The third edition of FDCP’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino is packed full of stars and big film outfits. Gone, it seems, are any inclination to go back to its roots as film purveyors. Its debut in 2017 was very promising, showcasing a whole lineup of smaller films that just needed that much of a push.
Instead, this year, the fest feels even more doubled-down on acquiring more commercially viable movies, making it no different from other film fests, including the MMFF—the very festival that it hoped to correct.
We can talk “coulda-shoulda” for hours on end about what form the PPP takes currently, but what’s unchanged this year is that there are new movies for us all to unspool. There are, to be exact, seven competing films, and three centennial showcases. And we’ll get to them in a second.
On Unreel’s PPP 2019 festival report, we’ll share our reviews of all the feature-length films from the festival.
The Panti Sisters
Review by Armand
Everything about Jun Lana’s The Panti Sisters feels like a balancing act. Vacillating from dogged adherence to and defiant subversion of all-too-familiar story beats, the movie’s shifts can sometimes feel jarring that you wonder where it stands exactly on the matters, specifically ones concerning the LGBTQ+, that it puts to the table. Obviously, there is the perspective that this is, first and foremost, a product of a big outfit like Star Cinema. And that Lana’s undertaking feels less concerned with forwarding a more complex portrait of Filipino queer culture, but more with making one that takes lesser effort to unspool, even if it means to sometimes tip over to didactic rhetorics.
The movie, too, is hard to miss—and about that much harder to dislike. Paolo Ballesteros carries the entire movie under his wig as Gabbi, whose name, he will have you know, ends with an “I”, because “I…thank you”. There is ample support from the other Pantis, played by Christian Bables and Martin Del Rosario, as well as side characters whose story arcs feel admirably removed from the Panti trio. The funniest, perhaps, is John Arcilla, whose default role of a stern, dogmatic figure is played here so unflinchingly that it feels like his character exists in an entirely different movie.
Though as a whole it leaves a lot to be desired, The Panti Sisters is a gosh-darn good time, with some very endearing moments and wildly electric leads. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying this, but Ballesteros’ comedic timing is unjustly overlooked. Every comic beat is played here perfectly. That being said, the movie’s comedy can feel much too frontloaded that it sometimes takes away from moments of actual emotional weight. That’s a bummer, in that it’s what the movie ultimately needed.
LSS (Last Song Syndrome)
Review by Armand
The default reaction to LSS (Last Song Syndrome) is to chalk it up as yet another rom-com banking on the pull of its stars. It’s got Khalil Ramos and Gabbi Garcia—whose real-life romance isn’t the only building block of their fame; they are, unlike others, actually talented artists, and whose performances here are absolutely magnetic—top-billing the cast. It has Ben&Ben, whose following is as equally as rabid as that of the leads, providing the soundtrack for the movie. The plot, which has two doe-eyed millennials meet-cute on a bus, is ostensibly familiar, the kind of stuff that big studio execs giddily peddle as the elusive “patok to sa mainstream!” kind of movie.
Naturally, I have come into this movie with managed expectations. At most, I had hoped that its director, Jade Castro, will make a slightly better outing than the typical ”kilig” fodder studios churn out like clockwork. It’s not that tall of an order: Castro directed Patayin sa Shokot si Remington and Juana C. the Movie, both movies that color out the lines of their stories. Then there’s Endo, a movie from which Castro’s latest pulls the most from, in the way that it positions romance as merely one piece to the puzzle. In it, the transience of a certain romance and the inconsequentiality of others are folded in with the same of a short-term employment contract.
In LSS, the romance is framed around the bewitching clasp of a good song, an earworm. It latches onto you, and its magic can mean the difference between despondency and a sudden rush of elation, however fleeting that rush turns out. The movie’s centerpiece—a scene in which two people literally find each other through music—is in this context transcendent. That moment is the best I’ve had in the cinema this year. Yet, the movie knows to keep smaller moments in, aware that though music has its way of hitting you in the right spot, it doesn’t have to be as ostentatious as star-crossed lovers meeting at the deepest ends of their lives. There’s just as much beauty to a group of people singing together inside a bus, like in the movie’s endearing callback to Almost Famous.