November 18, 2015
Of all the films in competition in this year's Cinema One Originals Filmfest, "Manang Biring" is the most distinctive one because it is presented in black-and-white animation format. The reviews have been very positive from the get go, culminating in its nabbing of the coveted Best Picture trophy come award night. I was fortunately able to watch this film on the very last day of the festival when the Best Picture winner was given a special screening schedule in all the participating theaters.
Manang Biring (Erlinda Villalobos) has been diagnosed to have breast cancer, stage IV, and had been given only six months or so to live. One day, she receives a letter from her long-estranged daughter Nita (Cherry Pie Picache, in a cameo role) stating her plan to visit her mother on Christmas Day that year. Funds drained by chemotherapy, Biring, together with her wacky friends, Eva (Mailes Kanapi) and Terrence (Alchris Galura), concoct the wildest plans to be able to prepare the best Christmas reunion party. Biring did these things even when knew she may not even live to see that day.
Erlinda Villalobos was such a joy to watch as Manang Biring. This indie character actress finally gets to play a lead title character and she gives this dream role her all. Even when her face was rendered in animated lines, her emotions still richly shine through. Her deadpan delivery of hilarious cantankerous punchlines during her witty repartee with various oddball characters was delightful. That bold bath scene was heart-rending. When I saw in the closing credits that Villalobos also played another character, I smiled in admiration because I did not realize it when I watched that fun scene. I am wondering why she was not awarded the Best Actress award for this wonderful effort. This is a role of a lifetime.
Mailes Kanapi was again at her quirky best playing Eva. Quirky is an adjective I will always associate with Ms. Kanapi. Every performance of hers is a signature performance that only she can deliver in that particular way. Despite the disparity in their ages, there is so much genuine chemistry of friendship between Biring and Eva, it was so much fun to watch them interact together. Her best scene was the scene inside the coffeeshop when Biring fainted. Even if the topic of that scene was not pleasant, Kanapi never failed to liven things up. Good to see Kanapi nominated for Best Supporting Actress, although she did not win.
I really enjoyed this film from beginning to end. There was not a dull moment even if the topic should have been very depressing. Writer-director Carlo Joseph Papa has triumphed with his concept and his delivery. The animation was done in a style where the animated moving lines were seemingly superimposed on the film with the actual actors acting. That scene at the nightclub was psychedelia in monochrome, enhanced by the award-winning musical score. The ending sequence kept me at the edge of me seat, until that final scene and word made me gasp and catch my breath.
Although I was not entirely amused or in favor with those criminal activities that she foolishly got herself mixed into, Biring (as played by Ms. Villalobos) was a character so endearing and likeable, with a deep maternal yearning that drove her to do whatever it takes to stage the perfect reunion with her daughter. I can clearly see how this film won the Best Picture award at the filmfest, but why not Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress as well? 9/10.