Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Most Indelible & Unforgettable Images from Cinemalaya 2012

When I was a child, some of the most unforgettable images in my mind came from the silver screen. The movies have become a part of my life. When there's anything playing in the cinemas - good or bad, I am there shelling out my dad's (teehee!) hard earned bucks! I like the way they take you to places that one can only dream of. The movies allow you to travel far and wide, expand your horizon within the confines of the celluloid. In this year's Cinemalaya festival, we have compiled some of the most unforgettable (they're not exactly favorites) and most indelible images from this year's entries. If you haven't seen any of these films, there will be scheduled screenings in UP (I think). We share these moments and we applaud the magic of contemporary Pinoy cinema. Spoilers here!

Loy Arcena’s “REquieme”. At the mock funeral of an assassin named Adolf Payapa (a funeral that didn’t have the corpse inside), Swanie (Sta. Maria’s barangay captain played by Shamaine Centenera) makes a befuddling, albeit grand entrance, all decked in woeful black garment and a flowing veil. Payapa is a distant relative; someone Swanie hardly knew. You suddenly realize that Swanie wasn’t mourning for the killer, but for the son – the transvestite Joanna - who left his conservative parents for a new life. 

Paul Sta. Ana’s “Oros”. Abet (Kristoffer Martin) would occasionally stop on his track to fix a slipper that has seen better days. His brother Makoy, a “kasero” in a saklaan, unexpectedly hands Abet a new pair of slippers. Though the moment was brisk and lasted for mere seconds, it was nonetheless fetching and heart-warming. It’s moments like these that make movie going enchanting.

Aloy Adlawan’s “Ang Katiwala”. Ruben (Dennis Trillo), a mild mannered illiterate man who leaves his family in Quezon for a job in Quezon City, rehearses Manuel L. Quezon’s inaugural speech which he heard from a 45 inch vinyl record. As he goes about with his menial chores, we hear Ruben deliver in Quezon’s distinct diction, intonation and temperament. Trillo spellbinds in these scenes. Otherwise, most of the film had us go into stupor.

 Lemuel Lorca’s “Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino”. Doray (LJ Reyes) scours the dark beachside, tentatively checking out the arriving fishermen. The young lass is left alone with younger siblings to feed and she vows to tend to their needs. But what can an unemployed young lady do with no resources to speak of? As Doray appraises her possible source of income, she offers herself up in exchange of a bag of fish (which she then sells at the market). It’s hard not to empathize with Doray’s deprecating dilemma.

In another scene, Cheche (Angeli Bayani), a bar girl in “La Isla Bonita”, gets humped and pounded by a paying customer (Arnold Reyes). I was gripped with fear that the scene would reveal Angeli Bayani’s privates once again. In last year’s gag-inducing “Ka Oryang”, Bayani’s full frontal rape scene – she with the darkest areola and a bushy crotch – had me scarred - for life! I had nightmares for a month, I needed a debriefing. Fortunately, Bayani’s concupiscent scene with Arnold Reyes in “Intoy Syokoy” was dimly lit. More than anything, this middling work heralds the birth of a new actress whose nuanced performance can light up the screen even without saying anything. LJ Reyes is spectacular! 

Julius Cena’s “Mga Dayo”. Ella (Olga Natividad), a supervisor in a hotel’s housekeeping, watches in horror as she opens the door to a room that has almost-literally been swept by a tsunami. There’s vomit on the floor, and turds buoy up lazily in the toilet bowl. For 5 minutes or so, Ella’s reaction evolves into a myriad of emotions – shock, consternation, wrath, frustration. By the time she gets to the bedroom, we were pulling the crumpled sheets with her! Phooey!

 Vincent Sandoval’s “Aparisyon”. Ellipse marks a horrifying moment in the life of new postulate, Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria). While fellow nuns (Mylene Dizon, Fides Cuyugan-Asencio and Raquel Villavicencio) watch on helplessly from their hiding place, we hear Sister Lourdes’ plea for help. She gets repeatedly bludgeoned by fists and raped by several woodland bandits. I had to squirm in my seat to shake my repugnance. Other less classy film makers would have filmed a graphic rape scene.

