The Best and Worst of Cinemalaya 2017

With Cinemalaya winding down, Rogue picks the winners (and the losers) of this year’s festival

by Philbert Dy, art by Andrew Panopio

 

BEST FEATURE FILM: RESPETO

 

 

Respeto is a tricky little movie that goes well beyond the promise of its logline. What is ostensibly the story of a neophyte battle rapper becoming friends with an elderly poet turns out to be this surprisingly trenchant examination of the cycles of violence in this country, the movie creating direct links between the struggles of Martial Law and this current era of extrajudicial killings. You come in for the rap, which is already pretty good, but you stay for the rather powerful examination of a generational relationship with government-backed violence. It is far and away the most accomplished film of this batch of Cinemalaya.

 

BEST DIRECTOR: TREB MONTERAS II, RESPETO

 

 

It is no easy feat to turn the seemingly disparate elements of Respeto into a singular vision, but that’s more or less what Montreras is able to do. One can still practically see the seams where different versions of this movie were stitched together, but the direction keeps the tone consistent, building off that tension to create something that feels bold and inventive.

 

BEST SCREENPLAY: THOP NAZARENO, KIKO BOKSINGERO

 

 

What’s remarkable about Thop Nazareno’s screenplay for Kiko Boksingero is how much it leaves unsaid. It leaves no dramatic fat in the story, elegantly depicting the high emotions involved without the kind of bombastic confrontations so common in our cinema. It seems to acknowledge the reality of how people aren’t all that eloquent and expressive when it comes to sharing feelings. They are instead cagey and evasive, and might just disappear before anything substantial can be said. So much of what’s going on between the characters in this film is implicit, which is really the mark of great writing.

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: MARVIN REYES, KIKO BOKSINGERO

 

 

Baguio is still one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines, and Kiko Boksingero never lets us forget it. The rows of houses on the mountain serve as backdrop for many of the film’s most quietly powerful sequences, the distant pinpricks of light warmly emanating from the windows serving as a potent visual indicator of the kind of home life that the main character longs for.

 

BEST ACTOR: NOEL COMIA JR., KIKO BOKSINGERO

 

 

The young actor is the heart and soul of Kiko Boksingero. Again, this is a film that lives on sentiments that go unspoken, and Comia deserves credit for conveying a struggle that goes without the benefit of lines to sketch it out for him. Comia is a charming presence on screen, and he manages to show off a depth of emotion that belies his age.

 

BEST ACTRESS: ANGELI BAYANI, BAGAHE

 

 

Angeli Bayani is easily the best thing about Bagahe, which on the whole feels rather flawed. Bayani provides a compelling center for the movie, her performance strong enough to keep the focus even as the film gets distracted by other matters.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: DIDO DE LA PAZ, RESPETO

 

Illustration taken from RespetoMovie.com

 

Dido de la Paz gets one of the meatiest supporting roles in this year’s Cinemalaya, and he just kills it. As Doc in Respeto, the actor begins as a standard cranky old man before slowly letting the cracks show, with decades of regret coming to the surface, his pain becoming evident in even the smallest of scenes. Also, he gets to sling angry rhymes at Abra, and that’s just amazing.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: YAYO AGUILA, KIKO BOKSINGERO

 

 

This ends up being a pretty small role when all is said and done, but Yayo Aguila is able to bring out all the different layers of this character and her relationship with her ward. She plays a woman keenly aware of her role and her boundaries, but is unable to hide her true feelings anyway. It’s a beautiful little performance in a beautiful little film.

 

BEST SHORT FILM: ALIENS ATA

 

 

There are several good choices in this year’s batch, but Aliens Ata is the best example of what short films can do. Its gimmick is the sort of thing that can’t really be sustained in a much longer form. The movie just makes the most of it, finding a conceptual backing to the gimmick that turns it into something more powerful and emotional.

 

WORST FILM: ANG GURO KONG HINDI MARUNONG MAGBASA

 

 

Ang Guro Kong Hindi Marunong Magbasa clearly means well, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Its fervor for its advocacy brings it to rather questionable extremes, like a scene where a corrupt mayor is executed with a rocket propelled grenade. It’s ostensibly meant to horrify audiences into supporting education initiatives for remote communities, but it’s mostly just funny. The film lacks a basic cinematic competence that should have kept it out of competition.

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING: ANG PAMILYANG HINDI LUMULUHA

 

 

Director Mes de Guzman already has a best Cinemalaya film under his belt. He’s also already with actresses as big as Nora Aunor. Him working with Sharon Cuneta should have been a slam dunk. Instead, it’s a sloppy, low-effort work that feels like a succession of sitcom outtakes. Hopefully, Cuneta’s future non-studio work will push harder.

 

WORST AUTOFOCUS: REQUITED

 

 

Here’s a thing that should never happen in a professional movie production: autofocus. One would assume that filmmakers would want full control of all their images, and would never let a computer take control of what should be in focus in any given frame. And yet here we are.

 

MOST MISCALCULATED DRAMATIC MOMENT: THE CLIMAX, REQUITED

 

 

What is presumably meant to be a big dramatic moment in Requited plays out like a bit from The Three Stooges, a big confession suddenly undermined by some unexpected slapstick made even more ridiculous by Jake Cuenca’s reaction.

 

DARKEST: BACONAUA

 

 

Nabubulok is pretty dark as well, but there are moments of the film set in genuine daylight at the very least. Even when it’s day in Baconaua, it stays pretty dark, the sun refusing to shine on the characters, the film seemingly determined to cement its position as the darkest film of all time.