TV Review: Homeland S04E04 “Iron in the Fire”

New intelligence unraveled as Carrie and co. went further down the rabbit hole in IRON IN THE FIRE, an episode fully geared on the thrills of espionage not only wheeled on the CIA operations, but also torqued on its Pakistani counterpart. Finally emerging as part of the chess game than a plot device, the ISI sheds stealth-mode from tailing surveillance to a more tangible presence that further escalates the conspiracy that befell on the season four premiere. It’s the savory spy stuff that substantiates the progressive episode spawning more questions which reveals the bigger motive behind Sandy Bachman’s murder. The fear of the unknown is crippling but HOMELAND’s ability to play the con game of the unpredictable makes the show so compelling and a-rousing (coughs to Aayan). Ready the blankets and take a seat beside your new-found asset; let the recap begin!

 

New Girl

Working on foreign territory, it made sense that HOMELAND booked new characters who’ll wear the shoes of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s largest intelligence service agency. The show’s depiction of its overseas settings is often criticized but admirably, HOMELAND has been grounded by the stark reality and remained neutral on tackling the political aspects of its omnipotent theme. I wonder how the portrayal of the ISI could add to the complex set-up but the idea of two agencies battling each other is intriguing, all the more that the face we see on the ground is a woman. Nimrat Kaur’s casting as ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi has been interesting and I can’t wait how involved her character will be in the season-long conflict. The thought of her going head-to-head with Carrie is even more exciting. Already proving herself in the misogynistic world of intelligence, S04 sees Carrie engaging on a new dynamic, ironically with the same gender. She’s got Fara to mentor, Martha to be her proxy-mentor/ally, and now Tasneem as a potential enemy (although Carrie doesn’t know her yet). Would it be that the new girl will push Carrie to the limit? We’ll see on the next episodes.

 

Mole 2.0

Speaking of Tasneem, she apprehended a certain professor who was revealed to be Sandy’s inside man on the drone strike’s coordinates… who turned out to be the Martha Boyd’s husband, Dennis. The Boyds scuffle on committing to their careers and marriage (Martha’s disheveled look and unaware treason of her husband got me anxious about her). But the question is, why did Dennis connive with Sandy to get those classified intel? What’s in it for him? Who gave Martha the wrong coordinates which Dennis got from her laptop? Was he not aware that the ISI, as Tasneem said, is benefiting from? There are so many questions that lead to a dead-end. But has anyone noticed the parallel on Saul and Martha’s significant others? Mira was unknowingly sleeping with Andrew Lockhart’s hired agent in last season, but for Dennis, it’s a deep rabbit hole he’s drained himself into.

 

Most Valuable Player

Another big reveal last night (aside from the source of Sandy’s intel) is that Haissam Haqqani, the target of Carrie’s botched drone strike, is alive, thanks to Fara’s determined pursuit of Aayan. It’s an immense compensation for her gone-wrong meeting with him in “Shalwar Kameez”. The transition from meek to daring Fara was a welcome boost to Nazanin Boniadi’s character, now that she’s more expected to be seen on the ground while Carrie’s juggling being station chief and a handler (more to that later). She’s still learning the spy craft that teams her up with Max and they somehow make a more composed pair than the tension-filled Carrie and Quinn. Before Fara left the car, Max cautioned her to not do anything stupid, but don’t expect that dialogue to work out for the other two. I do like how their scenes (Fara and Max following Aayan while Carrie and Quinn argue a stake-out over another ISI agent) interplay thrillingly. The show is meatier if it treats viewers with well-executed covert operations and fastening them together in the end. It’s a tense and gripping entertainment that HOMELAND best delivers.

