and enjoyable mysteries of life and living life while basking under the peculiarly warm sunlight of death.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Maskara (2011)

Maskara (Laurice Guillen, 2011)
English Title: Mask

There’s one scene in Laurice Guillen’s Maskara (Mask) where Ina Feleo, playing Anna, the illegitimate daughter of accomplished actor Bobby (Tirso Cruz III) who recently passed away, suddenly weeps. Guillen does not opt for an extreme close-up of her daughter’s face. Instead, Feleo is seen from a comfortable distance, allowing her to overwhelm the frame with just There’s something strangely haunting about Feleo’s performance. It is more than good within the scope of the film’s narrative. It is actually very moving on its own, encompassing emotions as varied as sorrow and anger, regret and acceptance.

Feleo’s father and Guillen’s husband, the great actor Johnny Delgado, died in 2009. While Feleo and fictional Anna were born under different circumstances, they share common emotions, of longing and of overflowing love for a missed father. In short, Feleo’s memorable performance has truth as its foundation. That the truth is conveyed through the art of acting makes it immeasurably more beautiful.

Maskara, written also by Feleo, is based on the truth. Huge portions of the film are covered by unscripted anecdotes told by Delgado’s friends and comrades. The interview of Bobby by Anna is adapted from an actual interview done by Delgado. The film, although fictional, becomes a loving tribute to Delgado, not only by Guillen and Feleo, but by the actors, from someone as established in the industry as Ricky Davao, who dedicates a very raw but convincing rendition of O Sole Mio, to someone as young as Miles Ocampo, whose tearful reminiscence of Delgado is poignant, who shared their stories to both humanize the actor and to move the film’s story.

Truth, as it is, is a powerful thing. Truth, moderated and enunciated through arts and craftsmanship, becomes infinitely more powerful. There are fragments of very personal truths to Guillen’s family in Maskara’s story of a wife (Shamaine Buencamino) who discovers of her husband’s illegitimate daughter through letters that the daughter wrote to her father that he kept. These personal truths, masked by the fiction of Guillen’s cinema, is modulated, turning what could possibly be personal only to Delgado’s family and to those who personally knew him into something that is personal to everyone who ever loved and even questioned love.

The story ends with a question left unanswered. Why did Bobby hide Anna from her family? The concealment could taint love. It can also mystify it, deepen it, and instruct that it has more facets than what we may know in a single lifetime.

Acting is an art where the concealment of the truth is required. Film too, since it is based on the illusion of movement. The paradox here is that the quality of these art forms is often gauged as to how much truth is revealed from the concealment. The more real the acting, the closer to truth the film is, the better. Maskara conceals as much as it reveals. The film, more than an impassioned tribute to a loving and beloved husband for Guillen, father for Ina and executive producer Ana Feleo, and esteemed artist and friend for the other actors who appeared in the film, is a document on the power of art, to communicate and to heal.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (2011)

Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (Alvin Yapan, 2011)
English Title: The Dance of Two Left Feet

Ambiguity is such a beautiful thing. It is what makes art free from its artist, allowing the observer of the art part of the art-making. It is what breaks the boundaries of the literal, allowing art to traverse the infinite expanses of the subjective. It is what makes art from being only personal to the artist, to also being personal to the observer. A tear, for example, is ordinarily an object of sorrow. A tear from the eye of a man embracing another man has transformed it from being an object of sorrow into an object of love, suddenly realized. A tear from the eye of a man embracing another man in the end of a grandiose dance production of a famous epic has transformed it from being an object of love into an object of awe.

Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet) tells the story of Marlon (Paulo Avelino) who is enamored by Karen (Jean Garcia), his literature professor. He follows her after class and discovers that she moonlights as a dance teacher and choreographer. To impress her, he asks Dennis (Rocco Nacino), his classmate and Karen’s assistant in the dance studio, to teach him the dances that Karen teaches in her classes before actually enrolling. A unique love triangle, one wherein the point is to share love and not to exclusively own love, ensues.

Yapan, an awarded fictionist and literature professor, enriches the story with poetry, borrowing the poems of Merlinda Bobis, Ruth Elynia Mabanglo, Joi Barros, Rebecca Anonuevo, Ophelia Dimalanta and Benilda Santos, all of whom are famous feminist poets. From there, the film takes a different shape. The story, without being abandoned totally, becomes the frame for Yapan’s goal, which is to utilize cinema as an extension of his classroom and an invitation to indulge in the limitless scope of literature, dance, and music.

It works. The film dodges any threat of being pointlessly academic by making most of the elements that are exclusive to cinema, particularly cinematography and editing. Its first ten minutes is a masterful sequence that marries dance, dialogue, music and verse. Edited seemingly without regard to narrative succession, it takes the form of a poem film, not unlike very personal works of John Torres that are crafted from found footage loosely strung together with words and melodies. It’s a prelude for what’s to come: lucid discussions on feminist poetry, the poems themselves that are recited in dialogue and in song and beautifully choreographed dances, all flaunted intelligently and at once, written into the film and edited together near seamlessly.

