It’s a testament to director Chito S. Roño’s Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan (Regal Entertainment, Inc., CSR Films.Ph, Black Sheep, 2023) that it manages to incorporate so many of the visual and storytelling elements from lesser movies to create something compelling. Roño has executed the most effective, most rewarding horror film by exploring a demanding scenario that is all the scarier because he has constructed a dramatically tense situation to draw our emotional involvement. What’s more, the experience is grueling because the imposing imagery employed is truly the stuff of nightmares. There’s an emotional cause behind every horrible turn. Joshua Garcia plays Galo Manansala with amazing intensity—the kind that makes you wonder how the filmmakers incited the volatile performance, making his character's state so believable. Garcia’s slow transformation leaves room for Bob Ong’s screenplay to find new ways of highlighting Galo’s uneasiness to relinquish the past. Most viewers, if they’re honest with themselves, will probably hate Mama Susan (Angie Ferro) and they’ll be uncomfortable with the extent of their hatred and what that says about their capacity for empathy. This discomfort is conditioned by the shrill soundtrack dreading Mama Susan’s whimpering or all-around act of invasion. Roño's treatment is masterful in how he uses our imaginations to build up Mama Susan's "friends" and delivers them in expert cinematic reality. 

     Moreover, he creates a highly stylized mise-en-scène constructed as a contained environment from which Galo, Niko (Yñigo Delen) and Jezel (Jewel Milag) are exposed to a frightening blend of psychological and real horror. Equally vital are cinematographer Eli Balce’s shadowy interiors, as well as Roño’s enveloping sense of mood and attention to detail. Every piece of furniture has a deliberate placement, best of all, the treatment avoids strict adherence to genre rules; he refuses to make this a typical supernatural yarn and instead uses his supporting cast—Aling Delia, played by Vangie Labalan and church caretaker Mang Narcing (Soliman Cruz), to deepen his central characters. Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan takes great care to sharpen the details in Galo’s life so that when trouble comes along, it magnifies his anxiety. Perhaps the only elements that compare to Roño’s approach are Ferro and Garcia’s performances, especially the latter, since the young actor fully commits to his role with a mercurial presence, sending us further into the story. But it’s how Roño balances the film’s unnerving quality, genuine scares and its deep-rooted psychological impetus that leave us in full awe of how well Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan has been assembled and how it walks the fine line between reality and nightmares with skilled footing. The unexpected ending finds a rare emotional realism in what could have been a run-of-the-mill creepshow.


     Nurses play a critical role in our health care system and have touched the lives of just about everyone, sometimes in the most intimate, difficult or joyful moments of the human experience. But most of us know little about what nurses do, or the realities of nursing. Director Lemuel C. Lorca with writer Archie del Mundo constructed a warm depiction of nurses and nursing in Siglo ng Kalinga (2023), a Dr. Carl Balita Production and Philippine Nurses Association presentation that offers a touching and thorough glimpse into the complex, exciting and challenging world of being a nurse. With some degree of balance woven into the fabric of its unrelenting celebration of nursing, Siglo ng Kalinga explores what it means to be a nurse, the many different roles that nurses play and the realities of nursing that may be known, but have been seldom portrayed as meaningfully as they are in this film. Siglo ng Kalinga powerfully conveys the idea that good nurses have an abundance of empathy and compassion and that they are skilled in forming a connection with patients. The film also quietly, but convincingly, argues that what nurses do is as vital and essential a part of medical care as anything done by a doctor or surgeon. 