 

Bad Guy

Remember Carrie and Quinn’s snarky conversation during their surveillance in “New Car Smell”? They’re back behind the camera watching Farhad Ghazi’s footage but this time their talk becomes personal, which further attest on how much their working-personal relationship deepened for the past two seasons. Carrie once again asked Quinn why he didn’t go with her in Kabul and Quinn answers that covert operation was over for him after killing a child in Caracas. For a moment, Carrie’s voice breaks when she shouted ‘No’ upon Quinn’s sullen statement that he’s a bad guy. But instead she wants him focused on the job that he ultimately accepted despite his reservations. I was waiting for the concrete proof on how Quinn would be Carrie’s moral conscience (an actual dialogue, not just cursing) and this scene clicked to it. Many times in the episode did Quinn got into Carrie’s skin and her retaliation was enough to confirm it. I’m not exactly sure on how Carrie is ‘bad news’ to Quinn since she needed him for the mission. Is it considered bad if Quinn continues to prod her enmity in order to humanize her? But the notion of being the bad guy got me curious. Carrie and Quinn have their different methods in performing their job for the greater good. Her needing to hear “I’m a bad guy” seemed like Quinn’s strategy of having Carrie think about her job and what she has let it done to her. It’s not a question of who’s meaner and more culpable. It’s a thought-provoking move; especially when a viewer continues to digest the great lengths Carrie do for her job, which leads us to the final moment of the episode…

 

Mirror, Mirror

Carrie examines herself at the mirror, and pauses before she proceeds with her play on Aayan. To be honest, I wasn’t shocked on the culmination of Carrie’s seduction although at first I was peeved by the thought of it. What changed my mind? Maybe on how the first 45 minutes of the episode built to it and how well Claire Danes and Suraj Sharma calculatedly eased up on Aayan’s consensual permission to Carrie’s initiation. Carrie had used sex before to accomplish her operations but the necessity of doing it with Aayan comes to question. When did she realize that she has to seduce him, to make him emotionally (and physically, forgive the pun) attached to her? And her more professional job description as a station chief also raises an eyebrow to her latest act. I’m not an expert on Carrie’s psyche but based on the past three seasons, Carrie is more comfortable when she’s hands-on to her assets. (Related, but digressing) I think her being station chief comes with her brilliance and not her leadership skills (she’s more of an individual performer). But the more important thing is, Carrie knows what she is doing. She’s planned it all along and readied herself when the moment is ripe. She’s not as reckless like she was with a certain terrorist in “The Good Soldier”. Sex is part of her play but the tricky thing would be not letting herself be emotionally attached because that could just snap a band, if something awry goes off.

 

Oh, Saul also got two important dates in IRON IN THE FIRE, first is with an old friend (called Bunny) from the Pakistan army and second was from a younger official in the ISI. Turns out that Sandy is the sole target of the mob and why the ISI orchestrated the murder is still unknown. Saul is so desperate to be back in the game (I thought he’ll be leaving Pakistan soon?) But seeing Mandy Patinkin course his way through international politics with the Pakistani officials makes me reminiscent of the S01 Saul. I miss the bear.

The opening credits first hears the line “It’s Alice in f***ing wonderland” from Martha. Wait ‘till she knows what her husband’s done aside from plagiarizing. IRON IN THE FIRE got me convinced that the new season will see Carrie in her most dangerous fairy-tale yet. I’m all in the rabbit hole. Are you?

 

NEXT EPISODE: “About a Boy”

Previously… on Homeland (S04E01-E03)

Nearly three weeks since its Season 4 premiere, it really felt good to be back home. Showtime’s critically acclaimed spy drama HOMELAND has never felt so reinvigorated as compared to its past two seasons. Dropping its Brody baggage (for now), the new season engrosses itself not just to a single portrait of a terrorist but to a bigger canvas of the war on terror: the grayness of collateral damage and red herrings on international relations. But for the show’s protagonist, the war on terror will always be personal. Four seasons (and counting), the show would not be as compelling as it is if not for the mercury that is Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). With a new mission and untapped dynamic(s) ready to engage, HOMELAND continues to ripple layers on Carrie’s prodigious yet vulnerable character, while it remains relevant on the conversation of terrorism, feminism, and the ugliness of reality.

