It’s Sana Dati, Ekstra and Instant Mommy for the first Cinemalaya weekend, watching the first two at the CCP, and the last one at Greenbelt. I’m happy to report that it was well attended by the usual required-student-activity crowd, the creatives and the artsy-fartsy people of the metro (me included). Especially in the CCP screenings, you can’t help but bump into people who were part of the production of the competition entries, if not their colleagues. For instance, we were watching Ekstra in CCP’s Tanghalang Huseng Batute with Direk Jose Javier Reyes, and I saw the lady in front of me replied to a text from Leo Abaya, the director of Instant Mommy. Nothing much, just really fascinated by this fact.
Anyway, on the films. I would like to call it the “pedestrian” batch of out of this year’s Cinemalaya entries. The films had conflicts and scenarios that could’ve easily happen to you or a person you know, at least, if you know a person working in the creative industry in case of Ekstra, but I digress.
Sana Dati was heart-wrenching, tragic. You can literally hear people beside you sigh and say “Awwww” (Downward Tone) of the film, which might’ve been a good thing since it was a sure indicator that it affected the audience. What would happen if you’ve gathered all your strength to move on and decide to marry someone, and then someone appears on your wedding day and makes you second guess your decision? All hell breaks loose, but surprisingly, not in a melodramatic way. This is Cinemalaya and not a local soap meant for primetime viewing, so everything and everyone was dignified. Lovi Poe as Andrea was dignified, her soon to be groom played by TJ Trinidad was antsy and still dignified, all the more so was Paolo Avelino’s Dennis. It main conflict was the conflict of saving face, and at the end of the way, saving face prevailed. I liked that not everything was unraveled at once, it kept me guessing as to what was going on until the latter part of the film. Flashbacks to explain what really happened were not linear, which might’ve confused people but I actually appreciated the unusual approach. Pretty shots of the sky, slow-mo focusing on the actors, the whole film felt like watching a commercial more than an indie film, but well, I’m not complaining, it did heighten the emotions somewhat.
Ekstra, meanwhile, was reality TV. It was as if you were there following an Ekstra for a whole day while she was doing her work. Maybe Vilma Santos was effective that way, she didn’t look like Vilma Santos, she was a mom playing bit-roles trying to earn for her child’s tuition fee, a good soldier who’s good at getting along with her fellow extras and maybe she just happened to be a good actress. You can’t help but root for her until the end. It was also a glimpse on the unglamorous side of producing Soap Operas, how stress was like this token that gets passed around from the Producer to the Director to the Assistant Director, to the Production Staff, to the Art Director, to the person managing the extras, to the extras themselves. It makes you realize how everything really was vital to production, how one late-generator set, how one late actress, or how running out of food can affect shooting schedules and everyone’s stress levels. It also makes you realize how acting really was a skill, how Piolo Pascual,Marian Rivera, Cherie Gil and Pilar Pilapil were really good actors, because it’s probably really difficult to act under pressure, something that Loida, Vilma Santos’ character struggled with and led to her downfall.
Which leads us to Instant Mommy, and why hiring a professional Japanese actor made the film work. Imagine hiring a random Japanese guy in Makati who’s awkward and can’t act and make him a co-star of a movie, it wouldn’t have been as effective. In this film, they hired Yuki Matsuzaki who has already appeared in several hollywood films to co-star with Eugene Domingo. He was really natural and pretty convincing, and he even went as far as learning Tagalog. If in Ekstra you get to see how a Soap is made, in Instant Mommy you get to see how commercials are produced, as you follow Eugene in her work as a Wardrobe specialist in a production house. But that wasn’t really the main theme of the story. The main predicament was faking a pregnancy, and how working around that predicament actually makes a pretty engaging plot. Towards the end though, what was an “action packed” 3/4 of the movie turned into something sober on the last 1/4th of it. It was a sad truth, and as a Japanophile, I can’t help but be saddened of that fact that every nationality has it share of scrupulous individuals, including the Japanese. And maybe how people I know through my Japanese classes can be Betchay at this very moment. I liked this film though because I’ve haven’t seen anything like it in local films. It’s not a love story, it’s not poverty porn, it’s not manic-pixie-girl indie stuff, it’s not experimental nor historical nor political, it’s not action, it’s not comedy (Wow, a non-comedy role for Eugene that actually worked!) It’s something pedestrian but unusual.
I’m pleasantly surprise with this year’s entries so far, honestly I thought I’m going to be bored with this year’s films but it turns out to be more interesting that the last. Hope the next batch, the “experimental batch”, Babagwa, Rekorder and Amor y Muerte (if I still get to watch it) , doesn’t disappoint.