My Sundays are usually spent in the suburbs, but last Sunday I went to the CCP to catch a few films from the sixth Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. I hung out by the fountain: the sun was out, I had a Vietnamese sandwich in my bag if I got hungry, and Broken Social Scene was on my iPod. I couldn’t have had a nicer Sunday.
At 12.45 pm, I saw Two Funerals by veteran award winning director Gil Portes. It’s the story about how death (and life) in the Philippines are both tragic and comic, and most often surreal. When a truck and a bus collide in Nueva Ecija during Holy Week, the effects trickle down from one small town to another, where the living unwittingly play out death dramas both physical and spiritual in dimension. Pilar (Tessie Tomas, I’m a huge fan) and her husband Cito (Robert Arevalo) await the dead body of their daughter Charm who was in a bus accident. Her grieving fiance Gerry (Xian Lim who shows some promise) brings home his dead sweetheart’s body to her parents only to discover that there’s a middle aged man lying in the casket. Tessie Tomas, as the mother, loses it with so much ferocity it borders on overacting- but her performance in this film is exactly that: fierce all the way. Her grief carries her from Tuguegarao to Sorsogon, where the body of her daughter was sent by the funeraria by mistake. So the mini funeral procession- just the lead car with the hearse trailing behind - winds up Matnog where Charm’s body was sent. There they find a small-time gambling operator named Mulong (Benjie Felipe) who has been making money out of the fake wake of his dead brother. Mr. Portes pulls off the quintessential Filipino black comedy, combining melodrama with satire, dancing drag queens and Easter processions with equal aplomb.
Two Funerals by Gil Portes
And then at 3.30pm, I sat in the freezing black box that is the Tanghalang Huseng Batute for Francis Xavier Pasion’s Sampaguita, which follows the lives of a bunch of street children who sell sampaguita on the streets. The film opens at dawn, where children take their gasera lamps and pluck the flowers in quiet fields. These flowers are sold and strung, where they are sold by more children in the city. The story is heartbreaking and the film is sensitively observed. The director - also responsible for the critically acclaimed Jay - does an amazing job portraying the lives of these children, which are certainly harrowing and yet not without moments of joy and playfulness that children have. Finally, here’s Philippine poverty without the porn. Sampaguita gives these nameless, faceless street children identities and stories which we can no longer ignore. (Perhaps the DSWD should screen this film?)
Sampaguita by Francis Xavier Pasion
And finally, I caught the Set B of the short films: Harang by Mikhail Red (a holdup in the middle of nowhere), Hay Pinhod Oh Ya Scooter (I Want to Have a Bicycle) by Hubert Tibi (a young Ifugao boy falls in love), Lola by Joey Agbayani (a hilariously scary animated short about a manananggal), P by Rommel Tolentino (a charming story about a kid and his mean aunt, peppered with alliteration), and Wag Kang Titingin by Pam Miras (a tragedy in the forest). The shorts are strong this year - I think I’ll catch Set A this week.
Support independent Filipino film! Come on down to the Cultural Center of the Philippines for Cinemalaya 6. See the schedule here. Have a good week, y’ all.
Main gallery image from "Two Funerals" courtesy of Cinemalaya.