All in all, from what I saw of this year's festival, all is good. Though I missed three films this year, which I am hoping to see anytime soon on other venues, what I saw are enough to get me decided that this edition is the best of the year's local festival.
Here's what I think of the ones I saw, ranked from my least to most favorite of the line-up:
Angustia - The film is tiring. No matter how it tries to get as visually grotesques as it is, it still made me blink. Though, what I thought of it's message is quite interesting: how religion could've ruined civilizations thru its missions.
Bendor - if the music wasn't there this would've been on another upper part of the list, but no, the music ruined it. It could've worked, everything could've worked without it. Getting down with the film, Bendor opens disturbingly, after the casual talk of the abortionists, we see a lady bleeding after the proceedure failed, and see Vivian Velez' character left the victim in a hospital and ran. This is what makes me interested in this film. On how anyone could just get away from crime. Moving forward on the film, we see other dimensions of her rather than a criminal. The woman and the mother, and how she could always be that way.
Woman of the Ruins - Visuals are great, performances too, but I keep seeing this film as a rehash of Ishmael Bernal's Himala. I wouldn't know if this is intentional, Keith Sicat being dedicated for the past years making 2 documentaries about Ishmael Bernal might have affected the course of the work. Though, the setup itself is quite interesting. I wouldn't mind re-seeing this film for reverification of whatever confusions I have.
Saturday Night Chills - This film has the making of an American indie crime film, which, of course, could result to more killings, death, and all things related. Nothing new could be achieved on watching this: the film is clearly for cinema as entertainment, obvious in it's casting choice. But the film is quite witty enough play around with the elements which makes him probably unwanted to most festival audience. Rather than being seen as a gritty and dark crime film, dialogues would probably suggest that this is actually, a black comedy, only blacker. Also, Matteo Guidicelli, for the win.
Blue Bustamante - Another nostalgia takes place here, but lighter this time. The target audience being the kids from the early to mid-90's who enjoyed the company of tagalized Super Sentai tv-shows and Nintendo FamiCom. What seems to be apparent on 2 of Punch Kick's production from this year (one being Hello World!) is their recurrent reference to Japanese Pop Culture, in which I don't really see as something bad. Rather, it what makes them commercially viable. If our commercial theaters are full of stuffs like them, it would have been better. Well, not totally Japanese references, but rather references which would appeal to most rather than repeated depictions of upper class and corporate romance. Cultural references, if used right, could not result to escapism but might help audiences embrace realism more.
Kabisera - I wasn't so sure whether this film really want to do some references on all other films of Joel Torre, but whatever it might be, accidental or not, the way those references are placed are quite brilliant. Kabisera took it's vigor from it's actors. Powerful performances delivered by Torre, Art Acuña and Bing Pimentel. It's thrilling.
Iskalawags - This past years on the festival circuits has been a playground for nostalgia for most filmmakers. Not saying that it is bad, in fact, results get surprising as the months go. Iskalawags is about a man remembering specific events of his childhood and childhood friends: their journeys on menace and watching action films on Betamax of their childhood hero, Jeric Raval (who then appear in the film), then imitating them afterwards. As every remembering goes, this one's bittersweet, it's not always good times. But sure, those scenes when they play are the most wonderful of this film.
Islands - Three simple words which is so hard to say. Why do we always end up this way? Islands dug thru the maybes of love or the (im)possibility of it. One interesting idea told to me by my girlfriend regarding this, is that, it's a film that could be most understood by our generation: the Post-Eraserheads generation. From that scene when the astronaut sang Torete till the technological dilemma of relationships: no matter how we try to keep everyone close to us digitally, it still makes us lonely. Technology, this internet age, makes people more lonely. This loneliness made us more incapable to say those three words. "No man is an island", they say. But aren't we alone most of the time? [cue in Boz Scaggs's We're All Alone]
Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na - Synopsis may suggest that Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na is set on the Marcos era, but other scenes suggests disrespect on time. The film explores political and ideological conflicts here unbounded by time, overlapping cases from the present unto the past. What impresses me the most on this film is the very intriguing question it imposed upon the near end: what really does Gen. Palparan do with all the missing people?
Ang mga Tigmo ng Akong Pagpauli - I think it is quite clear here, that on the recent 2 films of Arnel Mardoquio, he's been presenting problems and questions of the Moro region: some of it are old issues and some are probably new to us people from Luzon, which are still on going and still have not yet solved. This is the kind of realism he used on Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim: imposing questions. And as the question imposed has been lingering us for these past months, here he is again, asking the same thing and more. If being obvious wouldn't work, maybe riddling us could make us think, Mardoquio tried to ask the questions in rather complex audiovisual representations. Some of them I got on the onset of the screening, some on thinking about it after. From religious fundamentalism to political killings to natural calamities, Mardoquio presented the ills and cries of the Moro people on manner that has never been in done in this country's cinema.
Philippino Story - Some might dismiss this one as some cliche'd poverty-gay melodrama, but if you actually tried it, something within this film is actually reaching you. I love how the characters are here. We could see an arranged relationship with no committment involved, yet we see them taking care of each other. This made me see goodness again on people. Though near the end is quite sad, I still felt some comfort afterwards.
Ang Alamat ni China Doll - My favorite of the Festival. Partly because of Cesar Montano, but wholly, because it is really good. Alix turned Lav Diaz' exploration of the myth surrounding the international terrorist with Ponds Cold Cream skin, China Doll[see here: http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19880731-18.104.22.168.1.aspx], into something uniquely his. Of course, intentionally hinting within the film that the material was originally Diaz' (the placing of Crime and Punishment on the props, not changing the non-linear arrangement which was basically, an early Diaz indicator), but something within this film made it Alix': the actors. As far as most of his films go, it could be observed that Alix has been handling his actors well and is alwas according to what is needed on the scenes: just the right amount of emotions here. As mentioned earlier, the real highlight of this film is probably Cesar Montano and his charater. His performance is just superb.