The 2016 CineFilipino Film Festival is the first film festival I’ve ever completed (the feature-length film category, I mean). It’s wonderful. Never in my life was I able to watch nine films in two days–and in the theater! Thanks to the organizers because this would not have happened if not for their student discount of P100 (I’ve always said that in order for Philippine cinema to be more accessible to the public, the film viewing experience must first not be expensive). Also, thanks to my mom for giving me extra allowance (love you Ma).
The said film festival boasts 9 entries for the main category this year. Not all of them are good, but some of them are really inspired productions, at the very least. Here is my personal ranking of the nine films.
9. Straight to Heart (dir. by Dave Fabros)
“A gay hairdresser gets into a coma and wakes up a straight guy, turning his life and relationships upside down.”
I have argued with an orgmate very recently that just because a person is a gender rights advocate does not automatically translate that he or she can never make offensive texts. I am not saying that Straight to the Heart is homophobic, but the way it tries to conveys a message is rather problematic. The intention is most likely innocent–tell a straight-to-the-point, unbelievable story of Eric (Carl Guevara), a handsome gay hairdresser who becomes attracted to women after he met an accident. My concern is that it trivializes the very essence of gender fluidity. It portrays the idea that gender fluidity is a joke, a mystery that demands no explanation, something that happens kapag nagkasira ka na sa ulo.
It does not help that there are too many things happening in the story; that its focus is lost some time and somewhere in the film. The B-plot of the lesbian friend of Eric with another character is unnecessary, and the way her story went came off as poorly developed despite the hints constantly presented early in the story.
The film tries to include the advocacy on HIV awareness, which is a nice thing, only that at times the inclusion in the script feels weird. What’s weirder is the inevitable product placement. Of all the CineFilipino enties, the Watsons product placement in film irked me the most.
I wish the main plot was resolved better in the end. Instead, it basically ignored its out-of-this-world premise and just went with the surface level conclusion that anyone can love anyone, completely neglecting the colorful off-screen past of the protagonist.
8. Buhay Habangbuhay (dir. by Paolo Herras)
“In death, the ghost of a dutiful housewife learns to move on and discovers a new life in the afterlife.”
Sometimes, I wonder why it is so much easier to criticize a loud, over-the-top film than a quiet one. Sometimes, when you do not get the point of a quiet film, you start to think that you’re the problem. Buhay Habangbuhay is a sad film. It is the story of the ghost housewife that could not just move on from the world of the living, and she tries to become part of the life of her widowed husband and his new family.
Two days after watching the film, it is safe to say that it did not make a mark on me. The strongest asset of the film is perhaps the musical scoring that perfectly captures the melancholic mood of the film–the yearning of the dead protagonist who believes there is something to more to her existence, and a mother-and-son’s loss of a loved one. Also worth noting is the scene in the living room where the three characters sitting side by side just cried, then laughed. It is affecting, but to be honest, I don’t know what to make of it after the sadness.
I guess it did not help that it feels like there is almost nothing too significant to look forward in the story except for witness how the ghost built a connection with the people she’s guarding. But all of it feels detached and I wish that there was something more. Furthermore, the lack of explanation to certain rules set by the film (why at first she cannot get out of the house, and soon she can) is mind-boggling. Maybe it’s symbolic (she can get out only when the purpose of existence needs her), but it got lost in translation.
7. A Lotto Like Love (dir. by Carla Baful)
“Two totally different strangers get entangled with each other’s fate as a single winning lotto ticket brings them together in luck and love.”
A Lotto Like Love feels like Bubble Gang stretched into a 1 hour and 30 minutes where the gags are interconnected. As I’ve said, it’s easier to judge a loud film than a quiet one because it seems more obvious what has gone wrong. The punchlines here are very flashy; the story is too pressured to make the audience laugh than making these viewers just naturally enjoy the natural comical dilemma of the situations the protagonists are in. The finished product seems like a final project for a high school script. The hold-up scene too unbelievable, Itot (Martin Escudero) crying as he presumes his mother died too cliched like a 90s slapstick comedy film, the logic of Kayela becoming dizzy when she sees pointy objects too… weird (or was it intentionally for the green-minded?). In the end, the execution comes off as lazy than deliberate.
With that said, I gave this film a higher rank because Itot and Kayla, the main characters played by Martin Escudero and Isabella De Leon, tries to save the film with their chemistry. De Leon’s character comes off as annoying, but I just got used to it. Martin Escudero is still as charming as he was in Zombadings, and I can’t help but wonder if the Philippine entertainment industry has failed such a marvelous talent. I could have been more attached to their pairing, if not only for the fact that their build-up is too swift for the audience to root for (like come on, that third party guy was the most we-dont-care-about-him guy on earth).
6. Ang Taba Ko Kasi (dir. by Jason Paul Laxamana)
“A fat girl is torn between her hot swimming instructor, who motivates her to lose weight, and an equally fat friend, who wants her to accept her appearance.”
Ang Taba Ko Kasi is not only for people who are challenged by their obesity; it is for anyone who is insecure with himself or herself. In that case, you cannot be totally alienated with the film as many of us are embarrassed of our skin at some level. When I was at Gateway scanning the crowd, it is obvious that the film appeals to a specific audience–those who want to see a sense of empowerment through representation of a different kind of beauty in the big screen.
I like how it goes, Olga (Cai Cortez) going through a journey to create a version of herself that she is going to be proud of. I would not say that the real conflict here is just with herself, because the people around her are also just not too inconsistent with how or how they not motivate Olga (some people want her to just eat and live; some make prying statements about her obesity). The film is completely relatable; the scenarios seem to be inspired from real-life experiences than imagined from an outsider’s point of view.
I felt disengaged though with the love triangle. Of course, while it is politically incorrect (though inevitable) to objectify TV5 prince Mark Neumann, it is also not too understandable where he is coming from. I wish there’s something more to his character than the swimming trainer-slash-love interest of Olga whom the latter meets at the swimming pool. Ryan Yllana’s role, on the other hand, is representative of his and Olga’s wanting to find a sense of identification with someone, and later on, desperation to be just like those “normal” people. I am not sure if any of it works, but for the film’s honesty to portray a problem that other people find insignificant, pwede na.
(View ranks 1-5 on page 2.)