Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Trick or treat!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Cinema paradiso / inferno

The Cine Europa film festival is currently winding down at the Shangri-la Plaza Cineplex. This year's edition, its 10th, is probably the biggest, with 22 films from 17 countries being shown (for free as usual). It is a good mix of classics from some of the best directors ever, as well as quirky, little-known movies that the festival is known to showcase.

Here are the films I've seen so far:

Fanny and Alexander - Truly a classic from the late Swedish master director Ingmar Bergman. This was officially Bergman's last film intended for theatrical screening (Saraband, from 2003, the sort-of sequel to Scenes From a Marriage, was a TV mini-series shortened for the cinema, just like Marriage). Bergman was known for movies that dealt with existentialism, religion, art, and family, in a unique and distinctive metaphorical and almost impenetrable style that could only be called Bergmanesque. The last line from Alexander, a quote from a play, perfectly sums up the movie, and indeed, as well as Bergman's entire career and body of work:"everything can happen...everything is possible and likely...time and space do not exist...on an insignificant basis of reality the imagination spins and weaves new patterns." Beautiful beautiful beautiful.

The Leopard - Luchino Visconti's sumptuous three-hour opus depicts the end of an era for a Sicilian prince as war and a new generation take over. The film, which I admit is a bit slow for today's audiences, was the winner of the 1963 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Fact: This movie was one of the main influences to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. That trilogy's sepia-toned chiaroscuro look came straight from The Leopard. Nino Rota also scored all films.

La Mome (La Vie En Rose) - an excellent biopic of legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Marion Cotillard deserves attention come Oscar season for portraying Piaf with such intensity and conviction.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - the 1964 movie musical (tunes and score by Michel Legrand) hailed as the most romantic film that came out of France in the 60s and which starred a young Catherine Deneuve. It doesn't work that well today but romantics will find plenty to swoon about.

Closely Watched Trains - the naughty but tragic Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film for 1966 from the Czech Republic when it was still behind the Iron Curtain

Jalla! Jalla!
- an engaging Swedish romantic comedy ripe for a frat pack remake

Kolya - another Oscar winner (1997). It probably won because it has a kid in it trying to teach the world a valuable lesson (see Life Is Beautiful)

Carol's Journey - an ok film from Spain wherein a girl who grew up in New York goes to her mother's hometown and learns valuable lessons...

Shooting Dogs - two words: Hotel Rwanda.

Summer With Ghosts - done in English, this Austrian movie reeks of the Disney Channel

Dead Man's Hand - a Belgian comedy about shopping and maxing out

I have been attending these film festivals since I was in college and though I've had numerous memorable experiences watching classic films from all over the world, there are some things in the film fest experience that I can certainly live without. Presenting...

The five most annoying things that people do in film festivals:

1. There are these people who laugh or giggle at the slightest hint of or vain attempt at humor, even if it's not even remotely funny. I'm not sure if they're just mababaw or if they just want other people to know that they "get" the movie. Reminds me of some Filipinos when they are with foreigners: they do this thing that is one part feeling elated and honored that they are in their company (therefore sosyal at kailangang magpasikat) and another being too accommodating that they would laugh at all the jokes to show that they are at the "same level" as the foreigners (vis-a-vis the other Filipinos around who in their mind are not on the "same level" as them just because they don't have foreigners as acquaintances).

2. Laughing at the wrong parts. I remember this particularly dreadful screening of Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies many years ago. Most of the audience were laughing all throughout the movie at scenes that were supposed to be touching and sad. I wanted to scream.

3. Sometimes they would even have a running commentary on the movie, and would react to anything quirky (for European films, that's every other scene). The worst is the stupid girlfriend who would always ask what's going on in the movie, with the windbag boyfriend giving an explanation totally alien from what everybody is seeing.

4. Then there are these pretentious freaks who probably feel that they are insiders at the festival that while queuing and without prompting would tell you background info on the festival (which you already read from the press releases) and will even tell you the synopsis and the meaning of each film. They would even refer to the movies using their original titles even if the movies are more popularly known by their English titles. Example: "Did you already watch Festen? I watched Festen twice already and it was very good." (Festen is Lars Von Trier's movie more popularly known and publicized as Celebration).

5. Once inside the theater, there are these creeps who would repeat lines from the movie kuntodo foreign accent. Aaaargh!

Just one more thing: Can Shangri-la do something about its present system of giving out tickets to the free screenings one or two hours prior to each screening? The problem is when a movie finishes and you want to watch the next movie, when you reach the ticket booth there are zero tickets left. So what many wise festival goers do is even before the movie ends, they would already make for the exit to be able to score tickets, and then go back to their seats if the movie is still on. This not only disturbs the movie going experience, but many viewers have missed the ending of the film they're watching because they had to be outside to score a seat. And why are small children being allowed to enter even in movies like Closely Watched Trains (sex) and Shooting Dogs (murders and decapitations).

Happy watching!

Friday, October 26, 2007

We're all going to die!

