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MINDANAO, Brillante Ma Mendoza’s latest (Metro Manila Film Festival (MMMFF) entry, humanizes as well as mythologizes the second largest island in our archipelago. We can all relate to its great themes: serious illness and death, the suffering of little children, families riven by war. Admittedly though, we, the so-called Christian lowland majority, are largely ignorant about our “Muslim brethren,” or the Moro, which is how the Islamic societies in the Philippine South now call themselves.
Sunod is unusually sophisticated for the Filipino horror genre. Its terrors subtly operate along several levels. There is the stock opening nightmare scene in the graveyard, replete with howling winds, swirling black veils and snakelike tree roots. It’s not real, but what follows is still hair-raising — not your grandmother’s Shake, Rattle En Roll. Cineastes agree that it was downhill there, after the very first in the series, or post-1984.
THIS FILIPINO remake of the beloved 2013 Korean hit by Lee Hwan-kyung is just what we need for Christmas. Of course, it’s mostly fantasy, with its cuddly convicts improbably getting along in their still livable cells — a distant alternative reality from the usual hellish scenes in most Philippine penitentiaries where sweaty, scabies-ridden bodies pile on top of each other, and violence is the norm. The prison setting resonates as we have an inordinate number of low budget movies set in prisons, to judge from the daily morning lineup on a major network’s free movie channel. We’ve had at least four presidents who were in prison at some point in their lives. Here is a very different kind of prison from what the movies usually bring us. Escapist entertainment, indeed, but then we all need a break.
AT ANY TIME, not just during the Christmas season when Filipino audiences expect to be entertained, Culion would be a daring enterprise. First it is a period piece, and Filipinos notoriously lack a sense of history, whether ours or the world’s. The events portrayed span 1937 to 1941, which is why the prominence given to the obviously anachronistic Hollywood type sign in cast white concrete letters, spelling out “Culion” and its government insignia, on the side of a mountain, is perplexing. That sign was probably circa 2006 when Culion had its centenary. After so much effort devoted by the production design guys to attempting period authenticity, what with the kerosene lamps and the nearly uniform women cast members’ attire of earth-toned baro at camisa, couldn’t they have erased the damn thing through CGI?
THIS YEAR’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) only has one romance (in contrast, 2018 had three: Girl in the Orange Dress, Mary Marry Me, and One Great Love) and it’s not really that much about romance but more about how art imitates life and how people would try to escape their realities and rewrite their lives if they could.