BROAD STROKES (In Memory of Jaclyn Jose 1963-2024)

     For writers Ricky Lee and Shaira Mella-Salvador, May Nagmamahal sa Iyo (Star Cinema Productions, Inc., 1996) seems like an occasion to tweak familiar formulas, as they exhibit a compulsive need to distance themselves from the story’s intrinsic sentimentality. For director Marilou Diaz-Abaya, it’s a chance to play up that same sentimentality, underscoring emotional moments with excessive bathetic flourishes. Working at cross purposes, these two sides make for a fractious movie whose internal conflicts mirror those experienced by its lead. Lorna Tolentino stars as Louella, a woman who gave up her son for adoption. Years later, still wrestling with that part of her past, she has become curious about her son's whereabouts. Louella confides in Nestor (Ariel Rivera), who offers to help, as she begins the journey of discovery. Louella shows the strain of life in her face. Carved in tense gaze is the need to find her son and the redemption he holds. The screenplay allows each to share their feelings and Abaya brings us close enough for us to feel the world in their skins. She is able to treat her subject evenhandedly without letting the film turn bland.  

     May Nagmamahal sa Iyo features a deeply felt and gripping performance from Tolentino and a supporting performance from Jaclyn Jose, equally brilliant as Edith, that reminds us just how wonderful this actress has been throughout her career. Just a momentary gaze is enough to convey what many actors spend whole hours in a film not conveying. Jose brings such believable anguish to her part of the story that May Nagmamahal sa Iyo almost survives its biggest problem, which is the impossibility of a viable ending. While the movie sets up the plot catering to our need for nice, neat, and orderly boxes, the story weaves in and out of them, upending our conventional views and presenting us with more questions that drive us further into the narrative. This perfectly mirror's Louella's frustration as she encounters roadblocks in her journey. In fact, this arc is the one most powerfully portrayed in the film by Tolentino as she vacillates the pain she feels. It is the driving force for her search, and the means by which she finds resolution. The fact that we all have weaknesses and identify in the struggles, hopes and journeys of others is more indicative of the need for such stories so that we might find the strength to rise up and pursue life's greater aims. These are the film's broad strokes, and they are all true. They will make you angry, and tear your heart to pieces. 

Sound Engineer: Ramon Reyes

Production Design: Merlito "Len" Santos, P.D.G.P.

Editor: Jess Navarro, F.E.U.P.

Musical Director: Nonong Buencamino

Screenplay: Ricky Lee, Shaira Mella-Salvador

Directed By: Marilou Diaz-Abaya


     Roman Perez Jr.'s The Housemaid (Viva Films, 2021) takes place almost entirely within the enormous modern house of a very rich man and centers on the young woman he has hired as a nanny. It involves primarily William (Albert Martinez), his wife Roxanne (Louise delos Reyes), daughter Nami (Elia Ilano) and Martha (Jaclyn Jose), the woman who runs his household. That something disturbing will happen is a given. William is a man who expects all of his wishes to be met without question and in his hermetic household the introduction of the nanny Daisy (Kylie Verzosa) creates an imbalance. His wife, Roxanne, is pregnant with twinscontent to live in expensive idleness. Her focus is on these two latest acquisitions of her marriage. Things are not so smooth with head housekeeper Martha (a terrific Jaclyn Jose), who turns out to be a passive-aggressive catalyst of the melodrama that unfolds. She is no less bitter for understanding the rules of the economic game. Martha’s devil’s bargain ties her with Ester (Alma Moreno), her employer’s scheming mother-in-law. Daisy is efficient, submissive and very attractive. We learn little about her, except that she needs the job. Daisy is in awe of William, who comes home from his job as Master of the Universe and plays flawless classical piano while drinking rare vintages. Roxanne drifts through couture designs. Their daughter Nami is a mystery, much loved and cared for but not much needed. Daisy and Nami instinctively bond, because in this home they are the only two with affection to spend. We know it’s inevitable that William will attempt to seduce Daisy. And it surely is a seduction and coercion, even though she agrees and seems to appreciate it. Sex is a bad bargain if only one party is free to set the terms. Martha sees what is happening because she sees everything that happens. Eventually Daisy’s pregnancy becomes obvious.

  The ensuing drama has less to do with Roxanne’s feelings about the affair, it has  more to do with hurt and jealousy. Her discovery and the subsequent events are where the movie gleefully cuts into a streak of almost sociopathic selfishness that afflicts some segment of the upper class. But don't let Ester's poise fool you. She's capable of horrific action. Ester tries to dispose of Daisy by accidentally knocking her off a ladder on the second floor of the palatial house. Swinging from the designer chandelier, Daisy drops to the marble floor with little more than a concussion. The mansion is huge and vacuous but no less suffocating. Its vastness is also set in stark contrast to Daisy's tiny apartment, which again draws our attention to the issue of class and economics.Verzosa makes a stunning presence with her brittle beauty which renders her role’s scheming nature all the more chilling. But it is Jose who dominates in the most complex role, providing suspense and a moral compass via her struggles with her conscience and shifting allegiances. As the plot thickens, we’re not certain who holds the upper hand: the envious mother-daughter team of matrons or the league of bitter underlings. The conflict congeals solidly around the females. At some point it’s clear that William is no longer needed — as if he were merely a device to set the four-way cat fight in motion. Perez who pumped a maximum of sex and mayhem into his narrative drama turns the intensity down a notch for Daisy’s story, but maintains that quintessential flair for visually startling set pieces. In its class-warfare specifics and detached observation of the household power struggle, Perez creates a seductive and disquieting thriller in which overt violence is rare but ruthless manipulation and a callous lack of concern for people are commonplace.

