MOVIE REVIEW: Buhay Habangbuhay (2016, CineFilipino)

“Buhay Habangbuhay” Review
Written and directed by Paolo Herras
CineFilipino Film Festival 2016

Based on the graphic novel by Paolo Herras and Tepai Pascual, Buhay Habangbuhay presents itself as a refreshing look at how powerful an adaptation could be as long as done effectively through the advantages of both mediums.

The film begins all too sudden with death: a housewife slips in the kitchen and kills herself—much to the shock of her husband who cannot do anything to bring her back. It was all too quick that even the shortest of breath could not survive her, and the least the man can do is to grieve over the loss of a dutiful wife. “Sandy!” he shouts in the midst of worry. This is the only word heard in the midst of chaos, the only sound that resonates with volume other than the shatter of the plate and the hopes broken all the same.

It is all too sudden as well to be introduced to Sandy’s ghost as she watches her body being laid to rest. In the comforts of their house, she discovers how to stay and linger and haunt while waiting for her husband, Joel, to die. It is as if she has prior knowledge on what has to be done or there could have been a manual on how to proceed to the afterlife. Patience is within her as she is clad in white, the same dress she was wearing when she died. There is something to feel from her curiosity as a ghost that Iza Calzado does not fail to deliver all throughout.

As for Joel, nothing is the same anymore. The bed is altogether empty. Every time he sleeps, he saves half of the bed empty and reaches out to the bodiless space. Loneliness sinks too deep that it crushes their core. There is emptiness in his soul that Sandy can clearly see way beyond the measures of her ghostly vision. Jake Macapagal carries the heavy feeling as Joel with much ownership to his character. The walls may no longer bounce the sweet voice of her woman but they are surely aware of Sandy’s presence which he fails to at least realize.

The film chooses to be silent in all the right points which give time for the audience to ponder. In its own air devoid of cluttered dialogues, it pushes itself to speak through its visuals augmented by its melancholic scoring. The overemphasis on quietness adds up to the overall atmosphere of longing.

While Sandy’s ghost could not exactly move on, Joel seems to be able to cope without difficulty. He brings home Cecille (Meryll Soriano) and takes her as a second wife. Sandy inspects the new woman with a curious eyes as Cecille inspects the new home with fervor. Fueled by passion, the new couple rush to make out while Sandy remains a mere spectator of a new beginning for her husband. In hiding, she meets a friendly anito spirit (Ricci Chan) who becomes her companion in her quest of waiting. Chan’s character delivers the punch lines needed to break the ice albeit sometimes falling flat. He speaks mostly in fragments—perhaps to separate his entity as someone who has known death for a very long time or has just grown tired of speaking naturally. Even so, his character, who brings a lighter mood in an otherwise gloomy ambience, takes Iza’s character as a friend instead of an apprentice in the game of fetching the dead.

Sandy is very much clouded with sadness but there is nothing much to do other than to see how things will unfold for Joel. Later on, she accepts the situation and grows to live silently with the new family. The only one who is able to see the new kid Christopher (Nhikzy Calma).

There is beauty in all the waiting in between and all through the time before Joel finally dies. Sandy is ready but Joel seems to have disappeared. “I’m waiting for my husband,” she tells her anito friend. “We will leave together.” Time passes only for her to become sadder. “He will come,” she would insist for which Anito would remind her “He’s no longer here.”

In mourning, Sandy wears black. By then, she realizes that she changes color based on disposition. She sits between the bereaved Cecille and Christopher and cries with them, sobbing in deep grief and eventually bursting into laughter. With no Joel around, there is a heavier tone in everything else and the weight crosses from mortals to ghosts. Sandy meets other characters in Anna Marin and Rocky Salumbides who both breathe air of serenity—something that she is still getting used to.

The visual effects of Buhay Habangbuhay are very essential to the holistic feel of the movie. While these can still be improved, the skill in pulling everything off is commendable enough in spite of time constraint and limitations during production. The effects are still haunting and provide that adequate space to separate reality from imagination. As the imaginative aspects of the movie is incorporated in the real world as we know it, suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept the story as presented.

“I’ve been dead long before you came to my life. You made me live again. I want you to live,” as Joel’s character whispers to Cecille. Sandy witnesses in pain but accepts how life turns out for their family.

With the aid of the evocative musical score, the film takes its audience to an engaging journey that might seem wandering at first but leads to something victorious in the end. The search for purpose is given the highlight it deserves: not just for Sandy’s ghost but for all other ghosts that have once become a part of her life and her life after life.