 Jun Lana’s Bwakaw. Rene (Eddie Garcia), a grumpy, aging homosexual, is summoned to “claim” his coffin because the funeral parlor is closing shop. So he has to get the coffin delivered in the evening to avoid catching the attention of his nosy neighbors. Unfortunately, Nitang (Beverly Salviejo) witnesses the delivery. Later that day, Mother Zaldy and Tracy (Soxie Topacio, Joey Paras), along with Nitang (Beverly Salviejo), troop to Rene’s house to attend to Rene’s funeral. Little did they know that Rene’s very much alive! What ensues is one of this year’s most hilarious scenes.

The closing shot is particularly memorable too: Rene, who recently lost his dog, walks a craggy, slightly uphill road, gradually disappearing from sight. Life indeed goes on!

Patrick Sugui is a revelation in "The Animals".

Gino M. Santos’ “The Animals”. With a weekend party in full swing, alcohol and loud music swirl around Jake’s (Albie Casino) upper middle class world. Meanwhile, inebriated girls congregate in the bathroom riddled with grime, vomit and the unflushed excreta. A girl saddles against a toilet bowl, stuporous from intoxication. She dips her hand in the toilet, seemingly unaware of her surroundings. Eww!

 Jose Javier Reyes’ “Mga Munting Lihim”. A protracted argument ensues at a restaurant as Carla (Iza Calzado) unravels to her friends Sandy (Agot Isidro) and Olive (Janice de Belen) the disheartening contents of a journal owned by Mariel (Judy Ann Santos) who died from Pancreatic Cancer. The friends deal with new revelations straight out of Juday’s diary. Though the verbal tussle that ensues is entertaining, I am of the opinion that all this muck raking was pointless. After all, isn’t it clear that despite their differences and scruples against each other, they still end up extending hand when one of them needs it? The smart exchanges may be appealing to a particular demographic, but if they let sleeping dogs lie, they would have all been grief-free. A case of much ado about nothing, if you ask me.  

Adolf Alix, Jr.’s “Kalayaan” (Wildlife) – The film opens with a naked guy seemingly sleepwalking. He heads towards the mangrove until he finds a clearing. A mermaid with greenish scales waits. He walks closer and for what seems like 15 minutes, the mermaid fellates the naked man (Rocky Salumbides). In these desolate islands, lonely men get their kicks from blowjob-loving mermaids. The movie is replete with homoerotic images from start to finish. In fact, It also concludes with another fellatio this time featuring Julian (Thai superstar Ananda Everingham) and another sirena (Angeli Bayani). I have to admit that more people are pointing out the director’s kowtowing streaks, kinda like a glorified Pink Film with directorial indulgences that’s meant to ogle at his actors’ nakedness. Regardless, Albert Banzon’s camera work is superlative.

Mes de Guzman’s “Diablo”. A wide awake Nanay Lusing (Ama Quiambao). Loud radio blaring through the midnight hour. A looming silhouette at the foot of her bed. We get a glimpse of the silver-haired woman through the mosquito net.  The death of a beloved son finally brings her family under one roof. That night, her radio conks out. She is gripped with immense sadness and weeps like there’s no tomorrow… Was it closure? The same night, we finally hear – not the radio – but the loud snore of Nanay Lusing. Images that shall haunt me for a long time.

Emmanuel Palo’s “Santa Nina”. In a desolate quarry of a lahar-ravaged land, Pol (Coco Martin) digs up the coffin of his two year old daughter Marikit. He walks the mile, carrying the preserved body of a child he lost a few years ago. Oblivious to the stare of the townsfolk, Pol takes his daughter home. Another St. Bernadette perhaps? Handsome, cryptic. Pol’s face rankles with irresolute affect. Is there redemption in a child that has long passed on? Vintage and indie caliber Coco Martin prior to getting ensnared by the pitfalls of melodrama schtick. 

