Review: 'Magkakabaung' tops MMFF New Wave

By Fred Hawson

Posted at Dec 29 2014 03:31 PM | Updated as of Dec 29 2014 11:36 PM

This year's Metro Manila Film Fest New Wave category had its public viewing a whole week prior to the mainstream category. Five indie feature films were shown, together with various animated and live action shorts. It was quite inconvenient for us in the North that the festival was only being held in two venues, SM Megamall and at the Glorietta.

I thought I would not be able to watch a single one because of the difficult schedules and traffic jams of this season. However, on the very last day, I had some last-minute Christmas shopping to do in Megamall, so I grabbed that chance to catch a screening. It was just too fortunate for me that the earliest one being shown was the very same movie that is consistently topping all the surveys about this festival in terms of excellence.

(Ed's note: "Magkakabaung" was named New Wave Best Picture at the Metro Manila Film Festival Award, with Jason Paul Laxamana winning New Wave Best Director, and Allen Dizon as New Wave Best Actor.)

The titular "Magkakabaung" is Randy who works minimum wage as a coffin-maker. This was barely enough for bringing up his eight-year old daughter Angeline as a single parent. Because of his neglect brought about by work demands, he inadvertently causes the death of his daughter. This tragedy plunges him into a mire of confusion, guilt and desperation on how to give her a decent burial.

Jason Paul Laxamana is the writer, editor and director of this film, his script in glorious Kapampangan, the local dialect of the province of Pampanga. Last year, I was able to see another Laxamana film, "Babagwa," which was about Internet scams. He really has a knack for writing the most thought-provoking films with excellent complexly plotted stories. Both films had significant social commentary sprinkled all over them without making these messages too overbearing.

With that synopsis alone, you know that this is a depressing film to watch. Knowing beforehand that the daughter will die caused me to be on pins and needles the whole time until that fateful moment arrived. I was afraid to see how it would happen. Laxamana played the suspense card so well in this regard.

We will also see the problems the indigent face when they have an unexpected death in their families. The scenes in the emergency room with those callous nurses and cashier were so irritating, yet we know these things really happen in real life. The scenes where the unscrupulous funeral parlor owner Mr. Canda and his bone-chilling proposal to a father who just lost his daughter were deeply disturbing.

The acting style was very realistic. It felt as if you were looking in on the lives of real people, instead of actors playing roles.

Allen Dizon effectively essayed his difficult role with a depth he is not really known for before. His character was a father who tried so hard yet came up so very short, causing him to lose the daughter who was his whole world. His pain is unbearably palpable for all others father in the audience, like me. Having his own real-life daughter Felixia Crysten Dizon play the unfortunate Angeline definitely pushed the right emotional buttons for Dizon to give the best possible and most convincing portrayal of a devastated bereaved father. This role had already given Dizon Best Actor awards from film festivals in Montreal and Hanoi (where he won over Ralph Fiennes).

Emilio Garcia played Mr. Canda with slick sticky sleaze. During his scenes, you'd feel as if you were squirming in those uncomfortable situations yourself. Gladys Reyes, playing Randy's estranged wife Mabel, as always was so effective with her expressive face. That scene when Randy confronts her for leaving him to raise Angeline alone hit so hard.

Chanel Latorre played a trying-hard dancer who was Randy's much-younger, yet selfish and manipulative girlfriend. Latorre was so effective being an annoying jerk, you'd want to push into the murky water yourself like Randy did. Her name here was Neri, which incidentally was the same name she had in "Babagwa." I wonder if she is supposed to be the same flighty girl in both films, a continuing link in future Laxamana films?

While the story was interesting and the story-telling was engaging, I must confess that I did not have an easy time watching this film. The excessively shaky and shifty handheld cam style that Laxamana employed caused me to have a vertiginous migraine during and well-after the film. This detracted from my full appreciation of this otherwise excellent film. Then again, there are those beautifully poetic scenes of Randy transporting Angeline's corpse on his pedicab along the lahar deserts of Pampanga that are simply captivating. 8/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."