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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Withdrawal Syndrome from Cinemanila 2009

I hate that familiar feeling of facing the week again after a weekend of hectic film watching and coffeeless late nights. This normally happens when I run out of good films to catch and my system starts to look for films like drugs. Oh, well. Whatever the ickiness is, I enjoyed this year’s Cinemanila held at Market! Market! in The Fort.

Let me shortly count the ways. First, the location is sweet. It’s just 15 minutes away from the office (last year was the most challenging when they held it at Gateway in Cubao). As part of the tradition, Cinemanila always finds ways to bring in big names in the film world. Last year, they had Quentin Tarantino and this time around, it’s the great Paul Schrader (thanks for the autograph, by the way). There were still some mishaps with the schedule but it’s as minor as rescheduling “Coco Avant Chanel” to a later date and replacing Lav Diaz’ “Batang West Side” with the this year’s winning films. “Samson and Delilah” didn’t have English subtitles but the film’s strong visual language saved the day.

Tickets were regularly priced at P122 each and, as expected, this brought in some close to empty cinemas (tickets at Spanish Film Fest 2009, for instance, cost P60 each only). It just so happened that a filmmaker friend of mine gave me a filmmaker’s pass. Sorry Mr. Tikoy Aguiliz but it’s something that I couldn’t and wouldn’t resist. Please consider my way of paying back through the purchase of “Himpapawid” ticket that costs P200 and my frequent Facebook status change to promote your film fest. Plus, of course, an undying support that started 11 years ago.

And now, on to my harvest:

1. Ho Tzu Nyen’s “Here” (Singapore). What a way to start the festival with a concept-driven film about people in the mental hospital. I can say that it’s something that our very own Raya Martin would be interested of. Zen-like, therapeutic and rhythmic, expect to be healed after watching the film.

2. Caroline Link’s “A Year Ago in Winter” (Germany). First things first. It’s a decent family drama directed by the same person who megged the Oscar winning film “Nowhere in Africa”. The plot maybe a little tried and tested but it’s a good rollercoaster ride just the same.

3. Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” (Sweden). The buzz is right: this one’s really, really good, if not one of the best films about vampires. I won’t dare compare it to “Twilight” but for the sake of describing the genre, the two films are on the same path. It’s just this Swedish film is very subtle and always treating its viewers as intelligent human beings. I don’t mind joining the bandwagon and recommend it to friends.

4. Lukas Moodysson’s “Mammoth” (Sweden/Denmark/Germany). This film boasts about the inclusion of our very own Marife Necesito as one of the main characters in the film. She plays a yaya to a daughter of a Caucasian couple living in New York. The plot is all about parents and the required time and love they need to attend to their kids. I almost liked the film if not for a little subplot about the father’s trip to Bangkok. For me, it’s not necessary.

5. Warwick Thornton’s “Samson and Delilah” (Australia). Given the fact that I watched the film without English subtitles (the original language, according to, is Aboriginal) and managed to finish the film without any hunch that something is amiss, that is awesome. Take the film as a visual storytelling of two Aborigines falling in love and their journey to suffering and bliss.

6. Ray Gibraltar’s “When Timawa Meets Delgado” (Philippines). It’s an artsy (sorry for the term) take on the plight of Filipinos who take up BS Nursing for the sole reason of earning moolahs abroad. There are two main characters here, Timawa, a filmmaker, and Delgado, a Palanca winner, who meet while applying for the course. The film is summed up of a comment from one of the interviewees: “Kung ang mga OFW ay tinatawag na “Bayong Bayani”, ano naman ang tawag sa mga Pilipinong piniling hindi umalis? Gago, martir o mga bayani rin?”

7. Diego Luna’s “JC Chavez” (Mexico). This one’s a glossy, clear-cut, fast-paced documentary on Mexico’s legendary boxer Julio Cesar Chavez. He is probably our version of Manny Pacquiao.

8. Sergey Dvortsevoy’s “Tulpan” (Germany/Switzerland/Kazakhstan/Russia/Poland). For me, this is sweetest entry from the festival’s line-up. It’s about a man who is under the pressure of getting married but the girl’s parents he is proposing with do not like him. What follows is a tale of proving his worth, in the midst of an arid land with sandstorm a flock of sheep to attend to. The scene where the central character has to help a ewe give birth to a lamb is very memorable.

9. Uberto Pasolini’s “Machan” (Sri Lanka/Italy/Germany). This one’s another favorite mainly because it’s slightly a black comedy and it’s based on true events. The film follows the lives of 16 Sri Lankans who invented a national handball team just to get a Schengen visa and travel to Germany. As of presstime, the government hasn’t found them yet. It may be filmed in a Star Cinematic manner but I like the final product and the aftertaste.