Alessandra de Rossi plays Madel, Pol’s cousin and Markit’s mother. She has long moved on, but the unexpected turn of events takes her back to her shady past. And I have to say that every scene involving de Rossi is memorable; the scene with her estranged mother (Irma Adlawan) particularly bristles with pathos.

Raymond Red’s “Kamera Obskura”. Two decades after his incarceration, a man (Pen Medina) sees a city engulfed by new technologies. He gazes at the sky and finds bikes flying in mid-air. This scene alone is worth the admission. With potent images shot in black and white, Red’s “obskura” tackles issues on a sick society. Suddenly, the kingmakers find salvation – “daliang lunas sa sakit ng lipunan” – in an ex-convict with a magical camera stuck in his hand. 

      Unfortunately, the novelty wears off after the first third of the narrative. The scenes go on and on and on, and the verbose subtitles soon turn to tedium. This was the only film I was tempted to walk out on – out of plain boredom! Though its screening was almost full house (unlike “Kalayaan” that was almost empty), people started walking out. There’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t stretch your narrative longer than necessary. Director Red could’ve taken pointers from Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist”.

Lawrence Fajardo’s “Posas”. Art Acuna. Art Acuna. Art Acuna. Did I say “Art Acuna”? Menacing and canny, Art Acuna’s scenes as Inspector Domingo scared the bejesus out of me.  Meanwhile, scenes with Nico Antonio (playing Jess, the cellphone thief) feel a bit underwhelming; not mediocre, but lacking a gravitas. In fact, when he was ordered to shoot a gagged man, it felt like another day in the life of a criminal. Nothing too out of the ordinary, it seems. Fajardo’s “Posas” pales in comparison to his “Amok”, but this isn’t saying “Posas” isn’t worth watching. Despite what we pointed out, “Posas” is relevant, persuasive and contemporary. 

Marie Jamora’s “Ang Nawawala”. When an accident kills Gibson’s (Dominic Roco) twin, the overwhelmed mother (Dawn Zulueta) gets confused: “Sino ka? Jamie? Gibson?” (Asking which twin survived the accident). Since then, Gibson has refused to speak. (He blamed himself.) This scene was dynamic because the rest of the narrative anchors from this specific moment!  To be quite honest, it seems improbable that a mother wouldn’t recognize her twins, even in a moment of agitation. At the concluding scene, Gibson sits on the bed beside her sleeping mother. He tries to wake her up. It was after all the New Year. She sleepily asks, “Sino ka?” Then after years of not speaking to his mother, he utters his name, “Si Gibson.” I had goose bumps. Director Marie Jamora conjured an almost seamless narrative, deftly piecing together a compelling story, a vibrant soundtrack that succinctly mashes Kundiman (“O Ilaw”, anyone?) and the live band scene, and a little romantic interlude between Gibson and a charming, but conflicted girl.  

In Sigrid Andrea Bernardo's "Ang Paghihintay sa Bulong", the film opens with an old wrinkly woman fully naked (yup, full frontal) as she's being given a bath by her "apo". The whole household of low lives await for her eventual demise so they could "whisper" (bulong) to her for their own wishes! It stars some of the most gag-inducing characters in the history of Cinemalaya. The ensemble includes Shandi Bacolod ("Ben and Sam") who's as bad as an actor as he is as a director. In Chuck Gutierrez's "Ulian" (Senility), a child searches for her missing lola. The face of the girl looks familiar. Isn't Amalyn Ismael one of the actresses in Sheron Dayoc's "Halaw" ? In Hannah Espia's "Ruweda", a pickpocket in a carnival gets his comeuppance. Beautiful cinematography. Kinetic pacing makes for an urgent narrative. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Paul Sta. Ana's Oros - Business of the Dead

Makoy (Kristoffer King) and his family live in the squalor of Baseco. But he has a lucrative job as a “kasero” (money manager) in a saklaan (an illegal cards game). But the ruse doesn’t stop there. To further earn revenue from his gambling depot, Makoy sets fake funerals to allow others to make money. Among his clients is Aling Linda (Tanya Gomez) who has been hosting her counterfeit burol (wake) for the past two weeks – and she wants to extend this for a month. Meanwhile, neighbor Annabel (Angelita Raymundo) is desperate for extra income and wants her own “wake”. She negotiates with Makoy who turns to the funeral parlor for unclaimed corpses for Annabel’s fake burol. Makoy hires his younger brother Abet (Kristoffer Martin) to help him out. But Abet has more pressing concerns (he is being hunted down by a former girl friend’s brother). In fact, he would rather steer clear from this if he had a choice. Meanwhile, he is assigned to man Annabel’s wake.

