The Woman Who Left (2017)


Directed by Lav Diaz
Country: Philippines

Filipino drama “The Woman Who Left” is no easy watching, requiring redoubled concentration and considerable amounts of patience from the viewers to be fully absorbed. Reinforcing his statute of cult director, Lav Diaz (“Norte, The End of History”, “From What is Before”) was awarded with the Venice Golden Lion with this peculiar, classic-style revenge tale, vanquishing other powerful candidates such as “La La Land”, “Jackie”, “Nocturnal Animals”, or “Arrival”.

Diaz drew inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s short story "God Sees the Truth, But Waits” and not only adapted it to the Filipino reality but extended it to three hours and forty-six minutes. Nothing to be surprised, since he always showed this tendency for protracted movies - “Norte” runs a bit more than four hours, while “From What is Before” goes over five and a half hours!

If pondered-style indie world cinema is right up your alley, you won't give your time as wasted as you contemplate this somber story.

Charo Santos-Concio is Horacia Somorostro, a good-hearted teacher who spent 30 years in a Filipino correctional for a crime she didn’t commit. In 1997, her longtime friend Petra finally confessed she was the culprit of a murder machinated by Horacia’s ex-boyfriend, the wealthy Rodrigo Trinidad (Michael de Mesa). 

Before going after Rodrigo with a clear intention to kill, Horacia stops by her family’s house, but only finds the daughter of the old caretaker who informs her about the death of her husband, the sudden disappearance of her son, and the whereabouts of her daughter, Minerva (Marjorie Lorico), who never went to visit her in prison.


Acting undercover, Horacia moves to the city where Rodrigo lives, planning carefully all the steps of a very anticipated bloody retaliation. However, the new stranger in town reveals true compassion for the poor and the disadvantaged, befriending Magbabalot (Nonie Buencamino), a miserable yet God-devotee egg street seller, Mameng (Jean Judith Javier), an unbalanced young woman who knows exactly who the ‘devils’ are, and Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz), an epileptic transvestite who roams the streets with self-contempt, waiting patiently for his life to end. In the most despairing situation, all these characters will take something from her but will also reciprocate. 

The painful loneliness is increased by a sparse narrative, while the lingering camera, capturing everything in a Kurosawa-esque black-and-white praxis, turns this film into an occasionally exasperating but ultimately rewarding experience. The surprises of the story don't come from where you expect, and that is an extra point for Diaz’ written material.

Simultaneously bleak and illuminated, “The Woman Who Left” is not just about revenge, moral integrity, and opportunity. It’s about life… a life you didn’t choose to live but you are compelled to. Furthermore, it makes a keen observation on the recent situation of the Philippines, a country dominated by injustice and social inequality. The good thing is that Diaz, not satisfied with merely denouncing it, combats it with love, clemency, and friendship.


Ma Rosa (2016)

Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Country:  Philippines

Filipino director Brillante Mendoza (“Kinatay”, “Grandmother”) responds to the crisis lived in his country with another descriptive drama, set in the fervent Manila, about a couple, Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) and Nestor Reyes (Julio Diaz), whose illegal activities carry out in their small convenience store are subject to search by the corrupt local police, leading to their subsequent arrest.

With three children to feed, Rosa is clearly the head of the family and the one who maintains everything under control in the household. She provides for the family while taking an eye on her vicious husband. Since the money obtained from the store is not enough to cover the needs, the couple plunged head first into the ‘ice’ business, becoming popular small-scale crystal meth suppliers for the entire neighborhood. Their life has changed for better since then and, regardless some debts to collect here and there, they don’t have to worry so much. Besides, it's not uncommon to see Rosa helping out the ones knocking on her door to ask for financial help.

Emergent writer Troy Espiritu, in its first collaboration with Mendoza, makes his point by showing us how tough and contradictable life may be. Sometimes your best friends are the ones who turn you in. Other times, even those who you don’t get along with, can save you from the most sordid situations.

Another shocking focal point has to do with the open dishonesty embraced by the Filipino police agents. Those guys suck the transgressors to the bone, asking for bribing money with a scoffing posture that is painfully vexing. Through Rosa, they also reached her supplier, the young Jomar (Kristoffer King), who, in turn, works for a big fish. That means thick bundles of cash to their pockets and a reason to celebrate with roasted chicken and beers.

