by Richard Bolisay
▶︎ Some of the gems in this year’s Cinemalaya can be mined from the short film selection, and this set has an interesting lot to offer, both as a whole and individually. Admittedly, this batch provides a better viewing experience, with its diversity and youth and technical skill, and an eagerness that is rather inspiring, than many of the entries in the full-length competition.
The standouts for this set are “Fatima Marie Torres and the Invasion of Space Shuttle Pinas 25” by Carlo Francisco Manatad and “Aliens Ata” by Glenn Barit.
“Fatima” boasts an impressive mix of gleaming visuals and moving sounds that doesn’t so much require traditional logic for its story to work, but the keenness of vision, the deadpan and campy sense of humor (with Bimby’s recognizable screams heard at some point), and the foolish, playful spirit it tries to contain lift it so high. Its immediate effect is hilarious, but the longer impression it gives is bizarre. Compared with “Fatima,” “Aliens Ata” relies more on heart than mood, and the use of a static, aerial point of view — quite possibly the most effective use of drone in local cinema yet, a device so prone to misuse and overuse — is able to present a touching story of two brothers dealing with loss and separation. From this modest imagination, the result is devastating for its being emotionally complete.
Manatad and Barit are both from the UP Film Institute, and it’s always interesting to see works from the UPFI, an institution whose honing of students does not rest only on technical proficiency but also on theoretical framing. Another pair of shorts are also from its graduates: “Lola Loleng” by Cheryl Tagyamon lets the audience slip through remembering and forgetting with its rotoscope animation detailing the motions and memories of its titular character. One can feel it does not aim to be particularly poignant, the way Manang Biring is, but it looks into the complexity of old age and a grandmother’s painful wartime experiences, and connects them subtly with the collective Filipino’s larger consciousness. On the other hand, “Islabodan” is this set’s dissident, a work whose use of multiple screens in one frame (which allows the scenes to flow literally in one sequence) is amazing as far as form is concerned, but it suffers from flawed content. Towards the end, it loses its attraction, but it’s quite a spectacle to see it burst with energy and display its youth.
Unlike the other entries with crafted settings, “Sorry for the Inconvenience” by Carl Adrian Chavez is distinct for its currency, for a reality that is recognizably rooted in the present. It builds up on the violence about to be perpetuated by a high school student, played candidly and artlessly by Ronwaldo Martin (with Ronwaldo coming after his brother Coco’s legacy as the “new” face of independent movies about violence and poverty). The linearity of the film is compelling enough, and the credits sequence, which seems to make a subtle reference to Abbas Kiarostami, tugs strongly at the heart. Meanwhile, “Manong ng Pa-aling” by E. del Mundo aims for the virtues of the unspoken and achieves the brimming sadness that its main character, a fisherman longing for his dead wife, feels. There is something in its tempo that can make it difficult for some viewers to get used to, but its underwater shots, the vastness of the sea lensed in black and white, succeed in heightening the blues. ***
Richard Bolisay is a film critic. This piece was previously published on his site Lilok Pelikula under "Dispatches from Cinemalaya 2017 (Part 2)," August 13 2017.