August 9, 2014
This is the film that is being tipped to be the front-runner for awards in the New Breed category of the current Cinemalaya film festival. Before the festival ends, I simply cannot miss this particular film even if it was a bit out of my usual time to watch.
The Tolentinos, Jimmy (Nonie Buencamino) and Issey (Eula Valdez), are a childless married middle-aged couple. They are both writers and professors based in the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Jimmy is on the verge of publishing the book he has spent many years researching and writing. Issey is a panelist on a writers workshop in Mt. Makiling for students, which included her godson Gab Atienza (Martin del Rosario), a prodigy who was accepted in the workshop right out of high school.
Gab wrote an outstanding essay called "Intersection" about his love affair with an unnamed 45-year old female, which garnered public attention in more ways than one. While Issey was unwittingly dragged into this scandal, Jimmy has found Lorena, his first love who became a rebel and disappeared into the mountains. Will their marriage withstand these storms that threaten to break it apart?
Being about writers, the highlight of this film is definitely the very poetic and witty use of words in its script. As audience you savor every word as you hear them being uttered, and you'd like to have the screenplay in front of you so you can read it back over and over. All the conversations between Issey and Jimmy were dripping in rich wry humor and lingering unhappiness. Most memorable of these exchanges included that one in the car while Issey was drunk and that one over breakfast while Issey was in the toilet. "Intersection" is a highlight in itself as we hear Gab reciting it over a beautifully shot scene on the beach, and then again later, when Jimmy was reading it out in full in front of an unwilling listener.
The acting of veterans Nonie Buencamino and Eula Valdez were flawlessly raw and riveting. When the two of them are together, it felt like they were not acting at all. You can feel the bitterness, loneliness and longing of their characters in their delivery of their crazy-good lines. They are definitely the top contenders for winning the Best Lead Performance trophies in the New Breed category. Martin del Rosario also has his moments to shine with those big expressive eyes of his, which he can certainly put to good use. He can hold his own in the presence of the more experienced senior actors.
The cinematography was topnotch. That innovative camera angle used on that scene where Issey and Gab were seen lying down on the beach while the surf came in and out was mesmerizingly artistic and breathtaking. The quiet ending scene with Issey and Jimmy in the tall grass with the sun setting behind them and the fireflies flying around them -- simply dramatic. I enjoyed how this film photographed its beautiful main setting, the UP Diliman campus, where I also spent my college days. I can recognize the roads where they jogged or the classroom and corridor in Palma Hall, or those cluttered offices in the Faculty Center.
My main issue with the film was about the storytelling. I felt it did not flow so smoothly all the time, and made the film feel long. Those scenes of Jimmy in the mountains with a daring nude Lorena (Max Eigenmann) and the perfectly dug hole in the ground were very strange. There some puzzling scenes, like Issey with the electronic mosquito swatter or Issey with the hiding cat, which do not seem to mean anything. There was the gay subplot which seemed out of place in the main story, except maybe providing a way out of the conflict at the end.
I agree that this film is one of the best of the festival. Based on the New Breed entries I have seen and written about, "Dagitab" should go home with the awards for Lead Performances (at least Best Actress is a sure thing), Screenplay (by its Director Gian Carlo Abrahan) and Cinematography. Best Picture is not a remote possibility. 7/10.