Festival Report – QCinema 2017, Part 1

In its fifth year, QCinema continues to grow and deliver some compelling cinema.

by Philbert Dy, art by Andrew Panopio

 

The Quezon City International Film Festival kicked off its fifth edition last Thursday, and is offering up one of the biggest programs of both local and foreign films among the many festivals in Metro Manila. Once again, we’ll be writing up short reviews for everything that we see in this festival.

 

QCinema opened with Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent, with Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin, a man tasked by his father to deliver Vincent van Gogh’s final letter to his brother Theo. This task has him talking to various people who knew Vincent, and to the mysterious circumstances of his suicide. The plot is almost incidental, though. The main talking point about this film is how it was made: over a hundred artists got together to rotoscope animation in the style of Van Gogh’s paintings over live action footage.

 

 

And it’s a stunning effort, certainly, and it makes for some really unique and powerful visuals. Having said that, the narrative isn’t really all that engaging. There is already a level of abstract in the manner of presentation, which takes away from the reality of the story being told. And then the story itself is an abstraction, engaging with the subject in a rather roundabout way, with a semi-Rashomon style investigation that yields conflicting testimonies about the nature of the painter. It’s an interesting way to tell his story in concept, but combined with the impressionist visuals, it just makes it difficult to connect with anything that’s going on. But yes, the film is stunning. You can check for yourself when the film opens in regular cinemas on November 1.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Purely for the visuals, yes. But as a whole thing, it doesn’t quite work.

 

James Mayo’s The Chanters immediately makes an impression with its rather unusual aspect ratio. Practically the entire movie plays out in an Instagram-style square frame, which is appropriate for what the story gets into. The film follows twelve-year-old Sarah Mae (Jally Nae Cabaliga), whose grandfather is one of the last surviving chanters of the Sugidanon epics of Panay. While he endeavors to preserve the culture of his people, Sarah Mae is more concerned with all the things that twelve-year-old girls are supposed to care about. But a chance to perform in front of an idol gives Sarah Mae the motivation to take up chanting and learn from her grandfather.

 

 

Writing down the plot makes the movie feel a little more schematic than it actually is. This movie makes a bunch of smart, gentle narrative choices that makes things a little more interesting. It largely keeps the drama to the scale of the frame, often alluding to bigger, sadder issues while maintaining a bouncy, lighter tone in the foreground. And throughout the whole thing, the film maintains its focus on the experience of its main character, offering only slight glimpses of the larger world, the movie formalistically reflecting her teenage inability to consider much outside of herself. It’s a neat trick that gives the film’s final moments a sense of palpable gravity, in spite of the ostensible fluffiness of the main plot. There are a couple of technical hiccups with the visuals, which is kind of a shame. It’s a small thing in the end, but in the moment, they’re distracting enough to take away from the effect of the movie.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Sure. It likely isn’t going to shake you to the core, but it’s a lot smarter than people are probably going to give it credit for.

 

Dapol Tan Panyawar Na Tayug 1931 is a new feature from Pangasinense filmmaker Christopher Gozum. It’s cuts between three parts, each given its distinct style. In present day, a filmmaker is in Tayug, Pangasinan, looking into the story of legendary rebel Pedro Calosa, who was at the head of the Colurum uprisings in 1931. This plays out mostly as a slideshow of still images with voiceover narrating the experience. The story of Calosa returning to his hometown is told in the form of a silent movie. And the third portion of this movie takes place in 1966, when the writers F. Sionil Jose and David Sturtevant went into the wilderness to interview the aging rebel.

Years ago, Gozum produced Anacbanua, which used arthouse techniques as a means of documenting parts of Pangasinense culture that are dying away. This film kind of feels like a spiritual successor to that movie, the whole project existing as a means to preserve a part of Pangasinan that seems to have been forgotten. It’s all very specific, and that gives the film its appeal. However, the whole thing is burdened with excess. The movie ends up getting pretty repetitive in explaining its points, and the approach just pushes the runtime past a reasonable point. There is power in what the film explores: a sense of memory and a connection to spiritualism that transcends the physical injustices being portrayed in the story. But there’s just too much of everything, and though the film’s conclusion ends up being pretty compelling, it’s still pretty draining overall.

 

Rogue Recommends?: There is merit to what the film is saying, but it ends up saying it way too long and way too much.

 

Pam Miras’ Medusae tells the story of Alfa (Desiree Del Valalle), a single mom and a filmmaker who takes her teenage son Luni (Carl Palaganas) with her to a remote island where she’s shooting a documentary about children that have gone missing. She and Luni have a strained relationship at best, and working together does nothing to rough out the edges. And then Luni himself disappears, and Alfa is left dig into the mysterious workings of this particular island in order to get him back.

 

 

But this film is not a procedural. It isn’t really so much about Alfa turning into an investigator, trying to figure out a way to get her kid back. Instead, it gets much more mysterious than that, and much less literal. The power of this film is in its ambition, stacking layers of art and myth and science and postmodern contemplation in a very thorough exploration of motherhood. Unfortunately, that ambition doesn’t feel fully realized. The film doesn’t even really feel finished. The sound is spotty, and the visual effects could probably take some polishing. An insistent voiceover in the second act seems to be compensating for a lack of footage. And the lead performance isn’t quite good enough for what the film is trying to do. Having said that, there are bracingly powerful moments in this picture that are unlike anything I’ve seen before. I’d like to see this film again in a couple of months and really sit with it, because there’s a thematic richness to it that goes far beyond what most movies are offering.

 

Rogue Recommends?: With reservations. When it works, it’s stunning. When it doesn’t, it’s just disappointing.

 

Dominic Lim’s The Write Moment could be quickly summed up as a local take on Ruby Sparks. At the start of the film, Dave (Jerald Napoles) is dumped by his girlfriend (Valeen Montenegro). Distraught, he writes a screenplay about them getting back together. And then, through some magical means, he wakes up in the first scene of his script. It takes him a while to realize it, but he has to follow the script to the letter, or be forced to replay the same scene over and over. And while he is initially happy about the possibility of this magical script getting him back together with his ex, he soon realizes that this written version of his happiness isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

 

 

The film really gets interesting when it gets dark, when it juxtaposes the overtly happy elements with the emptiness that Dave is actually feeling. It is in these moments that the film touches on its real potential, using the overarching context of romcom ridiculousness to explore what it means to simply be playing out the beats of a relationship because that’s what’s expected. To this end, the film doesn’t quite far enough, but that’s not really a bad thing in itself. The film sets out to be fun and entertaining, and it mostly accomplishes that. It at times lets things get a little too silly, but the humor is altogether agreeable, and the leads do a fine enough job of playing the incongruent beats of the story they’re playing out.

 

Rogue Recommends?: It’s a crowd pleaser, definitely, and a little more thoughtful than your average romcom. But you’ve probably seen this movie before.