 

Episode One: THE DRONE QUEEN

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Ending with a horrifying aftertaste of Sandy Bachman’s (Corey Stoll) murder, THE DRONE QUEEN is an intense first-hour that sets up the season-long conflict on the professional and political consequences of ‘checking names of the kill list’. More foreign than the new ground operations is the Kabul CIA Station chief Carrie’s rigidity and relentlessness, dejecting herself from motherhood and remorse that were conceived in Season Three. Now employed in the private sector, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) offers unsolicited remarks on war in front of his company’s potential contractors: the U.S. Department of Defense while Islamabad-based Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) reunites with Carrie, only to be guilt-driven and tormented by Sandy’s shocking demise. Brought to the core of the drone strike’s collateral damage is the new character of Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma). THE DRONE QUEEN follows the beguiling “Pilot” in HOMELAND’s adrenaline-pumped season premiere. Leaving viewers gripping on the edge of their seats, THE DRONE QUEEN holds a renewed promise of intrigue as it successfully steps out from the shadows of its former lead character and finally becomes the show that it should have been.

 

Episode Two: TRYLON AND PERISPHERE

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Supplementing the action-packed heights of “The Drone Queen”, TRYLON AND PERISPHERE is an emotional whirlpool that follows Carrie and Quinn’s return to the U.S. after the murder of the Islamabad CIA Station Chief. Forced to trespass her duty as a mother, Carrie hatched her imminent return overseas by blackmailing CIA Director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) on treason (because of Sandy’s possible exchange of intelligence). Meanwhile, Quinn tries to drown the grave reemergence of his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) through whiskey and turned his mundane hotel room into a love nest. Carrie and Quinn’s contrasting reactions to Sandy’s death are nuanced and emphatic; and the parallels between them grew starker in Carrie’s suspenseful bath tub scene with her daughter and Quinn’s havoc at the diner. Between accountability on her misguided mission and responsibility to her daughter, Carrie chose the former while Quinn refuses to return just yet. As Carrie flies back to Pakistan as the new Islamabad Station Chief, she stares at the window (a scene similar to her car ride at the beginning of “The Drone Queen”) but she’s not as hardened as she was with her shaky “I’m fine”. Yet she suppresses it harder.

 

Episode Three: SHALWAR KAMEEZ

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HOMELAND hasn’t halted yet the tango of parallels between Carrie and Quinn as their story-lines in SHALWAR KAMEEZ becomes the yin and yang of each other. Carrie, back in Pakistan, is highly efficient in her best element: successfully convincing Martha Boyd (Laila Robins), the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan, to lift the embassy lock down; winning the ram against John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe), the Islamabad Deputy Station Chief; setting up a second station with Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi) and Max (Maury Sterling); and most importantly, getting in contact with Aayan (a charged scene that titillated Carrie’s state of play). Back in the U.S., Quinn copes through his binge-drinking and obsessive viewing of the uploaded video on Sandy’s murder after the thrice occasions of heckling the ‘Carrie card’ against him. But a crucial evidence pulls him back to Carrie and despite his finite It’s not about you in “Trylon and Perisphere”, Quinn is drawn back to her team. His final shot after the phone call perfectly captured his internal dilemma that he can’t simply escape.

Too blunt in pressuring its character, SHALWAR KAMEEZ could have downplayed in confronting Quinn about his feelings for Carrie. But contrast to reviewers who called the episode as a foundation on a possible romantic relationship, it worked for me as Quinn’s introspection in his clash of interest between preserving his humanity and helping the hardest person to say no to (the mutually exclusivity between the two is not yet proven but the succeeding episodes would). A man of few words and many of action, Quinn is made more intriguing by the choices he made (as provoked by the CIA interviewer, he chose Carrie; while in “The Choice” he told David Estes that he didn’t kill Brody because of her). But the question of whether Quinn is in love or bears genuine affection towards her as a respected co-worker still hangs and how altogether it will affect his return to Pakistan further fleshes out Quinn as one of the important individuals in Carrie’s life. However, I do hope Quinn will not just be a romantic buffer for Carrie because regardless of his true feelings, he is an interesting character: his transformation from a black-and-white assassin to a gray moral compass was cultivated well; and that will surely make HOMELAND more humane not just in Carrie’s perspective.