Unfortunately, these operations haven’t gone unnoticed. Discretion is contentious when something as public as a saklaan involves the community. Tipsters have notified the local authorities and a raid is in the offing. That night, Annabel gets her corpse, and the two-week funeral she hosts commences. However, the local authorities have other plans. They carry out raids in both Aling Linda’s and Annabel’s burol. Makoy eludes arrest. But several of his personnel were taken. But where is Abet? Why hasn’t he surfaced after the raids?  Makoy scours his area’s police precincts but he couldn’t find his brother. What’s become of Abet?

Director Paul Sta. Ana creates a world of moral and physical destitution where even the dead is turned into a commodity. Nothing is sacred anymore when hunger pangs numb the conscience. To be honest, “Oros” belongs to a genre I scoff at – “Poverty Porn”, but unlike “Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino”, the slant of the narrative does not offend. 

The film is buoyed by the natural grace of Kristoffer King (who’s fantastic); the candor and charm of GMA tweener, Kristoffer Martin (who’s a revelation in his first indie film). Sometime in mid-chapter, the story gets tedious. The scenes unnecessarily go on and on, like a child that needs validation. I start tossing and turning in my seat. And I realize that the film could pack a wallop with a shorter running time. Rommel Sales’ cinematography is at times gritty; other times ethereal (like the opening shots at a smoky dump site). But nothing shakes you more than a subtle form of ellipse technically employed by Sta. Ana to conclude Makoy’s dilemma. Indeed, the human mind is such a potent generator of emotions - more than visual impulses.    

Baseco's world of squalor

Saklaan in fake wakes

Christopher King navigates Baseco as though he isn't acting.

Kristoffer Martin turns a page in his professional career. He becomes an actor worth noticing.

Kristoffer King plays Abet, Makoy's younger brother. He is a compelling presence in "Oros".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vincent Sandoval's Aparisyon - Guilt, Tragedy and the Holy

Adoration Cloister is a religious sanctuary in the woodlands of Rizal where less than a dozen monghas (nuns) reside. These nuns are self sustaining. They farm their own vegetables and sell their medicinal plants to town for revenues. They live with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to their superiors. They also shun communicating with the outside world, preferring a life of prayer. The year is 1971 and the nation is gripped by down spiraling political events – Marcos declaring Martial Law, the bombing of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda, subversives sprouting all over the nation. It’s a bleak era for our country. Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) comes into this scenario with wide-eyed optimism as she joins Adorasyon. She is welcomed by Sister Ruth (Fides Cuyugan Asencio), madre superior, and her right-hand “man” Sister Vera (Raquel Villavicencio) as they usher her into her religious vocation.

In the convent, she meets Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon) , the congregation’s extern who, as such, is tasked to face the “outside world” – buying supplies for their daily sustenance, selling plants at the market, etc. Among this population of nuns, Sister Lourdes finds alliance in the dexterous nun who soon ropes Lourdes into her outside activities. Sister Remy is distracted by the disappearance of her activist brother. She asks for a leave from her chores to help her family, but Sister Ruth didn’t allow her to. As a consequence, she takes covert detours, joining meetings of people with missing family. Sister Lourdes becomes party to their clandestine activities.

One day, the meeting stretches longer than necessary. The woodlands soon turn into a dimly lit, treacherous abyss. As the nuns make their way into the convent, they get assaulted. While Sister Remy gets to wriggle out of their predicament, Sister Lourdes isn't as lucky. She gets battered and raped until she’s but a limp and used entity of bruises and broken spirit. What happens to Sister Lourdes? The event stirs this reclusive crowd and throws them in a morally precarious stance. How will they save face from this tragedy? Would they cooperate with the local authority investigating the crime? In a time of strife, where conservative practices reign supreme, answers aren’t easy to come by.   

