Festival Report – Cinemalaya 2017, Part 2

In our continuing coverage of the festival, we pass judgment on Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magabasa, Requited, Bagahe and Kiko Boksingero

by Philbert Dy

ANG GURO KONG DI MARUNONG MAGBASA

 

There is likely no one who will object to what Perry Escaño’s Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa is trying to say. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who thinks that children being recruited into wars is a good thing, or that getting them into school is a bad thing. The movie operates, however, like this is some sort of novel insight. In telling the story of an illiterate farmer (Alfred Vargas) that takes on the task of playing teacher to the kids in his remote farming village to keep them from being recruited by rebels, the movie into such clumsy, ridiculous extremes that the reality of the issue it’s trying to address starts to feel remote and completely alien.

 

 

There’s just so much that the film gets wrong. We could start with the fact that the film doesn’t really feel like it’s set in Mindanao, even though it ostensibly is. We could get into how it seems to go out of its way to give legitimacy to the cause of the rebels who are recruiting the kids. We could talk about its insistence on staging long action sequences, seemingly reveling in the violence that it’s supposedly against. But the problems of this film are so basic and so obvious that there’s no real need to get into how it fails at delivering its themes. There’s amateurish work, and then there’s this. There’s just so little sense that anybody behind the camera knew what anyone was supposed to be doing.

 

It’s just really bad. It’s the kind of bad that should belong to a festival like CInemalaya at this point.

 

Rogue Recommends?: No. I would have walked out of this movie, but I wanted to keep giving it a chance. That decision did not pay off.

 

REQUITED

 

Nerissa Picadizo’s Requited begins quietly, with Jake Cuenca cycling North on EDSA and up to Pampanga while ignoring calls from someone named Sandy. We learn later that Cuenca is playing a character named Matt, and that he’s suffering from some sort of sickness. Sandy (played by Anna Luna) catches up with him on the road, and we learn that this is supposed to be a trip that they planned together long ago. But there’s apparently some painful history between them, and the two have to work out their issues as they bike further North towards Zambales.

 

 

There is a crucial sequence near the end of the film that is presumably meant to be its dramatic climax. It doesn’t quite work out that way. Without getting too much into specifics, it plays out like a bad joke, a bizarre slapstick beat that completely undermines whatever emotions were being felt up to that point. But then again, it’s not like the movie was emotionally solid up to that point. It seems to overestimate the value of scenes of the two main characters biking. There are a couple of long stretches that go without dialogue, the movie content with just showing the two pedaling down whatever path they’re on. This might have been easier to take if the footage was at least compelling, but technical hiccups here and there make them more of an ordeal.

 

The movie is never really able to build up the emotional stakes between the two. For the most part, it doesn’t even seem like the two even really like each other. This is a problem for most of the movie, but it’s an even bigger problem in the final stretch, where the lack of chemistry and connection makes big emotional confessions land flat. And this is all before the very puzzling climax, where it starts to feel like the whole thing was a joke being played on the audience.

 

Rogue Recommends?: It would have been hard to recommend this film even before the odd climax. It is impossible after it.

 

BAGAHE

 

Bagahe, written and directed by Zig Dulay, stars Angeli Bayani as Mercy, a woman accused of leaving a baby in a garbage disposal of an airplane bathroom. The first half of the movie is all about procedure, documenting in pretty rigorous fashion what happens right after the NBI picks her up from her home in Benguet. The second half tries to get to the bottom of why it happened, spending time with Mercy in a women’s shelter, sketching out the details of her trauma as the case progresses.

 

 

The movie seems determined to look into this particular story through externalities. It isn’t so much about the experience of the main character, but about the process that she goes through, the circus that surrounds her, and the systems that are meant to deal with her. We never get to hear about her ordeal through her own words, though this does seem to be by design, the movie studying the ways in which victims can become weirdly irrelevant in their own narratives. And while that’s an interesting way to go about things, the movie ends up undermining itself through conventional resolution.

 

The movie just seems to want to say so much, but it stops short of actually letting things get interesting. It spends more time explaining procedure than exploring what the characters are actually going through. We don’t really get to see the struggle and the conflict, the movie weirdly willing to reduce complexities into schematic terms, the characters explaining away the depth of what Mercy might be feeling. Through it all, though, Angeli Bayani is never less than amazing. The actress’ remarkable ability to convey the trauma of her character is more or less able to hold this film together, even in its weakest moments. It makes one wish that the film had just focused on the main character, letting her story really come to the fore.

 

Rogue Recommends?: It’s not bad, but it’s a low priority watch. It touches on plenty of interesting things, and the central performance is great, but the movie fails to be engaging for the most part.

 

KIKO BOKSINGERO

 

Thop Nazareno’s Kiko Boksingero is a very small film, and this turns out to be a pretty good thing. It follows eleven-year-old Kiko (Noel Comia Jr.), who has just recently lost his mother. His yaya Diday (Yayo Aguila) is taking care of him until his aunt can fly him out to America to live there. Kiko is secretly visiting the abandoned house of his estranged father, George (Yul Servo), training on the unused boxing equipment in the yard. And then one day, George rolls back into town, and Kiko tries to make a connection with a father that has never been there.

 

 

There is a formula to movies like this, but Kiko Boksingero takes on an unorthodox stand. What’s most remarkable about it is how committed it is to being small. It thrives on things being left unsaid, the film depriving audiences of the kind of dramatic confrontations that they might be expecting. It trusts the audience enough to understand what’s being implied in the silences between the characters. The whole movie is just made up of these small, lovely moments both tender and prickly. The film imbues the most incidental of scenes with earnest emotion, finding triumph in something as simple as a kid eating his vegetables.

 

Great performances help a lot as well, as do the moody, inherently dramatic backdrops of Baguio, of which the film takes full use. Its pleasures are modest and conventional, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Cinemalaya ought to have room for crowd pleasers as well.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Sure. It’s not going to change your life or anything, but it warms the heart without trying too hard.