Buhay Habangbuhay writes a different equation to the usual romance flick that its graphic novel would pass for a first impression. Its characters embrace the somber affair and take it as their own realities while not completing letting go of their respective memories of what they had in the past. Compared to its source material, the film is centered on the importance of experience as it lets every minute pass with tenderness. It would be hard not to imagine Sandy’s character being one with the film’s audience. Calzado renders justice to her ghost and accentuatse it with such indispensable charisma.

Director Paolo Herras is not new to filmmaking and he proves to know his craft in Buhay Habangbuhay. How he balances the pluses of the comic tropes and the benefits of translating them to moving pictures is more than laudable for someone who is more inclined in doing the best out of graphic novels.

As the film ends on a sweet note, it paves the road to more chapters to tell. It will never be the end for Sandy’s ghost. There is purpose in living, she realizes. “I want them to feel me because I want to be remembered.”

The end credit rolls with singer Isha performing the movie’s theme song accompanied by the affecting music of the piano. There is a lingering sensation that Buhay Habangbuhay accomplishes through an aftertaste that is sweet and bitter at the same time.It speaks a lot without actually speaking a lot, and this is to be remembered now and hereafter.

MOVIE REVIEW: Kung ang Ulan ay Gawa sa Tsokolate (2016, CineFilipino)

“Kung ang Ulan ay Gawa sa Tsokolate” Review
Written and directed by Prime Cruz and Galileo Te
CineFilipino Film Festival 2016

In the not-so-distant future, the Philippines has become a global labour force due to the fact that Filipinos are now being literally exported overseas in the same way goods and produce are being exported today. Filipino labor has become quite an economic commodity, and because of poverty, more and more people want to jump the bandwagon.

The film opens with single mother Maita, and is shown waiting in line for her to be able to submit her application for a known healthcare company. The company has a special requirement: you have to be a mother to apply. Maita gets hired and enters a medical facility, ready for processing.

The film shows them to be living in a tenement, along with other families who are all living in poverty; with absolutely no sign of decadence in sight. Maita’s struggle is shown on her face as she receives a notification telling her that her electricity will be disconnected, and ends up being swallowed by darkness as rain pours down on their derelict residence. The sound of thunder scares Mika incessantly, and Maita sings “Kung ang Ulan ay Gawa sa Tsokolate” (Tsokolate changes to lollipop, or any other sweets depending on Mika’s whims), a lullaby she always uses to soothe Mika, to get her to sleep.

The film is implying that Mika and the people around her were already aware that she got hired and needs to leave, but Mika withdraws the full details from Mika. Maita then brings Mika to a posh boarding school (which is supposedly owned and managed by the company who hired Maita). Mika senses that Maita will leave her there, and so Maita once again assures her daughter that she’ll stay and will always be by her side. She then proceeds to sing her the lullaby they love the most for the very last time, and leaves as soon as Mika drifts off to sleep.

She is then shown to be in the final stages of processing, with her being a mother used to the company’s advantage. Her memories and emotions are tampered with, and bit by bit, her memories of Mika are changed: as soon as it’s done, it will only register the little girl she’ll be taking care of overseas, obliterating any trace of Mika’s existence forever. The film closes with Maita stroking a Caucasian girl’s hair while humming “Kung ang Ulan ay Gawa sa Tsokolate.”

It’s amazing how a film so short in length can affect audiences on a deeper level. It takes a more futuristic approach on how some parents even give up custody of their child (like having them adopted by a more affluent family at birth) to make sure their children enjoy a better and more fulfilling life. The film’s use of future possible tech was refreshing, if not absolutely unusual and unexpected. Nevertheless, it explored the pain and the sacrifice a mother or any parent is willing to risk in order to ensure that their children do not suffer the same plight.

cinefilipino 2016 kung ang ulan ay gawa sa tsokolate poster

MOVIE REVIEW: Saan Man Ngunit Dito (2016, CineFilipino)

“Saan Man Ngunit Dito” Review
Directed by Cheska Salangsang
Written by Cheska Salangsang and Renard Torres
CineFilipino Film Festival 2016

Carol and Pido are a married couple in the habit of mountaineering, and on this particular climb in Saan Man Ngunit Dito, opens with the couple having to cross a river, with Carol having difficulty doing so due to her wearing running shoes instead of trek sandals. Pido also mentions to  Carol that he already purchased her a pair of trek sandals, but learns that Carol apparently lost them since she wasn’t very fond of them; she found them cheap, and would prefer a pair of Birkenstocks instead.

Before they reach the midway mark, Carol decides to stop for lunch in a hut by the pathway, and brings out sandwiches Pido is very fond of, with him commenting on the rarity of her making them. Pido brings up their failed dream of having a child of their own—a topic Carol is not exactly jubilant to discuss. Pido also asks Carol if she ever gets tired of climbing mountains, and who she’ll have for company when he’s gone.