Director Vincent Sandoval and writer Jerry Gracio weave a tale rich in pathos and moral dilemma. They create an atmosphere of disconsolate isolation and helplessness, it almost feels like watching a horror story more than tragi-drama. The crisis is so palpable, it's almost difficult to detach oneself as a mere spectator. But what's more harrowing than  the random act of violence is the reality that eventually unfolds as the story moves into its conclusion. Moral hypocrisy exists even among those who's supposed to know better.

"Aparisyon" boasts of a powerful ensemble (a spectacular cast from Jodi Sta. Maria to Mylene Dizon, from the fantastic Fides Cuyugan Asencio to the empathetic Raquel Villavicencio), richly textured characters, and a stifling sense of paranoia, helplessness and disgruntling gloom. It allows us to look within ourselves and consider the hard questions presented in the movie. This is a must-see and, clearly, one of the best works to come out of this festival. Do not miss this!  

The nuns of Adorasyon wake up at 3:30 AM daily, work around the cloister, and pray all day.

Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) joins the congregation.

Time to get married to Jesus for Sister Remy. She resists lipstick, but gets told, "Masama bang maging maganda para sa Panginoon?"

Assaulted and abandoned


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mes de Guzman's Diablo - Demons and the Family

Nanay Lusing (Ama Quiambao) lives in the looming presence of what seems like a demon. In a resplendent white house that’s seen better days, she alone maneuvers around familiar but empty hallways, once populated by five sons that have since grown up and moved on. At night, she dines alone, breathless from the occasional shaking of the ground. After bedtime prayers, she settles down her bed with midnight radio blaring loudly – her sole companion in the dead of night. But Nanay Lusing is frozen stiff, sleepless and wide awake from her room's hovering presence. This scenario repeats nightly.

Her sons occasionally visit, but they never stay on. Oscar (Carlo Aquino) heads a horde of religious cult followers, wearing white robes, and dwelling in a cave. He intermittently visits, bearing green mangoes, his mother’s favorite. Fernando (Fredie dela Cruz), a gun-toting military man. Ronaldo (Jose Escobedo) works in a mine. Ruben (Arnold Reyes) farms the rice lands. Ruben hasn’t spoken to his mother in a long time and spitefully avoids her visits. Alberto (Roeder Camanag) is Nanay Lusing’s itinerant, volatile, needy, albeit charming son. He’s perceived to be the favorite, despite his propensity to ask more than he deserves. Alberto lights up Lusing’s room with boundless energy and put-on affection so it’s understandable why she is drawn to him.

One day, he comes home, telling her stories of heart ache; his big city pawnshop has closed shop and he tells her he’s coming home for good. He brings along Angela (Althea Vega) who shall attend to Nanay Lusing’s needs (she recently suffered a fall due to osteoporosis and is thus confined to a wheelchair). Nanay Lusing gets asked by Alberto about their properties, products of a once progressive past. But she smells the ruse. Her sons never gather around like one big family. Not anymore. What Nanay Lusing has (for companions) are a couple of young thieves Matias and Jamaba (John Paul Escobedo and Ronald Caranza) now hired as household help. But Alberto detests their presence. One day, Nanay Lusing is told about Oscar’s sudden demise (he was stabbed by drunken tambays). Would this dreary occasion bring her sons under one roof? Who is the lingering silhouette in her night bed? Will it harm her?

Director Mes de Guzman takes a deliberate pace to tell his story, but he paints his picture with incisive strokes, it's hard to interchange the motives of the characters. This tack allows these people to grow on you which makes empathy easier to attain. Ama Quiambao dominates the screen with her subdued presence. In her clipped words and restrained grace, you find the patience of a mother who knows only too well what her sons are up to - like when Alberto starts discussing about their "nakatiwangwang" parcel of lands, in the guise of familial concern. She never spoke a word, but you notice the gradually pursed lips and the tightening of jaw. She was displeased after all. Director de Guzman's gift rests on his ability to tell his tale leisurely without these strains appearing contrived or forced.

