Cinemalaya 2021 is really, really good


Cinemalaya has fielded short stories for its main competition for the second straight year over the traditionally full-length ones. And it’s no surprise that most of its entries reflect the realities of the pandemic, which prompted the adjustment in the first place.

For its 17th edition, the festival will again be streamed online on KTX.PH until September 5. There are 13 main titles for this edition, each with its own theme and quirks, but as seen in our honest reviews below, this year’s edition is a must-see overall.

Maski Papano (Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit)

One of this year’s more entertaining and lighthearted entries, Maski Papano follows a discarded facemask as it tries to find its purpose in the streets of Manila.

The film mixes humor and tongue-in-cheek drama to explore the mind-numbing realities of the lockdown, such as the loss of sense of time, the absence of direction, and the value of companionship in isolation. The stop motion animation gives life to its lead, and Maski Papano’s charm lends an adorable spin to an otherwise familiar theme of self-reflection.

Crossing (Marc Misa)

Crossing follows security guard Gabriel, who resolves to rob a bus out of financial desperation. But just as he attempts to execute his plan, two robbers masquerading as passengers hold the others at gunpoint. Gabriel must then decide whether to fight and push through with his plan or be the hero his job requires.

With its exploration of morality vs. practicality, Crossing seems to serve as a commentary of the emptiness of praise and applause in the face of real dilemmas faced by our supposedly ‘valued’ frontliners. Who saves the heroes when they’re the ones who need saving?

 Kawatan Sa Salog (Alphie Velasco)

Kawatan Sa Salog follows Santi, a young boy transported into the afterlife after drowning in a river. The Bicolano film explores another interpretation of life after death, which takes the form of a secluded island inhabited by lost souls who faced the same fate.

It’s one of the more straightforward stories in the list, buoyed more by the tender interactions between Santi and the spiritual guide he ends up forming a bond with.

An Sadit na Planeta (Arjanmar Rebeta)

An Sadit na Planeta stands out for its style, as the experimental film was entirely shot with a 360 camera. Director Arjan Rebeta plays as himself, gifted a barren planet on his birthday, whose sole companion is a disembodied voice called ‘I’.

Over time, Arjan discovers that the planet’s fate is tied to his well-being; the more he chooses to live his life, the more the ecosystem flourishes. The story delivers a hopeful allegory to those who might be in the downturn, and asks them to keep chugging and take control of their lives for the better.

Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things (James Fajardo)

A case of a good premise that falls short, Looking for Rafflesias had an interesting start; a boy named Gubat, rumored to be the son of a Tikbalang, is treated as an outcast by his rural town.

He then comes across a random guy with a gun in a forest, and they do… things? There is a clear attempt to be ambiguous, a common trope among film festival entries, but ambiguity does not always equate to substance. The story makes the tiniest bit of sense, but without a concrete plot to hold it all together, Looking for Rafflesias is a sore spot in an otherwise promising list.

Out of Body (Enrico Po)

Out of Body is Filipino horror if it decided to ditch the outdated special effects and cheesy teeny-bopper leads. The film follows a young model who takes part in a production shoot that turns out to be more than she bargained for.

With great actors, a strong buildup, and parallels to the real-life exploitations in local showbiz, Out of Body successfully ups the creep factor to heart-pumping levels.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi (Shiri De Leon)

In notoriously conservative societies like the Philippines, films like Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi are always welcome. The story follows Lola Mayumi, an old maid who enlists the service of a call boy in an attempt to lose her virginity.

The lighthearted interaction between the two slowly peels off to reveal the traumatic origins of Lola Mayumi’s decades-long abstinence. The tonal shift can be jarring given the short runtime, but the film’s introspective look at the concept of virginity, how sex factors into relationships, and the scars it can leave behind are important discussions to further.

Namnama en Lolang (Jonnie Lyn Dasalla)

Two years into the pandemic and it’s easy to grow numb to the daily death tolls we see on social. Namnama en Lolang reminds us that behind every figure is a real person, with hopes, dreams, and loved ones left behind.

The story follows a Lolang Keyag and her life with her grandson Eli amidst a lockdown in Baguio. She recounts her experiences to her son Landon, whose absence is revealed in the film’s end twist. Namnama en Lolang makes the most out of its simplicity to reflect a heart-pinching reality.

Kids on Fire (Kyle Nieva)

Anyone who grew up in a highly religious background will get a chuckle or two from Kids on Fire. The film follows JC, a student who experiences a sexual awakening during a religious retreat with his class. Every time he dares to act on his urges, strange, apocalyptic things seem to happen, which then dissuade him from following through.

Kids on Fire seems to poke fun at the religious condemnation of otherwise natural human things such as feelings of arousal, masturbation, the misguided guilt that ‘sinners’ experience, and the cult-like mentality of such groups. Veteran actress Mystica is a standout, treading the line between hilarity and creepiness.

Beauty Queen (Myra Aquino)

Inspired by true events, Beauty Queen follows Remedios Gomez, a real-life pageant winner from Pampanga who becomes a Hukbahalahap fighter during the Japanese occupation of World War II.

By far the most stylistic of the entries, from the production value to cinematography, Beauty Queen gives a long-overdue spotlight on the triumphs and tribulations of our female revolutionary heroes. With the proven audience interest in historical films such as Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, here’s hoping our women get their chance on the big screen.

Ate O.G. (Kevin Mayuga)

A maid endures the dullness of the lockdown while supervising her two ungrateful and irritable wards.

The film isn’t subtle in its advocacy for the recreational use of marijuana, as portrayed by the positive, nearly magical shift in tone after its characters’ consumption. But there’s something delightful in seeing our depressed protagonist enjoy her newfound carefree aura, which makes us think if the weed heads do have a point.

The Dust In Your Place (David Olson)

Can a platonic relationship exist between a man and a woman? The Dust In Your Place examines this age-old question through the eyes of two best buds/budding comic artists, Rick and Claire.

The pair represent the two sides to this everlasting argument; for Claire, their friendship is a source of jealousy for Rick’s romantic partners and a deterrent for her potential suitors. Meanwhile, Rick sees nothing wrong because they themselves know they’re just friends.

Whichever side you take, The Dust In Your Place sees the merits and flaws in both. While a tad bit too long, the dialogue is engaging enough to maintain your attention – or to trigger a lengthy discussion with your own buds.

Ang Mga Nawawalang Pag-Asa at Panlasa (Kevin Ayson)

With the superb editing, Ang Mga Nawawalang Pag-Asa at Panlasa is basically one big demo reel on why your next food trip should be Ilocos Norte. It features mouth-watering shots of Ilocos delicacies such as Pinakbet, Dinardaraan (crispy dinuguan), Igado, and Tupig (Ilocano rice cake), and the people behind them.

Beyond the food porn, the film also spotlights how the lockdowns have forced many to shutter their eateries and how social media became the key to reviving the local culture. BRB as we book our next flight to Ilocos.

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