 

NEXT EPISODE: the spy craft sizzles on “IRON IN THE FIRE”

Movie Review: Starred Up, Non-stop

STARRED UP

Violent and unforgiving as it maybe, it’s hard to look away from director David Mackenzie’s unflinching story of a juvenile’s descent to the gratuitous cage of older convicts. Brilliantly filmed and one of the finest in its genre, STARRED UP is a no holds barred prison drama anchored heavily on the revelatory Jack O’Connell as Eric Love who unleashes his inner animal, more savage and scarred, yet most importantly, raw of the potential to redeem himself from the society who doesn’t believe it possible. Eric’s erstwhile guardians are also haunted of their own personal demons; Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend fills complicated layers of humanity in their troubled characters. STARRED UP does not take pleasure in its brutality, nor preaches of the consequences of serving in prison. Rather, it powerfully delivers a sore reality not often seen onscreen.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

 

NON-STOP

Hot on the heels of Liam Neeson‘s late resurgence as an action star, NON-STOP takes off in a tense premise that takes claustrophobia to the highest, inescapable altitude. A (surprising) ensemble cast had a promise of a sophisticated thriller but were surprisingly miserably written and confined as plot devices. The narrative turbulence happens at the end of the film and NON-STOP lands preposterously because of its final reveal. At least the cast looked like they enjoyed the ride and the movie was entertaining despite its misgivings. But the viewing seat belt is still fastened on what the hijacking film could have been for the better.

Rating: 2.5/.5.0

Movie Review: “The Gifted”

Better Late than Never.

(Here’s my take on why the post-credit scene mattered than the post-surgical procedure but how it also distorted how good-looking genius can be.)

Movie Poster.

Beauty and beast and brains in between. Chris Martinez’s newest film THE GIFTED has its own way of tickling the funny bone, albeit flirting with it until it reveals its surprisingly good intentions. A comedy about two genius ugly-ducklings and their metamorphosis to skin-grafted swans, The Gifted isn’t made smarter by its erudite leads who are caught in a cat-fight of insecurities and engrossed in the overly onscreen search for a paramour. Script-wise, it misses to integrate witty puns in the dialogue (other than bragging Calculus) and doesn’t really delve into the cerebral psyche of its characters. Without the genius DNAs of Aica (Cristine Reyes) and Zoe (Anne Curtis), the film will just be a worn-out romantic comedy that will only be made memorable by Curtis’ ultra-revealing gown (or not). But in the end, The Gifted proves that it’s smarter than viewers’ prejudice by flipping entirely what everyone knew for the past two hours. Genius and gorgeousness are not, after all, the perfect equation to become gifted. But rather, having someone to accept the ‘real’ you and (which I think is more important) wholeheartedly accepting one’s self.

Unexpectedly serving more EQ than IQ, The Gifted is a surprisingly well-meaning comedy that goes deeper than the perfectly sculpted bodies of its leads. Despite some complaints on characterization and depiction of the two geniuses (which I’ll touch into later), it somehow made sense to the film’s ‘origin story’. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Other than being Zoe’s pet snake to become Aica’s apple of the eye, Sam Milby (in a dual role) put on his nerdy self as the unreliable narrator who immortalizes his insecurities through his penned book entitled, “The Gifted”. The post-credit confrontation scene was not just a satisfying answer to his fictional revenge. The referred book is written by a man who has his own flawed ideals of a woman but the society’s expectations of ‘beauty, brains, and beast’ come into play, and having comedy as the genre made the theme more realistic. It may not have been self-aware, but the film criticizes how people overshadow good-looking to genius and how they isolate one from the other. People would rather guffaw at an ugly person but not laugh to an intelligent pun. They would rather take notice of a woman wearing sexy clothes than listen to another with a sexy mind. And as seen in the film, a smart but physically unremarkable woman will only be revered if she goes under the needle (because if you’re smart, you wouldn’t want to stay ugly for the rest of your life).

But Joe (the real Zoe) and Maica (the real Aica) need not to submit to society’s notion of beauty and the consolation of brains for the lack of it. The Gifted gets a high mark on its moral story – these girls need not to alter themselves to be accepted by society. Unlike their fictitious counterparts, Joe and Maica are treasured by their classmates, except for Milby’s insecure, perennial third placer. Someone may have been born with the superlatives in the physical and mental aspects but attitude makes and breaks likability. Goodness still stand-out from good looks and genius. As for the two leads, growing up comfortably in their own skin is an honest message for accepting one’s flaws. Joe and Maica are each other’s gift, just like the many girls and women who would not let insecurity bring them down.