Not satisfied with what they got, the agents ask for a higher bail to free Nestor and Rosa, who become totally dependent on her children, Jackson (Felix Roco), Erwin (Jomari Angeles) and Raquel (Andy Eigenmann). Each of them will have to put their minds to work and find ways to collect the required sum. Nevertheless, thrills are not particularly increased.
Rosa’s sharp tongue and frequent vulgar language easily become the funny side of a story rendered with rawness and nearness, which make it pretty much alive, even considering the dark scenario.

The point here is how would you educate your own children in these circumstances to make them better human beings and look to the future with optimism and confidence. It makes you ponder about what options do they have in a place like Manila, where the struggles to survive are overpowering.

Understated, “Ma’ Rosa” comes deprived of the traumatic agony of “Kinatay” and the mordant plot of “Grandmother”, but still bestows this in-your-face authenticity that keeps us interested. The social realism conveyed here is not new, though, and Mendoza did it clearly better in previous moves. Even saturated with active camera movements, his direction feels a bit stiff, and the power of the scenes comes mostly from the capture of the poor milieu and the cast's forceful acting. 

Honor Thy Father (2015)

Directed by Erik Matti
Country: Philippines

“Honor Thy Father” is a pertinent Filipino drama/thriller about a family involved in a fraudulent financial scheme that unexpectedly puts their lives in danger. It also addresses religious fanaticism and deception, the gap between social classes, and criminal activity with a sharp eye, only to wobble slightly as it reaches the last part.
The director, Erik Matti, who already had shown favorable capabilities in the 2013 crime thriller “On the Job”, wrote the screenplay together with Michiko Yamamoto and gave the proper instructions to the popular Filipino actor John Lloyd Cruz who played the leading role.

Mr. Cruz gives an earnest performance as Edgar, a modest former miner who recently has been living in the city in great style and surrounded by luxury. Not because he did great at work or won the lottery, but because his wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano), is thriving due to an elusive financial scheme launched by her father, that forces her to drag more investors into swampy ground.
Kaye seems to have been born for that job. She loves to feel active when convincing people to invest, and superior when in the presence of large amounts of money.
Besides leading the scheme, Kaye is a fervent devotee of the Church of Yeshua whose header, bishop Tony (Tirso Cruz III), tries to extract as much money (in the form of donations) as he can get from the parishioners. 
The only one who attends the gatherings with suspicion and indifference is Edgar. However, he goes with the flow just to please his whimsical wife.

The couple’s happy days come to an end when Kaye’s father is assassinated and the money disappears. Naturally, the situation provokes the chaos among the wrathful villagers who claim their money back.
Since Kaye doesn’t have a solution for the problem, the crowd opts for looting her house. Not satisfied, a threatening couple takes further action, kidnapping their daughter, Angel (Krystal Brimner), as a warning, and then Kaye, as a guarantee that they will receive the six million they’re asking for.
Edgar has to think and act fast to retrieve his beloved wife alive. After a failed attempt to rob a bank, his only chance is to break into the church that had denied the financial help he needed.

“Honor Thy Father” is a claustrophobic tale that conveys all the distress felt by its characters, a punishment for their atrocious greediness. It’s also timeless because, sadly, scheming people and churches like the one described here are still spread around the world.
The pace increases as the intensity grows, but the film loses something in its last act where the action assumes preponderance, and the climax shows us how ignominious life can be sometimes.

Waves (2015)

Waves (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Don Gerardo Frasco
Country: Philippines

Movie Review: “Waves”, Don Gerardo Frasco’s directorial debut, is a Filipino English-language romance that lives from intimate conversations, fluctuating moods, complications and uncertainties in a revived relationship between two former lovers, Ross (Baron Geisler) and Sofia (Ilona Struzik), who first met in New York years before, and now decide to give another chance on love by spending a few days in a paradisiacal Filipino island resort. He is a lonesome local resident who became jobless and drinks heavily to drown his sorrows. She is an American model who is about to catch a plane to New York, where she lives and works. The couple seems to enjoy the company of each other but is confronted with old feelings, occasional jealousy and the fact that Sofia has a promising career and a boyfriend waiting for her in New York. We can sense a sort of discomfort when the question if they should or should not sleep in the same bed arises. The mystery and vagueness associated to their past worked well, and the script by Scott Curtis Graham is not so bad, even considering that the film drags here and there. Its main problem has to do with the editing, which revealed some amateurism, especially in the moments where the images present annoying hops and sudden light changes. In terms of performances, experienced Geisler was better than Polish/American model, Struzik, who makes the third cinematic appearance since her 2008 debut. Cebuano filmmaker and cinematographer, Don Frasco, presented some awesome shots, culminating with a swim with sharks, in an emotional waving drama that despite the efforts was unable to always genuinely aim straight to the heart.

