REVIEW | Three CineFilipino films

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Art house theater Cinema ’76 in San Juan and Quezon City recently screened this year’s CineFilipino films, which allowed indie film enthusiasts to watch anew the most memorable films in this year’s festival.

‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’ (2018)

No matter how pretentious the title sounds, Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus rings true. Winning four awards in this year’s CineFilipino, including 2nd Best Picture and Best Cast Ensemble, Dwein Baltazar’s sophomore film keenly and exquisitely examines limerence.

The film opens in a thrift shop, where Caloy (Nicco Manalo) stands with a glazed look. A few minutes later, his object of desire, Aileen (Iana Bernardez), with her soft wavy hair and perfect set of pearly whites, saunters in and Caloy’s hypothalamus goes into overdrive.
The film then shifts to explore similarly infatuated men: a middle-aged widower (Soliman Cruz), a hormonally charged college youth (Dylan Ray Talon) and a mute snatcher (Anthony Falcon).

CALOY (Nicco Manalo) is among the three men enamored with a pretty young woman in this CineFilipino film.

Baltazar expertly plays with the concept of romantic obsession. Her men are unique, their features of desire distinct from one another. You see the ingenious subtle differences in Aileen (she’s Angel Aquino’s daughter, by the way) through their eyes and their limerence reduces her as a mere woman. Characterless but bewitching. A shapeshifter that molds these men’s fantasies.

Baltazar set her lyrical and poetic reimagining of yearning against the seedy, dirty streets of Avenida. The harsh contrast of the sooty, congested Manila against the dreamlike Aileen and the men’s intoxication provides the film layers of the surreal and the raw. The enchanting and the disturbing.

The urban setting comes alive in the film, especially at night, when the streetlights shine and the store fronts are closed, and the length of Avenida and the thoroughfares begin to sleep. But the men’s longing persists, intrusive and delirious.

The cast is terrific, with naturalistic performances, most notably the non-speaking Falcon and the motormouth Talon, who both disappear in their roles. The dialogue sparkles with wit and the silent moments are heavy with the unsettling feeling of romantic obsession.
Gusto Kita with All my Hypothalamus is a smart, dark and humorous examination of obsession, and Baltazar weaves her story with confidence and grace, delivering one disturbingly accurate facet of human nature.
(4.5 out of 5 stars)

‘The Eternity Between Seconds’ (2018)

In a blistering cold South Korea, two troubled souls meet, a fortysomething man and a millennial girl. Their paths cross onboard the Airport Railroad Express while sitting directly across from each other, way at the back of the train, with the windows overlooking the gentle snow.

TJ Trinidad and singer Yeng Constantino star as the unlikely pair in a ‘Before Sunrise’- inspired movie.

Alec Figuracion’s The Eternity Between Seconds is a Before Sunrise movie — two strangers meeting in a foreign country and prattle on about life and their existential issues. Married guy Andres (TJ Trinidad) is a despaired self-help author, while Sam (a black-haired Yeng Constantino) is an anxious orphan. The unlikely pair connect and hang out within the confines of the Incheon International Airport.

The two are bonded by their reluctance to face life outside of the airport, with Incheon serving as a halfway house toward their reality. They connect cerebrally, both having a penchant for pseudo-intellectual talks and horrendously shallow psychobabble. It’s insufferable listening to the two talk, their philosophical jousting too studied and contrived.

The cover of Andres’ self-help book shows a fish jumping out of its fishbowl, with the title Take The Leap.The unimaginative book title and cover should already serve as a foreshadowing of the film’s “substance.”

Competent actors as they are, Trinidad and Constantino lack chemistry and rapport and along with their trite talk, it’s hard to care for them and their problems. The airport is far more interesting than them.

Your viewing pleasure is compensated by crisp shots of Incheon’s ultra-modern architecture. The vast, panoramic rooflines and the airport’s high-tech features and amenities that merge traditional Korean design and modern art are breathtaking.

Sometimes, though, you get frustrated by the excessive close-up shots of Sam’s Doc Martens and her face, giving you a sense of claustrophobia.

The Eternity Between Seconds, which won the CineFilipino Best Picture, feels tedious for its one-dimensional characters pretending to be deeper than they really are. The premise is golden, but with a spurious script, its short running time already feels like an eternity.
(1 out of 5 stars)

‘Delia and Sammy’ (2018)

Nabbing this year’s CineFilipino Best Actress and Best Actor award for Rosemarie Gil and Jaime Fabregas, respectively, and a Best Supporting Actor award for Nico Antonio, Delia and Sammy is more than just effervescent performances, but it’s a sharply funny and poignant perspective of two unlikable people searching, no, demanding for compassion.

A childless elderly couple, Delia (Gil) and Sammy (Fabregas), lives alone in a comfortable house in a subdivision, frequently carpooling with their offended neighbors for personal trips. Delia is demanding and manipulative, while Sammy is a womanizing homophobe. Two unpleasant people. Spoiled and entitled.

SCREEN legends Rosemarie Gil and Jaime Fabregas delight viewers with their portrayal of a spoiled and unpleasant elderly couple in ‘Delia and Sammy.’

But Delia is secretly dying and Sammy has dementia. Delia, fearing to leave Sammy all alone after her death, goes in search of someone to take care of him. And, in frustrating times, she herself is perplexed by her dedication and loyalty to a husband who has never been faithful to her.

But you root for them. These unsavory people grappling for survival. Not only because they’re old, but because they live alone in an island of pain, alienated because of their villainous nature.

Roger (Antonio), a newly hired, timid security guard, gets hilariously trapped in Delia’s agenda and on Christmas Day, he becomes the reluctant driver of their rickety Mercedes Benz on a road trip to uncertainty.

Therese Anne Cayaba’s debut feature is a smart, moving tale of love, marriage and sacrifice in the twilight years, made richer by its unconventional protagonists. Gil’s Delia is a great pleasure to watch — regal, with an air of a movie star. She’s hilarious in her panic and haughtiness and wrenchingly brilliant in her pain and vulnerability.

This is Delia’s journey more than Sammy’s, though, whose presence is sometimes frustratingly forgotten by the camera. Antonio complements the old couple, his dynamics with Gil is riotous.

Delia and Sammy, which also won 3rd Best Picture, is a lingering, bittersweet drama brimming with wit, tension and strong, memorable characters that exist in real life. With a clear, solid narrative and soulful performances, it’s a must-see in this festival lineup.
(4 out of 5 stars)

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