The Essential Guide to the Pista Ng Pelikulang Pilipino
Twelve Filipino Films take over cinemas nationwide for a week. We’re here to help you decide what to see.
by Philbert Dy
100 TULA PARA KAY STELLA
Director: Jason Paul Laxamana
Starring: Bela Padilla, JC Santos
Synopsis: A young man with a speech impediment begins to overcome his shyness as he falls in love with a girl in his class.
Outlook: As of this writing, this is the one film in the lineup that we haven’t been able to see. The trailer makes the film look sweet enough, but it does seem to lean a little hard on the idea of this “nice guy” telling the main female character how she ought to be living her life, advice that presumably involves her going out with him instead of the swarthy fellows that she’s attracted to. Laxamana’s work for studios has been kind of spotty, but the director has always exhibited a capacity to surprise.
Rogue Recommends?: Having not seen it, there’s no way we can make a judgment. But if you’re looking a conventional romcom, this is probably the safest bet.
Director: Enzo Williams
Starring: Gerald Anderson, Bembol Roco
Synopsis: A military sniper goes rogue following a bombing that left the men in his unit dead.
Outlook: Hilariously bad. The inclusion of this film in the lineup actually puts to question this whole endeavor. AWOL is a completely tasteless endeavor, an endorsement of righteous violent retribution that seems to want to be taken seriously while simultaneously planting bombs inside lechon and staging a climax that largely involves Gerald Anderson and Bembol Roco yelling “putang ina mo” at each other. Gerald Anderson plays it super-serious, but doesn’t seem to realize that his character is essentially a psychopath. At no point is the protagonist film made to reckon with the consequences of his choices, his actions wholly condoned by the people around him. The character doesn’t pay a psychic toll for killing all those people. We would almost recommend this film for its ironic value, but our conscience wouldn’t be able to take it. This is a bad film. What it says is bad. No one should see it.
Rogue Recommends?: No. Not at all. Stay away.
Director: Kip Oebanda
Starring: Carlo Aquino, Rocco Nacino, Enzo Pineda, Kean Cipriano
Synopsis: A group of friends enter law school and face its challenges together.
Outlook: “Bagets in law school” would be an apt description. It’s a pretty low-stakes story of guys who face obstacles, but mostly just get through them. Even the one friend that doesn’t end up in law school turns out okay. There is a subplot involving a fraternity, but that’s never really unpacked in a dramatically satisfying way. For the most part, the film plays out as a series of very small vignettes, a lot of them set in the classroom, detailing the kind of stories that all law students have. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a law student, this actually might seem a little redundant. It just doesn’t go far enough to turn these stories into something movie-worthy.
Rogue Recommends?: It’s okay, but it shouldn’t be a top priority.
Director: Mikhail Red
Starring: Mary Jo Apostol, Arnold Reyes, John Arcilla
Synopsis: An idealistic cop is told to drop a murder investigation to look into the illegal hunting of a Philippine eagle.
Outlook: Mikhail Red, at 25, is already one of the most purely talented filmmakers in the country. Birdshot is an elegantly composed thriller set out of time built on characters that all start out trying to do the right thing, but constantly failing because of the way the world is. The whole film becomes this clever deconstruction of crime in the Philippines, studying the ways in which people become inured to violence through the noticeable indifference of institutions to the larger problems facing society. There are flaws, certainly: the script sounds like it was written in English, and only later translated into Tagalog, and there’s a lack of personal investment in the story that can feel kind of cold. But this is a smart, mature work that really ought to be sought out.
Rogue Recommends?: We recommended this in our CInemalaya coverage, and we haven’t really changed our minds.
Director: Ralston Jover
Starring: Zaijan Jaranilla, Teri Malvar, Sam Quintania, Bor Lentejas
Synopsis: Four kids living on the streets are separated and sent off into different directions
Outlook: Hamog first screened all the way back in 2015 as part of the Cinema One Originals Film Festival. It’s never quite gotten the traction that it deserves. This is a little more interesting than your average film set in poverty. It has an interesting structure that backwards and forwards in time, checking in on the different situations of the characters involved. There’s also a touch of magical realism to the thing, though that bit of the narrative doesn’t really pan out. Really, not all of the bits work, but the parts that do are really terrific. Jover captures a side of Metro Manila that feels terribly harsh, but still functions as this strange, welcoming playground still capable of being home to little bits of kindness. The film ends up on a pretty cynical note, but there is enough heart in there to recommend the film to even people turned off by the squalor.
Rogue Recommends?: Sure. It’s a strong film overall, the sum greater than its parts.
ANG MANANNANGGAL SA UNIT 23B
Director: Prime Cruz
Starring: Ryza Cenon, Martin del Rosario
Synopsis: A young man gets to know a young woman living in the same apartment building. It turns out, though, that she’s not quite human.
