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Cinema One fest: Provocative entries turn formula on its head

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:20 AM October 12, 2018

Aaron Villaflor (left) and Iyah Mina in Rod Singh’s “Mamu”

The Cinema One Originals Film Festival has been pushing the movie-making envelope for 14 years now, and has unapologetically fielded as many screen triumphs as there were cinematic turkeys.

Included on the festival’s roster of exceptional films are Remton Zuasola’s “Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria Kirschbaum,” Richard Somes’ “Yanggaw,” Whammy Alcazaren’s “Islands,” Jerrold Tarog’s “Confessional,” Ivan Zaldarriaga and Brandon Relucio’s “Di Ingon Nato,” Carl Joseph Papa’s “Manang Biring,” Jet Leyco’s “Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na,” Petersen Vargas’ “2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten,” Dodo Dayao’s “Violator,” Nash Ang’s “Seoul Mates,” Benjamin Garcia’s “Philippino Story,” Shireen Seno’s “Nervous Translation” Dennis Marasigan’s “Sa North Diversion Road,” and Antoinette Jadaone’s “That Thing Called Tadhana” and “Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay.”

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Joining them this year are Rod Singh’s “Mamu; and a Mother Too,” one of nine official entries in the full-length category, and Kenneth Dagatan’s delectable horror drama “Ma,” which will be screened out of competition at 5 p.m. tomorrow at TriNoma.

At first blush, “Mamu” can easily be misconstrued as a gay man’s fantasia, given its parade of “accessible” and attractive leading men (Aaron Villaflor, Markus Paterson, Jovani Manansala).

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Before long, however, you’ll realize there’s more to it than its audience-pandering ploys and melodramatic excesses.

“Mamu” spins its rip-roaring yarn around aging trans woman Mamu aka Ernalyn aka Rene (the award-worthy Iyah Mina), an Angeles City-based hooker who sells homecooked meals when she isn’t peddling play-for-pay sexual favors.

The film examines the sacrifices Mamu makes and the unspeakable indignity she endures for the sake of her live-in lover, handyman Vincent (Aaron, in a convincing  portrayal), and Bona (the feisty EJ Jallorina), the newly orphaned transgender niece Mamu takes home after the unexpected death of her sister.

To boost her stock, Mamu hopes to make enough money for breast implants. Unfortunately, she always ends up spending all her savings for the needs of her loved ones. Is Mamu unnecessarily giving more love than getting it? The answer might surprise you.

The production is more than viewable because, despite its running time-stretching convolutions, the movie manages to break the mold by turning the often-predictable gender-bender genre on its head and proving along the way that things aren’t always what they seem.

More than that, any society that aims for genuine inclusivity needs to encourage stories like “Mamu” that could help level the playing field in the never-ending debate about gender equality.

Even more significant is “Ma,” Kenneth Dagatan’s astutely helmed and exquisitely photographed supernatural chiller with a lethal twist.

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Kyle Espiritu in Kenneth Dagatan’s “Ma”

It’s about Samuel (Kyle Espiritu), a teenager who will do anything—even sell his loyalty to a sinister, sacrifice-seeking tree in a cave—to keep his very sick mom, Lina (Glydel Mercado), alive.

But, things take a creepier turn upon the arrival of pregnant Cecille (Anna Luna, pitch-perfect in a role that suits her to a T), who has demons of her own to purge.

“Ma,” one of the best films we’ve seen so far this year, benefits from an atmosphere of sinister dread as it deftly demonstrates why people who are on a do-or-die mission can sometimes be scarier than any monstrous creature a fertile mind can imagine.

Instructively, the production is as impressive thematically as it is technically—in fact, even in its nighttime sequences, you’ll see every object within the movie’s careful framing sparkle with clarity.

We have always enjoyed Alcazaren’s provocative films (“Colossal,” “Islands”), but his latest full-length feature, the controversial “Never Tear Us Apart” (formerly “Fisting”), really goes off the deep end.

It examines the interconnected tales of an aging spy (Ricky Davao), his sick wife (Meryll Soriano), their sexually active gay son, a lovely dominatrix (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) and an elusive killer who preys on prostitutes.

Yes, we understand how curiosity outweighs fear in children, but there’s got to be more to the film than its connect-the-dots abstractions.

For its part, Keith Deligero’s uneven Cebu-set procedural “A Short History of a Few Bad Things” is as quirky as it is noirish—it is alternately laugh-out-loud funny and borderline annoying.

It follows troubled detective Felix (Victor Neri) and his double-dealing partner (Jay Gonzaga) as they set out to discover the deadly motive behind a series of grisly murders with the help of a pretty femme fatale.

You wouldn’t feel shortchanged even with Cinema One’s short film entries, led by Bagane Fiola’s “Pulangui” (River) and Joji Alonso’s Pyongyang fest-winning debut, “Last Order.”

From left: Nats Sitoy, Nico Antonio and Matt Daclan in Joji Alonso’s “Last Order”

Alonso’s 17-minute short takes a fly-on-the-wall approach as it focuses its lens on the string of customers waiter Nitoy (Nico Antonio) serves before the restaurant closes for good.

We love the metaphor that drives its proficiently told tale as it evaluates life’s fleeting nature, devoid of pretense and distracting theatricality. More than that, it demonstrates the resilience of Filipinos as they “hopscotch” from one experience to the next.

More than its depiction of the unceasing war in Mindanao, the 22-minute “Pulangui” is its filmmaker’s prayer for peace. It shows how two Muslim brothers, Ysmael (Amer Arsad) and Abdul (Juari Piang), are separated by the atrocities and divisiveness of war, then reunited by their faith in a Higher Being.

The other entries in the full-length category are Joseph Abello’s “Double Twisting Double Back,” Charliebebs Gohetia’s “Bagyong Bheverlynn,” Rayn Brizuela’s “Asuang,” Bobby Bonifacio’s “Hospicio,” Carl Joseph Papa’s “Paglisan” and John Lapus’ “Pang MMK.”

They will be screened starting today till Oct. 21 at Glorietta 4, Gateway, Santolan Town Plaza, Powerplant, TriNoma, SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, SM Manila, SM Sta. Mesa, FDCP Cinematheque Manila, UP Cine Adarna, Cinema ’76, Black Maria Theater and Cinema Centenario.

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TAGS: “Last Order”, Cinema One Originals Film Festival, Ma, Mamu, Now Showing
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