July 6, 2015
Winding up this week is the 2015 2nd World Premieres Film Festival. Among the entries in the Filipino New Cinema category, it was this "An Kubo sa Kawayanan," a film in Bicolano language (subtitled in English) by Alvin Yapan that won several major awards, namely: Best Film; Best Actress (Mercedes Cabral); Best Editing (Benjamin Tolentino); and Best Cinematography (Ronald Rebotica). It has also gotten numerous perfect ratings and rave reviews among online film buffs.
Therefore, if there was only one movie I could catch in this whole festival, it should be this one. There were only four screenings of this film. There should have been a showing in SM North (the only venue convenient for me) last June 29 at 3 pm. This was the best schedule for me so I cut my work hours early to reach this screening, only to find out that "Kubo" had been replaced by another film! I thought I could never catch it anymore as the other schedules could not fit mine.
Today, it had another screening at SM North at 7 pm. When this day began, I never really planned to catch it. Fortunately, fates and circumstances aligned so my schedule cleared up and the traffic that evening was unusually light because students had early dismissal because of a typhoon. So against all odds, I was finally able to catch this special film before the festival winds up tomorrow.
"An Kubo sa Kawayanan" literally means "A Hut in the Bamboo Grove." The film is set in a remote village in Bicol with a river running through it. There lives a reserved young lady skilled in the dying craft of callado embroidery named Michelle in her little bamboo hut. People try to convince her to leave for the big city but she rebuffs their invitations. Michelle feels completely secure and content in her little house. She feels this house talks to her and plays hide-and-seek mind games with her. The house is her friend and partner.
The awards for Best Cinematography and Best Editing were well-deserved as we are regaled by some of the most beautiful nature shots we have seen in a film with the most innovative camera angles. The most memorable ones for me are those close macro shots of insects, the nice angle on that handsome carabao, and that novel point of view shot on that bamboo pole being unloaded off the river. The editing work on the embroidery sequence in the beginning with shots all in macro was very striking, as was the editing work on the tinikling dance sequence of the kids which was very thrilling.
This is a completely arthouse type of cinema where plot is secondary to the images it presents onscreen. The only other Alvin Yapan film I have seen was "Mga Anino ng Kahapon" and that definitely had an interesting plot told in with so much restraint that it was suspenseful. "Kubo" is totally different in pace, tone and look.
Mercedes Cabral is really right in her element in these quirky indie films. The camera took its time following her around as her character Michelle does mundane stuff, like looking all over the house for missing scissors, or lighting her lamp at night, or winding up her radio to play, or tying a beetle with a string to play with it. Much time was also spent on showing us Michelle's sexually-charged dreams, which may actually be subliminal messages from her jealous House.
My favorite scene was that where Michelle was being shot and interviewed by a young Manila-based filmmaker named Larry (RK Bagatsing), recreating scenes we have already seen of her embroidering and dialog we have heard earlier in the film with her boyfriend Gary (Marc Felix). That was for me the key scene that made this film so fresh, unique and different. That was the one scene from the whole film that really drew an audible reaction from the other audience members that night when I watched. At the same time, those scenes were an insightful commentary about indie filmmakers.
Another interesting storytelling touch I liked very much was how we see and hear Michelle talking, and then her lips stop moving and still we hear her unspoken thoughts. The effect was diverting and at times, a source of subtle humor.
Overall, this film will totally appeal to serious cineastes because of its cinematic beauty. Mainstream audiences may likely give this one a pass. I confess that I am still in the process of learning to appreciate art films. I am still one of those give value to story and plot when I go watch a film. While I fully recognize the free verse poetry of this film, I was waiting in vain for a plot twist to happen to make the static story move.
I do understand though that story is not the point of this film, but it is the symbolic meaning of its images. We have to extract meaning from the visually lyrical poem that we just watched. I thought of it as an allegory about Filipinos (Michelle) and the Philippines (her House) -- that we should not abandon our home country. Is that what Yapan meant to tell us? I do not know. The true meaning is not explicitly spelled out. You give it your meaning. That is the art in films like this. 7/10.