Yesterday, the CNN website had a startling headline news. Excerpt:

Greenland's ice sheet melts as temperatures rise

ILULISSAT, Greenland (CNN) -- From the air, Greenland's ice sheet, the second largest on Earth, appears to be perfectly still.

But below the surface, the ice sheet is in constant motion, as ice built up in the interior pushes toward the coast in the form of massive glaciers. During warmer months, ice from these glaciers melts into the ocean.

It's an age-old process that scientists say has sped up in recent decades because of global warming.

The fear is that melting ice from Greenland and other Arctic areas could cause sea levels to rise enough to flood low-lying cities, such as Shanghai, China, and New York City, displacing millions of people in the process.

A recent report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of scientists from around the world, estimates the sea level rise by 2100 could be as much as 1½ feet.

"That sea level rise is only based on melt from ice sheets, and does not include a new fast flow of ice we have detected in Greenland that is generating additional icebergs," said Dr. Konrad Steffen, a climate scientist with the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Steffen estimates sea levels could rise three feet over the next century, a stark prediction that could wreak havoc around the world if it comes to pass. Greenland holds enough ice to cause sea levels to rise 23 feet if the entire ice sheet melted, a development few scientists expect to happen anytime soon. But global sea levels have been rising at the rate of three millimeters per year since 1993.

Of course, if you've been following the issue of global warming, this news item isn't entirely new. The effects of global warming have been very obvious these past few years. In the Philippines, every summer is the hottest summer on record. Remember typhoon Milenyo? Global warming. And the rainy season always comes very late into the year. When I was in elementary and high school, it was a given that when schools open in June, it will be rainy, so our raincoats should be in our bags. Now, it doesn't rain until August or September, and when it does, pack the industrial strength umbrella and be ready to lose your shame because you're going to walk through the floods or ride the occasional makeshift boat in the middle of Kalentong (hey, I did it twice!).

It's very easy to ignore the problem of global warming because it is something that is so outside us and our homes. And for people who live in a third world country like ours, it's very difficult to think about melting glaciers when people don't even know if there's gonna be food on the table for dinner.

So what can ordinary people do about this problem? Climatecrisis.net outlines several ways. Follow the links:

Reduce your impact AT HOME
Reduce your impact WHILE ON THE MOVE
Download these 10 SIMPLE TIPS to take with you!

This website is a project of former US Vice-President Al Gore, who was responsible for the fantastic documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature early this year. My, my, look what a few years can do. It wasn't long ago that Al Gore was one of the most despised political figures, a favorite target of late night talk show hosts. Al Gore was said to be a bore, in contrast to Clinton who would occasionally play his sax on TV, and even admitted on MTV that he uses briefs instead of boxers. Plus he knows what to do with a cigar. There was even that time when Al Gore allegedly claimed that he invented the internet. That was a hoot. But now, Al Gore, unexpectedly, has made a dramatic comeback with one of his main advocacies, and I really applaud him for that. Last week he even won the Nobel Peace Prize for his crusade against global warming, making people take notice of this much-misunderstood and neglected problem. Wow. After watching "An Inconvenient Truth," one of my Korean students even exclaimed, "he should be president of the world!"

(Speaking of the documentary feature, I think it's one film that ought to be seen by every human being because it's quite an eye-opener. Okay, so there were portions in the movie in which Gore seem to be campaigning for public office, but honestly I didn't mind. If I were the filmmaker, I probably wouldn't even mind if people buy pirated copies of it to give away to students and politicians so that they would do something. Wink wink.)

However, and as Gore said in the documentary, probably the biggest thing that could contribute to solving the problem of global warming is if countries like the US and China will greatly reduce their carbon emissions. And he's talking to you, George W. Bush! Instead of focusing on getting Middle East oil by "liberating" people, why not spend all that money finding ways on how not to make New York City or the entire country of Maldives submerged in melted glacier?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A slap in the people's face

Let's just hope that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's pardon of Joseph Estrada would indeed bring reconciliation and much needed calm in the country's political situation, although this is probably wishful thinking at best, as long as greed and hunger for power and wealth guide the actions of the usual suspects.

The presidential pardon reportedly has good intentions, but for someone like me who was in EDSA everyday that fateful January in 2001, this latest development leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Is this what we fought for? For naught? At that time, our intention was to get rid of this crook, and for the main beneficiary of the people's actions against another person to give pardon to this same person, parang mag-asawang sampal sa mukha. I love this country, but in times like these, I question whether it's all worth it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Night out: Ishmael Bernal Gallery, UP Film Institute (10/12/07)

I made it last Friday to the benefit gig for the husband of Carol Bello, Pinikpikan lead singer and UP journalism instructor. A similar gig was held the night before at Penguin Cafe, with Cynthia Alexander among the performers. The line-up for the UP gig included Engkantada, Bayang Barrios, Spy, and Cordilleran musician Diego Lazo, a nephew of Carol's husband.

