Festival Report – QCinema 2017, Part 2

The provocative Balangiga shines in this year’s lineup.

by Philbert Dy, art by Andrew Panopio

If there is a running theme to the prolific career of filmmaker Khavn de la Cruz, it is a sense of anarchy stemming from a postcolonial viewing of the world. His movies have consistently denied audiences many of the conventional pleasures of cinema, wallowing instead in mud, grime and shit in an act of rebellion against the homogeneity of Hollywood-borne cinema. Balangiga: Howling Wilderness has been called his most restrained and most different picture. But make no mistake: it is a Khavn film through and through. It takes place in the aftermath of the Balangiga Massacre, following eight-year-old Kulas and his grandfather as they try to escape from the American soldiers.

 

 

The story could be described as being akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but the apocalypse in this story can be keenly identified: the arrival of the Americans. The film turns lush jungles into scenes of casual horror, with corpses littering the landscape, and madmen howling out into the heavens. What makes this film feel different from the rest of the filmmaker’s oeuvre is that it seems to take a more fanciful approach to its ugliness, tempering its nightmares with strange dreams of flying carabaos and the genuinely loving bond that grows between Kulas and his foundling brother. But do not be fooled into think that Khavn has gone soft: he’s still a provocateur at heart, and he still seems intent on pissing people off. But that only makes this film even more interesting, its themes coming through even clearer as it continues to reject the banal and the sentimental, choosing instead to take a good hard look at the ugliness that sometimes makes us who we are.

 

Rogue Recommends?: Yes, knowing full well that there are people that are going to absolutely despise this film.

 

Mikhail Red’s new film Neomanila follows Toto (Timothy Castillo), a teenage orphan trying to hustle together some money to get his big brother out of lockup. Irma (Eula Valdez), a family friend, turns out to be a hired killer working for the police. Grateful after Toto helps her out one night, she decides to pay him back by giving him work, paying him to come along on her operations and help out. And Toto becomes like a surrogate son to her, even in the midst of her grim business.

 

 

Inasmuch as the film is technically about extrajudicial killings, it doesn’t really feel like it captures the specific reality of their horror. The movie just feels so cold, weirdly lacking in the emotionality that the images of the drug war have provoked. What’s weird is that the film seems to be on some level trying to tell a sentimental story: an orphan finding a mother, a loving bond that is challenged by the oppressive violence of the times. But a lot of it gets lost as it ends up reducing the terrible zeitgeist into an aesthetic. It’s too intent on being stylish, at times forgetting the very human concerns that are supposed to lie beneath that stylish façade.

 

Rogue Recommends?: If you loved Birdshot unequivocally, then you’re still probably going to love this. If you had qualms about it, those same qualms will pop up here.

 

Emerson Reyes’ Dormitoryo expands on his 2011 short film Walang Katapusang Kwarto. It does so almost literally: basically adding more rooms and more characters to witness in their most private moments. The couple from the first film (Sheen Gener and Max Celeda) reprise their roles. The room that they’re staying in is part of a boarding house owned by Aling Linda (Ces Quesada), a widow with children abroad. Eventually, we meet the other denizens of the house. Steven and Ramon (Wowie de Guzman and Jun Sabayton) contemplate dark things as they assess a difficult situation. Alex and Jenny (Vandolph Quizon and Kate Alejandrino) are a couple sort of drifting apart. And engineering student Charles (Charles Salazar) listens in on everyone, driven almost entirely by his libido.

 

 

As the movie progresses, it never really quite feels like it’s coming together as a single thing. These separate rooms are mostly kept separate, each one playing out a concept that would work as a separate short film. And this isn’t such a bad thing, actually: these little slices of life are pretty compelling, and there’s real appeal to the intimacy that the film affords the audience. And there’s something to be said about the shared experience these people are having despite not actually interacting that much. The problem is that the film actually makes a halfhearted attempt at bringing these stories together, its last narrative lurch a weird dramatic gambit that doesn’t really fit into the overall scheme of things. It’s okay, but that ending does leave a pretty bad taste.

 

Rogue Recommends?: With reservations. Its final moments don’t work at all, and the way the camera moves can be distracting at points, but there’s actually a lot to like in here.

 

Jobin Ballerteros’ Kulay Lila ang Gabi na Binudburan pa ng mga Bituin struggles to make it feature length. Its credits roll at around the seventieth minute, and it only makes it there because of these lengthy sequences in the middle that feature clunky VFX of the sun and the stars moving around in the sky. The story it tells is of a married couple (Max Eigenmann and Jay Castillo) who drive up to a small cottage in the middle of nowhere in the name of working out their issues. Things do not go very well for the two, and it soon becomes that not everything is as it seems.

 

 

First, the good: the film does hit on some interesting bits about relationships and jealousy, and Max Eigenmann is really pretty great. But the film’s gimmick just gets in the way of being the frank conversation about love and sex that it promises to be. Soon enough, attention is drawn away from the conflict between the main characters as the film gets caught up in elaborating on its bigger conceit, and this weirdly involves lots and lots of clearly rushed VFX that don’t quite evoke the sense of strange wonder that the film is reaching for.

 

Rogue Recommends?: A hard “no” from us. It feels like there’s only really enough material for a short film.