Among Quiambao's co-actors, Roeder Camanag works hard, but doesn't quite measure up to the enticing pull of the veteran actress. Arnold Reyes does better here as Ruben, the son who felt that his mother was playing favorites. Reyes is a competent actor, but he occasionally forgets to temper his emotions. While his technique is always attention-grabbing, it isn't always sincere or appropriate. This is evident in his performance in "Intoy Syokoy sa Calle Marina". Someone please remind him that "less is more" because he already has the faculty to become better. Althea Vega, a habitue of sexy flicks and Pink Films like "Halik sa Tubig" turns in a decent performance. She registers well on screen so I am upbeat that she gets seen in more legitimate independent films.


As the film draws to a close, Nanay Lusing is distraught to find her transistor radio conking out. For years, its noisy commentaries about faith, the deception of demons, and its static have accompanied her solitude while she lies awake in the wee hours of the night. She's been sleepless. That night, noise turns soundless. Except for the reverberating sound of the old woman's snore. More importantly, the hovering demon has dissipated. We also realize that Nanay Lusing's "Diablo" finds closure when her family finally gains familial harmony. Isn't that hopeful?

Roeder Camanag as the opportunistic, but charming son Alberto. Arnold Reyes as the spiteful son  Ruben.

Carlo Aquino as the religious cult leader. 

Adolf Alix Jr.'s Kalayaan - Wildlife, Solitude, Lunacy

Julian Macaraeg (Ananda Everingham) patrols and solitarily habituates a desolate island called Kota in the contested waters of Spratlys. His hut is barely equipped. There’s a television with its DVD player replete with snowy images, its make shift antenna rising like an awkward satellite; a transistor radio blaring the rapidly descending reign of Joseph Estrada. The year is 2001. In this craggy navy detachment post, Julian has acquired a routine. He’s awake all night, pursuing shadows that stir deep into the bakawan (mangroves). But there’s nothing there. He turns to alcohol until he’s drowsy then sleeps into midday. He wakes up to face his hangover; does his morning run. Occasionally, he taunts the migratory birds. Then he fishes for food. After drying his catch under the sun, he then turns to his limited stack of porn videos, pleasuring himself ‘til he’s consumed, then he stretches beside the waves, diligently observing his timid pet turtle until it peeps out of its shell. But something is amiss. Macaraeg refuses to acknowledge the radio communication asking for his RSVP for a get-together set for soldiers manning other similar islands in the territory. After three long months, Julian is finally coming home.

But this desolate atoll rankles with its puzzling urban legend: A soldier, like Macaraeg, once manned the post and found a mermaid who shares the bounty of the island, i.e. its rich oil reserves. They fell in love, but the soldier betrayed the mermaid when he peddled its treasures to the Chinese. As consequence, the mermaid disappeared. One day, the soldier went missing, never to be found again. Victor Pinaglabanan (Rocky Salumbides), Julian’s former colleague, is believed to have suffered the same fate. However, Pinaglabanan’s fate was a tad more horrifying, shaking Julian deep into his psyche. He somehow requires a degree of resolution that's hard to come by. This is what keeps the soldier wandering in the dark of night.

One day, Julian is joined by Lucio (Zanjoe Marudo) and Eric (Luis Alandy), his fellow soldiers assigned to take over the post for five more months. Despite the jubilant company, Julian strictly adheres to his routine, unmindful of the company. “Mula ng nangyari yun kay Pinaglabanan, di na nagsalita yan,” explains Lucio about Julian. While Manila eagerly topples the Estrada administration, Lucio and Eric wake up with a missing Julian. Where is he? Could he be found? 