I arrived five minutes before the stipulated time, and I immediately felt disheartened to see that only about 10 people were inside the venue. The gig was to raise funds to augment the expense for surgery; I learned later that it was for colon cancer. With tickets priced at only P100.00 each, I felt sad because I knew the proceeds just won't be enough. Far from it. Should I have forwarded Carol's invitation for the gig to more email groups so that more people would have come? It was also a holiday last Friday so students weren't in school. The organizers even bought food for the musicians and there was a good sound system; I hope they didn't have to pay much for those or nothing would have been left. Thankfully, the crowd swelled to about 40 (Cynthia Alexander also attended but did not perform).

Anybody who has been confined to a hospital, or has taken care of somebody in a hospital would be able to relate to Carol's situation. Hospitalization is very costly, plus the added psychological burden of not knowing when it's going to end. Nothing screams REAL LIFE louder than illness. Just a couple of weeks ago I had to spend time at the hospital to take care of my mom, and I've had surgery before, so I know how difficult it is. I was just happy to be there for the gig because I know it would mean so much, not really because of the money, but because I know how good it feels when people try to show that one is not alone in a situation like that.

First on the lineup were Engkantada, an all-female percussion and guitars ensemble with Carol as lead vocalist. Before they performed, Carol thanked the audience for coming and said that there was really no other reason for the show but to ask for financial support for her husband's operation. Talking about her husband's illness, she even did it with humor, telling the audience the difficulty of watching over at the hospital (in "PGH, ward 2, bed 23"), availing discounts from the social service, and why her husband had to "choose" a disease na "pang-mayaman." She also confessed, "ngayon ko lang talaga naramdaman kung paano mag-alala sa isang asawa...people ask me how I feel...there are no words."

I admire Carol as an artist of great talent and depth, but her honesty and humility made me admire her more as a person. In the few occasions that I've seen her perform with Pinikpikan, I recognized right away that here was an artist with no pretenses, no artificiality, no delusions of greatness and grandeur. When Carol sings, I'm captivated by her intensity. The emotions in her performances come from a place grounded in reality. Gritty and full of angst. I could compare her to blues greats like Billie Holiday. Walang pa-cute. Galing sa sikmura, kumakawala. She's a working class musician, singing not for glamour but to live. She's very much of this world. She's one of us.

Engkantada did a handful of songs, from a rousing rendition of "Babae," to the touching "Uyayi," which Carol said she wrote as if she had a baby, as the couple never had a child.

Bayang Barrios sang two songs, backed by Spy who also did a couple of songs after. Spy, of course, was the multi-ethnic world music trio headed by Sammy Asuncion, but the current line-up has Sammy with Budeths Casinto and Louie Talan of Pinikpikan (Boy Garovillo took over Budeths' spot for this show). Spy did an acoustic set, which means it was not a typical Spy set, which I read usually end up with everybody dancing.

Diego Lazo, backed by Spy again, showed the audience how to play the kulintong, a bamboo stringed instrument, which, Diego explained, people in their community use during celebrations. He also said that they even hold kulintong playing competitions. Carol and Diego then played tungatongs, also bamboo instruments, with improvised accompaniment by Spy. The night ended with chanting, percussing, clapping, and Bayang Barrios dancing, which I doubt will ever be replicated as everything was improvisational.

* * * * * * *

How apt is it that a section of the UP Film Institute is now named after the late great director Ishmael Bernal? I saw Bernal in person only twice in my life, and they were both at the film center. The first time was during a screening of the international version of The Flor Contemplacion Story, around 1995. The second time, there were only three people at the theater: Bernal's mother, seated on her wheelchair at the cinema lobby; me; and Bernal, regally lying in his coffin at center stage, surrounded by flowers from people who owed him their careers and credibility. At that time, I still had the strongest desire to be a filmmaker. Silently, I told Bernal, "you don't know me, but you've had a big impact on me."

Indeed, Philippine cinema wouldn't be what it is now without the enduring works of Bernal and his contemporaries. Bernal was often compared with Brocka, but their styles were very different from each other. While Brocka's films were clearly inspired by the neorealists, Bernal's films had touches of surrealism and the absurd. As a young film enthusiast, I was awed by Bernal's work more than Brocka's, maybe because my idea of a good film then was, "hindi ko gaanong naintindihan, pero alam kong maganda." I love Himala. I love Manila By Night. They tackled themes that were not that different from the movies of his contemporaries, but Bernal's films had a dreamlike (nightmarish?) quality that was difficult to shake off. Each movie's milieu was familiar, but instead of feeling comfortable with this familiarity, the audience felt disoriented and disconcerted, because Bernal liked to show things in a different light, and to tell stories in a different perspective. Bernal's influence was much evident in the works of Filipino independent filmmakers in the '90s, when indie filmmaking meant breaking relatives' bank accounts to make a 10-minute (pa-art effect) surrealistic journey into the filmmaker's psyche, using film stock or Super 8. Those were the days.