Metro Manila (2013)

Metro Manila (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sean Ellis
Country: Philippines / UK

Movie Review: The third feature film from English filmmaker Sean Ellis, "Metro Manila", is a thrilling trip into despair of having to start a new life from scratch in a dangerous place. Facing severe financial problems, Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) and his wife Mai (Althea Vega) leave their farm in the Philippine Benoue province, in the company of their two young daughters, to try their luck in Manila. Astonished with the city’s intensity, they’ll soon learn that nothing is too easy in an inhuman jungle where everyone tries to survive the best they can. Swindled in the day of their arrival, Oscar and Mai will have different lucks in their following jobs, being exploited in two very different manners. While she starts working in a hideous bar for gentlemen, he gets an apparently steady position in an armored truck company, being trained by his helpful but tricky partner, Ong (John Arcilla). The couple is about to inhabit a merciless and destructive world of ambition, greediness, and exploitation. Effective in capturing the vibrancy of the city with its accurately shots, Ellis conducted the story in a gripping way, triggering never-ending situations on how a chaotic society can take advantage of one’s innocence and impoverishment. Story's tragic outcomes were far expected, conjointly with the suitable pace adopted, in a film that works very well as a slow-burning drama, heist thriller, and bitter analysis of a problematic country. Having been nominated for the BAFTA awards 2014, “Metro Manila” was awarded at Hamburg and Sundance film festivals.

On the Job (2013)

On the Job (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Erik Matti
Country: Philippines

Movie Review: Filipino crime thriller “On the Job” can be seen as an unrestrained exposure of crooked politics, corrupt police, and the underworld of narcotrafficking. Inspired on true events, Erik Matti’s 14th feature film centers on two inmates, the veteran Tang (Joel Torre) and the young and inexperienced Daniel (Gerald Anderson), who occasionally get out from the prison to work as carriers or hitmen for Madame Thelma and her criminal organization. In parallel and in an opposite front, we can follow the determined officers Acosta (Joey Marquez) and Frans (Piolo Pascual), a newcomer whose honesty will impel him to fight anyone, including his own family. Here we can take a good look into marginal Filipino society and even learn and understand a few things about the interveners’ mentality. As exemplification, we are shown that to kill someone targeted has to be considered merely work and never personal; or that crowded places can be perfect for some executions. Both plot and characters are a bit entangled, and some scenes sporadically relegate the film to commonplaces, but “On the Job” offers us a vivid characterization of a country’s system that operates in dark alleys, confined corridors, and other claustrophobic scenarios where we can almost feel the pestilent air of crime and death. Matti was able to create intensity and none situation seemed out of reality or uncontrolled. Despite the good critical responses, the film was a commercial flop, both locally and outside doors.

Apparition (2012)

Apparition (2012)
Directed by: Vincent Sandoval
Country: Philippines

Review: Faith is put to the test in the small Adoration Monastery, located in the middle of the woods in Rizal, Philippines, where a group of devoted nuns dedicate themselves to simple daily tasks and prayers. Set in 1971, when president Marcos declared Martial Law, the film tries to make a parallelism between religious and political ‘silences’, addressing the guilt and remorse that accrue from behaving impassively when facing certain reproachable happenings. The story follows Sister Lourdes, a young nun who happily joins the isolated Monastery, becoming close of Sister Remy whose inclination for political action is in her blood. After the Mother Superior has pointed them as external nuns, they will take advantage of the little freedom granted to attend political meetings in town. Certain day, when they were coming back to Monastery, Sister Lourdes was caught and brutally raped by three rebels in the woods. Since that moment, a diabolical curse falls in the Monastery and peace will no longer be part of the nuns’ daily life. Even if some long shots, especially those with prolonged crying and agony, could have been slightly improved, Vincent Sandoval’s sophomore feature was quite creative, exploring the heaviness in each scene to convey the oppressive sadness of its characters. In soft pale colors, and frequent close-ups, here is another perspective of Philippines’ tough reality, leaving us with the essential question posed by the nuns: why God wants us to go through all this?

