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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 28, 2019


INSTEAD OF the usual yearender that we do, we now want to share with you some of the realizations that dawned on us as the year 2019 is about to say farewell to us. First realization is that the annual Metro Manila Filmfest will never be complete without its share of controversies.

Some quarters are now questioning the jury’s decision in making “Mindanao” win the lion’s share of awards, suggesting some hanky panky and hinting that it’s because it’s financed by the government.

We don’t know where this comes from but two of our most respected living directors, Joel Lamangan and Jose Javier Reyes, belong to the panel of jurors. They’re both very principled and outspoken. Do you think they will allow themselves to be bullied by any government official in the panel to vote against their will?

We remember in 2001, when the movie about Mindanao, “Bagong Buwan” didn’t win best picture and it’s the adventure-action flick, “Yamashita’s Treasure”, that was given the honor. Some folks also strongly complained because “Bagong Buwan” is a more socially relevant movie and its star, Cesar Montano, even quipped: “Bibili na lang kami ng trophy sa Recto.” We thought their film then was overly preachy.

Now, we have a movie about Mindanao that is superbly crafted, sensibly directed, extremely well acted, and some quarters are still complaning. Well, as they say you cannot please everyone, especially those who belong to the movie “Culion”, directed by Alvin Yapan, who two years ago, also figured in the controversial film, “Oro”, after he disclosed that a dog was actually killed while they’re shooting their movie.

We’re really glad that he’s back into directing in “Culion”, a big-budgeted period film and mainstream production, but, sad to say, it’s not as good as the indie films he did before, like “Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa”, “Gaydar” and “Anino ng Kahapon”.

We had such high hopes and good expectations for “Culion”, what with no less than Ricky Lee as its writer, then there’s a line in it with Jasmine Curtis Smith saying, upon seeing a handsome guy: “Ang pogi!” Excuse me, but that word didn’t become in vogue until the 1960s when Eddie Gutierrez starred in a Sampaguita Pictures movie of the same title.

Even the names of some characters like Doris, Ditas and Mabel are anachronous for that period. Most women then are named like Segunda, Juana, Francisca and their nicknames are Gunding, Juaning and Francing.

There are many other cases of incongruity in the movie but we’d rather not dwell on them. We are honestly prepared to sympathize with the characters who are all afflicted by leprosy, even if we try to look somewhere else when their decaying faces and chicharon-looking hands are shown close up on the big screen. (Why naman would anyone want to watch such kadiri scenes sa panahong ito ng Kapaskuhan?)

Sadly, though, despite its promising core material and its strong emotional potential, the movie just failed to move us, as we cannot empathize with their agony and anguish. The lack of inspired direction is specially evident in the very abrupt ending that doesn’t really resolve anything and indicates that Yapan doesn’t really have a very clear idea as to where the narrative should be going for a more satisfying conclusion.

The movie just lacks a strong narrative pull and we believe that the best way to tell this sad episode in our history is through a nostalgic, lyrical manner, told with a tinge of melancholy, maybe from the poetic point of view of that leprous little boy in the movie who can serve as its narrator, recalling in a coming-of-age reminiscence how he survived life in Culion and remembering with much fondness all the unforgettable people in it who touched him and gave meaning to his innocent young life.

But the film is a big disappointment as Yapan appears like a tyro, what with the movie marred by awkward blocking, by supporting actors who do not know how to act for the camera (notably, the foreigners, specially the French nuns who seem to have been just recruited sa tabi-tabi and by a parish priest who’s very obviously wearing a wig) and the unconvincing acting even by some of the major characters.

Sorry, but we didn’t get to relate with the characters at all, even with Jasmine Curtis Smith who killed herself after being raped. (Someone behind us even quipped: “E, malandi naman siya, e.”)

We also realized here that the guest appearance of a long missing top star does not necessarily help a Metro-Manila Filmfest entry at the tills. This is John Lloyd Cruz, who showed up in one wordless scene as Meryll Soriano’s boyfriend in “Culion”.

This doesn’t augur well for John Lloyd in case he plans to make a comeback. As a moviegoer behind us quipped: “E, ano ngayon? May interesado pa ba sa kanya?”