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MOVIE REVIEWS: Cinemalaya Film Festival 2019 (Part 1)

Here’s the first part of our festival report on Cinemalaya 2019, in which we cover Belle Douleur, Edward, John Denver TrendingMalamaya, Tabon and Shorts A. The 15th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival runs from August 7 to 15, 2019 in select Ayala Malls Cinemas and Vista Cinemas nationwide.


BELLE DOULEUR (BEAUTIFUL PAIN)

Kit Thompson (Josh) and Mylene Dizon (Liz) in Belle Douleur.

The first of the two entries dealing on the burgeoning subject matter of May-December love affairs features a palpable and electric chemistry between Mylene Dizon and Kit Thompson. Like the recent Glorious, it’s filled to the brim with wish fulfillment – gratuitous and torrid love scenes that’s otherwise substantiated with better screenplay and direction. By the way its characters are constructed, it perfectly makes sense for both to latch onto each other. Liz (Mylene Dizon) is a child psychologist in her 40’s who struggles dealing with the passing of her mother, as seen through her heavy attachment to her mom’s antique items. Enter an attractive Josh in his late 20’s who shows an odd fascination for the same stuff. Upon the suggestion of her friends, Liz does something “reckless and irresponsible.” You can tell where the story goes from here. 

Make no mistake, this is not a case of Oedipal complex for Josh. He genuinely wants to have a committed relationship with Liz, the latter even insisting to be the nurturer. Naturally, Liz wants to do her mutual end in the relationship as well, but she’s taken aback each time he accuses her of being too much of a mother figure. Liz might have escaped the stigma of being a single, middle-aged woman but she finds herself trapped into a new one.

The narrative unfolds and more relationship cracks are revealed – there are some things that Liz simply can’t provide. Generational conflict arises and compromises must be made. At which point, Belle Douleur slugs at its pacing with its prolonged honeymoon and frustration phases, none of which are really new and ground-breaking per se. The film could have sacrificed some of its sequences – particularly a subplot involving a friend’s infidelity issue – to reserve time for its rushed ending that should hold up the titular theme “beautiful pain.” 

The conclusion is up for a different discussion – somehow the female empowerment message feels an odd fit to Liz’s actions towards the end. Belle Douleur is a sentimental and heartfelt love affair that can either get too saccharine or exasperating for some viewer’s tastes. Regardless, the film hooks your attention, much owing to Dizon’s impeccable and subdued performance.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Joji V. Alonso and written by Therese Cayaba, ‘Belle Douleur’ stars Mylene Dizon, Kit Thompson, Marlon Rivera, Jenny Jamora and Hannah Ledesma. 98 minutes. R-13.

EDWARD

Ella Cruz and Louise Abuel in Edward.

Edward opens with an impressive one-shot sequence that lays out the chaotic workings of a public hospital – the understaffed crew, the lack of sufficient equipment and facilities, the depressing resuscitation performed in hallway, etc. Such hyper-realism foreshadows the harsh awakening that this sullen place holds store for the titular young lad, charmingly played by Louise Abuel. Left by his half-brother, he is tasked with taking care of his ill father – actor Dido De La Paz whose labored breathing and violent coughs alone warrant a supporting actor nomination. Edward quickly accustoms himself to the environment – when not tending to his father or serving as an errand boy, he would goof around with his best friend Renz (Elijah Canlas) as they use wheelchairs for thrill rides and bet on critically-ill patients. 

I actually came here expecting more of the father and son dynamic to be fleshed out – as what director Thop Nazareno deftly did in Kiko Boksingero. Halfway through, however, the film’s romcom aspects become more prominent as Edward befriends and falls for a girl patient named Agnes (Ella Cruz). Personally, the film could have enriched its coming of age arc more had the focus is on the paternal relationship. But in here, Edward often neglects his duties to his estranged father. Perhaps it speaks to the general immaturity of youth, of how sometimes teens prioritize romantic endeavors over family emergencies. Hence, the film lacks a better resolution for Edward and his father – or maybe that’s just how life is, sometimes you don’t get it. 

The film mostly plays on a comical tone largely helped by the bleak humor generated by its supporting cast and cheery musical scoring. But never underestimate the darker tones beneath, because once they kick in, the effect is poignant and heartbreaking. As the blow by blow tragic events happen, poor Edward finds himself worn out from the roller-coaster of emotions he experienced within his short stay in the hospital. Edward is a liberation from the cusp of innocence.

With its documentary-like sensibilities, the film also serves as a somber commentary where patients die because of the inept healthcare system. It can be a helpless and maddening experience to know that we’re living in that type of reality. After all, there’s an ‘Edward’ in all of us.

4 out of 5 stars

Directed by Thop Nazareno and written by John Paul Bedia and Thop Nazareno, ‘Edward’ stars Louise Abuel, Dido dela Paz, Elijah Canlas, Manuel Chua and Ella Cruz. 90 minutes. R-13.

JOHN DENVER TRENDING

Meryll Soriano and Jansen Magpusao in John Denver Trending.

If there’s an entry here that speaks to the heart of a social media driven generation today, it’s definitely John Denver Trending. From cyber-bullying, proliferation of fake news, bandwagon mentality, uprise of keyboard warriors and a self-righteous society mostly motivated by emotions and not reasons – the film bares it all. Juxtaposed with meaningful symbolism of superstitions and rituals, director/writer Arden Rod Condez makes an effort not to deliver heavy handed commentaries.

In it, John Denver Cabungcal (a promising debut by Jansen Magpusao) gets caught on video beating up a classmate. The latter’s friend uploads the said clip on Facebook with claims that John stole his iPad and acted hostile upon confrontation. What the netizens don’t see is that he’s innocent and he actually just fought back to get his bag. The film also mines much empathy in Meryll Soriano’s effective portrayal of John’s strong-willed mother who does her best to acquit his son from the accusations.

