Ranking the 2016 Sinag Maynila Films

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First of all, I cannot fathom how each film at Sinag Maynila costs 245 pesos. That said, it would be more convenient for you to just avail the Sinag Maynila e-plus card of SM so that you can watch all five films at 699 pesos.

This is the second film festival I’ve completed after Cine Filipino this year. I liked some of the films, but none I crazily fell in love with. Here we go.

5. MRS. (dir. by Adolf Alix Jr.)

Screengrab from Youtube.

Screengrab from Youtube.

My problem with Mrs. is that there are so much voids to be filled by the questions that the film didn’t choose to answer. Virginia (Elizabeth Oropesa) is searching for closure; her son who is a militant activist has been missing for the last ten years. Between this story arc is a sketch of Virginia’s life and how she interacts with other people–her helper for decades and her daughters. It would have been more satisfying had the film focused on one aspect instead of giving us a narrative of many unimportant routines of her life. The cult, the adultery and the dog are elements that instead of moving the story forward, traps it to a slow, boring observation of Virginia’s life. It is just too difficult to comprehend, and when the film ends at 75th minute mark, it would be disappointing to wonder if the film had told you anything–its metaphors and symbolisms too unengaging to try to make sense of.

Rating: 1/5

4. DYAMPER (dir. by Mes De Guzman)

Screengrab from Youtube.

Screengrab from Youtube.

Dyamper is less about the illegal job of the main characters than it is about the metaphor that jumping has. Dyamper is about loss, finding oneself, mistakes and risks. However, just like Mrs, some elements of the film just don’t fit with each other. I love how the film uses some reference on folktales–with the the metaphor on how Apeng (Alchris Galura) “saw” himself “on the other side”. It is supposed to be his redemption, but after what? I do not buy his narrative with the woman, and his friendship with the person who saved him did not really materialize. Moreover, this film is a waste of Carlo Aquino’s talent.

Rating: 2/5

3. LILA (dir. by Gino Santos)

Screengrab from Youtube.

Screengrab from Youtube.

I almost totally gave up on Lila. The film presents two problems which are supposed to be parallel–the first one about Jess’s (Janine Gutierrez) life at her new house with Lola Violeta (Sherry Lara), and the second about the past that she’s trying to overcome. Such choice in storytelling is unclear for most part, costing the genre to have an identity crisis of its own. Is it horror? It is psychological thriller? How could it be when the film is less of that than it is about showing the relationship between the house owner and her tenant?

That said, the film partly made up for the confusion in its final act. If the storylines were geometry, they were not really parallel lines, but intersecting. The point of intersection is not entirely satisfying–the authenticity of a character in a different timeline showing in the present being put into question. But Sherry Lara, the kind-hearted grandmother, shone in the last ten minutes of the film with her brilliant monologue that could be iconic someday if other people could just see it. The film is flat, but the way it was connected in the end was uhm–pwede na.

Rating: 2.5/5

2. T.P.O. (dir. by Joselito Altarejos)

Screengrab from Youtube.

Screengrab from Youtube.

T.P.O. isn’t by far the best Filipino film we had that comments on patriarchy and existing gender roles, but the film, running at around 75 minutes, is short but bittersweet enough as it gives it take on a husband-and-wife, parent-and-son, and in-laws relationship. The wife is a victim, but the husband is too, albeit in a different–still unjustifiable–way. The cultural expectations on being a man and a woman are hierarchical–the man learning the tricks of the trade from his father who treats his wife as the more passive, weaker one who, after a rebellious move to leave, is always going to come back.

But T.P.O. is more fascinating with its compelling focus on what the child feels. There is a classroom scene where the shot is on the child (Micko Laurente). The background sound is the teacher giving a lecture on gender nouns. It is so effective–how the child becomes a victim too. Another cinematographic achievement in the film also happened in a classroom. The teacher asks the child why he stabbed his classmate with a pencil on the cheek, while his parents outside the glass door act concerned. Perhaps my favorite single scene yet in Philippine cinema this year.

Rating: 4/5

1. EXPRESSWAY (dir. by Ato Bautista)

Screengrab from Youtube.

Screengrab from Youtube.

I give Expressway the same rating as T.P.O., but I rank this one higher simply because I enjoyed this a lot more on a personal level. I love how many of the elements played out in the film–firstly the juxtaposition between the Christmas theme and the violence that neutralizes the moral and familial values that Christmas represents. Manong Ben (Alvin Anzon) is not really a problematic, but a questionable character. He is a hitman, yet he is written as compassionate, too forgiving. Yes, it is because he got tired of killing and wants to retire, but I want to understand how he came to that decision when his major life-changers happened already years ago.

The film is consistent, technicality-wise. It presents Christmas differently, bloody and yellow-ish, and the Christmas lights turning on and off is visually pleasing. Moreover, the musical score is gold.

But most importantly, this film made the case for Aljur Abrenica, the actor who was once infamous for his wooden acting style in Machete. He was an effective psychopath, so endearing to watch with his series of putanginas. There’s nothing very special with Expressway, but I’d rewatch it any other day for its concrete storytelling that knows how to move forward and take advantage of its themes.

Rating: 4/5

***

Tonight is the awards night for Sinag Maynila. Here are my picks:

BEST ACTOR: Aljur Abrenica (Expressway)
BEST ACTRESS: Elizabeth Oropesa (Mrs.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Timothy Castillo (Dyamper)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sherry Lara (Lila)
BEST SOUND: T.P.O.
BEST MUSICAL SCORE: Expressway
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Expressway
BEST EDITING: Expressway
BEST CINEMATOGRPAHY: T.P.O.
PEOPLE’S CHOICE: Expressway
BEST SCREENPLAY: Joselito Altarejos (T.P.O.)
BEST DIRECTOR: Ato Bautista (Expressway)
BEST PICTURE: Expressway

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