Production Designer: Ericson Navarro

Editor: Chrisel Desuasido

Musical Scorer: Earl Francis de Veyra

Sound Design: Aian Louie Caro, Janinna Mikaela Minglanilla

Screenplay: Eric Ramos

Directed By; Roman S. Perez, Jr.


     Silence speaks volumes in Iti Mapukpukaw (Cinemalaya Foundation, Inc., Project 8 Projects, 2023) the latest film from Carl Joseph E. Papa. The writer/director uses rotoscope animation as a tool hovering in the grey area of Eric's (Carlo Aquino) psyche, the look on his face as he hunts in his Uncle Rogelio's (voiced by Joshua Cabiladas) home almost shrieks with the pressure of repressed emotions in which silence may no longer quite have the upper hand. Papa asks us to listen carefully to that silence in order to catch the emotional echoes that lie within it. Iti Mapukpukaw unfolds Eric's narrative while simultaneously grappling with truths nestled within the family domain. The performances keep the momentum going. Aquino is the moral core of the film, the restlessness and righteous anger reflecting as much in his languorous body language as on his face. His Eric is someone you feel deeply for, grappling with angst as well as the actions of those he loves. Aquino, tersely affecting as an already wary, lonely young man shedding his last vestiges of trust in family. The film’s first half-hour keeps our emotional investment at bay as we work out the precise geometry of the characters. But there is gasping power to its reveals and a searching sadness to the emerging family portrait. Yet the effectiveness of the films' climax rests on the precise discipline of Papa’s filmmaking — here heavier on long-shadowed atmosphere, but not indulgently so. The recurring motif of silence reverberates through the narrative, alluding to the pervasive and endemic issue of child abuse, explored covertly within the film's framework. Iti Mapukpukaw not only captures the non-verbal reactions through Eric and Carlo's (Gio Gahol) actions but also manifests a verbal stance from Eric's mother Rosalinda (Dolly de Leon), most expressive in its wonder. The director utilizes the family as a fundamental societal unit to delve into a long-concealed secret and scrutinize the prevailing culture of silence and complacency. 

     One of the primary advantages of using the rotoscope method is its ability to capture the performances of the actors and in Iti Mapukpukaw, this is extremely important as the high level of realism preserves the details of each actor’s expressions, body language and mannerisms. The gestures, the sound, the human expressions all seem real, but this reality is then re-interpreted artistically. It becomes a kind of moving painting. This style of animation allows us to see a different state of reality. The balance of traditional art forms with the hyper-lucid clarity of digital film is a critical component of the world building existing at the heart of the film’s narrative framework and it’s the validity that keeps audiences caring. The result is a visual feast for the senses. The animations are incredibly lifelike in an uncanny sort of way. The characters feel alive and their emotions quite real. Animated characters played by Aquino, Gahol and De Leon glow with pastel softness. The subject matter is all the better for the unusual style of filming. Iti Mapukpukaw is a fascinating film. One can’t help but be intrigued by its subject matter and visual aesthetics. It will make us think the way in which we watch a movie. Technologies can help in our human desire to express ourselves, to communicate and share experiences. That's why Iti Mapukpukaw is more than just an interesting moment in film technology. The technology has allowed this particular story - a story that probably wouldn't have worked in any other form to be told.

Written and Directed By: Carl Joseph E. Papa

Director of Photography: Jethro Jamon

Editor: Benjamin Tolentino

Music: Teresa Barrozo

Sound Design: Lamberto Casas Jr., Alex Tomboc


     Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio's evocative Abenida (BG Productions International, 2023) is not afraid to ask questions about the nature of love and the boundaries of normal feelings. It’s a slow-moving and depressing film, that seems best for those with a taste for long pauses of silence. The acting duo of Allen Dizon and Katrina Halili create an atmosphere of tension and ambiguity. Abenida however, is not only a film about desire. Ignacio tells the story in a manner which suggests hidden meanings. Abe’s (Dizon) moral ambiguity is a fact of life. Everyone in the film is desperately lonely and unhappy. The surroundings intensify the gloomy mood. The community's claustrophobic houses are almost impossible to live in. This suffocating, threatening atmosphere ultimately gives birth to violence. The lives of his characters are banal and tedious, but at the same time intensely irrational. Abenida is a highwire act in maintaining dramatic momentum since the entire movie takes place from one man’s perspective. The film displays a rigorous control of mise-en-scène and mood, crafting something out of a character study of Dizon's docility. As Abe, his performance is central to Abenida's success. Dizon continues to be a powerful on screen presence, disguising layers of darkness beneath an affable exterior. There is something about him, particularly in his relationship with Aunt Siony (perfectly played by Gina Pareño). But beyond these feelings of unsettlement comes a deep sympathy for Abe who simply has nothing else to live for but his love for Nida (Halili).

