MMFF 2013: A defining event for Filipino cinema
One should take stock of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2013, not just because of its main entries but also because of the full indie features that comprised the festival’s pre-event section called New Wave.
The eight mainstream films in the festival proper were supplemented by five modest productions that, for all intents and purposes, shunned blockbuster aspirations.
Interestingly, it is these New Wave selections that audiences may have found more rewarding. Three—Alvin Yapan’s “Mga Anino ng Kahapon,” Armando Lao’s “Dukit” and Toto Natividad’s “Saka Saka”—are exceptional. The remaining two—Joven Tan’s “Ang Maestra” and Aloy Adlawan and Gino Santos’ “Island Dreams”—while not as good, accomplished a certain degree of merit.
In contrast, among the eight official festival entries, only two—Chito S. Rono’s “Boy Golden: Shoot-to-Kill” and Frasco Mortiz’s “Pagpag”—deserve serious attention.
For all their box office potentials, two other films—Wenn V. Deramas’ “Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy” and Chris Martinez’s “Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel”—underperformed.
Joyce Bernal’s “10,000 Hours” may have run away with the lion’s share of awards, but it fails to adequately engage and is widely deemed an artistic failure.
Similarly, Marlon Rivera’s “My Little Bossings” may have dominated the tills but few are convinced that it suffices as a crowd-pleaser.
For all the filmic ambitions of Francis O. Villacorta’s “Pedro Calungsod, Batang Martir” and Eliza Cornejo’s “Kaleidoscope World,” it’s sad to think that these two releases are bound to be dismissed as forgettable (that is, by those who caught the screenings at all, since several theaters pulled them out early in the game).
Year after year, the festival prides itself as the major industry event. However, nobody gets to measure the actual extent of its impact, especially considering that less than a tenth of the national population bothers with it.
By their very nature, awards draw controversy; there will always be those who will disagree with the jury choices.
This year’s case in point is the best actress win for Maricel Soriano. Some protested that Soriano’s role in the Vice Ganda starrer (“Girl, Boy”) was not a lead role, but a mere support. Others took issue with the Gender Sensitivity Award bestowed on “Girl, Boy,” arguing that films of this mold tend to be the last to encourage audiences to advance the cause of equality among the sexes.
Aside from bagging the top plum, “10,000 Hours” made a sweep of the technical awards. Many vehemently declared that “Pagpag” and “Boy Golden” were better crafted and technically superior.
This year’s crop of MMFF films is devoid of true spectacle as the fantasy-adventure genre, a staple in previous fest editions, was out of the picture. With the poor box-office showing of “10,000 Hours” and “Boy Golden,” all hopes for the action genre to recover its old glory may be best forgotten.
Comedies may still pack ’em in but they are obviously far from breaking new ground in these parts. As for “Pagpag,” this year’s lone horror entry, it could have succeeded because it was also a youth-oriented flick and a teen romance top-billed by the very popular screen couple Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo.
Corruption in high places was a thematic concern as well. In “My Little Bossings,” Kris Aquino is a rich woman forced by her own half-sister into admitting that she is the mastermind of a pyramid scam.
Inspired by the story of the fugitive days of former Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, “10,000 Hours” casts Robin Padilla as a legislator about to expose the massive misuse of pork barrel. “Saka Saka” stars EJ Falcon and Joseph Marco as brothers who are hired killers disguised as peasants and cuddled by a powerful politico.
Religion as a subject was not the sole domain of “Pedro Calungsod.” “Dukit” is rich in imagery of Filipino religiosity as it recounts the life and ecclesiastical art of Pampanga sculptor Willy Layug.
The singularly mesmerizing cinematic moment in “Pagpag” is when Matet de Leon’s character rescues a baby from a house in flames, a scene that dissolves into the image of the Mother of Perpetual Help.
“My Little Bossings” shares common ground with “Pagpag” as both engage in an accidental discourse on orphanhood. In “Bossings,” Aiza Seguerra’s lesbian character adopts the little girl played by Ryzza Mae Dizon. Similarly in “Pagpag,” Kathryn Bernardo’s character has, placed under her care, a boy abandoned in church when he was an infant.
Outstanding screen performances are turned in by a few notable stars:
Everyone agrees that KC Concepcion was a revelation in “Boy Golden.” But the ones who actually stole the thunder in the film were veterans Eddie Garcia and Gloria Sevilla as old lovers.
Shaina Magdayao shone in “Pagpag” as a wife who loses her husband as she is about to bear him a child. Her subsequent death is one of the best-executed scenes in recent memory, as the character is required to suffer twice as much pain since it is compounded by grief, not for herself but for the baby in her womb.
In “Mga Anino ng Kahapon,” Agot Isidro essayed the role of an OFW’s wife driven to schizophrenia by her dark memories of martial law.
Daniel Padilla is fortunate to have delivered the best lines in “Pagpag.” Audiences cheered as his character deadpanned in a scene, “Ano ba kayong mga babae? Bakit ba baba nang baba kayo ng kotse?”
Shouldn’t be missed is marvelous Jaclyn Jose embodying camp in “Bossings” as her character makes life horrible for Aquino’s.
No account of MMFF 2014 can be complete without mention of shameless product placements in certain entries. At the rate this annoying practice was resorted to by some festival films, it might as well cease to be regarded as a filmmaking flaw, and instead be marked as a defining, certainly embarrassing, attribute and characteristic of a mainstream Filipino film.
(The author is the cinema programmer of the UP Film Institute and senior member of the Young Critics’ Circle.)
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