Report Card: 2019 Cinemalaya Shorts

School pride flies high for 2019 Cinemalaya shorts, with entries from UP, Mapua, and UST leading the charge. As we’ve come to expect, there’s war, native dialects, artsy cinematography, and tons of forage! (Seriously, we love stories set in forests, don’t we?)

Here’s sinephile’s take on this year’s entries:

Sa Gabing Tanging Liwanag Ay Paniniwala (Shorts A)

Paniniwala is a stunning visual piece filled with disturbing imagery. But it suffers from being too vague? Too metaphorical? It’s one of those classic cases where reading a synopsis or log line is essential to make sense of what’s being shown onscreen. And in that aspect it failed to get any reaction from the audience.

Disconnection Notice (Shorts A)

Disconnection Notice is essentially about two brothers’ conflicting impressions of each other. The stylistic influences are pretty evident (e.g, Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream), and to be fair, they do spice up the presentation of the story versus a straightforward cut. The ending seems unearned though, as it’s quite unclear as to how it came about.

Tembong (Shorts B)

Tembong is arguably the best-looking one of the bunch; it plays around with shot rotation and superimposition, visually replicating the patterns of T’boli embroidery that’s at the center of its narrative. I appreciate that it chose to use non-actors, but that also proves to be its greatest weakness – the dialogue delivery is so awkward that it takes away from the overall experience.

Hele ng Maharlika (Shorts B)

Hele is a metaphorical take on war, with the two child characters representing either side of the conflict. That being said, nothing much goes on up until the last few minutes. This intentional delay doesn’t do it any favors in providing credence as to why the two ended up that way, losing much of its potential message in the process.

Kontrolado Ni Girly Ang Buhay Niya (Shorts B)

Girly’s narrative does feel a bit dated and reminds me a lot of last year’s queer entry Si Astri Maka Si Tambulah, down to tone and feel. What sells it are the strong acting performances, especially of Marcus Belisario in the lead role. What else is there to say? It’s all in the bag! Watch the film for you to find out.

‘Wag Mo ‘Kong Kausapin (Shorts A)

The director noted in the gala screening that the story comes from a personal experience, and it manifests in the delicate treatment of the subject matter. Its use of hand-drawn animation gives it a storybook feel – and while it generally looks basic, one sequence in particular more than justifies this choice.

Gatilyo (Shorts A)

Gatilyo like Hele is another short focusing on the damaging effects of war. The importance of this subject is undeniable, especially following the Marawi siege. While it’s well-executed overall, the narrative is no longer original – we’ve already seen explorations of this in a multitude of local and foreign films.

The Shoemaker (Shorts B)

I’m a sucker for old-couple love stories (see 1st ko si 3rd, Dapithapon), so I can’t deny my affinity for The Shoemaker. The film explores forgiveness, sentimentality, and fulfillment, all the while delivering on sweet, kilig moments. Moi Bien’s cameo continues to make her a Cinemalaya staple and is a welcome treat.

Sa Among Agwat (Shorts B)

Showing the last few days before his younger brother’s departure, Sa Among Agwat uses clever filmmaking techniques to convey the anxiety and loneliness that come with their impending separation. Backed by solid cinematography, the lingering shots of nature and empty spaces reflect the inner state of mind of the brothers, making the climactic goodbye all the more heartbreaking.

Heist School (Shorts A)

Its chances of nabbing a Balanghai Trophy seem slim (hope I’m wrong!), but Heist School got me hooked on its charm.  It doesn’t matter if it lacks the heaviness, politics, or cultural relevance of the other entries; it’s a perfectly executed comedy heist film. The bits and pieces just work, and the setups lead to satisfying payoffs. A reminder to all aspiring cineastes: Simple ideas make great films, too.

Shorts B have stronger films overall and is an easy recommendation. But I’d still recommend Shorts A, even for Heist School alone.

Do you agree with the grades? Sound off in the comments below!

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