MOVIE REVIEWS: Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2018 (Part 1)

Here’s the first part of our festival report on Cinemalaya 2018 in which we cover Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang DapithaponMamang, LiwayMLMusmos Na Sumibol Sa Gubat Ng Digma and Shorts A. The 14th edition of Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival runs from August 3 to 12 at Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and select cinemas in Metro Manila.

READ MORE: Guide to Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2018


Perla Bautista (Teresa), Dante Rivero (Bene), and Menggie Cobarrubias (Celso) in ‘Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon’. Photo via Cinemalaya.

On surface level, Carlo Enciso Catu’s Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon is a testament to the abundance of geriatric love stories needed to be told in local cinema. It tells the story of a terminally-ill old man Bene (Dante Rivero) who lives alone in his decrepit house. In his last days, he decides to reach out to his estranged wife Teresa (Perla Bautista) who now lives with her partner Celso (Menggie Cobarrubias).

The film finds strength in its fully-fleshed characters, each driven by their own motivations in search of peace and happiness during their twilight years. The one thing they have in common is that none of them wants to die alone. There presents a conflict and the film will lead us to believe that Bene and Celso should vie for Teresa’s love and attention. But Dapithapon has a lot more facets on old age than jealousy and companionship. It is about seeking forgiveness for your past transgressions, finding closure on things that you have given up thought a long time ago and coming into terms with your lifetime of regrets.

Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon offers a solid direction, anchored by a credible cast ensemble. It lingers enough on mundanity to establish a melancholic tone yet it has surprising bits of dark humor to lighten up the mood. It makes no attempt on calling attention to itself through dramatic confrontations, everything is just a remnant from the past. It may not reach an emotional high but as soon as the film ends, the weight of it starts to fall on your shoulders.

Directed by Carlo Enciso Catu from a screenplay written by John Carlo Pacala
Cast: Dante Rivero, Menggie Cabarrubias and Perla Bautista with Romnick Sarmenta, Che Ramos, Ryan Ronquillo, Jacqueline Cortex, Dunhill Banzon, Stanley Abuloc
Run time: 90 minutes

4.5 out of 5 stars


Glaiza De Castro (Day), Kenken Nuyad (Dakip) and Dominic Rocco (Ric) in ‘Liway.’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

Of all the Cinemalaya entries, Kip Oebanda’s Liway is the most personal work of the bunch. It’s a biopic of the director’s mother, Commander Liway (Glaiza De Castro) a.k.a ‘Day,’ told in the perspective of her son Dakip (Kenken Nuyad as young Oebanda). The story takes place in Camp Delgado prison where captured rebel Day shelters Dakip from the atrocities of Martial Law by telling him myths about an enchantress named Liway of Mt. Kanlaon. Little did the boy know, this is actually a fictionalized version of Day and her comrades’ resistance against the Marcos dictatorship.

Seeing the film’s poster – a pregnant mother armed with a rifle, I came into this movie with a different expectation. I wanted to see Commander Liway preaching her beliefs, leading a rebellion, making compromises, etc. all while bearing a child so that the audience will have a full grasp on what makes her tick both as a freedom fighter and as a mother. But Liway actually took a different direction and prioritized more on the mother aspect. Majority of the scenes here occur inside the prison, dealing with the aftermath of their capture. Frankly, it’s not quite compelling since prison life only imposes minimal threat compared to rebel life. Once the film starts teasing the gripping flashbacks to fill in Day’s backstory, it becomes clear how the film partially shortchanges you from a tension-filled plot. Whether the choice to limit those scenes is due to directorial choice or budget limitations, I wouldn’t know.

But Liway does not entirely miss the point and successfully paints its lead as a multi-faceted character – she can be brave and helpless, a caring mother and an inspirational figure at the same time. It owes a lot from De Castro’s restrained demeanor and vocal ability (she sings Asin’s ‘Bayan Ko’ and ‘Himig ng Pag-ibig’ to deliver emotional beats). Whatever the plot lacks in tension, the film compensates it with a lot of heartfelt mother and son scenes, along with a strong cast performance.

Overall, Liway’s narrative structure tries a lot of things and it ends up tonally incongruous. No matter how saturated the Martial Law subgenre is (yes, I’m calling it a thing), this is still an important story that deserves to be told. The film garners a huge applause during its gala screening, it even led to some activist chants, but those are mostly for different reasons – the director’s blood relation to Liway and the fact that this film is partially funded with Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth. It could feel a little self-serving and over-hyped since Commander Liway’s contribution to the nation as a freedom fighter is not much highlighted in the film. I was honestly left yearning for more.

