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Philippines’ 89th Oscar Submission: Ma’Rosa   Leave a comment

ma-rosa-posterYesterday, the Film Academy of the Philippines announced Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa as the country’s submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards that will happen on February 2017. The film bested nine other entries which includes Berlin winner Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, Cinemalaya Best Picture Pamilya Ordinaryo, and the last minute addition Ang Babaeng Humayo by Lav Diaz.

This is the first time for director Brillante Mendoza who has been shortlisted thrice before (2009 for Kinatay, 2013 for Thy Womb, and 2015 for Taklub). Mendoza has also won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival back in 2009, also for Kinatay. In a way, he’s – for lack of a better term – overdue for an Oscar submission. Why he hasn’t represented us thus far is really surprising.

Ma’Rosa, tells a day in the life of a poor family, headed by their matriarch Rosa (played by Jaclyn Jose), as they scramble to find the money to pay off the corrupt policemen that have arrested them or dealing drugs. Back in May, it competed at the Cannes Film Festival Main Competition section where it pulled off the historic Best Actress win for Jose, being the first Filipina and Southeast Asian actress to do so. Certainly, it has the clout and the festival exposure.

Now let’s dissect its chances. Can Ma’Rosa pull off that elusive first nomination for the Philippines? For those counting, we’ve submitted 27 times in the past — back from our very first in 1953 for Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan up to last year’s Heneral Luna from Jerrold Tarog) to no avail. No nomination and no shortlist mention.

As mentioned above, one of the things going for Ma’Rosa is its festival exposure. Not only did it take a home a prize at Cannes, it also played at the Toronto Film Festival. It has partnered with sales agency company Films Distribution which also distributed current Best Foreign Language Film winner Son of Saul. Impressive, right? Well not in the sense you’re thinking of. It has to be clarified though. Films Distribution is not an Oscar-campaigner studio per se. It’s not the same as Focus Features or Fox Searchlight or even The Weinstein Company. Son of Saul‘s win last year was due to being campaigned by Focus Features which handled its whole awards run campaign. Ma’Rosa doesn’t have that.. yet. In reality, the most Films Distribution can do is to help the movie gain more festival exposure. Going by a quick search shows that after Toronto, it’s also heading to BFI London, which is good. More festival exposure is always better.

Reviews by foreign critics is always a factor too. It has to be mentioned first that Mendoza is really as divisive when it comes to foreign critics. Remember when the late Roger Ebert mentioned that Kinatay surpassed Vincet Gallo’s The Brown Bunny as “the worst film in Canes history?” So it’s a  bit of delight that Ma’Rosa is probably one of the better-reviewed films in his filmography. While critics still had reservations, they were more welcoming than the usual. THR mentioned “Thankfully, and as in his other features, Mendoza again manages to turn his locations into a character in its own right. ” Variety’s Maggie Lee summed it best when she said “Boasting a simple, coherent plot shot with real-time, handheld verismo, it’s a work of understated confidence that will not disappoint his festival acolytes, but probably won’t win many new converts.

A lot has been mentioned about how we, at a certain extent, can be helped by our own country’s narrative right now. As the world probably knows already, we’re very vocal in our battle with the issue of drugs. And many feel that the movie is timely and that can help buzz. Historically, not really. This category really doesn’t care about that, to be frank. A year after Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture, a significant amount of queer films were submitted for Best Foreign language Film including our own Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. The total number of gay films nominated that year? Zero. In 2010, an election year in many countries, a lot of them rode that narrative, again including us when we submitted Dondon Santos’ Noy and Brazil went with Lula. Number of election themed nominated movies that year? Zero. This whole controversy reminded me just three years ago when we went with Transit as our submission (make no mistake, still a great film, just not a great Oscar entry) over the snubbed On the Job and the FAP’s reasoning was that they don’t want to submit a film that showed the negative side of the country. Submitting Ma’Rosa I guess is a huge leap to the other direction, if that means something.

The biggest factor that can probably help Ma’Rosa is its Cannes win. Sure its only Best Actress (and by only I mean that in the hierarchy of Cannes wins, its in the lower tier alongside Best Actor and Best Screenplay. This sentence, by no means, does not intend to take anything away from the marvelous Jaclyn Jose), but a win is still a win. And that it’s still buzz. For a movie that was perceived as a non-event of some sort at Cannes (it was one of the least buzzed films of the competition, but then it’s pretty understandable since he’s competing with the likes of veterans and/or those with Hollywood cast), how it ended up going home with a win is a win itself already.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Three days ago, it was announced that Lav Diaz’ Ang Babaeng Humayo will go for a September 23 release, which would make it eligible for this year since it’ll be meeting the necessary requirements to contend. The huge amount of buzz over its historic Golden Lion win (the highest honor ever received by a Filipino movie in history) is too much to ignore. Sure, it’s a Lav Diaz film which means it runs for more than three hours, and that didn’t help Norte two years ago. That said, foreign critics being unanimously positive about it, plus the film being called as his most accessible (especially since Diaz is another name that’s divisive to foreign critics), with a sure huge company to back its campaign (Charo Santos was the president of the biggest TV network in the country), it’s basically a decision too obvious to make by that time. That’s why it’s a tad surprising that the announcement happened yesterday. This prompted Humayo to move back to a September 28 screening, which will make it ineligible for next year’s submission too. That, and the buzz over Golden Lion and the Toronto inclusion will be old news by then. Let it be clear though that none of this should be pointed against Ma’Rosa, Mendoza, or any of his team, since decision wasn’t really theirs.

