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QCinema’s scintillating films–and its surprising misfire

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 04:14 AM October 22, 2016
Nora Aunor in “Hinulid” (left), and JC de Vera in “Best. Partee. Ever.”-

JC de Vera in “Best. Partee. Ever.”

Let’s call a spade a spade. In its early years, QCinema used to screen some of the most “underwhelming” indies fielded by any local film festival. It delivered overreaching productions that either only looked good on paper, or were too big for their britches that only their blogger friends would find substantial.

Its underwhelming lineup yielded “award”-winning entries that didn’t translate well onscreen, or well-meaning flicks that were shown unfinished (Barbara Politsch’s “Cemetery Life”).

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Not anymore. When the festival, whose latest incarnation ends its 10-day run today, finally found its footing, it came up with some of the most satisfying films a cineaste could ask for—including Cha Escala and Wena Sanchez’s “Nick & Chai,” Lem Lorca’s “Water Lemon” and “Mauban,” M. Bonifacio’s “Celio,” and Mihk Vergara’s “Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo.”

QCinema has also become a one-stop haven for cineastes, because it also screens award-winning world cinema features and Asian films. Our top picks outside the main Circle category: Piotr J. Lewandowski’s gloriously photographed “Jonathan” (Germany); João Pedro Rodrigues’ stirringly disturbing “The Ornithologist” (Portugal); Babak Anvari’s unsettling Iranian horror film, “Under the Shadows”;  Anocha Suwichakornpong’s enthralling “By the Time It Gets Dark” (Thailand) and Boo Junfeng’s deeply polarizing morality tale, “Apprentice” (Singapore)—about a hardworking prison guard who meets the “executioner” tasked to take his father to the gallows!

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Impressively, this year, there was only one entry we could hardly sit through: Kristian Cordero’s self-indulgent and excruciatingly ponderous “Hinulid,” starring Superstar Nora Aunor no less, seems exceptional if we just go by its synopsis—about OFW Sita (Aunor), a woman who “returns to her village in Bicol carrying the ashes of her only son via the old train that circles her universe like the primordial serpent, tandayag.”

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As it turns out, the production ends up selling the thematic sizzle more than the steak. It conveniently quotes philosophers, poets, mathematicians, playwrights, the Philippine Constitution, the Bible, astronomers, and even astrologers—but it lacks a distinct voice to expound on and articulate its promising premise with convincing clarity and angst-leavening levity.

Imposing presence

No, Ate Guy isn’t bad in it, but even her imposing presence and textured portrayal can’t save the film from its overarching ambition and misplaced profundity.

In best picture winner “Women of the Weeping River,” director Sheron Dayoc cogently underscores the pointlessness of war as he examines the escalating strife (rido or clan war) between two vengeance-seeking Muslim families. Widow Satra (best actress Laila Putli Ulao) secretly meets the rival clan’s matriarch to seek a solution to their families’ needless blood feud.

Dayoc probes deep into the vicious cycle of violence and retribution prevailing in Mindanao, and deftly renders its bleak but pertinent tale with a sense of “relatable” plausibility and urgency.

There’s more to Victor Villanueva’s crowd-pleasing “Patay na si Hesus,” about members of a dysfunctional family, led by Iyay (the exceptional Jaclyn Jose), who travel from Cebu to Dumaguete in a cramped multicab to attend the funeral of the estranged patriarch they haven’t seen in 13 years, than its easygoing vibe and comedic froth—and we’re not just talking about the adorable turns of Jaclyn and the actors cast as her feisty children (Chai Fonacier, Melde Montañez, Paul Vincent Viado).

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The film highlights the indispensability of family as its members come to terms with difficult circumstances beyond their control, and seek closure from little-discussed irritants that have heretofore been conveniently swept under the rug.

Bagane Fiola’s “Baboy Halas” is occasionally weighed down by its incoherence and meandering exposition. But with Fiola’s French-chic filmmaking sensibility and the astute camerawork of cinematographers Rafael Meting and Mark Limbaga, it’s easy to disregard the flubs and blunders that dilute the film’s impact.

The movie transports viewers to an exotic world they only see in NatGeo documentaries, as it dramatizes the fascinating story of an indigenous family coping with the harsh and discombobulating changes in the continually evolving world around them.

Nora Aunor in “Hinulid” (left), and JC de Vera in “Best. Partee. Ever.”

Nora Aunor in “Hinulid” in “Best. Partee. Ever.”

Visually sumptuous

We didn’t like Derick Cabrido’s visually sumptuous but languorous “Tuos” all that much, but it’s hard to resist the heady pleasures of his darkly irreverent and deliciously wicked comedy, “Purgatoryo,” as it follows the demented misadventures of opportunists who make a living out of unidentified corpses.

Boosted further by Mycko David and Cesca Lee’s gritty camerawork, the film is proficiently strung together by one of the finest ensemble performances (Jess Mendoza, Bernardo Bernardo, Kristofer King, Elora Españo, Arnold Reyes, Sam Quintana) we’ve seen this year. —Talk about teamwork, this film has it in spades.

In best director Prime Cruz’s winsome “Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B,” you’ll be fascinated by the thoughtfully staged budding romance that blossoms between its lonely protagonists—manananggal Jewel (Ryza Cenon, in a career-boosting star turn), and brokenhearted Nicko (Martin del Rosario)—who find soothing comfort in each other’s company.

But there’s more to Cruz’s horror drama than meets the eye: It’s just as significant for the relevant metaphor that lurks behind its charming story—and a prayer for all the warring factions in a tumultuous society that would rather spill blood than coexist in harmony.

Last but certainly not the least is HF Yambao’s compelling but circuitous “Best. Partee. Ever.,” starring best actor JC de Vera—who delivers the finest and most textured portrayal of his career.

The movie plays out like a multilayered, coming-of-age tale about rich boy Mikey (De Vera), as bratty as he is gay, who is hauled off to prison for drug-related charges. He then spends the next five years adjusting and adapting to the “ways of the wild,” and learning a thing or three about growing up and taking responsibility for his actions. Along the way, he even learns from Pitik (Jordan Herrera, who portrays his gruff but sensitive character to smoldering perfection) bittersweet lessons about love and its confounding vagaries and ambiguities.

The film is a career-reinvigorating triumph for JC. What makes his performance even more commendable is the fact that he could have chosen to “show off,” given the thespic possibilities his swishy character presents.

But, no, JC refused to “overact and overreact” by playing to the peanut gallery. By staying true to his character’s core, he proves that there’s truly more to him than his pretty-boy looks and washboard abs.

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TAGS: cinema, Film fest, QCinema
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