Currently in cinemas are eight Filipino motion pictures that are part of the First Summer Metro Manila Film Festival. These films opened last Black Saturday with the hope that box office results are bullish plus critical acclaim and positive word of mouth about them follow.
Three of the films, Joven Tan’s Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko: The Music of Rey Valera, Brillante Mendoza’s Apag, and Jun Robles Lana’s About Us But Not Us, were gracious enough to invite me during their special screenings.
A good cinematic choice is Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko: The Music of Rey Valera. Its biggest pull is the musical icon himself, Rey Valera, who is the film’s storyteller, and his songs that have become the anthems of our lives.
His presence gives Tan’s latest film authenticity and gravitas. Valera narrates the trials and triumphs of his life. He also shares about the many people that became inspirations for his hits. The magical manner in which he wrote the lyrics and lines of the songs captures the inner voices and hearts that scream to perfection.
Another satisfying element is the calculated and intelligent use of music videos that bring the feels and pulls the heartstrings.
Adding more reality that bites to it are the performances of Rosanna Roces and Ronnie Lazaro in a “pagmamahal na ipaglalaban” sampler, Gardo Versoza and Aljur Abrenica in the “pagmamahal na walang kapalit” segment, and Meg Imperial in the “pagmamahal na kayang tiisin ang pagkajalayo” part.
Two actors are topnotch namely Carlo Mendoza with his eyes that speak volumes and young boy sincerity and RK Bagatsing who chose the less is more acting technique and lets the emotional truth he invested to the larger than life music man he portrays on the silver screen lead him to a good performance.
A better Brillante Mendoza film unfolds in Apag. It is a true feast to the senses. The use of the Kapampangan dialect for all the lines and the preparation and presentation of Kapampangan delicacies is both an aural and gustatory delight.
The Mendoza film is a morality tale about love and sacrifice, atonement and vendetta, moral sense and resolves all packaged in a drama that seems so un-Filipino since it is devoid of high-strung confrontation scenes, crying moments, and manipulative melodramatic shenanigans
Superb in the acting department are Coco Martin who surprises with a quiet, heartfelt performance of a man whose conscience eats him, Jaclyn Jose who shows that there is no small role for the Philippine national actress who radiates and shines even without lines, and Gladys Reyes who shows that there is more to her than being the primera contravida.
The MMFF film that screams best picture is Jun Robles Lana’s About Us But Not About Us.
With only two characters, Romnick Sarmenta’s Professor Eric and Elijah Canlas’s Lancelot, the student. The film delves into the devil and deep blue sea territory. It demystifies the experience and wisdom advantage versus the callousness, insouciance, and youth is wasted on the young premise, and presents the chilling effects of love trying to repress lust and lust pretending that there is love, affection, even compassion, and morality.
As Sarmenta’s Eric and Canlas’s Lancelot converse about everyday existence, the reality and tragedy of Marcus, a character we never get to see but whose life becomes not only palpable but real.
As the two verbalize their thoughts and throw emotions out of the window – the slow ache of coveting, the drag that is desiring, the burn and sting of what is unrequited, the defeat of rhyme and reason and the victory of the whippersnapper – consumes and satisfies, troubles and lets you dig deep and makes you wonder, what has love got to do with all this?
Romnick Sarmenta and Elijah Canlas bring on the silver screen committed, nuanced, textured, and sincerest kind of acting that deserves not only a round of applause but trophies that truly deserve.
About Us But Not About Us is best experienced with an open mind and a questioning heart because it is cerebral and provocative. You need to make “pagpag” and talk about it.
With this trio con brio of Filipino cinema offerings, hope springs eternal indeed, especially for audiences who believe that Philippine cinema still has something beautiful to give.