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Cinemalaya 2019 movies reviewed

john denver trending cinemalaya

If there's anything momentous about this year's edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, it's the fact that the festival is more accessible to the regional market. Every Filipino deserves a variety in their cinema. Cinemalaya expands its festival reach to the multiplexes of Naga, Legazpi, Davao, Iloilo, Pampanga, and Bacolod. While the fight to Hollywood dominance in our theaters continues to prevail, it's these small efforts that slowly contribute to the biggest shifts in patronage.

I am satisfied with the line-up of films this year. I was not able to catch all of them, but what I caught are easy favorites.

My favorite of them all is Arden Rod Condez's "John Denver Trending." It's a story that is so rooted in what we have become as slaves of our own media consumption and a intriguing dissection of the things we are often not.

john denver trending cinemalaya
Arden Rod Condez's "John Denver Trending"
However, at its core, this is a story of young John Denver, who becomes the center of social media scrutiny after allegedly stealing his classmate's tablet. 




There is a sense of naivety in its gaze of social media culture, making it a powerful complement to the film's brutal honesty of our reliance to manufactured truth. I found myself riveted over its Italian neorealist tendencies akin to Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves."


Like the mentioned film, "John Denver Trending" found its rawness by hiring an entire community (Antique) to help its completion. Despite the residents' lack of film experience, a lot of them contributed as a part of the cast and crew. Their greatest find is Jansen Magpusao, who in his first acting credit as John Denver, seamlessly depicted the innocence his character needs amidst the chaos.

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Eduardo Roy, Jr. Fuccbois cinemalaya
Eduardo Roy, Jr.'s "F#*@bois"


"F#*@bois" was an exhilarating watch. Like his previous "Pamilya Ordinaryo," Eduardo Roy, Jr.'s latest directorial effort is a masterful showcase of tension.



The movie took a large chunk of its running time inside a gay club, immersing us on the entire male pageant program. Nothing much is here but it wisely sets up its world.

Here, we see contestants Ace (Royce Cabrera) and Miko Ramos (Kokoy de Santos), two established crowd favorites in the club. All is well until they are blackmailed by a powerful figure to release an explicit video involving them.

"F#*@bois" is best entered cold. It goes to morbid extremes that brought a pivotal role in the entire watch. I don't think everyone will be a fan of its slice of life treatment, but there's a lot of fun finds here.

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edward cinemalaya
Thop Nazareno's "Edward"
"Edward" is an easy endorsement for me. It's from the director of "Kiko Boksingero," and similar to that film, this follows a young man as he finds affection in the unexpected of places. The titular Edward (Louis Abuel) discovers it in a chaotic hospital, brimming with poor management and facilities.

This is a heart-warming coming age of age story until it's not. The film isn't shy in exploring the tragedies of its characters. It earned its unexpected boost with its entrance. It's also worth noting that the struggles Edward eventually encounters his conflicts in service of his growth as a teenager and not as an excuse to amp up the narrative.

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pandanggo sa hukay cinemalaya
Sheryl Rose Andes' "Pandanggo Sa Hukay"
I'm not satisfied with what Sheryl Rose Andes' "Pandanggo sa Hukay" aims for. It is one of those films that seek surprises with its sudden left turn of tone. We open with Iza Calzado's Elena going through her daily routine as a midwife while preparing for an interview for a job in the Middle East.

It's easily consumable stuff, until, without any alarm, suddenly transforms into a hostage-thriller. Along with this, the entire attempt for female empowerment messaging feels shallow, if not, confused, to begin with. Too bad, Calzado is doing great here. A better material would be a nice complement.

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xian lim tabon cinemalaya
Xian Lim's "Tabon"
If anything is redeeming about "Tabon," it's the fact that first-time director Xian Lim seems to have fun with the process. A debut feature will always be an exciting move for every wanna-be-filmmaker, but in the midst of it, a more narrow focus of your narrative should be emphasized.

It struggled with the playful creative decisions of this movie, which resulted in becoming in favor of spectacle over something much more well-rounded.

The spectacle of "Tabon" is confined with its surprise twists, which could lead to a possibly better output if it's not too concerned by lifting the curtain of its "shockers." 

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children of the river cinemalaya
Maricel Cabrera-Cariaga's "Children of the River"
Among the competing full-length features in this year's Cinemalaya, I found Maricel Cabrera-Cariaga's "Children of the River" to be a refreshing movie. The film banks on small struggles as supposed to larger threats.

I like its coming-of-age tale of a boy's discovery of his sexuality, and I wish the film makes this the bigger focus by the very end. A forced subplot involving the military is ineffective in its delivery of advocacy since its entrance is abrupt. 

A feel-good story nonetheless. 

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iska theodore boborol cinemalaya
Theodore Boborol's "Iska"
"Iska" was the last movie I saw at this festival, and I vividly remember being too exhausted after watching it.

Theodore Boborol's first Cinemalaya film isn't short of character conflict. The movie doesn't want to reach for any positivity because it keeps pushing for bigger problems. If it's sympathy Boborol wants to elicit out of his viewers, then he is effective. 

 A tale of injustice and poverty, "Iska" leaps toward hopelessness and with this, it felt like the movie is enjoying the indulgence for pain. 

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still human crisel consunji anthony wong
Oliver Siu Kuen Chan's "Still Human"


I was surprised to be completely floored by "Still Human," the sole film I caught in the Exhibition Films section, Starring Crisel Consunji and Anthony Wong, it tells the story of a Filipina domestic worker rediscovering herself with the unexpected help of her employer. 



It's an underdog tale that is surprisingly honest on its sentiment. An inspiring movie that isn't keen on sugarcoated motivations. 

Consunji, on her first film, was impressive. I just hope more people got the chance to see it. More pocket screenings, perhaps? 

*Photos courtesy of Cinemalaya

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