Friday, December 21, 2012


The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is a weeklong exhibition of locally produced Filipino films in cinemas that runs starting December 25 up to December 31 every year. Some films, usually the award winners or the blockbuster hits extending theater runs for another week or more. Worth mentioning is that it has always been claimed that “quality” Filipino movies are showcased within this festival season. In my personal opinion though, it has been a hit and miss in both quality and story content. Some going the way of being common and too commercialized like run of the mill regularly shown movies that it borders, to one who is an avid movie lover, to question the criteria’s for a film to merit being selected for exhibition. Much has been said, seen and written about the festival as well as some controversies that transpired in past, from the selection process to the awards night, but that is not the subject of our story.

This year, the MMFF added a pleasant addition to its history that not only caught my interest but was surprised that almost nothing was written or talked about it. This year, the MMFF 2012 is showcasing  “The New Wave Filmfest.” It is a festival of five (5) independently produced films or more commonly known in the industry as INDIE to be exhibited a week before the main film festival run. I gathered that the five (5) films were chosen among 300 entries. Sources also say that the MMFF is giving indies a “face lift” maybe to alleviate this sector of alternative Philippine cinema from the stigma of being labeled as low quality, also maybe to rid it of the mostly negative connotation and reputation that past indie films have built for itself in the local scene. Whatever the real aims are, I give this years’ MMFF organizers three claps and a snap for this move.

One particular entry that caught my fancy is GAYAK, a family oriented drama pegged by Ronaldo M. Bertubin (DGPI). He also directed well received indie films: Love Birds, Kurap, Last Viewing, to name a few. GAYAK centers on the story of the relationships between four main characters namely: Alan Paule as Felix, his son played by Sef Cadayona as John Christian, Evelyn Vargas who played Adela (older sister of Felix) and her son Drake played by Richard Bradley. The story kicks off with the “Pagsa-San Juan” a religious tradition or “pamamanata” in the town of Bibiclat, Nueva Ecija wherein participants don dried banana leaves and/or grass, cover their exposed skin in mud and walk the town asking for alms of candles and prayers that are to be offered, including their own, at the plaza of the town church.

The tight relationship between father and son is established well on in the first few minutes of the film. Felix, a widower, is somewhat protective of his only son John Christian and is deemed by his only cousin Drake a “lampa” or clumsy and too sickly for not going out of their house too much while they were growing up. This, as a matter of course, is one of the plot twists revealed later on in the film.

Another aspect of the film is the tight bond between Felix and Adela, the latter being the doting elder sister who has taken care of her younger brother since they were younger, going as much as getting extra work from nearby provinces for Felix who is a small town tailor by trade and staying days on end to assist him until the completion of the work.

One layer not so unique though is the relationship between cousins John Christian and Drake. Being the only sons of sibling Felix and Adela, the bond between the two cousins might have been tighter in real life than what has been portrayed on screen. The story also has its share of a slight “tissue” moment presented in the highlight scene reminiscent of a Japanese film I’ve seen titled “Departures.” You may consider yourself stone-hearted if you’re not even slightly moved by that solitary scene alone.

Without giving too much of the story, here are some yes and no’s. Yes, John Christian is later revealed to be gay. No, this is not the real reason of his being “lampa.” Contrary to common local macho belief, being gay does not make one automatically physically clumsy. Yes, his cousin Drake was the one who initiated the baptism of fire, ergo, my statement in saying the situation is not so unique, and I daresay even between female first cousins. And yes folks, it does happen to some, let us not be prudes and say that it does not. Anyway…

Let me just issue a fair warning to those with prurient interests who would only want to see this film based solely on how graphic the scene was presented between the two good looking male cousins. It will not raise your body temperature, neither will it make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat nor make those with lower sensitivity thresholds close or cover their eyes as the scene is being played out. You might counter by saying “but this is supposed to be an indie film.” Yes it is indeed an indie film but this is NOT THAT TYPE of an indie film. Kudos to Direk Roni Bertubin for the effective guidance of his actors Sef Cadayona and Richard Bradley in showcasing this baptism in a very tasteful manner. It showed innocence and want without employing gimmickry bordering to fantasy, unnecessary vulgarity and of being obtuse as exemplified by other exploitative, run of the mill, gender targeted indie films. WELL DONE! To add, and in jest, I was waiting for the proverbial flower to fall in that deflowering scene reminiscent of mid-1950’s to 1960’s Filipino films. In this instance, for those who have had a similar experience, the curling of toes and the closing of a bathroom door is sufficient enough for them to reminisce. Kudos also goes to the MMFF organizers for living up to its promise of a NEW WAVE of Indie. I am personally looking forward to more of the same or even better next year.

The story’s thirty-two (32) year timeline from 1980 to the present is fast paced and the viewer has to be attentive of everything that transpires on screen as each section of the film is unraveled layer by layer. The nominal use of background sound and music was effective in eliminating unnecessary distractions and in catching the viewer’s attention to the story as it unfolds in present time, interspersed with time jumps which were later on unveiled via flashbacks towards the end of the movie. As for the technical aspects of the film, some scenes might need to be shortened, others expounded to give it more punch and effect. Considering how slow rural life can be, it would have been more effectual to have showcased the time differences physically like in a scene where Adela gave Felix a Classic 6120 Nokia Cell Phone which I place the story to have taken place in the present year. Let me just state for the record that I am not nitpicking and I also have to make mention that not everyone will notice these slight nuances in films, like I’ve noticed in GAYAK that John Christian is ambidextrous. How’s that for attention to detail? Overall, presentation is clean, balanced and well executed. For those tired of seeing the usual imported and too commercialized local movie fare, I personally rate this one a “GO SEE.” The theme song titled “Sa Pagdating Mo” was composed and arranged by Robert Delgado with lyrics by Roni Bertubin was brilliantly interpreted by Gerald Santos.
From Left: Jun Flavier Pablo (Executive Producer), Richard Bradley
and Director Ronaldo M. Bertubin (DGPI)
From Left: NR, Richard Bradley, Jun Flavier Pablo (Executive Producer)
and Tanny Perez (Production Designer)
The MMFF New Wave Filmfest will run from December 18 to 22 at the Glorietta 4 Cinemas in Makati City. Other films featured are Ad Ignoranciam which delves on political injustice, Grave Robbers is an Action-Adventure, Paglaya sa Tanikala which touches on religion, and In Nomine Matri which is a drama about a Flamenco dancer.

As of this writing, it has been announced that the MMFF New Wave Filmfest will have two (2) extra days run until December 24, 2012. Judging from the full house reception of the showcased films, notably GAYAK, it shows promise that this is a welcomed and refreshing addition to the MMFF indeed. Hopefully, next year, the organizers of the MMFF will continue with this new addition and extend the New Wave Filmfest to more theaters in and around the Metro before the main MMFF entries are shown in the theaters.

NR - 12212012

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