July 21, 2016
This film had been hailed as one of the best Filipino films of 2015. It came with many accolades, awards, citations and nominations from foreign film festivals before it was first shown locally last October 2015 during the 2015 QCinema Film Festival. It was only this week that it finally had its limited commercial run in only very few local cinemas, perhaps because of its MTRCB rating of R-18.
The year is 1993, in a place called Marag Valley, where there was a civil war between soldiers and militant rebels. As a result, there are displaced people in that area called "internal refugees". Nardo and wife Emma are among those forcefully uprooted from their homes and brought to live in another place by the military. However, they eventually met and made friends with a genial soldier named Joel.
On one night marked by a lunar eclipse, Joel visited Nardo and Emma. They start by playing card games. As the night progressed, the visit eventually progresses to comparing notes and surprise revelations. The secrets lead to philosophical discussions about the armed conflict, charismatic leaders, their friendship and sex.
The very detailed opening credits were shown in absolute silence. The film quality is grainy, with a dull color palette, shot in dim light. The camera work is rather shaky as it followed the three main (and only) characters in one long continuous take. The main (and only) setting was in and around a hovel in a forested area, furnished only with a dining table and a bed. These set the sombre mood for the whole film perfectly. After the final shot, there will be an empty screen and total silence.
The dialogue written by director Jun Robles Lana is like it was written for a theater stage. It felt as if this material started from the Virgin Labfest with its stark setting, daring theme and frank language. The words tend to be poetic, not exactly sounding like words people will use in actual conversation in real life. However, in the context of this film, the language of the script was on point, and not pretentious.
LJ Reyes plays Emma, the woman caught between two men of different political persuasions. Emma is a strong character with her own independent mind. She had her own plans and had the steel will to execute them well. Reyes's Emma was raw and earthy. Her lusty performance earned her a well-deserved Best Actress award both abroad in the Vladivostok film fest, and locally in the most credible Urian critics award.
Anthony Falcon underplayed for the most part as the husband Nardo. He finally got his dramatic highlight in the penultimate act when Nardo's pent-up dam of emotion eventually gave way with his frustration. Luis Alandy played the soldier Joel like a confident rogue who knew he could have his way with the ladies and get away with it. With his refined features, Alandy seemed out of place in that rough neck of the woods yet he used it very much to his advantage given the nature of the story.
After his two previous entries in his acclaimed rural films, namely "Bwakaw" and "Barber's Tale", writer-director Lana reaches an artistic peak with "Anino." They play poker in the first act, foreshadowing the element of cunning and strategy which will be expertly unfolded in the course of the film. The notorious 15-minute sex scene may seem gratuitous, yet it was also symbolically necessary on hindsight. Despite the uncommercial look and language, the audience will definitely be riveted into this tale of charades and conspiracy within this triumvirate of flawed and duplicitous characters. 9/10.