Graceland (2012)

Graceland (2012)
Director: Ron Morales
Country: Philippines

Review: “Graceland” is the second feature film directed by Ron Morales, who is best known as an experienced key grip (lighting and rigging technician), having participated in 41 titles, including “The Departed”, “Spider Man 3” or “My Sassy Girl”. Set and filmed in the Philippines, the story centers in a kidnapping that went too far. For eight years, Marlon works as a chauffeur for a corrupt and pedophile congressman, feeling guilty for having to cover-up his recurrent sexual crimes. His daughter Elvie attends the same class as Sophia, his boss's daughter, being best friends for a long time. Certain day, when driving them home from school, Marlon’s car was ambushed by a man disguised of policeman whose goal was to kidnap the congressman’s daughter. However, things didn’t went as expected, and Marlon, cornered between the kidnappers’ orders and a bribed policeman, will try his best to solve the situation. Not so radically explicit as Brillante Mendoza’s “Kinatay”, “Graceland” (what an ironic title!) aims to criticize the Philippine society, showing criminality, corruption, and hypocrisy as part of the day-to-day life. The film was well shot, using both desolated and chaotic landscapes to enhance the sense of helplessness and despair. In a dark tone, Morales was able to make the story flow at a good pace, creating suspenseful moments until reach the unexpected conclusions. A solid thriller.

The Road (2011)

Directed by: Yam Laranas
Country: Philippines

Plot: A 12 year old cold case is reopened when three teens are missing in an old abandoned road where a gruesome murder is left undiscovered for three decades.
Review: “The road”, a low-budget horror movie from Philippines, despite far from perfection, has left its mark. Yam Laranas is the brain behind it, showing up as writer, director, editor and director of photography. The scary scenes, instead of being stand-alone imagery trying to impress teen-agers, are supported with a good story. The narrative is quite absorbing and its spooky atmosphere result in one of the most satisfying horror movies recently released. When everybody speaks about a possible American remake, we can only congratulate Laranas for his best achievement so far.
Relevant awards: -

Service (2008)

Realizado por: Brillante Mendoza
País: Filipinas

Mais uma obra com qualidade de Brillante Mendoza, o realizador filipino, autor de "Kinatay" e "Lola", dois filmes já anteriormente avaliados neste blog. "Service" é um filme sobre uma família que dirige e habita um velho cinema tradicional, agora dedicado apenas aos filmes pornográficos. O filme capta o ambiente pesado e mundano que se vive no local, que atrai toda a espécie de bandidos e vadios da zona. Negócios obscuros e prostituição são frequentes entre os membros da família proprietária e os clientes. Um filme ousado, por vezes rude e até profano, mas que dá a conhecer uma outra realidade. Vencedor do Festival Internacional de Bangkok.

Lola (2009)

Realizado por: Brillante Mendoza
País: Filipinas
Realizado no mesmo ano que o aflitivo "Kinatay", "Lola" é um filme totalmente diferente daquele. Sendo mais leve, compassado e com uma bonita fotografia, não deixa de denunciar os diversos problemas sociais vividos nas Filipinas. Duas avós, sofrem as consequências de um crime que envolve os seus netos, sendo que um é acusado de ter assassinado o outro. Pobres e debilitadas, terão de enfrentar-se nos tribunais, podendo negociar entre ambas de modo a chegarem a um entendimento financeiro que possibilite o pagamento da fiança de um dos netos e as despesas do funeral do outro. Duas obras desta qualidade no mesmo ano, é caso para dizer: Brilhante...Mendoza!!

Kinatay (2009)

Realizado por: Brillante Mendoza
País: Filipinas
Brutalmente violento, psicologicamente perturbador e com uma ambiência assustadora, "kinatay" mostra-nos o "baptismo" de um jovem no mundo do crime, envolvendo-se quase acidentalmente com um gang nas Filipinas. O filme-choque do último Festival de Cannes (vencedor do prémio para melhor realizador), é amado por uns e odiado por outros, devido às cenas que contém. Peping, um jovem de 20 anos, recém-casado e com um filho, ao aceitar realizar um trabalho para um amigo pertencente a um gang, vê-se envolvido num acerto de contas com uma prostituta que se encontra em dívida. As imagens são impressionantes, mas não será esta a realidade dos gangs nas Filipinas?