The fourth edition of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP) went virtual this year as with most other events set back by the pandemic, and offered a veritable feast of films online over three weeks from Nov. 20 to Dec. 13. And if the original idea of cinema was to gather people together in a darkened theater to watch the pictures move onscreen, the spectacle of warm bodies in a crowd part of the experience, this time PPP4 returned that concept to the personal, nothing but the solitary viewer staring at the PC or iPad at the privacy of one’s home, unless a mind-boggling Smart TV is available. Still the audience was limited, but many per piece and likely unfathomable over the four streaming cinematheques in Manila, Iloilo, Davao City and Nabunturan.
Still have to hand it to the organizers, Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), for coming up with the visual smorgasbord whose scope and breadth far outpaced the festival’s previous years, perhaps trying to make up in quantity and volume the dearth of communal viewership. In the premium selection alone, the 10 films showcased ranged from two restored classics (Brutal and Batch ’81), outtakes from the aborted Sinag Maynila last March when the lockdown began (Kintsugi, He Who is Without Sin and The Highest Peak), to Japanese manga-based melodrama that premiered in Busan 2018 dealing with bought brides (Come On Irene), graphic novel-based martial arts complete with cheesy dialogue (Bloodhunters) and recent work from the latest National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik.
Quite a spread indeed, and added to these chestnuts from past editions, a few other restored classics, genre, LGBT films and documentaries, all culled from the various festivals that ran through the year in the multiple cineplexes that now seem rendered into just a memory by the coronavirus: Cinemalaya, Cinema One Originals, QCinema, Metro Manila Film Festival, CineManila, To Farm, the aforementioned Sinag. PPP has always tried to feature the best from these fests, and then some. Such as shorts and symposiums and lectures, but the main draw has understandably been the sprawling cornucopia of films.
It was the first time, for example, we had the chance to catch The Search for Weng Weng, Andrew Leavold’s 2013 documentary on the pint-sized local James Bond who hit his stride in the early ‘80s, around the time of the Manila International Film Festival with the cleverly titled action satire, For Your Height Only. There were clips and rare footage of the late Ernesto dela Cruz in assorted stunts, as well interviews with his lone surviving brother in Pasay and former colleagues in the industry including the editor who worked on his films, speculations about his handlers the couple who had adopted and from all indications exploited him, talks with film scholar Nick Deocampo and director Peque Gallaga whose own Oro Plata Mata was outpaced by For Your Height, and the Marcoses — Imelda and Imee the senator — who were quite fond of the small man and the latter remarking on the phenomenon, “we’ve shrunk the goon.”
Also making quite an impression were the small budget indies of regional cinema: Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong, Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria and Ari, My Life with a King.
Kalimugtong from 2006 prefigured bigger, more ambitious work ahead for its director, the writer Mes de Guzman, including Dyamper also featured in PPP4. The feature almost semi-documentary about a pair of orphaned siblings walking several kilometers to school every day in the Cordilleras has become something of a cult hit, with the lighthearted jab on sayote being the national food of Benguet, subtle statement on mining and the state of education in the country.
Ang Damgo by Remton Zuasola from 2010 is vintage Visayan with the titular character a prospective mail-order bride to an elderly German, set against the backdrop of rustic island life of fishermen and the ongoing baliw-baliw festival, where what is not supposed to happen, happens. It’s a cautionary tale on underdevelopment, and how a family’s daughters are sometimes the only ticket out of the dead-end existence of poverty. The hovering presence of the village fool serves as both buffer and foil to the otherwise generally glum narrative.
It’s the second time we’ve watched Ari after its initial screening with the Cinema Evaluation Board in 2015, and director Carlo Catu’s take on the Kapampangan king of poets has lost none of its luster in the espousal of the lost art of balagtasan in the regional languages. Here we are reminded that before the onset of rap, there was a royal craft of verses, how words once spoken hang in the air like ashfall and color the landscape in a perpetual twilight.
The festival also afforded us a second look at a controversial film from PPP2, Gusto Kita with all my Hypothalamus, and left us still wondering what all the fuss was about the so-called objectification. Maybe it’s a male thing, the visualization of desire in the armpit of the noble, ever loyal city, and Ted Ito’s karaoke hit Ikaw Pa Rin playing in the background.
Finally got to watch Jacklyn Jose’s Cannes-winning performance in Ma’ Rosa, a fable about family and drug pushers in Mandaluyong City, its alleys and rain swept streets taking a life of their own in the smoky air, a counterpoint to the cramped confines of police stations and their corrupt inhabitants sucking the poor’s blood dry.
An afternote on possible nominations for Best Supporting Actress if there was one: Max Eigenmann for Ned’s Project, Mara Lopez for The Highest Peak and Dionne Monsanto for Come On Irene.
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