10. Bing Lao’s “Biyaheng Lupa” (Philippines). As for Bing Lao’s (notice the initials of the film and the filmmaker) directorial debut, it’s hard to do a capsule review of the film. It requires a full review which I will be doing real soon. For the meantime, in case you have a chance to see this film, go and see it for the experience.

11. Paul Schrader’s “Adam Resurrected” (USA). The film was intoduced by Paul Schrader himself and it was just a bonus. I have to agree with him that it’s a damn good film. Though it’s a film that borders on Holocaust, it didn’t stop there. It tries to explore (and exploit) more on the psychological side, done with a dash of Paul Anderson-ish central character. Jeff Goldblum deserves a Best Actor nod for this film.

12. Pablo Larrain’s “Tony Manero” (Chile/Brazil). Films like this one made me love Cinemanila. It’s a character study of a criminal who idolizes John Travolta’s role in the film “Saturday Night Fever”. The film is intense and done in almost muted colors, giving enough balance to the delightfully short dance sequences.

13. Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” (Israel). Aside from winning at the Golden Globe, I know nothing about the film. I was surprised that it was, err, an animated film. Not your Disney kind of cartoons, this one tackles post-war horrors as the main character tries to hurdle the dark side of it.

14. Ravi Bharwani’s “Jermal” (Indonesia). I was reminded with Ralston Jover’s “Bakal Boys” when I first ran through the synopsis. It’s a father and son story set in a remote manmade “island” that serves as an illegal port for fishing. The film’s good with the drama part but I was wishing that the filmmakers (yes, four of them) had pushed more to be socially relevant.

15. Claudia Llosa’s “Milk of Sorrow” (Spain/Peru). I wouldn’t be surprised if I caught an alienating film or two in this years Cinemanila. This is a good example but not in a condescending way. It tells a dragging story about a woman who just lost her mother as she finds means to bury her. Magaly Solier’s screen presence alone is worth the admission.

16. Bui Thac Chuyen’s “Adrift” (Vietnam). Here comes another personal favorite from the line-up. It contests love in marriage and explores the frailty of it. Well acted, decently directed and very Asian in all aspects. I wouldn’t mind watching this film again. The use of natural lighting is very much appreciated.

17. Cui Jian and Fruit Chan’s “Chengdu, I Love You” (China). For me, this is the weakest among the films that I have watched for this year’s Cinemanila. It is divided into two episodes: one is set in the future while the other, during the 70’s. I understand that the intention is to depict love transcending time but it isn’t pulled off well.

18. Yesim Ustaoglu’s “Pandora’s Box” (France/Germany/Turkey/Belgium). Here’s another good harvest from the festival. It’s a film that I wouldn’t be surprised with if the Oscars consider it in the Best Foreign Language Film race. It’s a heart rending tale about a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, her kids and the search for that proverbial thought that “mothers know best”.

19. Anne Fontaine’s “Coco Avant Chanel” (France). Somewhat similar to the biographical “La Mome” about the French music icon Edith Piaf starring the great Marion Cotillard. This time, it’s Audrey Tautou’s turn to give life to another iconic figure in the name of Coco Chanel. It’s well made and, no pun intended, the costumes could be merited in next year’s awards race.

20. Francois Ozon’s “Ricky” (France/Italy). Ozon always makes it a point that he treats his audience with something radical and new. This 2009 film is about a couple who is gifted with a baby who can fly (read: with wings like those of a chicken or an angel). The ultra realist filmmaking take is a coy as the idea of a flying baby seems to poke fun on the films of the same genre. Personally, I enjoyed it.

21. Juhn Jaihong’s “Beautiful” (South Korea). I like the anti-vanity take of the film, the concept that beauty could sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing. My problem with this film is that some sequences are either too superfluous or too lousy. I was expecting that in search for a cure to destruction, the main character should have opted to ruin her angelic face.

22. Nadine Labaki’s “Caramel” (Lebanon). Perhaps this is the most Star Cinematic I’ve seen among all the entries that I’ve watched. But it’s a good one. It’s a tale about Lebanese women living in France who are now fully adapted with their new world. They laugh, they cry, they fight, they bond and they are all beautiful in every aspect of the word. Caramel in the film, by the way, is used for hairwaxing.

23. Raymond Red’s “Himpapawid” (Philippines). This serves as the closing film of the festival. It’s inspired by the accounts of a man who once hijacked a domestic plane and jumped in thin air. As expected, Raymond Red’s visuals are mesmerizing. I can’t say the same with the script and the acting.

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