The lineup for this year’s QCinema is, to say the least, exciting.

I say this without irony. The Circle Competition, though smaller in number, indcludes titles from promising talents—Dwein Baltazar’s “Oda sa Wala” and Timmy Harn’s “Dog Days” are first in my mind. Like last year, there are two DocQ Documentaries: one about religious idols and another about special children.

The foreign film selection is a ‘round-the-world cinematic buffet, with everything from restored dance films like “Footloose”, French classics like “Diabolique”, and Agnès Varda’s dazzling auto-documentary, “Faces Places”, which, interestingly, is a modern classic in its own right. I’d be remiss not mentioning winners from international film festivals, such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters”, Yeo Siew Hua’s “A Land Imagined”, and a whole bunch more. The festival’s section dedicated to queer cinema, RainbowQC, adds Marcelo Martinessi’s “Las Herederas” and Yan Gonzalez’s “Knife + Heart” to a list of interesting new titles.

I’m writing this on the third day of festival-going, and I’m very much having a grand time. Below are our thoughts on the seven Filipino titles in competition (Circle and DocQ). These capsules are written by Princess (from Film Police Reviews) and myself.

QCinema 2018 Reviews: The Unreel Festival Report

Hintayan ng Langit

“Say this, if anything, about “Hintayan ng Langit”: it has deeply felt sentiments about what lies beyond our earthly existence and what moors us from moving on to the afterlife. Dan Villegas, who directs the film from a screenplay written by Juan Miguel Severo, who wrote the source one-act play of the same-name, frames the story as a romantic dramedy that kind of eschews the stereotypical “kilig” prevalent in romantic movies but pulls no punches in the many “hugot” monologues. All good, I guess. If the afterlife isn’t enough of a free pass to intone existential or sentimental spiels, I don’t know what is.

It’s especially alright if these lamentations come from thespic stalwarts like Gina Pareno and Eddie Garcia, who here play Lisang and Manolo, an old couple who meets at a rehab-like purgatory dubbed The Middle. The characters themselves are, at best, wonky. There’s a whole flashback scene that recontextualizes their awkward reunion and renders it truly heartbreaking, infuriating even. Why are the male characters in Villegas’ movies sure-as-shit assholes to their partners and for some unholy reason get away with it, completely? The silver lining, I guess, is that Lisang, like Angelica Panganiban’s Pia in “Exes Baggage”, ultimately chooses what she wants rather than what she needs—a happy ending in its own right? Heck, they might even be the same person.”

– Armand

Masla a Papanok

“Masla a Papanok” closes with the image of its eponymous bird. If it feels like a movie monster taking its final clasp—like Jason Voorhees from the still, calm waters of Crystal Lake in “Friday the 13th”—it’s because it is exactly like it. Believed to be a harbinger of doom and chaos, the bird’s final image resembles more greatly that of a bat, an upside-down gargoyle. That final image is haunting, but getting to that image is kind of a pain to sit through.

Glaring technical difficulties aside—filmmakers take this as an important lesson to not forsake neither sound nor casting—the film has a wholeness to its story: a Moro princess flees to a convent wherein she’s forcibly ingrained to Catholicism. Elsewhere, a young prince is faced with a tremendous life-and-death undertaking. All interesting, potentially great stories, co-written by Lav Diaz and director Teng Mangansakan, that would have flourished if it had more time and resources.”

– Armand

QCinema 2018 Reviews: The Unreel Festival ReportOda sa Wala

“A terse, supple, and moving portrait of oneness with none-ness, Dwein Baltazar’s “Oda Sa Wala” adds to the filmmaker’s lamentations about how loneliness feels like. The film carries a soul-baring storm cloud cast over its epochal film frame; where “Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus” employed the widescreen ratio to evoke a sense of disconnect from one of the busiest districts in the country, here, the 4:3 ratio is used to imprison. And making her time is Sonya, played with great emotional zest by Marietta Subong (otherwise known through her screen name as the comedienne Pokwang), a lonely old maid who struggles to make ends meet at their family-owned funeraria. The performance she brings here proves her worth as an actress who, through her craft, can touch your very core.

When Sonya befriends an unidentified corpse, things take a weird turn. But Dwein, whose touch here is as ever commanding and assured, doesn’t let that shatter through the deeply poignant tone the film has studiously established. And when the acid rain (inevitably) falls, our hearts are broken, and we become, like Sonya, quite insecure of our sanity. The film’s ending is perfect. It leaves you transfixed, sorrowful, lost to nothingness—and maybe for just a bit—alive.”

