by Richard Bolisay
▶︎It’s hard to be overly critical of films with a sincere intent to tell a personal story, especially when it’s one that hardly gets seen on the big screen because it’s too small or specific to find a wider audience. Appreciating them always starts with taking the time to see them. One may raise the matter of qualifying “sincerity” — but a discerning mind with enough moviegoing experience can generally recognize truthfulness in film, some kind of emotional authenticity that rises over (or despite) the obvious flaws of filmmaking. And while it’s true that the function of cinema isn’t only aesthetic, that it doesn’t boil down to merely determining whether a work is good or bad, it won’t hurt to take into account that the long process of honing one’s aesthetics plays a significant part in effective storytelling, and thereby making effective films.
Kamunggai belongs to this “cinema of intent.” It carries the spirit of what the festival promotes: the significance of uplifting local farmers and other stewards of nature, the belief in “planting the seeds of change,” however trite it sounds. At the center of the film is the touching story of an old man who lives alone, his everyday activities revolving around his modest vegetable garden. This monotony is broken whenever his neighbors take advantage of his generosity, and when his niece returns and unceremoniously leaves him her son. It works like a documentary showing his big and little victories and defeats, his efforts to take each day one step at a time.
This is all right as a premise, but as it wears on Kamunggai does not appear to be aware of how a film should work. It lacks a structure and design that would make its observations convey a complete thought, an adhesive that would connect the scenes logically and eloquently and allow them to flow and not just make them a collection of stray visuals. It is impaired by its inability to use transitions, not only between sequences and plot points but also between ideas and emotions. There is so much space in the film left unfilled, so much narrative opportunities left undeveloped, that it’s perplexing that this insistence on bare ordinariness — one that is content only with intent — is considered sufficient as foundation. Looking at its poster (a boy on the other side of the fence raising his hand, a malunggay plant on a shoe floating in the foreground, and the line “habang may gulay, may pag-asa” adding to its well-meaning yet also naive tone) already speaks a lot of how the thought of equating good intentions with good work is a major fallacy. It’s sad to put the film down, but it’s sadder to be dishonest about it. ***
Richard Bolisay is a film critic. This was previously published on his site Lilok Pelikula under "Dispatches from ToFarm Film Festival (Part 2)" July 20 2017.