Carol in turn asks Pido why they had such bad luck with their attempts at getting a child, and Pido argues that it doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, it’s probably fate that dictates it. It was how their life was written. Near the summit, Carol turns to Pido and declares that she’ll never climb any mountain without him. Pido afterwards races Carol to the top.

As soon as they reach the top they find themselves both staring at the huge, white cross stationed at the summit of the mountain. While taking in the view at the summit, Carol admits her weariness and bids Pido her final goodbye. Pido disappears, letting the audience know that he has already passed, and his presence in Saan Man Ngunit Dito was nothing but a figment of her imagination, her own coping mechanism which she decides to finally let go.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with loss, most especially a painful one. As short as the film was (as it should be), it did a very good job of portraying a childless, middle-aged woman’s attempt at moving on from failure at becoming a mother, and finally the ultimate loss of the only person that was there for her through thick and thin.

cinefilipino 2016 saanman ngunit dito poster

MOVIE REVIEW: Digpan Ning Alti (2016, CineFilipino)

“DigpaN Ning Alti” Review
Written and directed by Bor Ocampo

A series of unfortunate events—this short film might be the epitome of just that.

In Digpan Ning Alti, the lives of two families intertwine in a ghastly manner after a neighbor’s dog steals the chicken a man is preparing for dinner. Rage-filled, the man gets in his house to retrieve a .22 calibre rifle and matchbox filled with .22 calibre rounds, supposedly to teach the dog’s owner a lesson. As soon as he gets to the front lawn of his neighbour, he hesitates and gets on his bike instead.

Meanwhile, on another part of town, a boy is making his own preparations for dinner while his brother is trying to make two spiders fight. Their father arrives with firewood, and sends his older son on an errand to get petrol, with the younger brother tagging along.

These people live in a part of Pampanga that migratory birds go to, and the first man with the rifle decides that he should be able to shoot one of the birds to compensate for the chicken he lost. He gets himself a bird, but not without accidentally shooting a boy who just happened to tag along with his brother to buy petrol.

This in turn results with the boy’s father chasing down the man with the rifle with a bladed weapon, and ends up dying after the first man shoots him in self-defence. He then returns home weeping, contemplating the day’s unfortunate events, and nurses a bite from one of the dogs pursuing him.

The older boy is seen dragging the body of his now deceased father into their little shanty, with his brother’s body laid on the dining table. He then grabs his father’s machete, and ends the movie with a scene of him walking in the night, looking for the man who murdered his family.

The film is riveting with its display of absolute bad luck and violent encounters, and the acting’s not half-bad either. The best part about it would be the intense cliffhanger of an ending. For a short film that serves as the prologue of the heavily atmospheric Dayang Asu, it’s quite the shocker.

cinefilipino 2016 digpa ning alti poster

MOVIE REVIEW: Oktopus (2016, CineFilipino)

“Oktopus” Review
Written and directed by JP Habac
CineFilipino Film Festival 2016

When you grow old, do you look forward to waking up to another morning? Or are you simply waiting to expire?

Oktopus opens with elderly Kurding and Hermie fooling around while on a cheap merry-go-round of sorts in a rural amusement park. Krding keeps on messing with Hermie, mentioning that she’ll jump from the ride as soon as she reaches it’s maximum height. Hermie is not exactly too keen on the idea, and warns Kurding that her banter is making her nervous.

Hermie apparently dies from the nerves the ride gave her old and weary heart, and her friends Kurding, Sera, and Pacita mourn her loss. Each of them has their own way of mourning, with Kurding prioritizing having the children step over the coffin to make sure they don’t follow Hermie’s passing. It is a common superstition in the provinces that children might follow the dead to the afterlife if they don’t step over the coffin of the dead they are witnessing to be buried.

The three friends, with Kurding’s grandson Benok tagging along, go home to drink coconut wine and reminisce moments they had with their deceased friend. They go ahead and contemplate when and how they will die. Benok even kids her grandmother about her own death, and Kurding castigates him for it.

The movie ends with Kurding, this time with Benok, back in the amusement park and sitting on a bench while staring at the Oktopus. Bedok tells her grandmother to go ahead and give the ride another try, since she’s already old enough and should be able to do it for the sake of enjoyment.

The film in itself is very existentialist, and brings to mind some questions about your mortality. The elderly women’s banter about their own life and eventual death, even if macabre to some, elicits quite a number of laughs due to the sarcastic delivery. The fact that the group of friends are also currently on their twilight years magnifies the impression that death is not as daunting as it should be, and you can face it with the ardor of someone who has lived long enough to know.

cinefilipino 2016 oktopus poster