Monday, December 19, 2011

Redemptive Spring in Alix's "Haruo" - Plus "Ulan" & "I See Everything"

As much as it insinuates “redemption”, spring is as deceptive as the little blooms that festively gather around in the season. Each one would eventually wither away.

A morbid turn of events brings Haruo (Jacky Woo) to the squalor of Manila. A prized asset of the feared Yakuza in Tokyo, Haruo, aka Tadano Hayashi, escapes the criminal syndicate with bountiful cash, a helpless Filipina bar girl (Nina Kodaka) – and tragic consequences. Now solitary, he has uprooted himself to the railside slums of the metropolis, wistfully fending for himself. Still hiding from his past, he rents out a small room, seemingly lost in the clutter of wandering souls desperate for survival. There, he spends his days anonymously roaming the congested streets selling food, and even giving them away for the hungry. But he mostly keeps to himself, even to the inquisitive Edna (Rosanna Roces), an aging bar girl with whom he occasionally shares his bed.

Other characters navigate Haruo’s surroundings: Aling Lydia (Perla Bautista), a cantankerous mute who lives her days rearing her grand children with heavy hands; Popoy (Junjun Quintana), a street hawker who peddles everything from fake Rolex watches and garments to longganisa; and Edna (Roces) who’s constantly anxious that the grown child she’s rearing will eventually leave her for his real mother. Yet Haruo keeps mum of his putrid past, and these desperate faces frame Haruo’s survival like a noose waiting to tighten around his neck.

One day, he meets the mysterious Michelle (Roxanne Barcelo) who, along with her cousin Charlie (Arnold Reyes), is cloaked by an air of paranoia. Are they running away from something? Despite Michelle’s veneer of detachment, Haruo is drawn like moth to a flame. It isn’t long until his harrowing past haunts him back. Will Michelle, like the Japanese spring, bring Haruo’s redemption?

With a bristling narrative and the calculated manipulations of its color palette, smartly doing away with those shaky handhelds, Adolf Alix, Jr.’sHaruo (Springtime Man)” plays out like a blank canvas that gradually unravels right before your eyes, peeling veneers of its story in delectable stages of unrelenting tale, way until the full story is laid out like a masterpiece. Albert Banzon’s cinematography is a joy to behold, and the conscious selection of color scheme is nothing short of spectacular: while most of the background is muted to almost black and white, objects surrounding – and framing – each scene have been saturated into sumptuous hues. Several scenes jolt out like kinetic objects – as exemplified by a magical scene where a cart drives away from a rail track, the side rails frame the scene in red-orange hues. I was mesmerized!


I do have a few quibbles about the film. When the Yakuza eventually finds Haruo, didn’t he ever consider that if he ignored their request (they want him back), they would harm Michelle? Why didn’t he exert the effort to protect her first before eventually declining their order? You couldn’t be so thoughtless as to allow another love one harmed again, could you? Furthermore, a few scenes that supposedly transpired in Tokyo looked inherently Manila. There’s also a little confusion in the timeline of flashbacks, though, on the most part, they worked.

Jacky Woo turns in an insightful performance rich with pathos and empathy. Roxanne Barcelo plays the damsel in distress with emotive charm and mystery, you do wonder why she isn’t getting the lead roles that she deserves! But this film should remedy such injustice. Rosanna Roces always lends a degree of realism to any film she appears in, thus watching Rosanna “suffer” anew was such joy. In fact, she was one of the reasons why, for a very short while, I became a teleserye junkie when Nora Aunor’s “Sa Ngalan ng Ina” was on TV. Perla Bautista romps off with a dichotomous character, at once sympathetic and loathsome. Nina Kodaka, who has uncanny semblance to the beautiful Barcelo, plays the Filipina bar girl who falls into Yakuza territory. Though she seems a tad tentative with her attack, it wasn’t perturbing. You just know she could fare better.

But the breakout performance comes from a relative unknown – Junjun Quintana who plays Popoy, the haggler who sells everything, even his soul in exchange for money. Quintana enveigles a charismatic presence radiating with charm, a graceful streetwise demeanor and cinematic allure reminiscent of the younger Coco Martin and Sid Lucero.

Alix’s “Haruo (Springtime Man)” is a compelling slowburn; a character study about evoking a degree of atonement that, to some people, never comes. Sometimes, the situations that surround people make for an imponderable road block.

Rosanna Roces

Roxanne Barcelo and Nina Kodaka

Nina Kodaka

Roxanne Barcelo

Junjun Quintana


Along with this full length feature, MMFF has decided to include student films from which 10 short films will be screened alongside the 4 "New Wave" (indie) full length features. We saw 2 student shorts: Michael Jainoran’sI See Everything” (Southville International School) and Nikka Palma and John Wong’sUlan” (La Consolacion College and Pixel Art). To be fair, since these are scholastic efforts, I’ve decided to be nice and reserve our acidic tongue so as to inspire these young souls to work on their craft.

Jainoran’sI See Everything” follows the watchful eye of a geek who perceives herself at the bottom of the “food chain” where it concerns the denizens of her class. These are the campus heartthrob, the sassy girl, the musician, the bully. On cursory glance, they follow the social strata as they’re perceived to be. But on closer look, their stories waver into the unforeseen. And the geek, by her own ministrations, bears the power to rise above the social ladder… with her sentient camcorder. The staging of scenes is a bit rough around the edges. The casting could have been better conceived. But there’s an unmistakable rankle of idea that could have soared had the narrative been fine tuned.

Palma and Wong’sUlan” is more technically polished. One night, Nikka leaves younger sister CJ on her own while the former attends to her social commitments. While she was away, CJ entertains herself watching television, playing piano, foraging through the only available food. That same night, the rains pummeled through the roof and Nikka failed to make it back home. In the wee hours of the night, CJ gets a strange call from her Uncle Alex. What’s become of Nikka? Filmed in sumptuous black and white, there is proficient generation of mood that helped create a workable narrative. Employing the narrative detour of Shyamalan’sThe Sixth Sense” further gives the story fictive heft though it’s weighed down by a lukewarm treatment of its concluding scene. Still, it’s a watchable fodder.

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