IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Eight contenders at first Summer MMFF
From crime drama to psychological thriller and comedy, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) covers different genres in the eight movies lined up for its first-ever summer edition.
If you still haven’t decided yet what to watch in the coming April 8 to 18, here are the plot summaries of each film that can perhaps help you find the best entry that suits your interest.
‘About Us But Not About Us’
“About Us But Not About Us” is a psychological drama film written and directed by Palanca awardee Jun Robles Lana. It features a gay literature professor and a student, portrayed by Romnick Sarmenta and Elijah Canlas respectively, whose conversations take unexpected turns and unfold revelations regarding a suicide. The film was shot in a single location in a span of five days.
Lana disclosed that although the movie is fictional, the matters discussed by the characters are his “personal memories,” including the “most painful ones.” The director wrote the film during the height of the pandemic and was able to finish it in three days.
“About Us But Not About Us” had its global premiere at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, one of the largest film festivals in Europe, wherein it bagged the Critics’ Picks Best Film award as well as the best director honor.
It was also one of the official selections at the Fantasporto Film Festival in Portugal, and at the 2023 Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival in Australia.
The crime-drama and food film “Apag,” helmed by award-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, tells the story of Rafael (Coco Martin’s character), a guy from a wealthy family who tries to cover up his hit-and-run accident, which caused the death of an individual. In an effort for him to evade getting jailed, Rafael’s father (Lito Lapid) takes the blame and pleads guilty to the case filed by the victim’s family. Even so, Rafael remains tormented as he would soon be caught in a “downward spiral from the burden of guilt.”
The all-Kapampangan movie, which is based on a true story, was filmed at Sta. Rita, San Fernando, Angeles City, Sasmuan and Guagua, Pampanga, and features the province’s rich cuisine. Aside from Martin and Lapid, “Apag” also stars Gladys Reyes, Jaclyn Jose, Mercedes Cabral, Shaina Magdayao, Joseph Marco and Gina Pareño, among others.
Mendoza revealed that the lead role was initially given to Aljur Abrenica, but the actor backed out of the project after he found out that it was an all-Kapampangan movie. Mendoza said Abrenica gave no specific reason for his sudden change of mind, but the director considers the last minute hurdle as a “blessing in disguise.”
“Apag,” which has “Feast” as its international title, premiered at Busan International Film Festival and was featured at Warsaw International Film Festival, World Film Festival of Bangkok, Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema, as well as Asian Film Festival.
However, the version of the film that will be shown in the Philippines ends differently than the version that was featured in the international film festivals. “The one that will be shown in the Summer MMFF is the not-so-kind one,” Mendoza was quoted as saying.
‘Here Comes the Groom’
“Here Comes the Groom” stars Enchong Dee, Maris Racal, Keempee de Leon, Awra Briguela, KaladKaren and drag queen Xilhouete, whose souls were “swapped” with each other after an accident during a solar eclipse.The characters were aboard two vehicles which collided while heading towards a destination wedding and a beauty contest.
Dee’s character would swap souls with KaladKaren’s, marking the actor’s first time to portray a transgender woman. Given the nuances of his personality and his role, Dee found the portrayal challenging but he credited the comedian-TV host for helping him depict the role the best way possible.
The comedy film is the sequel of the 2010 film “Here Comes the Bride” and was also directed by Chris Martinez. Other cast members include Miles Ocampo, Gladys Reyes, Eugene Domingo, Tony Labrusca, Nico Antonio, Iyah Mina, Fino Herrera and Kim Atienza.
‘Kahit Maputi Na ang Buhok Ko: The Music of Rey Valera’
This musical biopic, directed by Joven Tan, features RK Bagatsing as Rey Valera and focuses on the renowned singer-composer’s journey to making his music, alongside his familial struggles and pursuit of love. Also starring in the film are actors Meg Imperial, Christopher de Leon, Ariel Rivera, Gelli de Belen, Aljur Abrenica, Lotlot De Leon, Ara Mina, Rosanna Roces, Ronnie Lazaro, Dennis Padilla, Gardo Versoza and Epy Quizon.
Bagatsing admitted he initially hesitated on taking on the role because he was not “that good” in singing, but he was assured that the songs were pre-recorded and that the producers just needed an actor who would “give heart to each of these songs.”
The thought of starring in the movie made Bagatsing nervous at first but it was also the same reason he accepted the project, saying he’s at the point of his career where he strives to be outside his comfort zone.
The actor also revealed that he opted not to meet Valera until after the filming was done to prevent himself from “[giving] in to pressure and [committing] major acting mistakes.”
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‘Love You Long Time’
Another romance-drama film in the Summer MMFF lineup, “Love You Long Time” offers viewers a new pairing with Eisel Serrano and Carlo Aquino. Serrano plays a romance screenwriter who struggles finishing a script as she just came from a heartbreak. She then meets and eventually falls in love with a mysterious guy, portrayed by Aquino, with whom she talks to through an old walkie-talkie phone.
“For someone living in the past and another one journeying in the future, will the present be enough?” reads a part of the movie’s official trailer, which appears to suggest the characters’ two different time periods.
The film was shot in Benguet and was directed by JP Habac, who is known for his films “I’m Drunk, I Love You” and “Maria.” Other actors included in the cast are Ana Abad Santos, Meanne Espinosa, Arlene Muhlach, Juan Miguel Severo, Arlene Muhlach and Patrick Quiroz.
Starring Alex Gonzaga, Angeline Quinto and Aljur Abrenica, “Single Bells” revolves around two single women Rose Ann (Gonzaga) and Rose Mae (Quinto), their “crazy journey” to finding love, and eventually, their realization of its true meaning.
Director Fifth Solomon said that the comedy film, which was only shot within eight days, was inspired by his own experience of being single for eight long years, including the struggle and the pressure that he had been through at the time. He also pointed out that the film touches on the notion of how being single has, apparently, a “negative connotation” in the society.
The RC Delos Reyes-helmed movie “Unravel” tells the story of Kylie Padilla’s Lucy who flies to Switzerland while going through a divorce, and seeks assisted voluntary death. She then meets Gerald Anderson’s Noah, a nursing assistant based there who will eventually make her believe in love and life again.
Padilla admitted she struggled with anxiety for a week after reading the film script as it tackles a sensitive matter. Despite this, she dwelled on the hope that through the film, the audience would be reminded that they are not alone and that there’s always a second chance in life.
Anderson, for his part, said that portraying the role thrilled him as it was his first time to be part of a project with such a storyline. Anderson then related himself to his character, with whom he shares the same motto in life: to show kindness towards others at all times.
“Unravel” is Padilla and Anderson’s first project together. The actors had met each other for the first time during the film’s look test.
‘Yung Libro sa Napanood Ko’
Bela Padilla teams up with Korean actor Yoo Min-gon in “Yung Libro sa Napanood Ko,” wherein they bring to life the story of love and what seems to be falling apart of a book author and an admirer. Some of the movie scenes were shot at popular Korean drama filming sites in South Korea, as the plot includes Yoo Min-gon’s character asking Padilla to visit the country with him.
The romance-drama film, which was written and directed by Padilla herself, also features Boboy Garovillo and special participation from Lorna Tolentino and Boy Abunda. “Yung Libro sa Napanood Ko” is produced under Viva Films. EDV