Before and After.

The Gifted may have been a more meaningful comedy but its good-naturedness doesn’t absolve how it handled the physiology of its female characters. The conscious nitpicking of attractive actress for a homely and clever role, and have her stripped off of prosthetics and fat suits to wear her own celebrated face and figure post-surgical procedure, is a defective depiction of a smart female protagonist whose platform only propagates the stereotype instead of fighting it. My real question is, ‘Why can’t we have an intellectual female who is more conscious of making change in her society than changing her look or bodyWhy can’t we have an intellectual female who doesn’t have to be encumbered by prosthetics and instead act in her true form? Why are physical traits more fleshed out than focusing in the moral and intellectual identity of its female character?’ I was actually disappointed when Curtis and Reyes have to wear an exaggeration of their geeky roles (one whose body weight is as heavy as her mind while the other is facial fiasco). A usual comedic approach is to make fun of what is seen outside without bothering what is inside. The Gifted can still be comedy if it is more invested as a character study (it could have addressed the battle between the head and the heart, or how their geniuses level in awkward and clichéd situations). But instead of shrewd characterizations, the film relied on been-there done-that costumes to make the lead characters ‘look’ smart but don’t really act like one. And that’s not actually smart at all.

It could have been a riotous showdown of Athenas but The Gifted pitted Aphrodites who are caught up in fashion-feud and cosmetic-clash, thus meandering its creative potential. Although the post-credit scene was a pleasant surprise, it willingly stumbles on mainstream treatment that tends to be more conscious of its message at the expense of a sensible and logical narrative. Dubbing itself as a dark comedy, The Gifted doesn’t even have a firm grasp of the sub-genre (there are other ways it can be dark or daring but the plot device of gun possession is as unnecessary as the film stepping into dark comedy) and nor understand the humor of it; similar to the miscalculations on the writing and portrayal of its genius characters. The movie’s most resonant and only saving grace is the post-credit scene which some viewers may have even missed but without it, what is the point of the film?

To argue between what The Gifted is to what it is not is tricky (I tried to lay the line between the moral story and the blind spot, but it’s for you to decide which is more impactful) but I wished the film was smart enough to consider the many themes it can address given its playful premise. A female lead whose intelligence is her identifying trait is rarely seen onscreen but instead of exploring how and what makes her smart, they are treated as clichéd characters that completely sidelined their mental prowess. The Gifted ends with a sincere toast to a strengthened friendship and cultivated self-esteem but it fails to empower the true image of a good-looking woman in its many aspects. Because being beautiful is not always about how one appears, but on how she thinks, speaks, and acts; and how gracious she is in accepting and conquering criticisms, like this film review.

The Gifted

Produced by: Viva Films

Release date: September 3, 2014

Review: 2.5/5.0

Movie Review: The Maze Runner

THE MAZE RUNNER

In a populated, alternate dystopian world where teenage boys are unknowingly trapped in the maze, THE MAZE RUNNER escapes the clichéd territory by banking on its more intuitive characters against the suspicious society they strive in. It lays ground of a ‘Lord of the Flies’-like setting that raises the oblivion to pseudo-‘The Hunger Games’ level, but still knows its destination. While the revelatory ending further leads to a labyrinth of ‘lies’, THE MAZE RUNNER is an intriguing and heightening run that has yet to release viewers from its enigmatic maze. Non-book readers would still be reeling on the puzzling turn of events but the next leg of answers is something to look forward to in its next installment.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Movie Review: “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”

I finally found the type of comedy that I’m looking for… in the septic tank.