     The sinister tone and most effective moment of cruelty occurs in a scene between Abe and Nida, where he reveals his monstrous nature with the truth. This is almost all that should be revealed so that the viewer can be left wondering where this story of strange obsession might lead. The transfer of guilt are embedded ambiguously with surrealist affinities in which the sense of lives connected by pain and desire is punctuated with poignancy. Ignacio and screenwriter Ralston Jover throw us headfirst into the narrative as we’re immediately forced to view everything exclusively from Abe's perspective. We witness our protagonist's enigmatic behavior from the outside and from within his own troubled, fractured consciousness. We see and hear more or less what he does and try to piece it together the best we can. The extent of Abe's obsession is itself extremely amusing but only flinging over the threshold in brief, manic spurts. Instead of laying out the premises explicitly, the film’s narration supplies them in tantalizing, equivocal doses. Ignacio follows the great tradition of distributed exposition, so that we get context only after seeing something that can cut many ways. By accreting details that cohere gradually, Abenida not only engages curiosity and suspense. Abe’s abasement leads his strenuous efforts melt into his surroundings. His wood carvings takes on a precise life. In its diffuse exposition, its teasing insert and gradually unfolding implications, Abenida also asks us to appreciate unresolved uncertainties. Ignacio leaves it for the audience to interpret. Having done a fine job of portraying the mundanities of everyday life, Ignacio doesn’t pause for long before revealing Abe's dark side, creating a tense atmosphere which remains consistent throughout.

Screenplay: Ralston Jover

Director of Photography: T.M. Malones

Editing & Sound: Gilbert Obispo

Production Design: Cyrus Khan

Music: Jake Abella

Directed By: Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio


     Lawrence Fajardo's Kabit (Vivamax, Pelikulaw, 2024) demands that an audience ponder its many intellectualized, psychosexual, intertextual and subtextual meanings. At any moment, the film works on multiple levels, at the same time, its self-aware characters work out concurrent analyses of their ever-shifting roles, from Laura San Jose (Angela Morena), the actress who yields to her domineering director Harry dela Fuente's (Onyl Torres) every command. The film, set entirely in an empty theater, is pure Fajardo in that it contains themes of paranoia, power plays and tables turned throughout—qualities applicable to nearly all films to his name. It works as well as it does primarily due to the performances from Morena, whose transition from one stereotype to another is one of nearly imperceptible gradation and Victor Relosa, underplays James Dizon magnificently until the finale. Kabit is obvious in its goals, but the performances help us feel like we're discovering what we already know as we go. In Fajardo’s hands, the film holds the screen. In other words, Kabit is a life-imitating-art drama, one of those backstage stories in which the line separating actor and role constantly blurs. Here, the director navigates an enclosed space with cinematic flair, his dynamic camerawork assuring that the talky proceedings never feel especially stagy. 

     More than that, though, he makes the single setting a claustrophobic benefit instead of a liability: There is no escape for Laura, who’s in for a very thorough dressing-down. This is first and foremost a showcase for these actors to relish the opportunities in the production. Endlessly self-referencing, it's part of the point and the plot, this is a knowing story that steps in and out of the play within the play that is the film, it's clever and sophisticated as Fajardo often is although each character is exaggerated in ways best associated with compact stage production, Kabit can nonetheless be enjoyed for the superior performances on display. Relosa’s transition is most impressive, his severe politeness slowly erodes into the most vocal high-pitched hysterics. Morena, may seem demure at first, but slowly transforms into a reactionary capable of lashing out. Josef Elizalde, an underrated performer, perfectly blends his comedic and dramatic styles here as stage actor Andrew Vega. Torres' performance is the most fascinating, giving Harry a gamut of emotions within a limited time frame. And yet the casting pushes the fantasy in our faces, much as James pushes himself on Laura. Without missing a beat, it enters a theater and remains there, à huis clos, through the grotesque conclusion. An expertly staged and edited chamber piece, it is the filmmaking that delights and not the reveal that Laura will oblige if only to prove that the desire belongs to James rather than her insatiable quest for revenge. With his prestigious ensemble that seems tailored to their roles, Fajardo’s craft allows them to flourish.

Sound: Pietro Marco Javier

Musical Director: Peter Legaste, Joaquin Santos

Editor: Lawrence Fajardo

Production Design: Ian Traifalgar

Director of Photography: Rap Ramirez

Screenplay: John Bedia

Direction: Lawrence Fajardo