Sunday, August 13, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017 CLOSING FILM: Review of PASTOR: Middling Melodrama

August 13, 2017

This is the first year I had been able to catch the closing film of a Cinemalaya Film Festival, and I was excited. The Opening Film this year, "Birdshot" (dir: Mikhail Red) was met with acclaim when it was shown last August 4 to open the festival. For this Closing Film, the director Adolfo Alix, Jr. is well-known, and the lead actors Phillip Salvador and Gina Alajar are acting royalty in local cinema. I was expecting nothing but the best.

Pastor Luis Aguila was a charismatic preacher and healer in his own Christian church. He had a loyal wife Mildred, and two kids who helped him in his ministry, Katrina and Carlo. However, Katrina had fallen for the charms of a jobless swain, Jigo Angeles, much to the dismay of the Pastor. When she runs off with him to elope, the ideal life of the Aguila family begins to crumble.

It was a very basic and very common family melodrama plot already so overused, frequently dealt with in various TV drama anthologies. I was very disappointed to have to sit through a film with a trite story that lacked the originality that Cinemalaya is known for. 

The storytelling by Alix and the other technical aspects of the film were also disappointing. The film editing especially felt haphazard, with certain scenes suddenly cut and dropped, then some scenes opening up without any clear continuation to the preceding scene. There were some heavy scenes before the title sequence (featuring Elizabeth Oropesa and a split-second cameo of Alan Paule) that were never referred to again in the rest of the film. 

Some scenes took an unnecessarily very long time, like that of Katrina and Jigo dancing in the club, or when Mildred was looking around in the boutique. On the other hand, there are scenes when Alix could have shown longer, such as the rescue of Katrina, which wound up looking like a hasty, poorly-executed action scene. Such scenes are even better shot on TV series like "Ang Probinsyano". The "climax" was anti-climactic.

Phillip Salvador plays the strict patriarch and pastor with a passion that did not feel sincere in either capacity. When the Pastor was shown to have healing abilities, there was oddly no sense of miraculous wonder. That scene with the deaf girl in particular felt like charlatanry. Gina Alajar was more in tune with Mildred and her flaws. But her story arc was confusing. One time she was healthy and going shopping, then all of a sudden she was coughing, ill and dying. 

Janine Gutierrez did not act naturally as the daughter Katrina, but then again she was under the spell of Satan himself so I guess that is why. Too bad that that her call for help was just heard as a voice on the phone instead of a proper scene in itself. Mark Neumann played the good son Carlo. Too bad his character was written awkwardly so his big decision at the end did not feel convincing or uplifting. 

Jason Abalos played the devilish Jigo with a sense of evil glee. He got to deliver the most shocking diss lines to his girlfriend's parents. His literally underground "business" was just so bizarre. I felt this character could have been developed some more before we see him seduce Katrina. Too bad his much-awaited confrontation scene with the Pastor fizzled with just a short reading of a Biblical verse and nothing more than that.

Veteran character actresses Rosanna Roces and Angelina Kanapi make short appearances as members of the Pastor's congregation. Roces actually stood out with a realistic performance as the accountant who discovered discrepancies in the church's books. The short scene where Roces' character took over from the Pastor in a healing session felt more real than that of Salvador's. Kanapi was in a rare role which did not require her to be quirky or crazy, but her character was hardly seen or used.

Ralston Jover is an award-winning writer and director, but his script for "Pastor" was sadly lackluster and cliched. We even had to be reminded that it was based on the story of Job via one of the Pastor's sermons in the first part of the film. The director and the actors, no matter how talented, can only do so much with a weak script that fails to connect. This was a film with a religious theme that was supposed to inspire its audience, but barely felt that inspiration at all. 4/10.

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