Plucky portrayals boost MMFF’s fearless indies
Experience trounces enthusiasm in the Best Actress race of the 2014 Metro Manila Film Festival’s New Wave category. Zsa Zsa Padilla doesn’t let the dawdling pace of Zig Dulay’s otherwise well-meaning “M. (Mother’s Maiden Name)” slow her down.
The actress portrays potty-mouthed and temperamental lawyer, Bella Monteclaro, whose world falls apart when she finds out she has stage four pancreatic cancer.
The production’s easygoing stride occasionally saps the urgency out of Bella’s dire situation, but Zsa Zsa’s thespic pluck and consistency help the movie ease into its crucial dramatic and comedic highlights, staged in a two-act narrative arc detailing Bella’s difficult road to acceptance, “healing”—and redemption.
Nico Antonio, who plays Bella’s gay son, Joven, also benefits from Padilla’s textured characterization, articulating his pain with judicious subtlety and hints of winking and angst-leavening humor.
The film puts Zsa Zsa’s caustic wit and precious “dramedic” flair to good use, especially when she zaps the fear of God into her underperforming employees and the negligent staff of a provincial hospital, or when she rationalizes about why ugly people should be kinder than beautiful individuals like her!
But, the seasoned actress will break your heart when she finally finds time to sit down and talk to her only son about unspoken truths, ambivalent feelings—and their ambiguous future!
Speaking of ambiguous, that is exactly what moviegoers feel when they watch Ato Bautista’s discombobulating (and alienating) psychological drama about identity and culpability, “Gemini,” which tells the story of identical twins, Judith and Julia (Sheena and Brigitte McBride), who are being investigated for the murder of their tutor’s naughty brother, Anton. But, all hell (and limbo) breaks loose when they “realize” that everything isn’t what it seems!
The siblings ooze with enthusiasm, but they’re weighed down by the beautifully photographed film’s confounding twists, incoherent psychobabble, redundant musings and the McBrides’ whiny voices that get in the way of viewers’ empathy. We love movies that make us think—but, this film “overthinks” like no other! Sometimes, there’s a fine line that separates moody and cerebral from vacuous and pretentious.
There were a lot of restless, impatient and very noisy MMDA employees “required” to watch the movie when we saw it last Wednesday—and we couldn’t help but agree when one of them blurted out in frustration, “Fast forward!”
Another twisted psychological drama, Maria Diane Ventura’s “Mulat” is sometimes just as frustrating—but, at least its novel narrative conceit isn’t hard to comprehend and follow, even if it tells its juxtaposed romantic tales in a nonlinear manner.
The film is also notable for the career-making performance of its lead actress, Loren Burgos, who’s as lovely as she is credible in her portrayal of a woman who can’t commit to her fiancé, Jake (Jake Cuenca)—because she’s haunted by a toxic relationship (with the appropriately terrifying Ryan Eigenmann) from her not-so-distant past that she can’t shake out of her system.
Even if it’s compromised by its disjointed tale and meandering excesses, Ventura’s movie is viewable for Burgos, Eigenmann and Cuenca’s deliciously unpredictable turns, as well as for its unorthodox charms as it examines a relationship that comes undone before viewers’ eyes. It dares us to differentiate the things we see and those that we merely imagine—but, unlike “Gemini,” it doesn’t alienate its audience.
Jason Paul Lacsamana’s “Magkakabaung”—one of the year’s finest films—is an affecting drama about coffin maker Randy Alcantara (Allen Dizon), a single father who “kills” his 8-year-old daughter, Angeline, by accident (he gives her an unprescribed antibiotic she’s allergic to). What follows is a moving dramatization of what the guilt-stricken and cash-strapped father goes through to give Angeline a proper burial.
The movie isn’t just about the tragic repercussions of parental neglect—it also zeroes in on the dehumanizing effects of abject poverty, conveyed with relentless honesty by Dizon, who has earned much-deserved praise (and international awards) for his indelible and egoless characterization. Chanel Latorre (as Randy’s opportunistic girlfriend) and Gladys Reyes (as Angeline’s biological mom) also turn in notable performances.
Even more memorable is Arlyn de la Cruz’s “Maratabat.” Dubbed as a “work of fiction,” it’s actually a gut-wrenching dramatization of the so-called Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao in 2009, refined further by the exceptional portrayals of Julio Diaz, Ping Medina, Chanel Latorre and the terrifyingly transfixing Kristoffer King, who are cast as members of opposing political clans.
The film is hard to watch, especially due to its realistic and graphic depiction of murder and rape—but, it’s a cautionary tale that needs to be told, not only because it claimed the lives of 62 people, including more than 30 journalists, but also because we need to be reminded about the dangers of absolute power and greed, despotic warlords and political kingpins—the same people we drove away at Edsa in 1986.
“Maratabat” couldn’t have come at a better time—because, as the 2016 elections approaches, our ever-forgiving voters need to be reminded that we deserve the kind of leaders we put into office!
Come to think of it, we have driven away a good number of them—but, many of them are back in power!
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