GASPING FOR AIR
Written and directed by Carlo Obispo
Luis and Lulu are preteen siblings who lived on a remote island fishing village. After a barrio singing contest, Lulu was approached by a talent scout from the city who promised her a bright future in show business. Because her parents never supported her dreams to be a singer, Lulu decided to join the scout. However, when there was eventually no news from her, Luis boldly went to the city to look for his sister and convince her to come home with him.
This film was a dark piece about the trafficking of children in the sex industry. Unsettling and disturbing, it was not meant to be a comfortable watch. Carlos Dala (age 16) and Barbara Miguel (age 12) play the unfortunate siblings. They both looked very much like real innocent kids from the province, so watching the fates of their characters unfold onscreen with such realism was heartbreaking. As expected, Therese Malvar stole her scenes as the perky junior "madam" Reyna.
This film (with its original title "1-2-3") was the opening film of the 2016 Cinemalaya film fest, and has been shown in several international festivals. It performed best at the North Virginia International Film and Music Festival in 2018 where it won awards for best director (Obispo), actor (Dala), cinematography (Carlo Mendoza) and editing (Thop Nazareno). At the ASEAN International Film Festival, Miguel won the Best Supporting Actress award, proving that her Best Actress award for "Nuwebe" (2013) at the Harlem International film fest was no fluke.
Directed by Prime Cruz
Written by Jen Chuaunsu
Gem (Glaiza de Castro) has been a high-performing call center agent for three years, but was going nowhere in her job. Since she came from a well-connected family, her mom would rather that Gem had a better job. However, Gem preferred to stay put, claiming she was happy where she was. She was content to be the girlfriend of a rich but married businessman Vince, who brought her to fancy dinners and art museums.
Barry (Dominic Roco, who won the Best Actor award for this role at QCinema 2015) was a newcomer to cell center gig, and was assigned to be trained by Gem. By sheer coincidence, the two also lived in the same apartment building. At first, they bonded over midnight snacks in the Mini-Stop and skateboarding on the streets. As they became close friends, Barry eventually shared with Gem his story about his estranged son taken away by his ex.
This was a seemingly rambling film without a definite plot about two call-center agents who were both insomniacs. It was just one random conversation after another between a sleepless Gem and Barry from which we learn something more about their respective personalities and perspectives in life, but no clear story line to follow. I guess we just hold on to see whether Gem and Barry (charmingly played by de Castro and Roco), as they get to know each other better and closer, actually wind up as lovers or not in the end. Some viewers may not be that patient to care and find out.
Directed by Perci M. Intalan
Written by Keavy Eunice Vicente
Liza (Iza Calzado) has been living abroad, away from the family she abandoned, for five years now. One day, her husband Anton (Nonie Buencamino) came to bring her back home. Her homecoming was filled with tension as both her daughters both gave her a cold tentative welcome. Over the next days, younger child Therese (Alessandra Malonzo) began slowly reconnecting with Liza. However, elder child Karla (Therese Malvar) got more and more spiteful and angry against her mother, until one night, she could not hold things in anymore.
Malvar won a Best Supporting Actress award at the Cinemalaya film fest 2018 for her performance as Karla (as well as for her portrayal of street child Linda in "School Service"). She was the only one who was given an explosive moment in this film. Veteran actors Calzado and Buencamino were both masters of restraint in their roles as a couple trying to patch their family back together. In contrast, everyone else from the household help to their concerned sisters tend to come across as too noisy.
As hinted in its elegant poster, this was a very beautifully shot film with picture-perfect scenes. Too bad it did not win the cinematography prize, which was won by another beautifully shot film "Kung Paano Hinihintay Ang Dapithapon." The pace of director Intalan in telling his story was very slow and deliberate, allowing the story to unfold itself with as much painful tension that it can carry. Absolute silence was a major sound "effect" throughout the film as it emphasized the simmering uneasiness of the atmosphere pervasive in that house ever since Liz came home. The ending was best choice for a story like this.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."