Festival Report – Cinema One Originals 2017, Part 1

The first part of Rogue’s coverage of the cable channel’s annual independent film festival

by Philbert Dy

 

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opened the festival. There aren’t any more screenings for the public for the duration of the festival, but the film is apparently going to be screened commercially some time later on, likely when the award buzz really steps into gear. And be assured: this film is going to be part of the awards conversation. Frances McDormand leads a remarkable ensemble of actors playing a tough, blunt woman who decides that the best way to keep the local police on the lookout for the criminals that raped and killed her daughter almost a year ago is to rent out the titular three billboards outside of town with a direct message to the town’s chief of police.

 

 

The story that spins out from this initial action is terribly dark, touching on a variety of unpleasant truths about the people of the town. But it is precisely this darkness that gives the movie its strange, heartwarming lift. Because inasmuch as so much of this film is about the ways people can be so unkind, it doesn’t allow itself to fall into a nihilistic hole. These characters stare into the darkness and end up doing horrible things, but they are not immune from guilt or doubt, and they manage to grow within these unpleasant contexts.

 

It is a startlingly humanistic film that just happens to involve characters that contemplate murder and/or suicide. Because through all this human horror, through all this cruelty, the characters are often allowed to maintain a measure of dignity, their complicated, oddly sympathetic humanity shining through all of that awfulness. Watch out for McDormand at the very least to be a consistent factor of any awards discussion. But this also feels like the kind of film that will get screenplay and directing nods. It’s just that good.

 

 

Rogue Recommends?: You’ll probably have to wait a while to see it, but yes. It’s going to be worth the wait.

 

Moving on to main competition lineup: Fatrick Tabada and Rae Red’s Si Chedeng at si Apple is a dark comedy that involves two older women played by Gloria Diaz and Elizabeth Oropesa, a search for a lost love, and a decapitated head stuffed inside a Louis Vuitton bag. The head belongs to the live-in partner of the titular Apple, who murders him while defending herself from another one of his violent outbursts. She brings it along while helping her best friend Chedeng, newly widowed and thus free from familial obligations, to search from first love in Cebu, a woman she hasn’t seen in decades.

 

 

It’s intriguing material, and there are a lot of compelling little sequences. As a whole, though, the film struggles to find a consistent level of craziness. It just goes all over the places, at times achingly sincere, and in other moments blindingly goofy. This dichotomy is present and palpable in the two main characters. Chedeng and Apple feel like they could be from completely different films, Gloria Diaz’s Chedeng a much quieter presence than Oropesa’s Apple. It doesn’t always feel like it makes sense that they’re even friends. There are all sorts of merits to what the film does and what it wants it to say, but its lack of a consistency ends up making the comedy feel meaner than it ought to be, and the drama a little less impactful than it could be.

 

Rogue Recommends?: There are good moments scattered throughout this movie, but it is ultimately too scattered to wholeheartedly recommend.

 

Giancarlo Abrahan’s Paki actually treads a lot of the same ground as Si Chedeng at si Apple. It is also about an older woman (Dexter Doria) who at the start of the film is fed up with her marital situation. Her husband is a philanderer, and shows no signs of changing his ways. So, she leaves home, and travels to Manila to look for her other children. Like the previous film, there are depictions of LGBT relationships, but it’s even more tacit in this film. It just happens that some of the characters are gay, and whatever struggles the family may have had with those issues seem to be largely in the past. The film follows the flamboyantly dressed main character as she wanders Manila, being tended to by her family there, most of whom are trying to convince her to stay with their father.

 

 

Paki is a pretty finely crafted ensemble drama. There aren’t any real tricks to it: it’s just a story of a family going through a low-key crisis. Its power stems from an assured voice, and family dynamics that just feel true. One completely understands the history of these parents and these siblings, the web of relationships so well sketched out that one can’t help but empathize. There isn’t actually a lot of incident in this film, but it hardly matters, because the relationships feel rich enough to sustain the entirety of the narrative. This is essentially a series of conversations, but the movie is careful to enrich them with fine detail, giving them context that conveys a bigger story behind the words. And so, a daughter might be performing her nightly beauty ritual in one of these scenes. Or the family might be sitting around a table, unsure of when to start cooking a shabu-shabu meal.

 

 

It’s really smart, and an amazing ensemble cast brings it all to life. Dexter Doria, Shamaine Buencamino, Eula Valdez and Noel Trinidad all get some pretty amazing scenes. But one must make special mention of Ricky Davao, who delivers what seems to be a studied scene stealing performance in a role that barely gives him any lines. It’s great stuff.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Yes. There’s a lot of good in here.

 

Nay is from Kip Oebanda, best known for Bar Boys which was one of the films screened in the PPP. Enchong Dee stars as Martin, a young man who as a kid was raised mostly by his yaya Nay Luisa (Sylvia Sanchez). It turns out that he’s dying from pancreatic cancer, but Luisa saves him from death by passing on the gift of being an aswang. She then becomes Martin’s teacher in the ways of hunting down and eating humans, an act that the young man never really feels comfortable with.

 

 

It’s a great concept, but it just doesn’t work out. The best thing about the film is its use of practical effects. The many, many body parts of that show up in this film are remarkably credible. But they’re put in service of a story that doesn’t always make a lot of sense, and fails to convey the emotional stakes. It all boils down to a repetitive philosophical discussion about killing, which isn’t argued nearly well enough to be compelling. The story just doesn’t hold together, the movie feeling like it’s missing some logical connective tissue. This all leads to a pretty contrived climax that ends up feeling like a pretty cynical attempt to raise the body count, which seems to run counter to some of the things the film is supposedly saying.

 

 

 

Rogue Recommends?: We’d like to praise the film for its excellent use of practical effects, but that’s not enough of a reason to recommend it, really.