Sinag Maynila hits the ground running
Last week, Sinag Maynila, the indie festival spearheaded by Cannes-winning auteur Brillante Mendoza, made its auspicious debut at SM cinemas—and hit the ground running.
Its impressive yield includes three exceptional entries (Lawrence Fajardo’s “Imbisibol,” Paul Sta. Ana’s “Balut Country” and Zig Dulay’s “Bambanti,” in that order), a thematically provocative but heavy-handed cautionary drama (Jim Libiran’s “Ninja Party”) and a failed experiment (Remton Zuasola’s deeply polarizing “Swap”).
Fajardo’s blisteringly bleak but achingly beautiful “Imbisibol” follows the intersecting tales of four illegal aliens hoping to turn their dire situations around, and the kind-hearted Filipina expat (Ces Quesada, in the finest performance of her career) who puts her neck on the line to help unfortunate kababayans who got the short end of the stick of the Filipino diaspora in Japan.
Despite the film’s hefty wedge of exposition, Fajardo will shake you out of your apathy as he unfolds a complexly zippy narrative, made more engaging by the perfectly calibrated portrayals of Allen Dizon (heartbreaking as a desperate hosto past his prime), JM de Guzman, Ricky Davao, Quesada and Bernardo Bernardo—whose angst-leavening performance is as memorable as his nuanced characterization in Studio Connections’ stage play, “Haring Lear.”
The gorgeously photographed “Bambanti (Scarecrow)” is a gripping morality tale about relationships that unravel when a watch goes missing—and the main suspect is the son of cash-strapped widow, Belyn (the sublime Alessandra de Rossi), who must come to grips with the stigma that results from her employer Martha’s (Shamaine Buencamino) unproven accusation.
As with Dulay’s other intimate dramas, this moral whodunit is occasionally weighed down by its meandering narrative progression, but the film’s gritty tone, as well as De Rossi’s indelible turn, keeps it on an even keel—especially when Belyn makes a nerve-jangling sacrifice to buoy up her son’s tattered spirits and low self-esteem!
Rocco Nacino’s thoughtful portrayal gives “Balut Country” a spare but persuasive elegance as he guides it through its unhurried paces. It starts out slowly, but benefits from an inspiring payoff worthy of its easygoing setup.
It’s about a musician, Jun (Nacino), who goes home to Candaba, Pampanga, to sell the duck farm he has inherited from his estranged dead father. Does he have the guts to sell the only remaining property that carries as many painful reminders as there are happy childhood memories?
There’s no debate about the intriguing thematic complexity and disturbing themes tackled in “Ninja Party,” about female high school students (Annicka Dolonius, et al.), who get in trouble when word about their sexual “experiment” spreads like wildfire. Indeed, they’re as relevant as they are provocative—but, dark themes alone don’t a fine movie make.
Libiran’s underwhelming film is more a discordant muddle of unrealized ideas than a gripping commentary on adolescents’ sexual mores and increasing amorality.
Moreover, the actresses who portray the lead characters are a little too long in the tooth to be credible as high schoolers —which is a pity, because we expected so much more from Dolonius, the breakout star of Marie Jamora’s “Ang Nawawala.”
As the production’s sprightly scenes take a turn for the twisted, it doesn’t take long for its protagonists’ amusing chatter to turn into vacuous bluff and frustrating bluster. —Talk about more flash than substance, you don’t have to look further than this.
Even more disappointing is “Swap,” about a young father (Matt Daclan) who’s torn between solving a crime and committing another to save his son from his kidnappers. This film provides ample proof that a filmmaker is only as good as his last film.
We loved the clarity and endearing simplicity of Zuasola’s 2010 Cinema One entry, “Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria,” and last year’s exceptional “Soap Opera” —but, in his latest production, he bites off more than he can chew with annoyingly redundant scenes that rely on actors who aren’t as skilled at improvisation as their propensity for idle chatter and mugging.
Zuasola’s long shots are difficult to pull off, and his attempt at winking theatricality will remind you of Lars von Trier’s bold storytelling style (“Dogville”)—but, this novel conceit eventually comes apart at the seams due to overreaching ambition.
Regardless of how a filmmaker tells his story, it remains crucial for his scenes to make sense. Besides, it’s hard to empathize with a supposedly anguished mother (Dionne Monsanto) who forgives the kidnapper even before she gets her son back!
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.