Cinemalaya officially begins today! Considered as the premier independent film festival in the country, it has produced timeless classics from Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros to most recently Respeto, while subsequently launching the careers of renowned filmmakers like Auraeus Solito and the late Francis Pasion. It’s no wonder why cinephiles flock the CCP every August for their annual pilgrimage of sorts.
With 10 films in competition rather than the customary nine, there’s a lot more to cover, and sinephile.com will be here to run through and review each in the coming week. For now, here are the trailers, synopses, and my initial thoughts on these promising entries.
Starring: Iza Calzado, Nonie Buencamino
Directed by: Perci Intalan
Synopsis: Liza is still drowning in grief from losing the love of her life when she receives a visit from the most unlikely person –her husband, who she left five years ago. With no questions asked and no conditions made, Anton invites her back to his and their two children’s lives.
My take: As much as the storyline of Distance seems to belong to the mainstream, it’s important to remember the success of titles like Mariquina and Dagitab that became Cinemalaya 2014’s showcases for acting. It won’t be farfetched to expect the same for this film, which reunites award-winning actors Iza Calzado and Therese Malvar after starring in 2017’s horror hit Ilawod.
Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon
Starring: Dante Rivero, Menggie Cobarrubias
Directed by: Carlo Enciso Catu
Synopsis: Teresa and Celso [are] an unmarried couple trying to survive their mundane elderly life. On the night of their anniversary, they received a phone call from Teresa’s estranged husband Benedicto who is ill and asking for care. The couple went out of their way to attend to his needs in the remaining days of his life, even seeking for the forgiveness of his son Chito. The film tells of love, companionship, and forgiveness. It is about moving forward by revisiting the past. It poses that on the twilight of our days, how do we really wait for the sun to set?
My take: It’s no secret that Cinemalaya has a penchant for sentimental films starring seasoned actors. In 2016, Tommy Abuel bagged Best Actor for Dagsin while Lou Veloso, Jun Urbano, Leo Rialp, and Nanding Josef all tied for Best Supporting Actor for Hiblang Abo. I’ll be honest and say that while vets usually end up onstage to receive their balanghai trophies, it doesn’t necessarily point to the quality of their films. Here’s to hoping Dapithapon proves otherwise.
Starring: Ogie Alcasid, Ina Raymundo, Moi Bien
Directed by: James Robin Mayo
Synopsis: Kuya Wes is a timid and earnest remittance clerk who falls for his customer in need, Erika. As Wes helps her from his own pocket, his relationship with his brother degrades, forcing him to change.
My take: It’s refreshing to see Ogie Alcasid back onscreen again, in Cinemalaya at that! It looks to be the perfect role for him. Just one nosy observation though – is his character Wes named after Western Union? I hope to God this isn’t an extended advertisement for that company! Moi Bien was arguably a contender for Best Supporting Actress in last year’s Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha and is fast becoming a Cinemalaya staple. Will she manage to pull off a win this time?
Starring: Glaiza de Castro, Dominic Roco
Directed by: Kip Oebanda
Synopsis: Dakip is a little boy who lives with his parents – Day and Ric – inside Camp Delgado, a makeshift prison inside a military camp for both rebels and criminals. Day does her best to shelter the child from the harsh realities of their life. She tells stories about an enchantress named Liway, with songs and imagination to help keep her boy from trauma. However, at the tail end of the Martial Law, her own dark past catches up on her and the lives of the detainees become increasingly difficult. She is confronted with the cruel possibility that the best interest of her child means never seeing her again. This is based on a true story.
My take: The synopsis reminds me of the 1997 Oscar-winning film Life Is Beautiful, where Roberto Benigni’s Guido shields his son from the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp by inventing whimsical tales that make light of their horrific situation. Watching the trailer though promises a story that’s a lot grittier than that. I’m also excited to see Glaiza de Castro return to the indie scene. Her last starring film in Cinemalaya was way back in 2011 for i-Libings.
Starring: Celeste Legaspi, Ketchup Eusebio
Directed by: Denise O’ Hara
Synopsis: At the twilight of her life, Mamang struggles against the senility and dementia of old age to be with her son Ferdie, who she suspects is set to teach and leave for another province. But as she grapples further, the more her condition worsens until she is haunted by the ghosts of her past. As she battles to drive them away, she starts reliving her bygone years, with visions that slowly turns into her reality. In the end, she is forced to decide between staying sane or letting her mind go in what has now become a labyrinth of memories.
My take: Denise O’ Hara is one of the writers of Kiko Boksingero, which was my favorite entry in last’s year’s festival due to its sheer simplicity and heart. With her serving as both director and writer this time, let’s unravel what she has to offer. This is also probably Celeste Legaspi’s meatiest role since she returned to acting in 2016. And given our theory on veteran actors, she’ll be a top choice for Best Actress.