Outlook: The ideas behind this film are really clever, but they don’t really work out all that well. Anyone with literary leanings should be able to suss out some of the theory governing the story, but it doesn’t really feel fully thought through. The narrative can feel unclear and unfocused, the film seemingly trying to get to so much that some of it never really lands. If you’re looking for romance, you’ve come to wrong place as well, since there is precious little chemistry between the leads. This is, however, one of the most strikingly beautiful films of the last few years. The technical package is just top notch, and the film ends up creating some of the indelible images in recent memory.
Rogue Recommends?: With pretty heavy reservations. It’s worth seeing for how great it looks, if nothing else.
Director: Zig Dulay
Starring: Gerry Cabalic, Joan dela Cruz, Anna Luna
Synopsis: A young Aeta working for his dowry becomes infatuated with a college student from Manila
Oulook: This film is from the 1st ToFARM film festival, and it’s an interesting little movie that plays out like James Gray’s Two Lovers put into a completely different, rural context. The main character basically fell into being married, and is out in the big city for the first time, and finds himself drawn to the charms of a fetching college student who acts like no one he’s ever known. The worst thing about this movie is a best friend character that feels like she stepped out of a completely different film, giving voice to feelings that really should have stayed implied. But otherwise, this is a really unique romantic film that actually manages to stay something about our culture and the strange ways that we are all still divided.
Rogue Recommends?: Yes. This film really should get more attention. There’s something really interesting just bubbling under the surface.
Synopsis: A family of misfits drives to Dumaguete to attend the funeral of their estranged father.
Outlook: This is quite honestly one of the funniest Filipino films in recent memory. This road movie goes to some pretty strange places, all while telling this genuinely affecting story of what it is that makes a family. The sense of humor can get gloriously strange, the film taking these delightful turns into the absurd that mine humor from the general weirdness of this country and the people that live in it. The film can feel a little rough at times, but that can also be weirdly charming, recalling the haphazard nature of our classic comedies.
Rogue Recommends?: Go ahead. Have some fun. Try out some Bisaya humor that actually deserves some laughs.
Synopsis: Fed up with life in Manila, a family sets off on pedicabs to make their way back to their hometown in the provinces.
Outlook: A grim sense of humor and just a touch magical realism (one of the characters is often conversing with Jesus) really helps this film out, which is otherwise about a poor family suffering through an impossibly difficult journey. They sleep on the side of roads and suffer the wrath of the elements as they try to pedal an absurd distance. But the film is pretty good at reminding audiences that these characters are actually family, the warm though flinty rapport between them giving the film a nice, human dimension. It runs on for a bit too long, but strong performances are able to keep the film on course.
Rogue Recommends?: Sure, but one does feel compelled to point out that there is another family road movie in this lineup, and if you put a gun to our heads, we might admit that this should likely be the second choice between the two.
Director: Sherad Anthony Sanchez
Starring: Jessy Mendiola, JC de Vera, Karl Medina
Synopsis: A TV news team investigates rumors of aswang activity in Central Mindanao, and instead encounter a group of armed men.
Outlook: Don’t come into this film thinking that you’re going to get a conventional found footage horror movie. It may look like that at first, but this movie has more interesting things going on. In fact, for as long as the movie stays within the boundaries of the found footage genre, it isn’t very exciting. The context is interesting, but the horror itself feels a little tepid. But then, somewhere in the middle of the film, it becomes something else entirely. It still uses the elements of the found footage genre, but applies in more artful, less literal ways that end up conveying the horror much more effectively. One understands the need for the first half of the picture, but it still feels like having to chew through some fat before getting to the real meat of this movie.
Rogue Recommends?: With some reservations. That second half is worth waiting for, but that’s still a lot of uninteresting found footage horror stuff to sit through.
STAR NA SI VAN DAMME STALLON
Director: Randolph Longjas
Starring: Candy Pangilinan, Paolo Pingol, Acey Aguilar
Synopsis: A family struggles with raising a child with Downs Syndrome
Outlook: What’s most remarkable about this movie is how dark it’s willing to get. The original trailers for this movie made it out to be a cute little story of a young kid with Downs dreaming of being an action star. But the movie is never patronizing about what it means to have a kid with Downs, and right from the start offers a look at the kind of terrible things that a parent might have to consider. The resolution of the story runs a little pat, and the aesthetics aren’t anything to write home about, but otherwise it’s still a lovely little family movie that might deserve your time.
Rogue Recommends?: Sure. Contrary to popular belief, we still have hearts.
Director: Miguel Franco Michelina
Starring: Albie Casiño, Joseph Marco, Kean Cipriano
Synopsis: Three stories of guys who get into some weird situations.
Outlook: The three stories are a little underwritten. Or at the very least, they really weren’t thought through all the way. They’re missing satisfying resolutions and any real thematic content. At best, each of the segments presents one strongly conceived scene. In the first one, it gets great tension out of a situation where characters can’t say what they need to say. In the second, there’s a beautifully odd scene that involves ingesting gross things and dubious magical practices. And in the third: well actually there isn’t much in the third segment unless you really like Kean Cirpriano singing. There’s clearly filmmaking talent here, but the writing just isn’t good enough.
Rogue Recommends?: One bad story would be tough to recommend. Three is impossible.