September 11, 2013
"Otso" is an arthouse film directed by Elwood Perez for the Sineng Pambansa All-Masters Film Festival, “Otso” will be shown from September 11 to 17 at all SM Cinemas nationwide. The twelve premier local directors selected for this non-competitive festival were given a limited budget of P1.5M to showcase their mastery of the film medium.
Mr. Elwood Perez is a multi-awarded director. He has worked with the biggest stars, namely Ms. Nora Aunor (Lollipops and Roses at Burong Talangka, Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit, Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M.) and Ms. Vilma Santos (Lipad Darna Lipad, Ibulong Mo sa Diyos, Magkaribal). He is also remembered for directing the sexy debut films for Gina Alajar (Diborsiyada), Rio Locsin (Disgrasyada), Cherie Gil (Problem Child), Claudia Zobel (Shame), among others. He has been on a self-imposed hiatus of ten years, until this festival and "Otso" came about this year.
"Otso" is about Lex (Vince Tanada), a poor young writer struggling to write his first screenplay for Direk Jim (Jun Urbano) using his beat-up old laptop. He uses for inspiration the men and women he meets in his seedy apartment building in Sampaloc, Manila. His main obsession is Sabina (Monique Azerreda, a sexy sensuous lady, who is reportedly a mistress of their local congressman (hence a car with the titular "8" license plate picks her up).
He is friends with the Laong Laan family, with security guard Hans (Jordan Ladra), his sick wife Joy (Cyndi Liper), and their precocious son Brent (the very naturally talented Gabby Bautista). Lex believes that Hans and Sabina are having a torrid love affair behind Joy's back.
There is this mother (Adelle Ibarrientos) with wanton ways, always abandoning her young son (Mark Joseph Garde) to have a good time with her boyfriends. The development of these two seemingly unimportant side characters turns out to be a major theme of the whole film.
There is also his loud-mouth building administrator Annabelle Abdon (Vangie Labalan), who runs the place for the real owner of the building Ms. Alice Lake, who is no other than the esteemed Ms. Anita Linda playing herself!
The story of the film seems simple enough at first glance, later turning up to be more complicated than initially thought. In the end, certain ingeniously revealed details will challenge your conceptions about relationships between the characters. Being a tale of illicit affairs and unrequited love, there is a strong sexual undercurrent, though some of these scenes could be considered gratuitous. Since one of the characters was involved with a congressman, some political commentary was included.
They were even able to inject a tribute to Ms. Anita Linda's career in there somewhere. This was a nice touch, but it was not that well-integrated in the story. Some lines delivered by Ms. Anita Linda seemed to be unrelated to the topic being shown (especially in that scene where she was being interviewed about Lex), diminishing the dramatic effect of her presence.
The technical aspects of the film may be more remarkable than the script, some words of which can sometimes be so unnatural to hear, too theatrical to be realistic. The use of striking black-and-white cinematography for the film, as well as those innovative camera angles (as you can see in the trailer), were both remarkable and memorable, as they enhance the dark mood of the piece. I also noted that the English subtitles were written by Ms. Jessica Zafra no less.
The main actors were new to the film medium, coming mainly from an active and progressive theater group called the Philippine Stagers, founded and headed by Atty. Vince Tanada. In such way, the acting of the leads and ensemble, mostly members of the PhilStagers, were noticeably very big for the big screen. Subtlety is not really seen here. Many scenes felt artificial, filled with exaggerated facial expressions and sweeping gestures were acted out like they were for the stage instead of film.
Some scenes were very awkwardly staged, especially those towards the end, as if they were already being rushed to finish. One such scene was the scene where Lex was trying to submit his manuscript to the secretary of Direk Jim. There seems to be no reason why the acting of this secretary should be this annoying and unnecessarily over-the-top. Unfortunately too, the final confrontation scene of Lex and Sabina at the rooftop was not too well executed with shrill, instead of sensitive acting and dialogue.
"Otso" is clearly a film with vision. The time constraint and the limited budget may have affected its overall quality, but I think it is a worthy directorial comeback project for Elwood Perez. For Atty. Vince Tanada and the rest of the PhilStagers, this is a good project for them though still rough round the edges. We are willing to cut them some slack since this is only their first film. This should be a good learning experience for their transition from stage acting (where they are excellent) to film acting. We know from a lot of theater actors before that this transition is not really easy to do on the first try. 6/10.