ONGOING is the 38th Metro Manila Film Festival—suggesting that it’s well-established and must be doing something right to deserve the support of a faithful audience.
It is natural for us to expect the festival to showcase the best. Here are my takes on this year’s eight entries:
‘Si Agimat, si Enteng Kabisote, at si Ako’
Another pinagsamang-puwersa (combined-power) project of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Vic Sotto. As usual, evil forces try to wreak havoc, but the combination of Agimat and Enteng is enough to repel them. Indeed, good triumphs over evil, but who represents good? Men with superpowers. There’s a zillion effects here—enough attraction for children, from 3 to 80 years old.
Also a pinagsamang puwersa, this one of Ai Ai de las Alas and Vice Ganda. The tandem is reinforced by Kris Aquino. Ai Ai and Vice play half siblings. Vice, who has a score to settle with Ai Ai and who has made himself rich and successful, hires her in his design company—a situation set to exact revenge. Kris plays the CEO of another design company; this complicates the plot. As in other comedies starring Ai Ai and Vice, the performance is noisy—straight from the hysterical school of acting that is made to pass for comedy. Kris adds more noise to the irritating melee. In the end, the three characters end up as friends, sisterakas, but the film is chaka.
‘Shake, Rattle and Roll 14: The Invasion’
In the first story, pop writer of horror komiks bequeaths illustrations of his works to relatives. What follows is a series of takutan. The second story involves a lost command in the jungle, where they encounter zombies/soldiers. The third story is about the apocalypse. It starts with the destruction of a mall and continues with extra-terrestrials’ takeover. One common thread in the three stories: the triumph of evil. Forget that it’s Christmas.
Another horror film. Family on a road trip is stranded in a village. They encounter mysterious creatures and mysterious events happen. The survivors become aswangs; one even bears a child. Again, anti-Christmas. The film is well-made, though—a lot of effects and growling. The kids will be horrified.
‘One More Try’
Angel Locsin plays the ex-lover of Dingdong Dantes, who is now married to Angelica Panganiban. Dingdong has a child with Angel, a boy sick with leukemia. The amoral doctor’s solution is bone marrow transplant, which only another child from the union that produced the sick son can offer. Get Dingdong back to bed! This ultra-melodrama is rated R-13, meaning 13-year-olds can watch it. Would anyone want a 13-year-old to see this? To me this screams R-18.
Four girls, all “super-yaman” and “super-sosyal,” have a problem: The super-baduy new owner of the land where their favorite hang-out, Polo Club, stands will tear down the structure to give way to another mall. (OMG! A yaya mall, meaning, low-class.) Imagine sosy girls leading a pro-club demo. Everything is wrapped up neatly in the end, albeit forced.
A character named Luca (Ruffa Gutierrez)—who opens the film with a voiceover about social classes in the country and decides to do a documentary about the girls—disappears from the narrative. The documentary is forgotten as well. Mang Ador (Robert Arevalo), head janitor in the club, does a voiceover in the end. What happened?
The story has no trajectory. The film promises to be a satire on Philippine society but has zero insight. To the festival committee: Please say that the screenplay you approved was not followed.
This is said to be inspired by (and, therefore, based on?) the memoirs of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, so expect a textbook version of history from the point of view of the hero in crew cut, which means Andres Bonifacio will be cast as the villain, a hot-tempered, erstwhile Supremo of the revolutionary society.
Mark Meily, who wrote and directed the movie, attempts to jazz up the storytelling by adding effects to choreographed action scenes and starting with the story of the seer who foretells Aguinaldo’s future: He will marry twice, but the real love of his life is a third woman. The old seer turns out to be the young woman of his younger years.
A conjured image in the end suggests a symbolic meaning. Aguinaldo sits in a banca, holding the national flag, and in front of him is the young woman. Could the love of his life be our Inang Bayan?
All told, nothing substantial remains in terms of new insight to the reading of a contested chapter in our history.
The superstar of Philippine cinema returns as the midwife in a small, Badjao village where the peace is interrupted by soldiers running agitatedly or bandits attacking unsuspecting fishermen.
Shaleha (Nora Aunor), the midwife, is unable to give her husband (Bembol Roco) a child. She searches for a suitable second wife (Lovi Poe).
The film is quite slow, but measured, to capture the calm in the Tawi-Tawi village. Unfortunately, it may be too slow for the mainstream audience that is easily bored by pregnant, if meaningful, pauses.
Which entry will emerge top grosser? Of course the usual suspects will reign—“Si Agimat, si Enteng Kabisote”; “Shake, Rattle, and Roll 14”; “Sisterakas.”
Hopefully, “Thy Womb” will pull a surprise. Calling all surviving Noranians! If one is looking for a good entry, this is it. The awards it might win could boost its box-office performance.
“El Presidente” needs a presidential decree to pull in the crowds. Moviegoers may not welcome a textbook lesson for the holidays. If schools were open, students could be assigned to watch it.
Will this year’s festival exceed the box-office record of previous years’ editions? Maybe. But that is not my concern. I’m more interested in the future. Here are my hopes for the next ones:
1) That the festival will offer better Pinoy movies. The end of “Agimat,” “Enteng” and “Shake” is nowhere in sight, but it’s really time. Pull the plug, Bossing Vic, Sen. Bong, Mother Lily.
2) That actors like Robert Arevalo—who has worked with National Artist Gerardo de Leon in films like “Noli Me Tangere” and “Ang Daigdig ng mga Api”—will not be wasted in any more silly films.
3) That the festival will no longer be dictated upon by exhibitors. Let’s face it, the exhibitors control the festival; they hold the keys to the theaters. The mere fact that commercial value is the most important element in deciding which projects to be included betrays the hand of exhibitors. The inclusion of “Thy Womb” in this year’s festival is an aberration; in fact, it was contested. “El Presidente” got in by force of (possibly political) circumstances.
4) That the festival will give a slot to more Indie films in the main competition. The present chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority, which runs the festival, is instrumental in batting for the independent films, but it is said that the festival executive committee would not budge an inch to include the indies in the festival proper. Thus, the Indies are given lip service through the pre-festival week. Saling-pusa.
Quite understandably, the exhibitors want the more commercial films; they do not want to lose the opportunity to make money. This year, a request was made to reserve one theater for one Indie film, for the winner of the pre-festival “New Wave of Indie Films.” One theater, one film—but it seems that, for the committee, it is one theater too many.
5) That a film will be included each year that has an uplifting story—a Christmas story that will make the audience feel genuinely good, a hopeful story—if only because the MMFF is held at Christmas.
(The author is an award-winning scriptwriter. He heads the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film and teaches Communication at De La Salle University.)