Cinemalaya 2021: All 13 Main Competition Films Reviewed

Sep 9, 2021

Cinemalaya 2021 Beauty Queen Myra Aquino
Myra Aquino's Beauty Queen

We review the thirteen (13) Main Competition short films at this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.

Stories of isolation and seeking refuge seems to be the common ground in a lot of the Main Competition shorts in this year’s Cinemalaya, which for the second time is opting for online screenings due to the continued restrictions against the COVID-19 pandemic.


Cinemalaya 2021, unlike the last edition, aims to replicate the in-person screenings by going for scheduled viewings of the participating films. The central short films are once again divided into two sets (Set A and Set B) as supposed in favor of the bulk upload of films that the festival previously did.


RELATED: Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival


But what struck me the most in this year’s films are the fact that they are mostly made during the pandemic (or at least, some chunks of it for some), which makes them more courageous feats especially during this time when we all need new stories truly goes a long way.


AN SADIT NA PLANETA by Arjanmar Rebeta

In An Sadit Na Planeta, a man wakes up only to realize that he now lives on his own little planet. With a God-like voice commanding him, he learns how to work through his personal environment, and grow what he can along the way.


The film is a clever but sometimes unsubtle reminder of how we have all resorted to our respective tiny planets during the pandemic, and how we’ve learned to confront our longingness to connect.


An Sadit Na Planeta is a great visual effort, mostly thanks to its use of 360-degrees camera to create the circular planets inhabited by our lead character. But the film’s problem lies in its frequent excuse to tell more than breathe in without explanation.


ANG MGA NAWAWALANG PAG-ASA AT PANLASA by Kevin Jay Ayson

Ang Mga Nawawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa, the first of two lone documentaries in the Main Competition line-up, carries the same technical approach to commercial tourism videos, to the extent that it feels too sophisticated from the other entries of the festival. It documents the food businesses in the Ilocos region, how its dishes continue to define its culture and people, and why it needs more attention than ever due to its recent disruption caused by the pandemic.


The documentary presents a sumptuous exploration of its cuisine, but its technical flares tend to overshadow the rawness of its advocacy.


ANG PAGDADALAGA NI LOLA MAYUMI by Shiri De Leon

The best short of the line-up is Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi, a coming-of-age film about an old woman who hired a male prostitute to devirginize her. Instead of finally putting the answer to her long sexual curiosity, she ends up coming to terms with her dark past.


There’s no denying that Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi could easily enhance its narrative as a one-act play but it manages to translate itself cinematically. The film’s soft and uneasy use of color, plus the contrast of its lead actors’ (Ruby Ruiz and Julian Roxas) performances, make this an intriguing watch.


ATE O.G. by Kevin Mayuga

Kevin Mayuga’s Ate O.G. is an alarming observation of social divide and privileges through the eyes of Ate, the central housemaid. Ate is usually reprimanded and receiving endless orders from her employer’s children until she finally found the break in the form of a medicinal drug.


Mayuga tried to weave in a handful of challenges in one film, only to come up with resolutions that don’t feel complete as they should be. Merle Cahilig, who plays Ate, offered more insightful responses than the story prepared for her to be. It could’ve done more with more breathing time and reflections to marinate into.


BEAUTY QUEEN by Myra Aquino

Beauty Queen, Myra Aquino’s short about the early life of Remedios Gomez, most popularly known as Kumander Liwayway, presented a more thorough look at a Filipino heroine in less than 20 minutes compared to a lot of much longer features Philippine cinema had done for other figures.


Its intentions and motivations were clear. Remedios has always been a fighter, in both beauty pageants and actual wars. But what’s more evident is the fact that she never sees her upbringing as a hindrance to different plights.


Beauty Queen is bolstered by a great direction by Aquino, who will undoubtedly create greater feats with more support at hand.


CROSSING by Marc Misa

A robber who gets entangled in another crime is the focus of Crossing, Marc Misa’s simple yet engaging thriller that is also about how economic desperation can put a toll on someone.


There’s always a refreshing element to films like these that never vies to complicate things. Crossing, which is one of the shortest entries of Cinemalaya, has no hesitancy for its limitations as well as its shortcomings. It’s an entertaining film that has served its purpose.


KAWATAN SA SALOG by Alphie Velasco 

I give great merit to the world built by Kawatan Sa Salog, but I wish there’s a lot more in it.


It simply follows a kid who finds himself in another place after being drowned in a river. The film never truly explains what it was, and how the constructs of the place continue to affect people living in it.


There are many chances for the film to further nourish its narrative and setting, but you can only do so much with what a short film can afford.


KIDS ON FIRE by Kyle Nieva

There is a hazy quality in what Kids on Fire want to say.


About a teenage boy discovering his sexual “power” during a religious camp, the film enumerates a variety of scenarios wherein our leading character discreetly pleases himself, only to be interrupted by earthquakes that he may cause.


If the film really wants to be uncomfortable, then it already achieved its goal. Kids on Fire disrupts by polishing its gratuitous moments than making sense out of it. Definitely not for everyone.


LOOKING FOR RAFFLESIAS AND OTHER FLEETING THINGS by James Fajardo

James Fajardo’s Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things blends Philippine mythology with queer romance, but it feels like the film is unsure of how to properly position itself.


It aims to explore and expound on a lot of things, only to realize that just a few make sense when viewed from a larger picture. There’s a promising element to Looking for Rafflesias that can be improved with a more cohesive and narrower direction. But it looks great though entirely.


MASKI PAPANO by Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit

The most critical part of exploring the challenges faced by individuals during a large crisis like the pandemic is its tendency to overdramatize and disregard the ounce of positivity within it.


Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit’s Maski Papano echoes the feeling of loneliness and difficulty to move on in the perspective of a face mask recently disposed by his owner. The film is moody as it is hopeful. It’s impossible to not smile while watching it.


NAMNAMA EN LOLANG by Jonnie Lyn Dasalla

Namnama En Lolang, which translates to “Grandmother’s Hope”, is a plausible documentary that was able to send its message effectively without doing so much.


Unlike the other entries, this one hits closer to home. We tend to emphasize the hard work and endurance of our health workers at the frontlines, but never so much the legacy they already created in the life of someone.


Namnama En Lolang is a reminder of their courage and sacrifice, and the hope that we continue fighting for our young children.


OUT OF BODY by Enrico Po

Out of Body follows a newbie actress entangled in a production for a project she never signed up for.


There have been numerous films that are heavily concerned with male dominance in the workplace, and its message against gender equality has become the trope to produce thrills and not so much an empowering message. Unfortunately, that is also the case for Out of Body.


THE DUST IN YOUR PLACE by David Olson

David Olson’s The Dust in Your Place, unlike other great dialogue-driven films, becomes an underwhelming effort a few minutes in.


It follows a comic book writer and his artist debating about how the two of them staying in the same room together should or should not be a problem or hindrance to their respective romantic relationships.

Watching the film feels like listening to two people talking in circles rather than venting out definite arguments. The Dust in Your Place is a film that goes nowhere, despite forcing you to go to places you never wanted to.


Originally published in Art Plus Magazine.

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