When I first saw the teasers of Sinag Maynila last year, I thought that it was just one of those movie festivals that would come and eventually would go. To add, I
hated disliked the teasers. They portrayed the most common themes in the independent movie industry (and in black and white too). Women crying. Children being wrongfully accused of theft. You know the drill. The scenes were just a bit over-the-top for my taste. However, whatever my first impression was, I was proven wrong. After watching the five films claimed to be “significant”, I laughed and cried. I was moved and inspired. I was changed. I was a different person each time I went out of the movie theater.
More than a week ago, the first Sinag Maynila Film Festival was launched. Knowing that it only showed five movies and that internationally acclaimed film director Brillante Mendoza served as a the festival director, my inner indie film fanatic curiosity was switched on. I ran to the nearest mall after work (SM Aura) and to my surprise, the gala screening for three of the films were going to be held there. I literally ran to the ticket booth. There, I saw a familiar face. It was Junjun Quintana (Quick Change, A Philippino Story)! Junjun originally played the role of Rodel in the play version of the Virgin Lab Fest entry with the same title. I wanted to take a picture with him but he disappeared before I could gather the courage to do it. After buying tickets for Balut Country and Imbisibol, I went to the food court area and there he was, just sitting with other indie film people. I was too shy to directly approach him there and there so I did something ridiculous and a little stalkery-ish. I sat on the bench adjacent to where he was sitting. So we were sitting back to back. I could hear them talking but I wasn’t listening of course. My mind was too busy rehearsing how I would ask him for a photo.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
After almost 30 minutes, the FAMAS best actor and I caught each other’s eyes so I just smiled and casually asked him for a photo. He appeared surprised and even humbly asked me if I was sure and if I knew his name. Of course, I did, silly! He was with Jelson Bay (Balut Country). I didn’t know who Jelson was until I saw his movie. So… that’s the story of my embarrassing selfie with Junjun Quintana (plus Jelson Bay). Thanks Junjun!
While waiting for Balut Country, the viewers of Bambanti were exiting the theater. It was the first time I saw Alessandra de Rossi. She was so pretty (and not to mention super talented, wait for my review of Bambanti). Other celebrities came out. Some seemed friendly and accommodating to fans that wanted photographs but a number also appeared unhappy about it.
Inside the cinema for Balut Country, I was seated in one of the front rows and there were two empty seats beside me. I was secretly wishing that celebrities would sit beside me. Junjun almost sat there but he transferred on the other side. The film was about to start when Rocco Nacino arrived and sat in one of those seats. Hihi. I overheard him saying that Lovi Poe would be sitting beside me. ZOMG. Shortly, Lovi arrived. She was so nice.We even laughed at the same scenes. I told her that I watched two of her Cinemalaya films (Mayohan and Sana Dati). She asked me which movie I liked better. Of course, I said Sana Dati. Sana Dati was perfect! We are close na. Chos!
Balut Country (2.5 of 5 Stars)
As someone who grew up in the Taguig-Pateros area, duck eggs, may it be in form of salted eggs (itlog na maalat), balut, penoy or abnoy, are one of our staple food. One of my relatives also used to sell duck eggs so I grew up seeing eggs sorted carefully into Zesto boxes, the salted eggs were dyed in jobus (dark red almost fuchsia dye) and the penoys are marked using pencils to differentiate them from baluts. Naturally, the movie made me excited and I was wondering if they would set it in Pateros or in Laguna but unexpectedly it was mainly shot in Candaba, Pampanga. I didn’t know that there were egg farms there. Historically, the Taguig-Pateros river used to be a home for itiks because of all the snails living there (They eat snails.) Unfortunately, the river died and so did the duck farms. Businesses migrated to provinces like Laguna and Pampanga. It’s sad how we let this happen. We would witness a natural resource cease to exist before our eyes and we’d do nothing about it. Let’s protect the environment, please! Sorry, I got carried away.
The movie started when Jun (Rocco) returned to Candaba to visit his aunt but with the ulterior motive of selling his father’s duck farm. The dilemma, however, was that selling the property would mean that Dado (Ronnie Quizon), the caretaker that had worked for their family for years would have to find livelihood else where. Basically, that’s the story. A city boy visited his father’s farm with no interest of the business whatsoever. He hated it and he felt like he was some stranger that couldn’t fit in. Circumstances would force him to prolong his stay and immerse in the simple farm life. He would learn to see the joy in taking care of the ducks and harvesting eggs. He’d begin to love it and at the same time find himself and what he truly wanted.
The story might have been simple and predictable but it was complemented by the beautiful cinematography. We knew where it was going and it was just a matter of discovering how the story would get executed. For the most part, it was done well. Balut Country also found a way to insert useful facts about the balut industry without being too National Geographic-y. On the other hand, it made use of too much figurative elements that sometimes were unnecessary and was distracting. I also want to commend Jelson Bay. His comedic timing was just plain awesome. In a scene where Rocco asked to hitch back to Manila. He replied “Wala kang car?”. That was so funny.