     Lorca captures the world in which they live and work. It explores the many different roles that nurses play and the realities of nursing – its joys and sorrows and the many ways that nurses impact the lives of others. Nursing is not merely a job, nor is it simply an occupation or a profession. To be a nurse, one must uphold the finest of standards and ethics, dedicating their entire lives to helping and serving others. Therefore, it cannot simply be a behavior; it's a lifestyle. When it comes to nursing philosophy, every nurse have their own values, beliefs and ideals that are different and unique from others. It presents a great challenge when incorporating these ideas into a professional practice. The simple truth is that Siglo ng Kalinga isn't meant as an examination of healthcare but as an examination and celebration of the history and growth of nursing as a profession in the Philippines. It's a humanistic and in some ways meditative portrait of people who have a passion for their work. If the film is workmanlike at times, it is also elegantly cleareyed. With an abundance of heart and warmth, honesty and sensitivity, Siglo ng Kalinga is both a celebration of nursing and a reminder that everyone needs to be nurtured and encouraged and comforted, and celebrated. It is powerful, heartbreaking and touching. Tears are almost inevitable.

Showing in Philippine Cinemas Nationwide



     The main focus of Eddie Garcia's 1978 feature, Atsay (Ian Film Productions) is Nelia de Leon’s odyssey and its emotional core is provided by Nora Aunor's intense, gestural performance, which is strengthened further by Romeo Vitug’s quietly observant camera. The whole drama is revealed through quotidian details. Atsay featured a direct storytelling style, and depicted working-class people struggling against bleak social conditions and human foibles. Garcia subsumes this wellspring of complexity into the form of his central character, Nelia. Mostly silent with her employers, Nelia nonetheless speaks volumes through her expressive face; not that they would notice. She is treated with brusque tolerance, which soon gives way to hostility from Mrs. Tulio (Armida Siguion-Reyna). In one of the film’s most upsetting moments, Garcia’s camera remains distant as the husband, Mr. Tulio (Renato Robles) stares at Nelia’s behind while dusting. Atsay is especially sharp on the corrupted social contracts and Garcia roots these observations most effectively in the relationship between Nelia and Mrs. Tulio. One solitary, charged glance between Nelia and the husband, midway through the film, is enough to suggest that a similar psychosexual panic has taken root in the wife’s mind, precipitating her increasingly heinous behavior. Nelia is a victim, it’s true, but she is also a refreshingly multidimensional character. A succession of scenes illustrates her romance with construction worker Pol (Ronald Corveau). Nelia's situation is obviously tragic, but Garcia’s ability to match his contempt with a non-judgmental eye toward all his characters defuses any danger of slipping into polemics. For the most part, Garcia keeps us at a distance, but when he judiciously cuts to huge close-ups of Aunor’s doleful, open face—tears in her eyes, her anguish registers like an uppercut to the solar plexus. In Atsay's closing moments, a desperately sad saga is transformed into a transcendent howl of hope. Garcia was congenitally incapable of making indifferent films, and everything that marked him out—his skill, compassion, and vision—is fully present in this startling, unforgettable return to filmmaking.

      The new digital transfer undertaken by The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and the Philippine Film Archive (PFA) was created in 4K resolution by the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) with preliminary fixes to the image and sound from seven reels of 35mm color prints, provided by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA). Central Digital Lab (CDL) performed extensive digital restoration on a dry-scanned transfer to minimize visible scratches and spots that were the results of processing errors and that had been aggravated by time. I do not know exactly what type of improvements were made during the restoration process, but I am convinced that this is the very best Atsay has ever looked on any format. Excluding a few light blemishes that can be spotted during the opening, the film looks spotless. Detail and clarity are  excellent with the outdoor footage looking particularly good. Depth is optimal, though it appears that some careful rebalancing adjustments were made to ensure that in a couple of areas where some traces of aging might have impacted fluidity, the end result is as pleasing as it could be. The color grading is convincing. There is a good range of solid blacks and healthy whites with no traces of compromising sharpening adjustments. Image stability is very good. There is only one standard audio track on this presentation. English subtitles are provided for the main feature. Dialogue is clean, stable, nicely balanced, and easy to follow. Dynamic intensity is modest, but given the nature of the film and the manner in which it was shot this is hardly surprising. Eddie Garcia’s Atsay has been recently restored in 4K and looks impressive in high-definition.



