Monday, January 04, 2010

Mediocre harvest (Part 1)

This is my column today.

Are we really helping the Philippine movie industry by patronizing the annual Metro Manila Film Festival?

It seems the annual festival has become nothing but a money-making venture, an opportunity for movie producers to rake in profits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making money, of course; producing movies, after all, is still a business venture. But the festival is also supposed to be a showcase of Filipino talent and is intended to advance the cause of Philippine filmmaking. The movie industry was supposed to come out with quality movies as some kind of Christmas offering to the Filipino movie-going public who, in turn, were supposed to show their appreciation by patronizing more Filipino movies. It was supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship.

However, the overall quality of the movies featured in the annual festival has been on a steady decline over the years. This year’s harvest is particularly dismal: Not a single film among the seven entries that make this year’s crop stands out as an example of fine cinema. This wasn’t fair to the many Filipinos who still patronize the festival. Box-office receipts on Christmas day alone reached around P80 million; the top three movies in terms of box-office receipts (Ang Panday, Ang Darling Kong Aswang, and Shake, Rattle and Roll) raked in at least P16 million each in one day.

It seems that by patronizing the MMFF, we are encouraging the production of mediocre films and contributing to the overall decline of the Philippine movie industry. Even worse, it seems we’re encouraging producers from ripping off Filipino moviegoers of their hard-earned money.

One justification being forwarded is that it is only during the festival when Filipino movie producers are guaranteed profit—so we are supposed to just grin and bear it. We’re supposed to just bend over so that Mother Lily Monteverde, the Lopezes, and the rest of the producers can make money? There are many things wrong with this scenario. First, it negates the very essence of what filmmaking is supposed to be about, which is that it is also supposed to be an art form. Second, such a protectionist stance is defeatist in the long term as mediocrity kills patronage; it’s like killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. Third, we’re forgetting that box office returns are not the only ways in which producers make money from their films.

The reviews—particularly word of mouth —of the movies that comprised this year’s festival were generally lukewarm; even those that tried to say nice things about the films sounded somehow conciliatory. Nevertheless, many among us still trooped to theaters like we needed to see for ourselves just how bad they were. Like I said, the MMFF has become an annual tradition for many; I actually know people who have made going to theaters on Christmas day a hallowed tradition. How else do we explain this insane predilection for sequels? Shake, Rattle and Roll is now on its 11th installment. We’re seeing the sixth reincarnation of Mano Po. Enteng Kabisote may have taken a break this year but the genre is alive and well in Ang Darling Kong Aswang. Even top grosser and Best Film of the festival, Ang Panday is a sequel of sorts.

Given generally bad reviews, I went to the theaters with very low expectations. I still left the theaters feeling ripped off. And to think I watched the three films that were —according to the judges—supposed to have been the best among the crop. If Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love, Ang Panday, and I Love You Goodbye were the better entries, how awful could the other movies be?

Two words explained why we prioritized I Love You Goodbye over all the other entries to this year’s festival: Laurice Guillen. Guillen is a director known for artistic integrity. Guillen’s track record as director has been consistent as well— she’s only made a few movies and each one of them was a critical success. Surely, directing another love story would be a walk in the park for the director who gave us the incomparable Salome, probably one of the best Filipino movies ever made.

The production values of the film were okay in the sense that we didn’t see underexposed shots or cats and dogs straying into the scenes. I Love You Goodbye coasted along steadily for the whole duration of the playing time; the heartbeat monitor in the operating room where Gabby Concepcion’s character supposedly does his thing as a cardiologist-surgeon showed more activity. Nothing much really happens throughout the film.

To be fair to Guillen, I Love You Goodbye had a storyline that was pitifully threadbare to begin with; there was hardly any complication in the plot with the slightest potential to create fireworks. It seemed they realized too late that the movie was so bland they decided to do a whodunit at the last 10 minutes; which, of course didn’t do anything to the movie other than bring it to an end.

I Love You Goodbye had the kind of story that won’t even make the cut for Maalala Mo Kaya so it’s truly a surprise that Star Cinema turned it into a movie, much more, an entry to the festival. Some emotional wrench was thrown into the plotline by Kim Chiu’s character as the bratty daughter and by Liza Lorena as the snotty and domineering mother, but both characters were so stereotypical and one-dimensional. Besides, they were onscreen less than 10 percent of the movie’s running time. Roughly 80 percent of the movie had Angelica Panganiban on the screen which ordinarily should not have been such a bad thing—she registers quite well and is a fine actress. But there’s only so much of a pretty face we can take.

To a certain extent, I Love You Goodbye reminded me very strongly of Kasal?, Guillen’s first directorial job, which I watched when I was in college but whose images still remain indelible in the recesses of memory. Both movies are love stories bookended with the same premise—a couple on their way to happily-ever-after as soon as they are able to settle unresolved issued with exes and domineering parents. Kasal?, however, had better psychology and thus offered complications one could empathize with. I Love You Goodbye’s only real complication involved Panganiban’s ex (acted out by real-life partner Derek Ramsey). The subplot about a malpractice lawsuit was so benign and inconsequential because everybody saw there was no basis for it.

Only Panganiban’s character was fleshed out—we get a glimpse of why she seemed overly clingy and needy. The rest were left unexplained: why Concepcion’s character seemed distant and conflicted (we presumed the mood swings were caused by some psychological reason instead of bad acting), why Chiu’s character was rude and cruel and what accounted for her sudden change of heart towards the end, etc.

Concepcion’s character is supposed to be madly, unconditionally in love with Panganiban character but we don’t really get a sense of that in the movie—in fact, it looks the other way around. Concepcion’s character comes across as bland and cold and sterile and it’s Panganiban’s character that smolders with passion and affection although it can be said that this is also a reflection of how gifted Panganiban is as an actress. She was probably robbed of the Best Actress trophy this year. Ramsey shows some promise but he is no match to Panganiban’s intensity. Chiu is lucky to have such a pretty face.

I Love You Goodbye proved that a movie needed to have a good story; that there’s only so much a director can do with bad material. On Wednesday: Ang Panday and Mano Po 6.

2 comments:

Ormocanon said...

In contrast to the Metro Manila Film Fest which has wallowed in mediocrity, Cinemalaya has consistently provided a good environment for young independent filmmakers to excel and flourish and produce quality films which garner international film awards.

Contents under pressue said...

Bong (Revilla, not you dude) as best actor?

I'm sorry, but are we on planet Bizarro? Oh wait - it's just the MMFF, where stupidity is the norm.