A few weeks ago pre-Venice Film Fest, I wrote about the possible submissions and strongly felt that none of the films would do the trick. In that case, why not throw a bone to Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa. But the whole Golden Lion win affected everything. My final verdict says that nope we ain’t getting that nomination nor that Top 9 mention.  If anything, my takeaway with this year is that we’ve finally acknowledged and submitted Mendoza’s work (which was already beyond deserving back in 2009 when we had that tragic Ded na si Lolo submission), but at the expense of a stronger contender. I’d love to be wrong though.

Off to next year.

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8th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 2   6 comments

Here’s the second part of my Cinemalaya reviews. Don’t forget to come over at the CCP to catch the movies for yourself. The first part covered Mga Mumunting Lihim, Kamera Obskura, Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino, and Kalayaan. You can check them out here. Now, here are four other movies that I’ll review:

THE ANIMALS
Director: Gino M. Santos
Starring: Albie Casino, Patrick Sugui, Dawn Balagot
Competition: New Breed

A day in the life of three upper class teenage students who attend a party that will forever change their life. Jake (Casino) is the host of the biggest party before high school ends, Trina (Balagot) is his klepto girlfriend, while Alex (Sugui) is his brother who is applying to a high school fraternity.

As for starters, I love how the treatment focused on the three characters themselves. Movies about a certain generation has been done many times before, but I specifically notice the energy that the film displays in the characters, scenes, and dialogue in the movie. The aforementioned energy is what makes the movie interesting. I also liked how it’s as raw as one can get, and while some scenes can be very predictable, it depicts the truth that lies beyond the characters from puking in toilets, nipslips, and blabbing drivers of rich kids. The parting shot of the film is probably my favorite; it was expected yet it still stays with you and stays true to what the title and the story of the film suggests. Also, Albie Casino, Patrick Sugui, and Dawn Baalgot are revelations in the film and contributed a large part with the depiction of their characters. While it is very easy to accuse that Santos is all style no substance with this one; however, I particularly liked various things about the movie which showed his potentials as a filmmaker.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

BWAKAW
Director: Jun Lana
Starring: Eddie Garcia, Rez Cortez, Soxy Topacio, Beverly Salviejo, Gardo Versoza
Competition: Directors Showcase

Rene (Garcia) is an old gay man living alone. His only companion is his dog Bwakaw. He has been waiting for a long time, anticipating his death until he  finds both a surprise and a new reason to live.

I’m not a fan of previous Lana works, but I dare say this is his best film to date. I’m a big sucker for films dealing with a person’s loneliness, and I think that the film’s strongest suit lies beyond the writing of the character of Rene. Rene is alone and longing; he is anticipating for his death yet he seems to start a new life when he finds his first love. He does not believe in God, but he leaves his will to a priest. It is with this strong characterization that makes Rene a human being, and that was translated well from the screen to the audience. Somehow, I think that the movie is too long, though it balances comedy and drama perfectly that one won’t really get bothered by the long running time. Eddie Garcia showed no sign of aging when it comes to his performance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins awards for it. The surprise though is the very good supporting cast from Rez Cortez to Soxie Topacio to my favorite Joey Paras; it shows that while it’s an Eddie Garcia vehicle, the movie can still accommodate the greatness of the rest of the cast. Both funny and touching, I find this as one of the more enjoyable entries of this year’s filmfest.

Rating: 4 / 5

MGA DAYO
Director: Julius Cena
Starring: Sue Prado, Janela Buhain, Olga Natividad
Competition: New Breed

Set during America’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, Mga Dayo features three different stories of women all dealing with their green card. The first one is a hotel cleaner who petitioned her 88 year old Mom to come liver with her in Guam because her mother wants to see America. The second one enters a fixed marriage with a friend just so she won’t be sent back to the Philippines. The third one is a journalist writer who is currently dealing with a broken heart.

For a movie that contains three different stories (not interrelated with each other, aside from the common theme that they all have issues with their green card), it’s not easy to totally be invested with which is which. However, it is pretty surprising that the movie ended quickly, and the revelation scenes of their fate did not leave that much of an impact as what was expected. There were really moments that will get you, opening the way for you to understand but once you start to do so, it suddenly ends. The saving grace of the film are Prado’s and Natividad’s performances, but overall, this leaves you a feeling that there’s still something that can be further covered, but it did not do so.

Grade: 2.5 / 5

ANG NAWAWALA
Director: Marie Jamora
Starring: Dominic Roco, Felix Roco, Dawn Zulueta, Buboy Garovillo
Competition: New Breed

Ang Nawawala tells the story of Gibson Bonifacio (Roco) who stopped speaking when he was young, and now that he’s back in the country for good, he deals with his broken family, and having his first attempt at love.

Let me start by saying that this is my favorite in the New Breed category films. This film does not require you to be critical of the technical aspects or the script or the acting, but more of tugging your heart with the emotional investment that you’ll feel for the characters in the film. The music served as a critical and necessary addition in exposing and understanding Gibson and the situation that he has been into. This is in no way a pioneer or even groundbreaking in terms of tackling the theme of family and love, but it leaves enough impact once the lights appear at the end of the film. I also like the portrayal of the family with Buboy Garovillo as the passive yet understanding and Dawn Zulueta as the aloof and strict mother. Annicka Dolonius gives a great breakthrough performance, but it was Dominic Roco who holds the whole cast altogether. He is heartbreaking, optimistic, and shy all rolled into one, and Roco exuded all of it in the movie. Once you leave the theaters, you can’t help but smile and get carried with Marie Jamora’s charming effort. Definitely a must see.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

There you have it. Next up: another batch of four Cinemalaya movies. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @nikowl