Directed by Kip Oebanda, written by Kip Oebanda and Zig Dulay
Cast: Glaiza De Castro, Dominic Roco, Kenken Nuyad, Sue Prado, Soliman Cruz, Joel Saracho, Paolo O’Hara, Madeleine Nicolas, Ebong Joson, Nico Antonio, Khalil Ramos, Gerry Cornejo, Diana Alferez, Juli Bautista, Pau Benitez, Liway Gabo, She Maala, Renante Bustamante.
Run time: 100 minutes

3.5 out of 5 stars


Ketchup Eusebio (Ferdie) and Celeste Legaspi (Mamang) in Mamang. Photo via Cinemalaya.

Denise O’Hara’s Mamang tackles on the struggles (and the unexpected pleasures) of having dementia at old age. Celeste Legaspi plays the titular character who is troubled by the apparitions of her former lovers, each having a different impact to her mood and disposition. The film bears a light tone in general and it draws laughs from Mamang’s charming antics, along with Legaspi who gives a semi-theatrical performance suited for her character.

Eventually, the silliness runs dry as the film indulges too much on her stereotype – a temperamental, self-centered old lady, rather than spending time to dissect the reasons for her mental illness and how all her episodes fit in the bigger picture. The film also makes an odd decision of using neon lights, inadvertently giving away the film’s twist a mile too early. Hence, there’s not much emotional impact when it is needed the most.

Mamang’s fractured mind can only do so much to shelter her from reality. As a character study, Mamang feels like a prolonged dream, dallying and too spontaneous when it comes to execution that it somehow misses to leave a strong mark in the end. That being said, this should work best if viewed as a heartfelt story between Mamang and her son Ferdie (Ketchup Eusebio).

Written and Directed by Denise O’Hara
Cast: Celeste Legaspi, Ketchup Eusebio, Peewee O’Hara, Alex Medina, Gio Gahol, Elora Espano, Paolo O’Hara
Run time: 90 minutes

3 out of 5 stars


Tony Labrusca (Carlo), Eddie Garcia (Colonel) and Henz Villaraiz (Jaze) in ‘ML’. Photo by Cinemalaya.

Having read the synopsis of this film last year, Benedict Mique’s ML turns out exactly what I expected it to be – an arm-gripping and eye-wincing thriller propaganda against Martial Law. The antagonist comes in the form of The Colonel (Eddie Garcia), a PTSD-stricken hermit who transforms into a merciless torturer upon mention of the film’s title. Enter a Marcos apologist student named Carlo (Tony Labrusca), along with his best friend (Henz Villaraiz) and his girlfriend (Lianne Valentin), who are given assignments to research on the subject of Martial Law. Carlo decides to interview the retired soldier and needless to say, it doesn’t end well.

Once the film starts with the torturing, it really gets graphic and uncomfortable. At best, ML is a reminder from the dark ages to never repeat the same mistakes again, the film getting away with all the violence displayed since they are historical based. At worst, it’s a checklist of torture porn made to evoke feelings of trauma for the older generation and to impose terror for the new generation. Much like its poor victims, it shackles you by the limbs and never really gives you an option: “Martial Law is bad,” the film cries out loud.

Garcia, on his 3rd Cinemalaya film, never disappoints with an ominous presence to scare the bejesus out of you. Still, he never comes out as one-dimensional as the film presents his character’s lighter side – to his family, he’s a loving grandfather. It’s a schizophrenic personality that works like a switch. The younger cast, mostly composed of fresh faces, do a fine job in braving their roles. For the most part though, they are just trapped inside the basement, the film constrained to romp up the action due to Garcia’s physical limitations.

ML has a competent direction but it can’t conceal the plot holes of the script, especially a huge one towards the end. On a commercial level, the film may have fared better if catered as a home invasion or domestic thriller with subtle hints of political commentary. But you can’t really blame Mique’s preference for a direct, vindictive approach when he has been steely-eyed of his mission from the very start. This film aims to persuade millenials who are not “woke” or simply have forgotten. However, as a viewer, the most earned realization comes out when both sides of the spectrum are given equal weight and I came up with my own decision. Unfortunately, ML does not give you that liberty.

Directed by Benedict Mique
Cast: Eddie Garcia, Tony Labrusca, Lianne Valentin, Henz Villaraiz, Jojit Lorenzo, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Chanel Latorre, Chrome Cosio, Richard Manabat, Maritess Joaquin, Kino Rementilla, Jindric Macapagal, Rein Adriano, Khalifa Floresta, Mila Talagtag
Run time: 90 minutes

3 out of 5 stars


‘Musmos Na Sumibol Sa Gubat Ng Digma’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

Set amidst an ongoing Marawi clan feud, Iar Lionel Arondaing’s Musmos Na Sumibol Sa Gubat Ng Digma (english title: Unless The Water Is Safer Than The Land), is a coming-of-age tale of a runaway Muslim girl Eshal (Junyka Sigrid Santarin) who is forced to take care of her infant brother Affan in the middle of a forest. She forges an unlikely alliance with a boy named Farhan (JM Salvado) but in doing so, she has to pretend being a boy to protect her identity. This is interspersed with a different timeline – a grandfather and a grandson discussing and walking around in the same forest. The connection of these two storylines should come full circle by the third act.

