Ed's Note: "Mga Mumunting Lihim," an entry to this year's Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, opens in commercial release on Wednesday, August 22.
Tragedy is the inspiration for Jose Javier Reyes’ "Mga Mumunting Lihim" (Those Little Secrets). A death of a dear friend, whose wake and eulogy revealed to Reyes certain circumstances in their friendship he may have overlooked, would urge Reyes to craft a story out of newly discovered questions and insecurities pertaining to long-term platonic relationships.
The most interesting thing about Reyes’ story is that it is more reliant on witty humor than weepy dramatics, suggesting that Reyes is more fascinated in the comedic urges of social humans than he is with teary narrative contrivances. That suggestion, as it turns out, never ripens into reality.
The plot is driven primarily by the estrogen-powered histrionics of a bunch of middle-class friends who’ve gone through a lot only to have their friendship dissolved by a devious plan of the deceased to leak well-kept secrets into the consciousness of her still-living long-time pals.
It starts with ad executive Carla (Iza Calzado), poised, eloquent and all too ready to show off her mannered intellect, who surprisingly did not get the honor of giving the eulogy for her best friend and cancer victim Mariel (Judy Ann Santos). That honor went to Sandra (Agot Isidro), the crew’s infamous gold digger, whose sudden rise in status saw a decline in her reputation among her very subtle friends.
However, Mariel bequeathed to Carla her private journals, which at first revealed innocuous details about her childhood insecurities. However, the more she reads through the entries, the more she discovers how little she knows about her friends and how much has been hidden from her.
As she relates these new found bits of information to Sandra and Olive (Janice de Belen), she starts to weigh whether the truth is worth the eventual deterioration of their bond with each other.
|Judy Ann Santos in a scene from "Mga Mumunting Lihim."
Reyes takes full advantage of the opportunity to direct a film without the shackles paid for by a commercial studio. True enough, "Mga Mumumunting Lihim" is a confusing parade of styles. At one point, he indulges in close-ups, parading the immaculate beauty of the faces he has assembled for his film. Then, he attempts to adopt a more freewheeling aesthetic style, with the camera wafting around, capturing whatever action or dialogue.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the flip-flopping between gloss and grit, except that it is fashionably free. The film’s editing is more infuriating than functional, divulging the inconsistencies with outrageous shifts in plotting instead of conveniently hiding them with brisk and clean cuts.
Reyes is not let down by his actresses, who in varying degrees give satisfyingly assured performances. Sadly, the trite portrayals of the male cast become more apparent, further exposing the film’s frustratingly rough edges.
It seems that Reyes cannot rid himself of the conventional and formulaic filmmaking which became his bread and butter for decades, remaining beholden to the melodramatic artifices in storytelling of the so-called mainstream which instantaneously tug the heartstrings of the unsuspecting audience.
"Mga Mumunting Lihim" is more than ready to abandon the zesty irreverence the film seamlessly developed for an unsatisfying conclusion that is bludgeoned to death by conventional good taste and safe sentimentality.
More than the confusing aesthetics or the very wide gap between the performances of the leads and the support, the film’s sudden movement towards sap and predictability is its most glaring undoing.
Francis Joseph Cruz is a lawyer and critic. You can follow his blog "Lessons from the School of Inattention." (http://oggsmoggs.blogspot.com/)