– Armand

Billie & Emma

When I came out of the screening for Samantha Lee’s sophomore feature, “Billie and Emma”, I knew I had just seen a wick sparked with fire. And as someone who actively campaigned against 2014’s “Baka Bukas”, a film that painstakingly crafted a very put-on representation of what a modern lesbian partnership looks like, I find myself wrangling with the conflict of not bearing anger towards Lee’s new film, which is total bubblegum, coming-of-age delight. It’s a thoroughly observed, deeply personal film that carries a lot of ideas about womanhood and a surprising tenderness at its core.

The film is set at an all-girls Catholic school, and Lee jabs and right-hooks just about every single thing that falls down: religious insistence, misogyny, homophobia, and a bunch more. The way Lee approaches these, in the film’s completeness, is a bit clunky, but folded with smaller moments—when Billie’s aunt slowly reaches out, for instance—and adorable performances from its lead actors, the whole thing just dazzles.”

– Armand

Dog Days

I don’t understand three-quarters of Timmy Harn’s new film, “Dog Days”.

I blame three things. First, the title. Maybe it knows sorcery and the words “dog days” imbued a sense of laziness and immediate resignation. Second, and perhaps most valid, are the tonal shifts. There’s about ten different movies here, spliced together by the editing wizardry of John Torres, and they grow loopier as they go. There’s a whole arc about drugs, a Lynchian one about parenthood, and an even bigger arc about finding a Dodo bird. That leads ultimately to an intonation of a Whitney Houston classic, and henceforth it becomes clear that this film is as faded as its characters. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing has escaped me at this point of no return to filmic sobriety.

Third and lastly: The premise, in the off chance that it does matter, is that the Illuminati is real and they’re hard at work producing basketball superstars. The film ends on an interesting note, with Michael Jordan Ulili, the film’s protagonist, squeezing inside the compartment of a hexed automobile. The film doesn’t show it, but I imagine him curled like a fetus. That resonated with me, coming out of it. It felt like I badly needed my mommy and that kids should stay at home and stop doing drugs.

This film is a trip. And I don’t know how to feel about it. Maybe I’ll have to take just one more hit? 

O.K., I’ve made up my mind. This movie is [b a d].”

– Armand

QCinema 2018 Reviews: The Unreel Festival Report

QCinema 2018 Reviews: The Unreel Festival ReportAll Grown Up

“Wena Sanchez crafts an unassuming look into the everyday vagaries of parenthood and family, specifically those bearing special children. Brisk, and throughout modest, her film, “All Grown Up”, is less of a documentary and more an intimate family videologue. In it, Sanchez films her family within arm’s length, capturing moments that serve the film its primary purpose, often incredibly right at the perfect time.

There’s a moment towards the end, which puts her daughter, Marion, on the verge of tears. It’s a short but powerful moment. Onward the film close, quite abruptly, with a walk on the beach. Marion, Wena, and Wena’s brother, Justin, who has ADHD, look to the camera—a portrait of a family no different than yours or mine, and no less special.”

– Armand

Pag-Ukit Sa Paniniwala

If Hiyas Baldemor Bagabaldo’s 4-year old documentary won’t shake a little sense into your (Catholic) senses, I don’t know what else will. “Pag-Ukit Sa Paniniwala” tackles behind-the-scene takes on the manlililok lifestyle of Paete during the Lenten season. This small town is where men and women gain their income through woodwork. Apparently, there were not many trees harmed in the making of this documentary as the city ordinance allows the trees to be cut and new ones replanted.

In “Pag-Ukit”, there are three central figures: Jesus Christ, the manlililok, and the town’s people spending Lenten season like there’s no other country in the world that can possibly celebrate the life and death of Christ like them. Although it’s not uncommon for me to see this, but through the eyes of someone foreign, it can. There are films out there (i.e. Armando Lao’s “Dukit”) that has showcased Paete’s craft, “Pag-Ukit” does it differently, behind the scenes and through the eyes of the manlililok himself. We see the business aspect, the townsfolk all merrily enjoying someone getting lashed out and being hung on the cross. It’s all raw to me, and despite me being non-Catholic, I enjoyed it all the way through its quaint appeal.”

– Princess

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