Dispatches from Macao: Films we’re probably going to see

One film we’re definitely going to see: Erik Matti’s Seklusyon

by Philbert Dy

It is likely that we’re going to get a chance to see a few of the films screening at this festival in the Philippines; if not in commercial screenings, then in one of the international programs of a local film festival.

seklusyon-fi

One film we’re definitely going to see: Erik Matti’s Seklusyon, which is part of the selection of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. It’s the story of four young deacons (Ronnie Alonte, John Vic de Guzman, Rhed Bustamante, and Dominic Roque) in 1947 going into seclusion a week before their scheduled ordination. While there, they are confronted with the sins of their respective pasts, before being truly tested with the arrival of a mysterious young girl (Rhed Bustamante) and her nun guardian (Phoebe Walker).

I’ll note, first of all, that what was shown here in Macao was the international cut of the film. The version we’re getting in the Philippines is rated R-13, and will have a couple of scenes with nudity in them shortened. It doesn’t seem like the film will be losing much, though. The horror and the themes of this film have little to do with the exposure of flesh. The film grounds all of its horror in the individual psychologies of these characters, and then ramps it up by capitalizing on the inherent creepiness of some religious imagery. And then it goes deeper, revealing a rich, political undercurrent that studies the very nature of corruption.

It’s fun and excitingly strange for a local horror movie. I do find issue with the visual elements that the film employs, specifically the use of a few bible quotes that go a bit too far in exposing the subtext of the story. But otherwise, this is a messed-up horror film that manages to go beyond simply trying to startle people.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we got Pablo Larrain’s Jackie some time around Oscars season. It is more than likely that Natalie Portman will get a nomination for her performance here as Jacqueline Kennedy. The film is a very narrow biography, framed as a conversation with a journalist (Billy Crudup) some time after the death of her husband. The film only goes as far back as the televised tour of the White House. From there, it jumps ahead to the fateful day in Dallas, before moving on to the funeral preparations.

Right at the start, the film admits to its artifice. Jackie tells the journalist (and by proxy, the audience) that she isn’t there to tell people the truth. She’s there to tell a story, perhaps a fanciful lie that will maintain a legend rather than reveal the people underneath. And then the film dances with the artifice and makes it matter. The film presents Jackie Kennedy as a woman whose identity is inseparable from the artifice, her entire life a performance. I’m not entirely sure if the film actually gets to anything profound of moving, but the glittery surface of this movie, held together by a truly remarkable performance from Portman, is more than worth a look.

With a win here in Macao, and its win in San Sebastian, Emiliano Torres’ The Winter will likely be regarded as one of the best festival films of the year. And it deserves that reputation. This is a pretty bleak film about a sheep ranch in Patagonia. Evans (Alejandro Sieveking) has been working there for decades. Jara (Cristian Salguero) is a newcomer who immediately catches the eye of the higher ups for being a steady hand and a stable presence. The film spends some time studying the work at the ranch, and really kicks the story off with Evans being fired from the job. Jara is tapped to take his place as foreman, and to prove himself worthy, he much stay at the ranch through the harsh winter, guarding the livestock from rustlers and wild animals. Meanwhile, Evans goes back to the city to find no real life waiting for him.

This is a sad, bleak movie that’s basically about people who just have no control over their own lives. They work hard, they make difficult choices, and they endure terrible conditions, without any real guarantees that their lives will be made any better. It’s a terrific film all around that will likely find its way into the program of one of our film festivals.