Yapan’s use of feminist poetry is quite subversive since Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa hardly has a feminist agenda. While the film hints of homosexual longing, it seems to conceive romance as absolved from the politics of gender and preference. Instead, love and longing is free. Marlon longs for Karen, notwithstanding the difference in age and position. Dennis longs for Marlon, notwithstanding the difference in sexual preference. It seems that Yapan is freeing the poems of their feminist roots, expanding their interpretations to encompass emotions stemming from males. In fact, Karen, the only female in the film, is the only character who is emotionally separated from the young lovers, consumed primarily by her own lonely and rapidly aging existence.

With Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, Yapan has choreographed a delicious orgy where various art forms mingle with astounding ease. Its final image will doubtlessly result in complaints, most probably prejudiced by expectations fostered by the slew of romantic and gay-themed films whose love stories are so much more pronounced and so much more obviously plotted than this. However, that final image’s ambiguity is all that the film needs to graduate from being just another gay love story with literary ambitions into a poem that is as potent as the ones it used. After all, a tear is more than just an object of sorrow, of love, and of awe. It is also an object that equalizes all of humanity as it communicates each and every person’s innate capacity to feel and express emotions, whether one be male, female, straight, gay, rich, or poor.

(Cross-published in Twitch)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Busong (2011)

Busong (Auraeus Solito, 2011)
English Title: Palawan Fate

Busong (Palawan Fate) is the summation of Auraeus Solito’s artistic life, so far. Its devotion to folklore and its insistence on it being told through the usage of practical effects as opposed to sleeker and more popular digital effects is owed to the dazzling stop animation that was the source of absolute wonder in Ang Maikling Buhay ng Apoy, Act 2 Scene 2, Suring at ang Kuk-ok (The Brief Lifespan of Fire, Act 2 Scene 2, Suring and the Kuk-ok, 1995). Its reliance on romanticizing the struggle of the marginalized and the underrepresented is owed to the famous love story of the young gay boy and a police officer in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005) and the struggles of various genius high school students in Pisay (Philippine Science, 2007). Its homoerotic gaze is owed to his sincere re-telling of his own homosexual coming-of-age in Boy (2009).

The film’s most direct precedent however is Basal Banar (Sacred Ritual of Truth, 2002), a documentary that compiled very real stories of land-grabbing and other oppression in by the outsiders towards the native people of Palawan. Much like Basal Banar, Busong is a collection of stories that focus on the issues concerning Palawan. While it is the sense of community, of a common struggle, that connects the stories of Basal Banar together, in Busong, fate is the thread that ties the tales. Busong retells the stories of Solito’s childhood and the stories he documented while making Basal Banar as one narrative, made endlessly elaborate and poignantly poetic.

Busong tells the story Punay (Alessandra de Rossi) who is suffering from a mysterious illness that rendered her helpless and perpetually wounded. Angkarang (Rodrigo Santikan), Punay’s brother, carries her on an ornate hammock, searching the land for a cure to his sister’s suffering. Their search would lead them to meet several strangers --- the widow (Bonivie Budao), of a logger, a fisherman (Dax Alejandro), and the descendant (Clifford Banagale) of Palawan’s healers.

Spells are spoken to pacify wildlife. Butterflies fly from healed wounds. At the same place and time these magical events happen, foreign capitalists bully the island’s impoverished natives. Traditions are slowly being forgotten, salvaged primarily by sung stories recorded on tape and played in the radio. The film is not grounded on logic. It is more than anachronistic. The film exists in some abstract plane, where past, present, and future converge, tradition and technology are not at odds with each other, and myth and reality intertwine.

From the dreamy episodes set in the beaches and forests of the island to the erstwhile but gorgeous underwater sequences, Busong is undoubtedly visually sumptuous. However, like postcards sold in the gift shop of a luxurious tourist’s resort, the images that cinematographer Louie Quirino conjures are framed and lighted predictably to enunciate the natural allure of the island. Shot and projected in high definition video, Busong runs the risk of being too beautiful, too defined, and too welcoming. A film that grieves for a dying tradition and cautions of the masked repercussions of forced modernization is deserving of a tinge of grit, a hint of ugliness, and a possible serving of anger.

There is no denying that the film is a product of Solito’s love for his cinematically-neglected homeland, which he visualizes to near-perfection. During those moments and sequences where the film becomes incomprehensible story-wise, it is that love which is communicated with absolute ease. Each frame bursts with that unabashed adulation for his cultural heritage. Busong is essentially Solito’s ode to himself, his past and the many pasts of his people that contributed to who he is as an artist.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)