There might be some reservations towards the film’s nihilistic conclusion but I personally think that the screenplay’s build up satisfies the film’s bold choices. Overall, John Denver Trending is a very powerful and humbling film that I can wholeheartedly champion for everyone to see.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Directed and written by Arden Rod Condez, ‘John Denver Trending’ stars Jansen Magpusao, Meryll Soriano, Glenn Mas, Sammy Rubido, Vince Philip Alegre, Jofranz Ambubuyog and Christian Alarcon. 96 minutes. PG.

MALAMAYA (THE COLOR OF ASH)

Enzo Pineda and Sunshine Cruz in Malamaya.

Effectively works as a double feature with Belle Douleur, Malamaya leaves you pondering with its themes on solitary, generational gap beliefs, artistic schools of thought and many other things. Directors Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez leaves plenty of room for dissection. In a way, it’s like looking at an art exhibit. You can look at the film in multiple angles, some might find it a pretentious feminist film while some may say it’s worthy of viewing. I fall into a latter category, with few reservations.

Much of my fascination falls on a temperemental and unaplogetic painter Nora who refuses to take crap from anyone. This girl can detect BS from a mile away. She may not be always right but she makes sure that she stands firm with her opinion. She takes an arrogant young photography hobbyist named Migs (Enzo Pineda) under her wing and having the same passion for art, steamy love scenes are bound to fly. It feels rote and familar by now but given that we are in for a modest level of crazy character introspection, Malamaya takes an orthodox and more artful approach than Belle Douleur. Just to be clear, Nora does not need men saving her. She can use them for her benefit but she never bows down to their whims.

It feels refreshing to see Sunshine Cruz act again as this film reminds us of her capabilities as an actress. Malamaya can be burdened by characterization flaws to fully deliver a concrete message but perhaps this is just a reflection of the captivating and erratic emotional and mental state of artists. Elsewhere, the film’s aesthetic visuals and production values are pleasing to the eye. It never hurts for a second viewing.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez, written by Leilani Chavez and Liberty Trinidad, ‘Malamaya’ stars Enzo Pineda, Sunshine Cruz, Raymond Bagatsing and Bernadette Allyson. 80 minutes. R-13.

TABON

Christopher Roxas in Tabon.

While Tabon‘s story clearly has the potential for a mystery/crime thriller, the film is completely let down by its misguided direction, dry screenplay and bland production design. Christopher Roxas (I even forgot his character’s name) plays a thinly-written protagonist that runs around the narrative asking the same questions over and over again, wearing the exact same face of confusion that the viewers bear.

The problem is that Xian Lim, in his directorial debut, seals his lips from the film’s mystery for so long. Not enough breadcrumbs are offered to lead the way or let alone create a proper misdirection. The result is a horror mystery that feels uneventful, dragging and bewildering. Not to mention, a drastic tonal shift involving the use of animation occurs halfway – by then, it’s hard to take what happens next seriously. Plot points are just lost in translation, just like how I can’t fathom the relevance of the film’s title.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Xian Lim and written by Xian Lim and Eseng Cruz, ‘Tabon’ stars Christopher Roxas, Ynna Asistio, Dexter Doria, Bapbap Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Leon Miguel, Benjie Felipe, Lao Rodriguez and Richard Manabat. 90 minutes. PG.

SHORTS A

GATILYO (Trigger) has sincere intentions to shed light on PTSD and the lasting effects of war but unfortunately, it plays more as a PSA with nothing really original to latch onto your heartstrings. 2.5/5

Directed by and co-written by Harold Lance Pialda, ‘Gatilyo’ stars Rocky Salumbides, Liya Sarmiento, Bon Andrew Lentejas and Ruby “Ube Lola” Daleon. 19 minutes. PG.

HEIST SCHOOL is an easy crowd-pleaser that garners the biggest laughs in the bunch. The clever screenplay and comedic beats are well-executed. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this. 4/5

Directed and co-written by Julius Renomeron Jr., ‘Heist School’ stars Jemuel Cedrick Satumba, Bryan Bacalso, Ella Mae Libre, Son De Vera, Teri Lacayanga, Brylle Parzuelo and Kevin Ramos. 17 minutes. PG.

SA GABING TANGING LIWANAG AY PANINIWALA (Belief as the Light in Darkness) is another mystery horror that leaves you confused with its incoherent sequencing rather than investing at a solid character development that should bring out the profound horror underneath. 2/5

Directed and written by Francis Guillermo, ‘Sa Gabing Tanging Liwanag ay Paniniwala’ stars Soliman Cruz, Dylan Ray Talon, Sheryll Ceasico and Stefanoni Nunag. 15 minutes. PG.

DISCONNECTION NOTICE is a heartwarming mundane tale of brothers living under the same roof. It’s sensational cinematography really does help in fleshing out the disposition of its characters. 4.5/5

Directed and written by Glenn Lowell Averia, ‘Disconnection Notice’ stars Jude Matthew Servilla and John Vincent Servilla. 19 minutes. PG.

‘WAG MO ‘KONG KAUSAPIN (Please Stop Talking) feels deeply personal and haunting to begin with. It’s a unique and harrowing manifestation of depression and suppressed ghosts from past. 5/5

Directed and written by Josef Gacutan, ‘Wag Mo ‘Kong Kausapin’ stars Rener Concepcion, Junjun Quintana, Karen Romualdez and Vincent Pajara. 14 minutes. GA.

Stay tuned for the second part of our coverage!

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