Director Adolf Alix Jr.'s "Kalayaan" (Wildlife) is a vivid visual dissertation on solitude and a man's descent into lunacy. Like many of Alix's works, he executes his scenes employing real-time film making (more pronounced in the works of Tsai Ming Liang and Nuri Ceylan Belge), thus the audience experiences Julian's overflowing time, displayed in aggregates of seemingly routine activities. When he opens a can of food, when he waits for his pet turtle to move, when he walks into the ocean to fish, we experience an unedited, uncut preoccupation from start to finish. This actually creates an atmosphere that rankles with monotony, and what better way to understand Julian's predicament, right? But unlike the indolent moments in Aloy Adlawan's "Ang Katiwala", we are kept awake and tantalized by the protagonist's seeming vacuous emotionality. If that isn't a hallmark of an engaging performer, I don't know what is. To be sure, a consummate performer doesn't require too much words to sustain attention.

Ananda Everingham is Thailand's biggest male superstar, analogous to our Piolo Pascual, so it's easy to understand his capacity to hook viewers without saying much. Since Everingham plays a Filipino soldier - and he does not speak Tagalog (he is Lao-Australian), his vocal paucity is written into the character which, to my mind, is a major challenge for an actor. After all, emotions are mostly rendered by speech. Everingham has to employ other means to express himself. He comes up with an impression that lingers in our minds long after the credits have rolled. To be fair, Everingham has done his share of art house flicks (Uekrongtham's "Pleasure Factory" and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's "Ploy"), but in "Kalayaan", for more than an hour, he fills the cinematic palette with his lone presence.

The mystical strain in "Kalayaan" channels the temperament and style of Apitchapong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives", and the haunting images of sand and sea, reminding me of Aureus Solitos' "Busong" (Palawan Fate).

There are some loop holes in the narrative. Julian is heard reporting to his command post: "Dalawang barko ang dumaan. Pagkatapos, nawala na sila, sir!" While bird watching, he shouts, "Takbo!" During a mock beauty pageant between Lucio and Eric, Julian was asked to interrogate the two for the Q&A. He asks: "What is the essence of Spratlys?" Yes, he actually spoke in a few scenes, yet Lucio points to his vocal crutch saying, "Mula nung nangyari yun kay Pinaglabanan, 'di na yan nagsalita." So why did we hear him speak? When something morbid transpires in a camp, isn't it customary to pull out the officers involved for investigation and debriefing? Why was Julian retained to finish his three months? Weren't they concerned he would suffer Victor's fate?

While it's a worthy cause to delve into the relevant issue of oil reserves in the territory, Alix mainly espouses on solitude. In fact, this was deftly covered until it introduced the psychological effect of desolation and social detachment. His creepy demeanor becomes valid proof of cerebral perturbation. This is why a conclusion that openly interjects the existence of blow-job performing mermaids becomes a narrative nuisance. So the urban legend wasn't the product of solitude-induced craziness? So the stories about mermaids protecting oil reserves were real? This narrative curlicue actually muddles what could have been a near-perfect parable. All those overly indulgent stretches of sickeningly routine activities suddenly feel like watered down versions of pure unadulterated boredom, throwing away the romanticism it brings.

Alix's "Kalayaan" is another feather in the young director's cap, but this isn't as seamless as "Haruo" and "Isda". Sometimes, one has to learn to control exceeding indulgences to avoid alienating an audience. "Kalayaan" straddles this boundary. I am not surprised why during my whole day movie marathon (watching five films), this had the least number of people watching. While most films on exhibition boasted of full house, "Kalayaan" sadly had lots of empty seats. This isn't right because it has one of the most novel concepts, bold enough to tackle a wearily dull topic. What's more, it is shot in "real-time".

Reasons to watch: A Thai Superstar; Albert Banzon's surreal camera work; a view of the disputed Kalayaan islands; an uncompromising method of film making not seen in mainstream flicks; a cerebral take on solitude and lunacy; a creepy mermaid. On a lesser scale:  Rocky Salumbides gets a provocative "lip service" from a mermaid (looks prosthetic to me); Marudo, Alandy and Everingham display their muscley backside several times. If they're not enough reasons to run to the cinema to catch "Kalayaan", then stay home and watch your DVD's of "Petrang Kabayo" and "Moron 5". I'm sure you deserve  them. :)

What's a Thai superstar doing in a Pinoy Indie?