The first set of films reviewed seemed to really try to honor the spirit of the festival, with their stories directly addressing the plight of agricultural professionals. These last three films take a more tangential approach to the requirements of the festival. This is where things tend to get interesting, with stories that spiral off into different directions after making some mention of farming. The results this year are pretty mixed.
Topel Lee’s Baklad mainly takes place at a fish pen in Laguna. This particular pen is run by a corrupt and vindictive owner who’s always more than willing to exact violence on those he feels have slighted him. The movie really starts when he buys Maya (Elora Espano), a deaf and mute girl, from the town casa. He forces her to live with him at the fish pen and serve as his wife. Tutoy (Ronwaldo Martin), one of the boys that work for him, makes an immediate connection to Maya, and he risks his own life to pursue his attraction to her.
This movie feels like it wasn’t really specifically designed to meet the requirements of this festival. It instead feels like the kind of grimy poverty film that was much more common five years ago, retrofitted to make a token connection to the festival’s aims. There isn’t really much here other than the kind of blanket unpleasantness that would have been edgy ten years ago, but mainly feels rote and uninspired now. The film just revels in the grime without really doing much with it. It confusingly plays at romance, even though there is absolutely nothing between the supposed romantic leads. It literally takes the voice away from the main female character, making sure that nothing of her personality factors into the story. She is either a victim, or a prize. To top it all off, it seems as though the film isn’t actually finished. At the very least, they didn’t finish the subtitles, which just disappear in the third act. And they certainly didn’t finish mixing the sound, which is just a mess from top to bottom.
Rogue Recommends?: No. Decidedly no.
WHAT HOME FEELS LIKE
This is the debut feature of twenty-five-year-old Bicolano filmmaker Joseph Abello, and it shows plenty of promise. Bembol Roco plays Antonio, a seaman home for vacation. It’s clear right from the very start that he’s drifted away from his family. But on the surface, everything seems okay. His work has provided a very comfortable life for his family. His youngest twin children are about to graduate from college. His other two sons have managed to migrate to Canada. But as he spends more time at home, the distance becomes unavoidable. His children barely speak to him. And it does seem like his wife Jenny (Irma Adlawan) is hiding something from him.
What Home Feels Like is an OFW film that largely avoids the lurid, miserablist dramatics usually involved in these stories. It’s one of those OFW films that recognizes that even in the absence of overt abuse, an OFW’s life is inherently tragic. It highlights how the comfort provided by the money brought in by working abroad is a poor replacement for the physical presence of the parent. There’s bracing restraint in this picture, as it openly flaunts the dramatic tropes of the tragic OFW story, only to reverse them, revealing something more basic and true. It lives off the simple inability of people to communicate with each other, with distance turning a father into a stranger in his own home. There are a few odd beats in this film, but its sentiments are expertly conveyed by its talented cast. It’s a solid family drama that exhibits an intelligence and a sincerity that makes it a cut above the rest.
Rogue Recommends?: Yes. Prepare to feel something.
Instalado is the most intriguing film of the festival, given that it employs science-fiction elements while still somewhat working within the festival’s agricultural aims. It’s set some time in the future, when a technological breakthrough has allowed people to get information installed directly into their brains, bypassing the need for traditional education. The problem is, in the Philippines, the process is controlled by a few private companies, who keep it out of reach for most Filipinos. Victor (McCoy de Leon) is a farm boy in Pampanga who dreams of becoming an Instalado so he can find a better life. He ends up working as a houseboy for an old friend (Junjun Quintana) who’s already undergone the process several times. The film also spends some time with Danny (Francis Magundayao), a fifteen-year-old Instalado working with one of these companies to promote their services in Central Luzon.
It’s an interesting premise, certainly, but the movie doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting. It spends a lot of time debating the merits and demerits of the service, and doesn’t really get around to telling much of a story. There really isn’t anything to Victor trying to get enough money for installation. There’s even less to Danny’s attempt to manufacture buzz for this one installation company. Along the way, the film peppers in a lot of commentary, but it’s all so unfocused that none of its arguments seem really compelling. It all feels like setup for a payoff that doesn’t really come. It feels like a pilot for a TV series that doesn’t exist, the whole thing ending just when things get really interesting.
Rogue Recommends?: Not really. Again, the ideas are interesting, but they aren’t really turned into compelling cinema.