 

Venice’s Golden Lion, Cannes’ Palme d’Or, and the Academy’s Oscar. These three are considered to be the pinnacle of film-making and unfortunately, the Philippines is still empty-handed on winning any of the three. It feels frustrating that for a country teeming of artistic talents, we have yet to nab at least a nomination. Who else is more frustrated than the local filmmakers thriving for international distinctions that will stand on the dais of Philippine cinema history? While it’s still a work-in-progress, I wonder, what makes a Filipino film Oscar-worthy? Does it have to be a social or political statement, inspired by true events, or a cultural showcase? Does it have to settle in drama, musical comedy, or a documentary? Most importantly, who should play the lead: Cherry Pie Picache, Mercedes Cabral, or Eugene Domingo? These are just the important questions that three young filmmakers have to decide on helming the elusive Oscar-worthy film in Marlon Rivera’s independent comedy “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”.

 

Movie poster.

 

It’s not until the end of the film when the woman in the septic tank is identified. But how she’s gotten herself in that shit hole, and how the Oscar-worthy film’s production rolled is a carnival of how reality can break expectations. Producer Bingbong (JM De Guzman) and director Rainier (Kian Cipriano) believe that they all have the right elements of an Oscar-worthy film which they entitled, “Walang-wala”, a controversial story of Mila, a mother who was driven by poverty to sell one of her children to a foreign pedophile. All systems go along with production manager Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) as they are en route to meet with the lead star, Eugene Domingo (as herself) and inspect the perfect location, the infamous Payatas dump-site. Bingbong and Rainier are radiating of assertiveness of how their film will be their ticket to the Oscars. They are so self-assured that they easily dismissed a fellow filmmaker who won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival because of his conceited obnoxiousness and wrong grammar. An unwanted rendezvous with him erupted to a volley of mockery at the car that further smelted Bingbong and Rainier’s desire of creating Philippine Oscar history. While the earlier montages of playful genre-swapping gave a glimpse of their cinematic vision in “Walang-wala”, it was through that car scene fueled of sarcasm that I rejoiced for these filmmakers as they embraced the youth’s tenacity of unnecessarily having to prove themselves. It was spot on in reflecting every young adult’s idealism. But the hilarious process of how the vicious reality fails them began on their first destination.

 

Eugene Domingo as… ‘Eugene Domingo’ in “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”

 

To have the Eugene Domingo on board was already a titillating Oscar prospect but first, Bingbong and Rainier have to make adjustments for the coveted star. Courteous and eager as she was, Ms. Domingo domineered on her demands that sparked creative differences between the producer and the director. Mila, in Ms. Domingo’s visualization, is more neatly dressed with slight make-up as contrast to the original famished character. Ms. Domingo opted to add dialogue to the silent scenes and asked for a double in Sequence 7. Bingbong was more lenient while Rainier soured on imbibing a mainstream-treatment to their indie project. Their second stop in the Payatas dump-site, however, glued them back to their Oscar goal… until the perfect location turned into a traumatic situation.

 

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank is no short of situational comedy but how effective it is in delivering a bigger theme than the behind-the-scene difficulties of film-making. It’s a well-matched humor of how expectation and reality play against each other. The leads’ unguarded idealism often falls prey to the unfair predator that is real life. In their quest to make an authentic film, Bingbong, Rainier, and Jocelyn got their doses of poisonous predicaments that threaten to sabotage their Oscar-worthy film. We don’t know if they made it on the Academy’s shortlist. Ms. Domingo got her demands granted, much to her excitement, but at least we get to know who gets the last laugh, if you know what I mean.

 

It is in the septic tank that I finally found a worthwhile Philippine comedy that I’m looking for and how hearty my laughter was on the intensity of hilarity that the characters find themselves in. While I find Bingbong and Rainier’s characters as relatable, it’s their preemptive Oscar ego that landed them to their misfortunes. It would be easy to find other actors to take their place but De Guzman and Cipriano were naturals as they bounce of each other as the ambitious filmmakers. Cortez was without dialogue throughout the film but it was in two scenes that her hysterics perfectly summarized the overall mood. Lastly, Domingo was all game in acting as the ostentatious version of herself and the versatile character of Mila. Chris Martinez’s script was engaging from beginning to end, enough to make up for the crude production value.