     Mike de Leon's Itim (Cinema Artists Philippines, 1976) is a quiet, delicate piece, one aching with loss and regret. It's the kind of film which demands patience, not least because of the static photography and the largely wordless storytelling De Leon employs. The characters are established with quick, subtle strokes. Perhaps more than anything, it is Charo Santos' presence (in her feature film appearance) that really stands out. There are few actresses who can quite match the way in which she is able to exude an ethereal beauty while simmering something below the surface, and her performance here as the beautiful and independent Teresa is a superb early example of just that. There are prolonged stretches which unfold without dialogue with only flourishes of a score. De Leon's tendency as a director is to privilege images over dialogue. Sometimes he hangs on an image for minutes more than we’re conditioned to expect by most Filipino films, forcing us to contemplate what we’re seeing. The storytelling is conveyed through style over narrative, both in Ely Cruz and Rody Lacap’s lingering visuals and Ike Jarlego, Jr.’s editing. You have to watch, feel and experience what’s onscreen in order to follow the story, which begins to play with our expectations in ways that are deeply satisfying, almost cathartic. De Leon repurposes elements of horror and makes them melancholic. 

     Itim is presented on blu-ray courtesy of Carlotta Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As with all of the films in the set, there are some preliminary text cards describing the restoration. Itim has been digitally restored by L'Immagine Ritrovata. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution and the audio remastered from the optical soundtrack negatives preserved at the British Film Institute (BFI). The transfer was supervised by Director of Photography Rody Lacap and approved by Director Mike De Leon. This is an impressive looking presentation from just about every angle, with a gorgeously suffused palette. The release is noticeably less flushed, something that I personally found preferable. There are still some very minor and inconsequential nicks and blemishes. Grain is tightly and organically resolved throughout the presentation. The mono track presented in DTS-HD offers more than capable support for the film's sound design, offering a more spacious account of Max Jocson's haunting score. There are no issues with regard to damage, dropouts or distortion. Dialogue is rendered cleanly and clearly throughout. Optional French subtitles are available. In Itim, Mike de Leon gave us a film to rewatch and remember.


      Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio's Broken Blooms (Bentria Productions, 2022) follows a volatile relationship as it flowers and wilts, thinking about what went wrong. It sounds like the cruelest sort of dissection, like pulling a butterfly apart by its wings, but Lagdameo and his actors, Jeric Gonzales and Therese Malvar have not made a cold or schematic film. They aim instead for raw emotional experience, one that's full of insight into the ways a relationship can go astray, but mostly feels like a slow-motion punch to the gut. Broken Blooms amplifies the intensity a notch or two above the expected, it leaves the actors looking bruised and exhausted, like Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon in Ishmael Bernal's Broken Marriage (1983). Sometimes the effect is too mannered, but in an independent landscape, Broken Blooms unfolds with a directness that's bracing. The passion between these young lovers is incandescent, but even in the best of times, Ignacio finds the seeds of their destruction. Though Jeremy (Gonzales) grows into a devoted husband and father, his chronic immaturity is apparent from the beginning of their married life. Cynthia (Malvar) just chooses to look past it, just as she does the marital discord within her own family. 

     Nothing out of the ordinary happens in Broken Blooms and that, together with the vital, untrammeled performances of the two leading actors is the root of its power. This demonstrates that Broken Blooms is that rare creation, a love story that doesn’t ignore its consequences or droop into pointless fantasy. The acting is exemplary. Gonzales brings a preternatural understanding of people to his performance and Malvar is amazing in the way she keeps trying to deny and conceal emotion, even as she's showing us. There's a moment in which they sing Jingle Bells together with their friends and it's clear, even as she's pretending otherwise, that she had to go through the motions. Jeremy wanted to be married to Cynthia and he still does and he still is. Cynthia can't stand that, she is a woman who has lost her pride of body and self. It's Jeremy's inability to care for Cynthia, right here, right now, because when she married him, she became exactly the wife he required. Ignacio gives the film a heartbreaking resonance. Broken Blooms sets course for a collision and measures the full weight of its impact.