Short Film Review: Misteryo ng Hapis

, by Janine M.

Misteryo ng Hapis (Sorrowful Mystery) by Mark Dela Cruz is set during the pa-siyam (a Filipino traditional ritual of praying for the soul of the dead for nine consecutive nights) of the main character's father. On the last night, the main character Jay (Andoy Ranay), a young and gay stage performer joins his mother in praying for the soul of his dead father for the first time. For every mystery, we are given glimpses of Jay's childhood, his pain emanating from the lashes of his father's verbal assault on his sexual identity. I found his own chant (in Kapampangan) "Why are you crying? Don't weep." as the women prayed the rosary bothering. The strength of this short film is in its atmosphere, softly lit by candles, semi-darkness, theater settings and gesticulations, repeated prayers. The Catholic devotion in full display, to serve a purpose for his father's death no less, was a stark reminder to Jay of his younger years of repressed sexuality to the point that his insides exclaimed, "I cannot breathe. I cannot see. I cannot move." When his mother gave him the mask (at least I think it was a mask) that his father told her to hand over to him, it was evident that he did not come home for years. During those years, his father had learned to accept him, yet Jay's unforgiving heart prevented them to reconcile while he was still alive. The film was too dramatic/artistic for my taste, but it was able to send its message across.

Misteryo ng Hapis was screened during the 2007 (3rd) Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
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Short Film Review: Putot (Small Fry)

, by Janine M.

Putot (Carl Taylan), the titular character, is a young boy who takes care of his mentally ill father while struggling to make ends meet by selling shellfish at an informal settlers colony by the sea. He meets a girl, Mayang (Karen Pilapil), a few years shy of womanhood, and forms a friendship with her. Mayang has secrets of her own that she whispers to the sea. It is implied that she is being peddled by her own mother and abused by her father figure. This short film is a simple presentation of poverty, realistic but without gore, as it wasn't necessary to make it effective. 

Putot is a Visayan term for small. Putot represents the small, marginalized sector of our society, pushed further to the "laylayan" (as popularized by the current VP), even by the men hired to demolish their houses. A scene shows that the demolition was necessary to pave the way for a development project of the then president, GMA. In the end, we are not sure what happened to Putot's father, though it is implied that "he chose to be with the sea". There is also uncertainty in the direction Mayang and Putot are taking in their makeshift raft, but there is comfort and solace in their friendship to make up for that uncertainty.

Mayang's parting line was, “Putot, malapit na ba tayo (Putot, are we there yet)?” Are they going towards the place Putot heard was better to live in? Will they ever get there? The line was a brilliant metaphorical question to the modern day Filipino. Will we ever get there?

Putot won Best Director (Emmanuel “Jeck” Cogama)/Short Feature Category in the 2006 (2nd) Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
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Short Film Review: Orasyon

, by Janine M.

Orasyon (Angelus) by Rommel 'Milo' Tolentino is a tale of a religious widow (Federica Figalan), whose vulnerabilities are stirred at the arrival of a nosy, meddling housemaid (Gloria Austria). Orasyon was presented as a drama-suspense with the widow's nightmares and hallucinations serving as the "horror story" within this sad story of an old woman waiting for her son to come and visit her. Weekly he promises, weekly he lets her down. Daily she goes to church, sun up to sun down she prays and prays. I was so annoyed and disgusted with the housemaid, how she, in her younger age, imposes her opinions on the poor old woman and passes them off as truth. She proves to be a pain in the arse, from rearranging the house furniture to challenging the old woman's belief in prayers and in a higher power. It was unnerving how eventually this affects the already vulnerable mind of the protagonist and I was glad when the maid was finally kicked out. Towards the end, we see that at an unknown point in time (in the past), she almost gave up all hope, in that shed. I'm not sure if this was the dark secret in the summary that I've read from where I watched this, or there was something more that the shed represents, that the son refuses to come home. If not, then this is simply a very sad story of loneliness and abandonment. A good eye opener for all children, especially those with parents who are nearing their twilight years.

Orasyon won as Best Short Feature in the 2nd Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival (2006).
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Short Film Review: Labada, No Passport Needed

, by Janine M.

Just my two cents on these two funny-in-their-own-way short stories:

Labada by Raz dela Torre

Mylene (Skyzx Labastilla), a part-time helper to Dr. De Jesus, a bachelor, joyfully lives out her roles as wife, mother and helper everyday until her tricycle driver-husband Edong started to act like he's nurturing a double life when he decided to do his rounds at night. Influenced by her friend Susie's (Thess Antonio) stories, (seeing Olga the ihaw-ihaw vendor give Edong free isaw; Susie's mother's never-ending wait for her "husband" which we later find out to be lies to save face; Showbiz' two-timing and bisexual nature brought about by need, a nod at the hush-hush, open secret ways of entering/obtaining projects/maintaining status in show business) Mylene plays Nancy Drew to catch her husband in the act.  

Labada is a light-hearted look at infidelity, implied, assumed or realized. While not really gut-bustingly funny and sometimes bordering on silly, the short film proved its point and the heroine at the end decided that this was a battle she chooses not to fight. I was entertained.

Rating: 4 stars

No Passport Needed by Pepe Diokno
Dexter (Bodjie Pascua) is a fugitive. He pays a businessman to sneak him out of the country, "no passport needed". There was a catch that was easy to predict (or maybe easier these days versus 10 years ago), yet still has shock value. In this dark comedy, the businessman wins it all. I'd try to dissect the metaphor, but I shall stop here.

Rating: 3 stars

Both films were screened and competed during the 2nd Cinemalaya Film Festival in 2006.
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Short Film Review: Mansyon

, by Janine M.

Mansyon (directed by Joel Ruiz and produced by Cinemalaya and Arkeomedia) depicts the experiences of a middle-aged couple, housemaid Dolores (Roselyn Perez) and her gardener husband Ambo (Jess Evardone) during their three-month stint as caretakers of a large, plush mansion while the owners are away on vacation. The first few weeks went by with the couple dutifully carrying out their chores, seemingly oblivious to the affluence covered by white sheets. A few accidental drops of perfume opened long-hidden aspirations quieted by their awareness of their place and role in society, and as it was in the beginning, Eve took the bite/bait. Adam was tempted and eventually gave in as well. For the following weeks, fantasy became reality if only for a while. Years were subtracted from their ages, and love was rekindled between them. However, their bliss was cut short by the unexpected return of the mansion's owners (could be deliberate to test the faithfulness of the caretakers). The film stirs the audience's emotions, and one can sympathize with the couple, as this was the closest they could get to living out their dreams. I loved the way the film ended, with the couple smiling at each other. This experience will be tucked away, to be brought out every now and then in their future conversations of "Remember when...". An inside joke, privy only to them. Overall, a great film with impressive visuals, music, flow, and the right length and pace.

Mansyon won Best Short Film in the 1st Cinemalaya Film Festival in 2005, nominated as Best Short Film in Gawad Urian, and was an official selection in several festivals and screenings: Cinemanila, Fribourg (Sweden), Singapore, New York Asian-American, Pesaro (Italy), Hawaii, and Mumbai Third Eye Film Festivals.
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