 

Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank was the country’s submission for the Best Foreign Film category in the Academy Awards last 2011 but didn’t make the cut. Still, it wouldn’t stop filmmakers like Bingbong and Rainier to aspire for the Oscar gold. It is typical Filipino humor to make fun of someone in their sordid state and Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank exactly ends in that manner. But the final scene is the culmination of what the film is about — the notoriety of reality that one can’t simply capture on a group selfie at Payatas, or in Ms. Domingo’s case, a dive into karma.

 

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Movie Review: Cinemalaya X (Part 2 “K’Na the Dreamweaver”)

K’NA THE DREAMWEAVER is an authentic design of romance and tradition, if you give it a chance.

 

“You have to look at the bigger picture. The pattern is always there, even if you cannot see it.” – Bey Lamfrey

 

Beauty, nowadays, is seen myopically, thanks to the availability of content underneath our fingertips. Aside from snapshots of photogenic dishes, the online album is populated by breathtaking sceneries and glitzy fashion deities who are worshipped by every likes and shares. Not digressing how K’Na the Dreamweaver comes into the picture, but first-time director Ida del Mundo offered Cinemalaya X a beautiful yet rare design that weaves the enduring stories of duty, love, and tradition from the often overlooked expedition of the vast Philippine ethnicity.

 

Across Lake Sebu in South Cotabato lives the indigenous tribe, the T’boli, who are renowned for their traditional clothing. But behind every design is the mythical inspiration of a Dreamweaver and for every Dreamweaver is a story waiting to unfold. Like the dyed abaca fibers strewn to create the unique T’boli cloth, K’Na the Dreamweaver was seamless in stitching its numerous themes into a pattern that dresses the film’s ‘beauty in the ordinary’. Among its many designs, it is a coming-of-age story of the youngest Dreamweaver who had to choose between her people and her true love. As a princess, K’Na must either submit to the proposed marriage to unify the T’bolis or follow her heart. The many aspects of love pierce K’Na because not all loves (young love, love for the society, and love for one’s dream) can make the final cut. Mara Lopez is luminous as the titular lead, as she embraced well the naivety and grace of a young T’boli princess under pressure.

 

The ceremony. 

Secondly, the film is a sporadic reminder of how rich the Philippine culture is. K’Na the Dreamweaver is a solemn immersion to an exotic community that is rarely seen onscreen and often taken for granted. The unadulterated, serene landscape of South Cotabato is a refreshing escape, along with the sweet-sounding T’boli dialect that fosters the film’s authentic look (it won Best Production Design in the New Breed Category). Lastly, it’s a tale about dreams and traditions that stood the test of time. The T’boli patterns have been part of the tribe’s identity but in the film, they symbolized K’Na’s ultimate dream and the tribe’s age-long customs. K’Na the Dreamweaver preserves what remains to be known in the diverse Philippine ethnicity which has not been much explored cinematically. Interestingly, the growing number of young Cinemalaya participants was able to see this unfamiliar society through K’Na who had her own share of heartbreak and responsibilities, making her no less different from her urban audience. Her personal struggles, along with the mysticism of a Dreamweaver and the invitation to the T’boli way of life, make the film an enriching and emphatic experience.

 

Young K’Na and Bey Lamfrey.

There is something magical and chaste about the film that echoes to the epic of Princess Urduja. Despite the film’s thematic richness, the beauty of K’Na the Dreamweaver will only be appreciated, if you give it a chance. The viewers’ tolerance for such subject matter is a bit testy as some may quickly dismiss it as ‘boring’ and ‘plain’. If only they look past their prejudice and see what makes K’Na the Dreamweaver a modest ethnic treasure. From the sweeping river shot in the beginning to the ingenious T’boli designs throughout, Del Mundo conditioned an exotic look in one of the country’s most colorful and thriving tribes. As what K’Na’s grandmother encouraged, viewers should “look at the bigger picture”. It may not be cinema’s grandest look into cultural life (the T’bolis live simply but were never short of history) but K’Na the Dreamweaver opened a new world rarely seen; it further justifies the beauty of Philippine culture, and the T’bolis are just a slice of it.

 

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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UP NEXT: The kids are not alright in ‘#Y’ and ‘Children’s Show’.