Starring: Eddie Garcia, Tony Labrusca
Directed by: Benedict Mique Jr.
Synopsis: Carlo, an unapologetically millennial college jock, thinks that Martial Law wasn’t all that bad. No one in his family had anything bad to say about it, all he’s ever read are online posts on human rights violations. Confronted by a frustrated History professor, Carlo sets out to prove he is right and looks for someone who lived through that period to tell the tale.
My take: All I can say is wow, what a trailer! What a hook! It’s definitely a genre you don’t see that much in Cinemalaya and is indeed a welcome treat. It’s also amazing to see Tony Labrusca be given his biggest break yet. The Pinoy Boyband Superstar alum has shown promise in his recent TV outings. Perhaps this is the push he needs to be taken more seriously as an actor.
Musmos Na Sumibol Sa Gubat Ng Digma
Starring: Junyka Sigrid Santarin, JM Salvado
Directed by: Iar Lionel Arondaing
Synopsis: A coming-of-age tale about a 12-year-old Muslim girl named Eshal in Marawi is set amid an age-old culture of inter-familial dispute. Rido, as it is called, is characterized by a series of violent and fatal retaliation to avenge a reproach or injustice – real or imaginary – among disputing clans, crossing generations.
My take: The poster and trailer are such great visual feats that technical awards are all but guaranteed, following the footsteps of K’na The Dreamweaver, Tuos, and Sa Gabing Nanahimik Ang Mga Kuliglig in previous festivals. However, if these movies are any indication, the plot sometimes misses its mark. Let’s hope Musmos avoids that tendency and transcends beyond breathtaking cinematography and production design.
Pan de Salawal
Starring: Bodjie Pascua, Miel Espinosa, Anna Luna
Directed by: Anna Francesca
Synopsis: In a small town near the Manila Railroad, Sal – a lonely baker suffering from a chronic kidney condition wants to end his life by confronting the oncoming train. Sharing a depressing life are his neighbors – a barber with hand tremors, a Cariñosa dancer paralyzed by stroke, and a meat vendor with tumor in his breast. Their prayers were finally answered when 7-year-old Visayan girl Aguy came with a series of miraculous cures. Sal grew fond of Aguy like his own daughter and offered his home to the wandering child who possesses the [unusual] ability to cure. When she sees someone in pain, Aguy inflicts physical harm by slapping the face or punching the chest. Thereafter, magical healing happens. But as Aguy is able to heal the sick, she however, cannot heal Sal. As his condition weakens, Aguy realizes she must do a most heart-breaking sacrifice, hurt him the worst way she can.
My take: The hook of this movie curiously reminds me of the 1998 Camille Prats-starrer Hiling. We all know how these miracle films turn out and how preachy they can become. Will Pan de Salawal up the absurdity and unpredictability a notch and manage to surprise us? Also, as an Anna Luna fan, I have high expectations. She was the best thing in 2017’s Requited so I’m ready to be floored!
Starring: Ai-Ai delas Alas, Joel Lamangan
Directed by: Luisito Ignacio
Synopsis: Maya was walking home in her province when the service stops beside her and offers her to hitch. She innocently takes the ride to reach home faster. To Maya’s horror, the service did not stop at her place. She soon realizes she has been taken, along with the other kids who are inside the crammed school service. Soon, Maya finds herself hours and hours away from home, in an unfamiliar land – Manila. By dusk, the children are dropped off along the national highway to work by begging for alms. Forced to struggle with the harsh conditions of street life, Maya continues to hope for her dreams and chase for her freedom that may never happen.
My take: The trailer gives me the vibe that it can either become as great as Pamilya Ordinaryo or as bad as Ang Guro Kong ‘Di Marunong Magbasa. It all depends on the tone of the story and the believability of its young cast so the verdict is still up there. Ai-Ai is fascinating to watch when she tackles serious roles. She did not quite reach the podium in her first Cinemalaya outing, Ronda, but this could be her year.
Starring: Andres Vasquez, Jay Garcia, Elle Ramirez
Directed by: Afi Africa
Synopsis: The Lookout tells the story of Lester Quiambao, a gay hired killer, whose abusive relationships in childhood propels him into a life of crime and depravity. It compels him to betray Travis Concepcion, the man he loves, in order to exact his revenge.
My take: It’s a queer action film — a unique concoction that we don’t see as often. Some promos even tease risqué scenes and possible frontal nudity, which will definitely create more buzz. A lot of these actors are quite new though so I can’t really say how they will affect the quality of the film as a whole, but as I’ve learned in my years of attending Cinemalaya, prepare to be surprised!
Which film are you most excited about? Cinemalaya 14 will run from August 3 to 12 at the CCP and select Ayala Malls cinemas. Tickets can be bought from TicketWorld, SureSeats, or directly at the CCP Box Office.