Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lapu-Lapu (Lamberto Avellana, 1955)

Comic book hero

(Another LVN Film, available on Mike De Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo website)

Lamberto Avellana's Lapu-Lapu (1955) is about as straightforward a biopic as you can get about the famed Mactan warrior, other than the fact that this was adapted from Francisco Coching's highly romanticized (to put it mildly) komiks serial.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Pag-asa (Hope, Lamberto Avellana, 1951)

Cinderella story

(Yet another Lamberto Avellana film (Pag-asa or Hope, 1951) available on Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo site--this one of decent clarity, with English subtitles)

Mike de Leon, in passing: "Huk, despite the propaganda, in my opinion, remains one of the best Avellana films. Along with Pag-asa."

Which piqued my curiosity (Pag-asa?); which compelled me to look the film up. Turns out it's a gem--arguably the most likable of Avellana's films, or at least of those readily available for viewing.

Celing (Priscilla Cellona) and younger brother Piding (Ike Jarlego Jr.) arrive at the mansion of Don Paco (Paco Zamora) with a letter: their father has died and entrusted them to his care. Care however means in the hands of Don Paco's wife Dona Esperanza (Naty Bernardo) who slaps Piding and yanks Celing's hair and threatens to send the boy to Lulumboy. Later Piding sneaks out of bed to pack, in preparation for running away; Celing catches him in the act, and he explains why the threat of Lulumboy terrifies him so: "They'll cut off my tongue, my nose, and my ears!"

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Kundiman ng Lahi (Folksong, Lamberto Avellana, 1959)

Country girl

(Again, a film from LVN studios, available (without subtitles, alas) on Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo website)

Give it to master Filipino filmmaker Lamberto Avellana: he knows how to start a picture. Badjao had a horn blown to gather a village of house canoes, forming a seaborne village; Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay began with a detonating grenade; Anak Dalita evoked Roberto Rossellini in neorealist mode, tracing the ruin of a church from the tip of its fractured belfry to the people teeming at the base of its crumbling walls. Kundiman ng Lahi (Folksong, 1959), Avellana's last film for LVN studios, trumps them all I think: no blown horn, no explosives, no church ruins, just the monotonous thumping of a wood pestle milling rice in a mortar. An obvious symbol--we're grain, our husk (our innocence, our sensitivity) stripped off of us to a relentless beat--but also a sexual one, the phallic pestle pounding into the concave mortar, turning hard seed into tender food.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Anak Dalita (Child of Sorrow, Lamberto Avellana, 1956)

Survivor type

Yet another Lamberto Avellana film on Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo site, this one arguably his most famous: Anak Dalita, or Child of Sorrow (1956)

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Fifteen Filipino films

(Thanks to Video 48 for some of the pictures)

Fifteen Filipino films

My old list.

Pinoy Rebyu's list

This can be neither comprehensive nor complete. We've lost so many of our films to vinegar syndrome, to New Year celebrations, to general apathy and neglect; a kind of accelerating cultural Alzheimer's, a tragedy I would argue comparable to many recent disasters only instead of lives lost we're losing our sense of self. This is a mere sample a sketch--a glimpse if you like--of what I believe are the finest Filipino films I've managed to see to date.

A film is composed of many elements--dialogue, sound, music, color, movement, the shape and texture of people's hands eyes faces. Of all these elements I'd say the most expressive are the last three--but that's me saying so, an assertion just dying to be contradicted (ask Michael Powell, or Robert Bresson).

And a list (any man's list, which I consider superior to any aggregate) is ultimately futile, is a man's way of insisting on his priorities biases (occasionally hopefully) insights.

I love futile gestures.

This for better or worse is mine.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Badjao (The Sea Gypsies, Lamberto Avellana, 1957)


Yet another of Lamberto Avellana's LVN films, available at Mike de Leon's Vimeo site:

The film starts with an image of waves lapping onto shore, the divide between land and sea stretching diagonally across the screen. With the first frame Avellana (collaborating with the great cinematographer Mike Accion) sums up the film: the tension between sand and surf, between people of differing loyalties, communities, ethnicities. A man standing beside a roof of dried palm raises his horn against clouded sky and blows; cue the bombast (and lovely lilting melody) of Francisco Buencamino Jr.'s theme music.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Jino to Marie (Gino and Marie, Joselito Altarejos)

Sex tape

Joselito Altarejos' Jino to Mari (Gino and Marie, 2019), about a pair of sex workers hired to do a Japanese porn film, is (to put it mildly) explicit--about as explicit as a Filipino independent film probably gets nowadays without actually being porn.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay (Huk in a New Life, Lamberto Avellana, 1953)

Rebel yell

Available on filmmaker Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake Vimeo site: Lamberto Avellana's postwar drama Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay (Huk in a New Life, 1953), about a wartime guerrilla who out of desperation joins communist forces seeking to overthrow the Filipino government.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)

