The sold-out screening of "Above the Clouds" at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines this afternoon during this year's Cinemalaya film festival (under the Indie Nation set) is an emotional homecoming for this film. It had already been shown in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Germany and France before it was publicly shown here locally today. It has already been five years since writer-director Pepe Diokno's much acclaimed debut film project "Engkwentro."
The story about two relatives forced to live together despite their differences is not exactly new. We have seen this story told in various films before. "Above the Clouds" has two novel ingredients that set it apart from the others. First it boasts of the breathtaking scenery of the Cordilleras where the story takes place. Second, it so fortuitously cast the most unexpected actor to play the eccentric grandfather -- Mr. Joey "Pepe" Smith.
Although they are hundreds of kilometers apart in real life, director Pepe Diokno merged into one long hike various scenic spots in Sagada (including the coffins of Lumiang Burial Cave) and Mt. Pulag (including its awe-inspiring sea of clouds). Too bad the picture quality of the projector in the CCP Main Theater tended to be dim, an injustice to the camera work by Carlo Mendoza certainly brought out the best in the majestic landscape with creative angles.
While recognizing the production difficulties with regards their shooting locations, sometimes the hike felt aimless, like they were going nowhere. The editing of the various parts of the hike at times felt random and not logically connected to each other. The thing that really bothered me most though was the blatant display of wanton desecration of nature by human litter and graffiti. I felt though that this may have been purposely done by Diokno perhaps to rally against the cavalier attitude of humans on nature. On the other hand, it may give the wrong signals to future tourists who visit those places.
Ruru Madrid did not really look like a 15 year old boy, nor did he act like one. He seemed like he did not have much to do for most of the film but be the aloof, miserable and ill-mannered grandson Andy. However, despite what may look like a one-note performance marked with rudeness and disrespect, he was actually subtly brimming with inner bitterness within. Thankfully towards the end, Madrid was given a chance to actually display some memorable and genuinely-moving acting moments that will linger with audiences.
For Filipinos though, the true joy of watching this film is seeing the Pinoy Rock and Roll icon Pepe Smith in action as the grandfather. It is not exactly that Smith gave a award-winning acting performance, though he did have his effective moments in this, his first lead role. Every time Smith so much as utters a line the audience reacts audibly. His screen presence is simply so strong and riveting that he is the one that brings the whole film to vibrant life. What an auspicious, audacious and inspired casting choice this was! 7/10.