Oda sa Wala
Directed by Dwein Baltazar
THIS IS the realism of dreams, not of mundane reality. In the humble life of Sonya (Marietta Subong a.k.a. Pokwang) these fears, desires, longing, and rage which make up the human condition are oddly manifest: she is bereft of her parents’ love, without friends, unworthy of anyone’s lust.
Sonya makes a sparse living running a discount mortuary all by her lonesome in her moldering ancestral home. Her busy hands also cook for her distant father Mang Rudy (Joonee Gamboa) who ignores her. She might as well be dead to her father and to the rest of the world as well. It has passed her by, an apathetic spectator at her window, seeing but unseen.
Marietta Subong gives a tour de force performance, self-aware of how painfully ridiculous Sonya is, but imbuing her with innate dignity nonetheless. When the object of her unrequited affections, Elmer (Anthony Falcon) the magtataho turns his back and walks away from her, Sonya’s bravely insistent but futile cries of Taho! fail to bring him back. It is pathos without bathos, a very hard thing to do, but Subong manages to do this and much more throughout the film.
The coming of a nameless old woman’s corpse is transformative. Sonya finds companionship. Mang Rudy rouses himself to enshrine the strange visitor with her place of honor at the head of their dining table then talks to his daughter once more.
In Sonya’s psychic stew of mixed emotions we sense bits and pieces of our selves or of those whom we know too. What could be more terrible and yet more usual, than to have the ones whom you love and who love you best die on you? That’s life, but then, there’s death too. It’s enough to drive one mad, and yet it is what makes us most fully human. We can relate to Sonya. She could be us. We could be her. She is family.— Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Read the full review here.
Hintayan ng Langit
Directed by Dan Villegas
THE HOLLYWOOD film genre of the too-soon departed and basically decent soul, on a temporary reprieve to take care of unfinished business back on earth is a favorite since many of us pass on with an uncertain peace. Closely allied to this, is the deux ex mundi (not machina) variant where God or guardian angels (even Santa Claus) take on ordinary human form and mingle with mere mortals for the express purpose of helping out a deserving but clueless individual with a celestial fix that guarantees a miraculously happy ending.
Its latest local iteration is Hintayan ng Langit, an adaptation by Juan Miguel Severo of his award-winning 45-minute one-act play with two characters, the former lovers: Lisang and Manolo.
Lisang is a potty-mouthed, prickly, snarky, snarly Gina Pareño whose many mild misbehaviors have caused her to remain stranded in the Hintayan — it is a welcome conceit that the waiting area for heaven is wonderfully, cheesily secular — where her punishment requires her to serve refreshments at support group meetings to help the newly deceased adjust to being dead. Eddie Garcia as a lumbering Manolo reprises his familiar “manay” shtick.
Pareño’s pacing is staccato while Garcia is adagio molto. Although they are former lovers who’ve supposedly kept the fires burning for decades, their continuous back and forth grows tiresome after the third repetition. There is a surprising lack of sexual frisson now that they share a room. Their respective, reliable spouses are only known to the audience as invisible, inaudible phone callers. Perhaps this is why the choices they make at the film’s end, have little emotional resonance. — Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Read the full review here.
Billie and Emma
Directed by Samantha Lee
HOW refreshing it is to encounter a coming of age film without the usual adolescent angst and anger! More so when the teen protagonists, both high school seniors, are one committed butch lesbian (Billie, played by Zar Donato) and the bi-curious, and very accomplished flirt Emma (Gabby Padilla) who cope with their respective personal crisis with humor and grace.
Billie has been exiled to provincial San Isidro, until the minor scandal in her old school in Manila, and her father’s subsequent rejection of her, blow over. She is temporarily under the care of her maternal aunt Kate Castro (Cielo Aquino), the religion teacher at an exclusive girls’ school where Billie is now a transferee. This creates the opportunity for snarkily pointed classroom exchanges, more like a gay rights debate, between the aunt and her headstrong niece about Gospel teachings on homosexuality and the like.
Filmmaker Samantha Lee wears her queer advocacy with pride. Niece and aunt end up bonding over a seminal lesbian text, with the closeted having an epiphany about acknowledging her own queerness, and her niece’s as well, which deepens their familial bond. Even her classmates’ anxiety over Billie’s lesbianism being contagious is only annoying, even amusing, rather than threatening.
The book-smart Emma and her feckless teenage boyfriend Miguel (Ryle Santiago) are too dumb to use condoms, the most easily available contraceptive device, or even to practice natural contraception. Emma is the only child of a teenage mother (Beauty Gonzales) who cares more about using her daughter to sell lip gloss than making sure she doesn’t make the same mistakes. If this is the film’s way of conveying the message that becoming a teenage mother is plain stupid, then this mother and daughter tandem succeed. Then the mother has the “brilliant” idea of subjecting her young daughter to the dubious pampa-regla (abortifacient) herbal remedies available in Quiapo. The film ends with them on a bus bound for Manila.
Given the film’s worthy advocacy of the right to determine one’s own sexuality and to be left in peace, it is unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to present a much needed, sobering view of the very real problems which it also depicts, of teen pregnancy, and unprotected sex — both matters which have definitely unfunny consequences. — Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Read the full review here.