What struck me about this movie was the message that it conveyed. In the eye of a foreigner, an outsider or the rest of the world, perhaps, the balut is just an exotic delicacy. Nothing more and nothing less. Once they’d tried it, they would not try it again. No one will ask how it’s made and where it came from. But to some, it is a product of an intricate process that required discipline and dedication not to mention bound to tradition and family.
After the movie, Imbisibol was next. Again, I was seated in one of the front rows. Coincidentally, behind my seat was Ces Quesada and on her left was another empty seat. *Drum roll please* JM De Guzman sat beside the seat behind me! I know. I know. I sound like a crazed fan but I just get easily starstruck. It’s not everyday that I breathe the same air as celebrities especially those I grew up watching (e.g. Bernardo Bernardo). Let alone sit near them. The movie was 2 hours and 45 minutes long and I was really tired and sleepy. Good thing, the movie was flawless in all aspects. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.
Imbisibol (5 of 5 Stars)
Imbisibol (Best Picture) narrated the often untold plight of Filipino immigrant workers, undocumented and overstaying, in Japan and the challenges they were facing in their daily lives. The film was presented as four acts (Imbisibol was originally a play, an entry to CCP’s Virgin Labfest). Set in winter, the film established its mood early on. It was like being transported to a place filled with land mines. Each had to think of their every move. Glide through the air leaving no trace of their existence. One wrong step would destroy all their hopes and dreams not for themselves but for their families in the Philippines.
The overarching theme was embodied by Manang Linda, played by Ces Quesada (Best Actress). Ces originally played this role in the play. Manang Linda owned an apartment, which catered mostly to Filipino immigrants illegally staying in the country. One of which was Rodel (JM De Guzman). Unlike her tenants, she was already legally staying in Japan as she had married a Japanese. She treated them not just like tenants but like family. She would lend money and hide them from the authorities. One of her struggles was that her husband pressured her to stop helping TNTs. She had to choose between her family’s safety or theirs. Obviously, she chose the former.
The first act told the story of Benjie (Bernardo Bernardo) and Edward, his partner Edward played by Ricky Davao. The couple had been in Japan for at least a decade. They did everything together at least when their schedules met. Benjie worked during the day in a steel manufacturing company and during the night in a bar. He had to work overtime to prepare a surprise birthday party for Edward. But it was Benjie that was surprised when he got the bad news: Edward got caught by immigration officers.
The second act was the story of Manuel (Allen Dizon, Best Actor), a washed-up racy film actor, now working as a hosto (club entertainer). He wasn’t as popular with the clientele as he used to be, as the clientele have been mesmerized by the younger entertainers he works with (Hello, Fred Lo!) He also has a gambling problem. His snowballing problems got the best of him after he got himself kicked out of the club for threatening the manager and the best new co-hosto.
The third act was the story of Rodel who was relatively new to the immigrant life. He tried to do everything right. He paid rent on time. He did not complain at work. He did not have any enemies. Supporting a young daughter back home, he diligently worked in a
lumberyard, got “promoted” and was assigned to be trained by fellow Filipino, Dennis (JC Santos). Jealous of Rodel and as insecure as he was, Dennis provoked Rodel into a fight. Being winter and all, everything was covered in snow so fighting was not such a good idea. And a bit funny too. Rodel pushed Dennis who accidentally landed on a sharp object (an icicle, I assumed). Rodel tried to help him but Dennis died anyway. Rodel panicked and escaped.
The last act was the “culmination” where all characters met or at least be in the same location. Benjie and Manuel visited Linda for different reasons. Benjie was there to visit a friend while Manuel needed to borrow money. And finally, Rodel arrived distraughtly. He went straight to his apartment and packed his bags. He tried to flee but the police was already roaming in the area. He went to Linda’s house but it was too late. The police was already surrounding the area. He had no choice but to flee through the windows or risk Linda and Benjie’s invisible lives in Japan.
It was obvious that the film was based on a play. It showed and in my opinion, this was advantageous for the film. Structuring it otherwise would have made it another OFW movie that was less impactful than it was. Imbisibol was riveting in a sense that you could relate to all the characters. May be not as a Filipina who married a Japanese or a hosto trying to get back in the scene. But someone who had secrets of their own. Someone who hid a part of his life. Feeling that anytime, people could find out and that your lives and how people knew you would be changed forever.
After the movie, the cast and crew were again presented in front. The Japanese partners were also there. It was nice of them to show their support and come all the way from Japan. As a movie goer, this gives me hope that we can see more quality films collaboratively crafted with other countries.
Exiting the cinema, I waited for JM De Guzman and had a photo with him. He was really nice and was smiling a lot. He also smelled really good. I wonder what his perfume was. I also saw Fred Lo outside and had a selfie with him. I have been a fan of Fred since his Innersoul days in DLSU. :p
Unfortunately, I caught the other three films on their regular screening so no pictures. Sorry, this blog entry became too long.
Find my thoughts on Bambanti, Swap and Ninja Party on my next post.