August 10, 2016
The country's premier independent film festival, the Cinemalaya, started its 12th incarnation (with the theme "Break the Surface") last August 5, 2016. However, I had not been able to watch any of the films in competition until today. As much as I had certain films in mind I wanted to watch, I would have to watch whatever was showing on the time I can go to the Trinoma Mall cinema. Because of my busy schedule at work, the unpredictable weather and the ever-worsening traffic, I would not even be able to go watch anything at all in the CCP this year.
"Hiblang Abo" tells the story of four bitter old men who shared one room in a home for the aged called "Bahay ni Juan." Huse (as spelled in the subtitles, or should it be Jose?) was a writer who used to work for the vaudeville. Blas was a labor union leader. Sotero was a farmer who always thought of his daughter Victoria. Pedro was once a vagrant picked up from the streets. These men have dark secrets behind them which they choose not to share with their roommates ... until one fateful Palm Sunday morning.
While watching the film, it really felt like a theater play set into film. The language tended to be poetic and formal, though the action was gritty and realistic. Upon doing research after watching, it turned out that my hunch was right. "Hiblang Abo (Strands of Gray)" was indeed an award-winning three-act play written in 1980 by Rene O. Villanueva. It was first staged on September 1980 by the Gantimpala Theater Foundation at the CCP.
The four main actors in the cast were also from the theater. They are Lou Veloso as the evasive Huse, Leo Rialp as the discontented Blas, Jun Urbano as the guilty Sotero, and Nanding Josef as the paranoid Pedro. All of them bring their theatrical A-game to the ensemble. Each actor was given his own moments to shine. The role of Mark Daclan (Cinemalaya Best Actor two years ago for "Soap Opera") may be confusing at first, but ultimately a most interesting storytelling choice.
Just last year, director Ralston Jover had two acclaimed films (both of which I was unfortunately not able to see): one about an old man, "Da Dog Show" (which earned Lou Veloso an Urian Best Actor nomination); and another about street children "Hamog" (which won Teri Malvar a Best Actress award at the Moscow Film Festival). It won't be a surprise of any of his actors here would also get an acting nod for their work here. Some technical aspects may seem off, but I usually do not nitpick on these in local indie films given their budget limitations.
As you can probably surmise, there is more talk than action. Issues of the geriatric male are rarely tackled in films, even among indie films. In recent years, I had seen only "Bwakaw" and "Hari ng Tondo" that I can recall. The pace of "Hiblang Abo" is predictably slow and the story itself is quite a downer -- not really commercial material. However, the topic is thought-provoking, and you may recognize these cantankerous old men among your elder relatives and friends. 7/10.
*** UPDATE (08/14/16): Congratulations to the #Cinemalaya2016 Award won by Hiblang Abo: Best Supporting Actor: Ensemble of Hiblang Abo - Jun Urbano, Lou Veloso, Leo Rialp, Nanding Josef