Friday, August 11, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of SA GABING NANAHIMIK ANG MGA KULIGLIG: Complicated Confessions

August 11, 2017

Of all the competition film in this year's Cinemalaya film fest, this is the entry with the most intriguing, most artistic title. It's English title is likewise intriguing and artistic, and it is not even a direct translation of the original title -- "Clouds of Plague." With such a beautiful title, the film carries loftier expectations of artistry. However, even if it was already a week into the festival, I have not heard much news about this one at all. I only learned that this was actually a late replacement for one of the original films that was chosen but backed out.

It was Holy Week in the seaside town of Cuyo, in Palawan. One night, Magda confessed to Fr. Romi that she just killed her best friend Dolores out of a fit of jealousy. Altar boy Nonoy overheard this and was bothered when the priest told him that they could not report any crime learned from a confession. Meanwhile, Dolores' husband Hector was held in jail while being investigated, and her son Lester was left to arrange his mother's funeral. 

The Holy Week is a favorite time of year for indie film makers. The peak of religious fervor in the country is at its highest during this time of the sizzling summer season, just the right time setting for a film about crimes of passion. In this film, while we seeing a pensive Magda stalking then killing her victim, we are hearing the voice of the priest praying the Stations of the Cross in perfect irony.

Angel Aquino plays her lead role of Magda, and the camera simply loves her. Her face was always looked impeccable in all her scenes -- while floating on the clear water, while confessing in the dark candle-lit church, while carrying a bamboo cross across wet sand. The lighting, the angles, the colors -- everything worked in perfect harmony to highlight her beauty. Aquino gave a faultless performance of a repentant murderess, always restrained and never over-the-top. 

While Ricky Davao was just right for the role of Hector, the roles of his wife and son were miscast. Hector's wife of 20 years, Dolores, who was killed off in the first 15 minutes, could have been played by any older character actress, but here she was played by a very young Mercedes Cabral. Their son Lester was played by Jess Mendoza, who already looked like he is the same age as Cabral. This awkward casting issue was too glaring to simply ignore. 

Jake Macapagal was effective as Fr. Romi, a priest blessed with much fortitude. The role of Nonoy was played by Sam Quintana, making full use of his naive and innocent face in his characterization. (The audience I was with must have been so bored at one point that they were actually "shipping" Nonoy and Lester, haha!) The police officer Rene Salve was played by Anthony Falcon. His livid hammy acting during the interrogation scenes served as an unintended comic relief from all the melancholy.

Writer-director Iar Lionel B. Arondaing was very meticulous about his camera work. There was clearly an effort to make each scene beautifully blocked and shot, and I appreciated that. The color was of an unusual brightness and saturation that looked just right to reflect the heat of summer. His best scenes were those odd nightmarish dreams of Fr. Romi, Magda and Lester as if to symbolically illustrate the state of their consciences. 

The main problem with this film is that Arondaing did not seem to know how to end it. All the pertinent plot points had already been revealed, yet the film just kept going on and on for another thirty minutes or so. The prolonged ending (that included a puzzling whispering scene and the unearthing of an item of unclear significance) diluted the effect of the revelations instead of intensifying them. I can actually hear the restlessness of the audience buzz around me. 5/10.

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