Two minutes into this film, I already know that Musmos is a strong contender for the Best in Cinematography award. The title of the film flashes on a sensational backdrop of a burning nipa hut and rice field. It goes on for a good amount of time, a prelude to the abundance of long-tracking shots that will be heavily used in the film. This should demand lots of patience. Unfortunately, it does not fully pay off. The film fails to connect on a personal level and that has something to do to with its indulgence for lush wide shots and lack of close-ups required to see the emotions from its characters. You’ll have to admire both kids for doing most of the heavy-lifting here though the choice to use Tagalog in dialogues makes them look less genuine.

Passages from Quran are sang throughout, encouraging the viewers to decipher how these phrases relate to the current situation. It puts you into a trance and the meaning simply gets lost. It’s a shame because Muslims, especially the marginalized groups, are not often given voices in the indie scene. This one bids well with its message of peace and acceptance but its full-on subtle approach fails to achieve profundity in the end. With a relatively thin material stretched into a full-length film, Musmos Na Sumibol Sa Gubat Ng Digma comes out as an exhibition of superb, dream-like cinematography ranging from ethereal to haunting. For the most part, that’s just it.

Written and directed by Iar Lionel Arondaing
Cast: Junyka Sigrid Santarin, JM Salvado, Star Orjaliza, Jun Salvado, Jr., Romerico Jangad, Darril Ampongan, Haide Movero
Runtime: 105 minutes

2.5 out of 5 stars


Still shots from Shorts A. Photos via Cinemalaya.

Xeph Suarez’s Si Astri Maka Si Tambulah (Astri and Tambulah) is an affecting story of a man and transgender woman trying to overcome the prejudice of an oppressive Badjao tradition. The acting and direction of this short is serviceable enough to tell an otherwise great, heartbreaking story representative of the struggles of LGBT community. Rating: 3.5/5

Directed by Xeph Suarez, written by Cenon Obispo Palomares
Cast: Astri Tahari, Usman Agga, Taha Daranda, Tambulah Aspari, Lucky Mahari, Diane Alberto, Alexandria Abdullah
Run time: 18 minutes

The most bonkers in the shorts category, Carlo Francisco Manatad’s Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month makes fun of a miserable situation. A hardworking gas station employee, in her final shift at work, devises several methods to sell gasoline. Underneath the insanity that ensues, this short works as a socio-commentary on the plight and desperation of blue collar workers. Angeli Bayani stripping of vanity and getting along with whatever the script demands her to do is a delight to watch. Rating: 4/5

Written and directed by Carlo Francisco Manatad
Cast: Angeli Bayani, Ross Pesigan, Ogie Tiglao, Grace Naval
Run time: 13 minutes

Kani Villaflor’s Logro follows the life of Bruno, a marginalized little person. An evident sense of empathy is already established once you realize that the camera angle is placed from his point of view. It quickly sticks to a patronizing approach at the expense of making its character look dumb. The ending does not serve its intention well. Rating: 2.5/5

Directed by Kani Villaflor
Cast: Armand Castro, Richie Albadira, Maribel Tambis, Danny Sta. Maria
Run time: 15 minutes

Christian Candelaria’s Sa Saiyang Isla (In His Island) is probably the safest bet to surely touch your heart with its sincerity. An innocent, young boy dreams of becoming a mermaid to help a fishing community plagued by an oil spill. Apart from being a coming-of-age story, this short also explores the critical role of parents in the growth of their children. Prepare for some happy tears. Rating: 4.5/5

Written and directed by Christian Candelaria
Cast: Anzley Candelaria, Selina Boucher, Ronald Regala
Run time: 20 minutes

Glenn Barit, winner of last year’s shorts category with Aliens Ata, comes back with a new experimental concept in Nangungupahan (Who Rents There Now?). The short follows the lives of different people occupying the same apartment in different points in time, artistically placed side by side in jigsaw frames. It might take a while before you understand the film’s ending. Rating: 3.5/5

Written and directed by Glenn Barit
Cast: Erlinda Villalobos, Pauli Roa, Meann Espinosa, Joseph dela Cruz, JM Jamisola, Aldy Aguirre, Yvanne Cadiz, Voughnne Miguel Sonza, Paul Quiano, Nu Nunez, Eduardo Ngo, Snowflake
Run time: 12 minutes

READ MORE: Cinemalaya 2018 Festival Report Part 2

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