Festival Report – Sinag Maynila 2018

The latest edition of the Brillante Mendoza-led festival looks beyond our borders.

by Philbert Dy, art by Andrew Panopio

 

The fourth edition of the Sinag Maynila festival is bringing five new films to Philippine cinemas. Or to be accurate, five films that have never been screened before on Philippine shores. They’re doing something a little interesting this year: rather than just produce five new films, they seem to have gathered completed films and put them together into a competition program. The result is a little intriguing, and might point the way forward for this increasingly crowded local festival space.

 

It offers up room for something like Matthew Victor Pastor’s Melodrama/Random/Melbourne!, which is actually an Australian production. It’s broken up into three parts, all of them reckoning with Filipino identity in Melbourne with a particular focus on the sexual dynamics borne out of the history of sponsored Filipino brides in Australia. It ties its narrative pieces together through an exploration of pickup artist culture in Melbourne, following someone learning to become a pickup artist, a guy who loses a girl to one of them, a filmmaker studying the culture, and a couple of these self-proclaimed lotharios.

 

 

There’s a lot going on in this film, much of it visible through its aesthetics. It has musical breaks that mimic videoke videos. It breaks format to go into YouTube-style clips of pickup artists doing their thing. And it goes meta as it frames plenty of what’s been shown as part of the film-within-the-film, and the filmmaker character talks about those first two sections and actually criticizes them for their problematic elements. It all gets to be a little too much, but there is a lot of value to what the film explores. If one can put up with the gimmicky aesthetics, the movie offers a really distinct, youthful perspective on a specific diaspora, filtering the same feelings of alienation into the sexual dynamics of a city and a generation.

 

ROGUE RECOMMENDS?: It’s a love it or hate proposition, but we’re prone to recommending this kind of thing.

 

Tale of the Lost Boys, directed by Joselito Altarejos, was produced in Taiwan and was screened as early as July 2017 in Japan. It stars Oliver Aquino as Alex, a Filipino visiting Taipei who becomes friends with an Ataval bartender named Jerry (Soda Voyu). Jerry ends up taking Alex on a road trip through Yilan, where he’s from, and the two end up guiding each other through their own personal issues.

 

 

The film has a slow, drifting narrative that isn’t at all concerned with the rhythms of a typical story. Alex has big issues going on, but the whole point is that he isn’t sure that he’s ready to deal with any of it. The film becomes much more about Jerry’s struggle with his identity as an aborigine and how it clashes with the person he’s become while living in the big city. But that isn’t really resolved in a way that one might be expecting. The movie’s just really loose, and it’s happy to be loose. It finds focus in depicting the growing friendship between the two characters, and the ways that they discover that their two cultures, while being completely different on the surface, have more in common than they think. Ultimately, the film creates this sense of true empathy between them that is genuinely affecting in strange and unexpected ways.

 

ROGUE RECOMMENDS?: Sure. This is a relaxing little jaunt that gets to some intriguing ideas about cultural differences.

 

Yam Laranas’s Abomination was first released in 2015. It screened at the Cannes market and didn’t really seem to go anywhere from there. It’s set in the States, and it involves a young woman (Tippy Dos Santos) found injured in an alley. At the hospital, she says her name is Rachel Rivera, but the doctors tell her that Rachel Rivera died two months ago. From there, Rachel escapes from the hospital and tries to figure things out. The film also jumps into flashbacks showing what exactly happened two months ago.

 

 

It’s not too hard to tell why this movie didn’t go anywhere. The movie becomes so intent on holding on to its secrets that it’s never really allowed to get thrilling. It becomes trapped by its own need to provide a big twist that the characters never really get to reckon with the strangeness of the situation. It makes the film’s first two acts feel really inert, and it ends up minimizing some very serious issues. The big reveal comes in the form of a doctor pretty much explaining everything in a voiceover at the end, which does little to salvage all the stuff that went on before.

 

ROGUE RECOMMENDS?: Not at all.

 

Ralston Jover’s Bomba follows Pipo (Allen Dizon), a deaf-mute man living with teenager Cyril (Angeline Nicholle Sanoy) in a hovel somewhere in Cavite. The film presents the two as father and daughter, but there seems to be more going on. Pipo is keeping tabs on a man that seems to be looking for the two of them. The film mainly follows Pipo as he tries to hustle to make the money to make a better home for the two of them. But his disability and the circumstances of the times keep getting in the way.

 

 

In the hands of any other filmmaker, this might have been the story of a saintly man with a disability nobly struggling against corrupt forces. But Jover clearly has more complex things in mind. Pipo is no saint. Right from the start, he displays a temper and a willingness to do harm to others. He is certainly a victim of circumstance, but the film takes great pains to make him more than just a put-upon hero. He’s a deeply flawed human being operating during dark times. If there is any sympathy for him at all, it is because he is surrounded by such abject misery that his few moments of grace actually stand out.

 

The material is somewhat provocative, but a lot of the most interesting stuff is kept on the sidelines. What the film ultimately becomes about feels a little less vital. It becomes nihilistic in a way that does feel appropriate to the dark times that the movie is portraying, but the film ultimately doesn’t feel insightful in any meaningful way. Still, there’s a lot of compelling complexity to this movie, and it might be worth seeking out.

 

ROGUE RECOMMENDS?: With reservations, but yes. It’s a grim movie that does seem to have a lot to say, even if it doesn’t directly go for it.

 

Finally, El Peste, directed by Richard Somes, stars Mon Confiado as Abner, a pest exterminator who falls in love with Viola (Jean Judith Javier), a married woman who routinely suffers the violent temper of her husband (Alvin Anson). Rather than solve their rat problem, Abner brings rats to their property in order to have an excuse to drop by. And as one might expect, things get a little steamy, before things get violent.

 

 

The film isn’t really venturing to say anything particularly new. It operates within fairly familiar parameters, its characters hardly rising above set archetypes. This becomes the biggest problem of the movie, particularly in its lack of interest in fleshing out Viola beyond her status as Abner’s object of desire. Having said that, the film has a surplus of personality. A lot of it is owed to what Mon Confiado typically brings to a movie. His performance is the focal point of the film, his particular brand of oily oddness giving everything direction. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead the movie anywhere interesting.

 

ROGUE RECOMMENDS?: It’s got personality to spare, but there just isn’t a whole lot to the story.