PPP 2019: Embarrassment of cinematic riches
Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s punch-in-the-gut drama “Verdict,” about domestic abuse and the tragedy of being poor and female in an apathetic society, is the cherry on top of the third edition of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP).
Gutierrez and producer Brillante Ma Mendoza’s Center Stage team deserve kudos for a film that banks as much on the performances of emerging lead star Max Eigenmann, child actress Jordhen Suan and the late Kristofer King as it does on the production’s timely thematic cogency.
This Venice fest-winning film (it won the Special Jury Prize in the Orizzonti section) is a methodical dissection of a marriage that comes undone under the weight of spousal abuse and misogyny. This is exactly the type of film that adds legitimacy to any cinematic showcase like the PPP.
We’ve been hopscotching between two cineplexes—three, even—to watch Pista’s 11 featured films over the weekend, thanks to SM Cinema’s dynamic PR team led by Ruby Reyes, Richard Caluyo, Laura Angeles and ComCo Southeast Asia.
Here’s the good news: “Verdict” isn’t the only film worth moviegoers’ while. In fact, it is one of six entries we would readily recommend, including Jade Castro’s “LSS: Last Song Syndrome,” Eduardo Roy Jr.’s “Lola Igna,” Jun Robles Lana’s “The Panti Sisters,” Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Circa” and Boy 2 Quizon’s “I’m Ellenya L.”—that’s an embarrassment of cinematic riches, if you ask us!
PPP’s bumper crop of cinematic newly minted gems is led by Castro’s gorgeous musical romance starring Khalil Ramos and Gabbi Garcia, “LSS”—a heady fusion of seemingly disparate but seamlessly realized elements.
But there’s more to “LSS” than its glossy froth and youthful vibe. It captures the pulse of a largely misunderstood generation as it digs under the surface of its likable protagonists, with the music of Ben&Ben cleverly putting their intersecting tales and contentious issues in insightful perspective.
Roy’s “Lola Igna,” about family and the ties that bind, plays well to best actress Angie Ferro’s theatricality and larger-than-life personality as a 118-year-old former midwife who awaits not just the homecoming of her estranged daughter, Ana (Meryll Soriano, superb as always), but also for the impending end of her lengthy life. It also serves as a fitting big-screen “reintroduction” for former “Pinoy Big Brother” alumnus Yves Flores.
The film, as poignant as it is funny, comes on the heels of Roy’s proficiently helmed “F**cbois,” whose impact was diluted by its thematic resemblance to Joselito Altarejos’ grittier and more shocking “From Jino to Mari.”
Just the same, “Lola Igna” provides another proof of Roy’s versatility and consistency as a filmmaker worth his salt.
We must admit we didn’t have high hopes for Jun Robles Lana’s “The Panti Sisters,” because we thought it would look like just another gender-bending knockoff of the messy “Born Beautiful,” which he cowrote.
But “Panti” is more than the sum of its hilarious parts, quickly putting a smile on viewers’ faces and sending them on a comedic bender.
The performances of its cast, led by the “lovely” and lovable Martin del Rosario, the “quirky” and perpetually delightful Christian Bables (what a joy to see him let his hair down) and the in-your-face Paolo Ballesteros, more than make up for the production’s just-for-laughs inanities.
It’s a testament to Lana’s storytelling flair that “Panti” manages to make audiences laugh while “subtly” asserting the riotous flick’s “comedically veiled” plea for understanding, acceptance and inclusivity for the often-maligned members of the LGBTQ community.
It’s mind over matter fueling Alix’s star-studded “Circa,” a movie fraught with its characters’ secrets and sins. It deftly demonstrates why veteran actress Anita Linda is still making movies at the ripe age of 94
—a veritable triumph of talent and fighting spirit over age and physical adversity.
The movie’s progression alternately sprints and meanders, but its narrative development plays out like a chatty Italian film that rhythmically marches to the beat of its own drum—with an indelible payoff before the final credits roll, staged to thespic perfection by the sublime Jaclyn Jose.
Quizon’s “I’m Ellenya L.” takes time to warm up, but it’s a film made doubly pertinent by its subject matter and the appealing protagonists (Maris Racal and Iñigo Pascual)—it pokes fun at social media “influencers” who rely on confidence more than talent. For added reference, watch Liza Mandelup’s Sundance-winning documentary, “Jawline.”
Aside from Angie Ferro, Meryll Soriano, Yves Flores and the terrific trio of “The Panti Sisters,” who else delivered PPP’s most memorable portrayals this year?
In “LSS,” Gabbi Garcia proves she’s more than just a pretty face, especially in a stirring sequence that has her character realizing that her younger brother (Elijah Canlas) has long dropped out of school.
In the same film, Tuesday Vargas, who portrays Khalil Ramos’ mom, adds flesh, blood and spot-on comedic timing to an otherwise predictable role.
Max Eigenmann and Kristofer King (a truly terrifying presence) rule the thespic roost in “Verdict.”
Anita Linda and Jaclyn Jose pace “Circa’s’ exceptional cast members, while Iñigo Pascual gives Maris Racal believable support in “I’m Ellenya L.”
While the other entries are far from satisfying, they have their own charms (like the noirish but bland Western-inspired “Watch Me Kill”).
That being said, none of “Watch Me Kill,” “G!,” “Cuddle Weather” and “Open” is as contrived as Maria Ranillo’s tortuous—and torturous—“Pagbalik.”
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