Festival Report – Cinema One Originals 2017, Part 3

Dan Villegas’s ‘Changing Partners’ is the runaway hit of the festival

by Philbert Dy

The audience response to Dan Villegas’s Changing Partners has been pretty rapturous so far, and that probably means that its screenings are likely going to be packed for the duration of the festival. It also seems likely that this could get a successful commercial release a la That Thing Called Tadhana. It’s a winning film that adapts the musical stage play of the same name by Vince de Jesus. 45-year-old Alex is in a relationship with the 29-year-old Cris. They’ve been living together for seven years, and though they seem to be completely in love with each other, the strain of the age gap is starting to show. Alex has lost trust in Cris, and the younger Cris, on the other hand, is feeling trapped in the relationship.

The trick here is that Alex is played alternately by Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo, and Cris is played by Anna Luna and Sandino Martin. The film slides between different combinations of gender and sexuality, playing out pretty much just one story through the four permutations. It could be dismissed as a gimmick, but it runs to the very core of what the film seems to be trying to say. Heartbreak is universal, and there is very little that separates us when it comes to a love that just isn’t working anymore. And the film doesn’t rest on its laurels in translating the play. It takes advantage of the fact that this story is no longer taking place in a limited space. Each scenario feels like its own private dimension, the dynamics staying the same even though the settings are technically different.

 

And this is a film that just wants to cut you. It aches like an open wound, the lines and the songs speaking with a candor that really gets to the heart of what’s going wrong in the relationship. Part of what’s so exciting about this film is that audiences will find themselves taking sides in the fight that takes place on screen, because neither character is completely in the right. And it is in that space that people will store their personal baggage, creating a film experience that goes beyond the cinema. And that’s something to be cherished.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Yes. Prepare to hurt.

This year’s lineup features two new documentaries. Dempster Samarista’s Bundok Banahaw, Sacred and Profane studies the stuff that goes on at the mystical mountain during Holy Week, when pilgrims from all over the world gather to worship, witness miracles, and take home amulets that will supposedly fulfill all their wishes. The movie traverses the rocky landscape of Filipino belief: the weirdly seamless interaction between Christian faith and indigenous animist mysticism that converges in this one holy mountain.

 

The footage is pretty incredible, the filmmakers exploring every little nook and cranny of this religious ecosystem. There are people harvesting coconut sap to make tuba. There are people creating mystical amulets that promise to bring love, or to protect from harm, or to heal from sickness. There are holy men performing rituals and delivering sermons. And there are just regular men of faith debating the nature of local belief. It’s all very interesting, but the movie does feel like it’s repeating itself after a while. There’s just a lot of conceptual overlap between all the different people that they end up talking to, and it doesn’t always feel like the documentary is progressing into something else. It feels like the film is just being very careful not to tread on anyone’s beliefs. And while this is a completely noble intention, it doesn’t always translate into compelling cinema. That said, there a lot of great things that this film gets into, and it’s still worth checking out.

 

Rogue Recommends?: It requires some patience, but there’s some fascinating stuff in here.

 

Phyllis Grande’s Haunted: A Last Visit to the Red House might just be the most essential film of the festival. It at first plays up the supernatural reputation of the titular red house, playing clips of shows that have previously covered the ghostly rumors that surround the property. And then it gets into the real meat of the matter: the very true horrors that took place within the house during World War II. Grande talks to the Malaya Lolas of Mapaniqui, Candaba, Pampanga, the women who lived through one of the worst episodes of the Japanese invasion.

 

The material in itself is essential, the testimony of these women coming through so clearly and powerfully. Grande cuts between the women all telling the same story, making it clear that the trauma is collective and widespread. And if that was all this film was, if all it did was preserve these stories, it would already be an essential piece of filmmaking. But there’s something really interesting about the way Grande and her crew are inserted into this film. There is a strange acknowledgement of a complicity in the forgetting of these women’s stories, and a recognition that the simple act of documenting the stories isn’t really doing enough to bring justice to these women. And by the end, Grande and her crew are talking about the house and the events that happened within it with an abstracting distance, the true horror of history still giving way to the puerile thrills of the imagined horrors of an urban legend.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Wholeheartedly. It should be a priority.