Breaking bad

Steve McQueen's Widows is a sketch of urban corruption, a low-key indictment of racism and (a touch louder) misogyny, a rich character study. It's also a hell of a crime pic.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Shoplifters ( Manbiki Kazoku, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018)

Family business

Hirokazu Kore-eda's film begins with as unremarkable an opening as possible: a father and his son enter a grocery split up to walk down separate aisles. Only father and son keep throwing each other sidelong glances and hand signals; only son does a little finger twiddle that we'll see from time to time; only when a clerk working nearby glances at son father walks up to block the clerk's view while son drops several packets of instant ramen in his backpack. Graceful bit of choreography made casual by long practice, understated yet captivating in its intricacy.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

At Eternity's Gate (Julian Schnabel)


It isn't as if the life of Vincent Van Gogh hasn't been adapted for the big screen before. Lust for Life was Vincente Minnelli's lusty take (based on Irving Stone's novel), with Kirk Douglas holding little back as he strained to suggest Vincent's intensity; Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo focused on the relationship between the Van Gogh brothers and their destructively parallel trajectories; Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh--easily the most unsentimental of the collection--presents a harsh uningratiating view of a harsh uningratiating artist, avoiding the traditional highlights (including that ear thing) and dwelling on more quotidian activities--Pialat doesn't even make much effort to show the paintings, or approximate Vincent's unmistakable style onscreen. 

So what does Julian Schnabel's latest bring to the party? 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Kangkungan (Swamp Patch, Mike De Leon)

2019 Kangkungan A Video by Mike De Leon from Citizen Jake on Vimeo.


First the title: 'Kangkungan'--literally swamp (or water) spinach patch. A highly nutritious green that flourishes in canals and fishponds all over the Philippines, often sauteed with fermented shrimp paste and minced garlic. What's the significance?

Filmmaker Mike De Leon--one of the last surviving filmmakers from the great period of '70s Philippine cinema--breaks out of his self-imposed retirement again (he'd been inactive since Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero) came out recently with Citizen Jake) to release this short on the eve of the 1986 EDSA Revolt anniversary.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

The apple of her eye

Yorgos Lanthimos' latest film The Favourite may be his oddest yet if you stop and consider his work so far, from breakthrough feature Dogtooth (about a family teaching a  skewed view of the world to its walled-in children) to the recent The Killing of a Sacred Deer (about a curse hovering over a physician's family) where metaphorical fantasy and (better yet) the machinations of human nature give his films a memorably loopy spin.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Best of 2018

The hate list

From where I'm standing it was a fearful year an angry year a hateful year; a rollercoaster ride a terrorfilled plunge a horrorshow. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Burning (Lee Chang Dong)

Gone girl

I can't think of a more ambiguous elliptical unsettling film last year--or for that matter the past several years--than Lee Chang Dong's Burning. Like its eponymous action the film transforms itself several times over, from a chance encounter to a budding affair to an intricately constructed frankly mystifying triangle to something else entirely (among other things, a missing person search and a stalking)--each stage combusting material releasing volatiles sending soot and ash and smoke tumbling upwards to form sinuous suggestive shapes.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Mary and the Witch's Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2017)


Here's a pretty pickle: how do you follow after the work of arguably one of the greatest animated studios in recent decades? With the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and the shuttering of Studio Ghibli (actually old news: he has come out of retirement and the studio has since unshuttered) many of the people who worked there have established their own outfit, Studio Ponoc, and this film--Mary and the Witch's Flower (Meari to Majo no Hana) helmed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There, Secret World of Arrietty) is their debut offering.

On first glance you'd think they simply stepped right into the problem: the opening is an escape as wordless and thrilling as the opening of Castle in the Sky: young girl cradling some blue and precious object flies away in a broom stick, closely pursued by creatures not unlike the glutinous henchmen in Howl's Moving Castle (Miyazaki among other obsessions has his gleefully scatological side); an explosion of unknown origin the broom blown out of control the girl plummets to an unknown fate below. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)


Panos Cosmatos' Mandy is a trip through a tabletop landscape dotted with scenic views and sudden detours with long sessions of intravenous pleasure with jolts of hilarity and horror.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

Andrew Garfield as Rodrigues
And the rest is

(WARNING: story and ending discussed in explicit detail)

The film begins with the sound of cicadas whirring rhythmically over a black background. The sound drops out, the film title (simple white letters) flashes onscreen. Cut to a vision of hell: a guard cloaked in steam stands beside a wood shelf topped with severed heads. We are at the volcanic springs of Unzen, near Nagasaki, where friars are strung up on crosses and longhandled ladles with holes sprinkle boiling water, delicately poaching their skin (Today of course the springs are a popular vacation resort). 

Welcome to Martin Scorsese's idea of heaven: his thirty-years-in-the-making version of Shusaku Endo's Silence, completed at last and screened to near-universal acclaim (and near-empty theaters) in 2016.