#52FilmsByWomen 2017 Film # 1: Curiosity, Adventure & Love

Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. The 1st movie on my list is Sunshine Lichauco de Leon and Suzanne Richiardone’s Curiosity, Adventure, & Love. 

Jessie Lichauco is a perfect subject for a documentary.

As of writing, she’s 105 years old, living in an ancestral home recognized as a historical building by the Philippine government near the Pasig River where she has lived most of her life; a body of water that’s been used by Filipinos a long time ago as a place to get their food, to conduct their businesses, or  to travel within what is now known as Metro Manila.

She was born in Cuba, orphaned when she was still a child, & sent by her relatives to a convent school in St. Augustine, Florida; which coincidentally is where Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth. She met a Filipino lawyer named Marcial Lichauco – the first Filipino to graduate at Harvard University – while he was on a mission to convince the American leaders to grant independence to the Philippines. Both of them hit it off & started a whirlwind romance. When she was invited by Marcial to visit the Philippines, she traveled halfway around the world during a time, when a woman doing something like this is unorthodox, in order to be with him; she did this while she was 18 years old. They got married that same year.

She was here during the Japanese occupation & managed to avoid the wrath of Japanese soldiers against Americans. During the war, she turned her temporary house into a makeshift hospital, helping those who are wounded, hungry, & homeless. After the war, she became more involved in philanthropic work. She focused on helping children in need, joining organizations that focus on helping those who are abandoned, neglected, or orphaned like Association De Damas De Filipinas, or personally putting them through school.

Thankfully, we live in a universe were not only does Jessie Lichauco is alive & doing well, she has her own documentary featuring her outstanding life.

The whole movie features interviews from Jessie Lichauco herself, who’s still as sharp, charismatic & witty as ever. She relays anecdotes from her past without losing her youthful spirit.

And the stories she tells are fascinating & inspiring, because of her place in Philippine history. She has lived an unconventional life:  she ended up marrying a Filipino diplomat & living in the Philippines during the time of American occupation up to the present. Philippine history is humanized from her stories, from the country’s struggles during the World War II & its growth afterwards, with Jessie Lichauco as our main narrator. She tells stories about the vibrancy & hospitality of Filipinos when she first entered the country, & how Marcial & Jessie went on adventures around the world for eight years before they decided to settle down & have a family. She talks about surviving the brutality of war & her willingness to help those in need, even if it’s a Japanese soldier.

The movie shifts to her life as a philanthropist, mother, & a diplomat’s wife after discussing her life after World Wad II. She raised her children in a home with a loving, warm environment. She opened her home not just to foreign dignitaries, where she preferred to take them in order for them to know Filipinos better, but also to those in need.

All of these are intercut with archival footage & photographs, & interviews from historians like Carlos Celdran, World War II veterans, her children, her grandchildren & those she have helped, personally & through her foundation. It’s a conventional documentary for an unconventional figure & it mostly works. It keeps the movie focused around her & her work. However, it loses some of its steam once it talks about her life after the war, since the movie opens the floor to so many people. This decision makes sense, since it shows the effects of her kindness & philanthropy, but it loses Jessie Lichauco’s magnetic presence in the process.

It’s still a fascinating look at a woman who lived her life with the values mentioned in the title. It may have been coincidence this ended up as my 1st entry for #52FilmsByWomen, but I couldn’t think of a better way of starting my list with this lovely look at an inspiring woman whose humanity should be something to aspire to.

If you are interested to learn more about her or can’t watch this movie anywhere, this episode of CNN Philippines’ Profiles should suffice:

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#52FilmsByWomen 2017 Film # 2: Baka Bukas

Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. The 2nd movie in my list is Samantha Lee’s Baka Bukas (Maybe Tomorrow). 

There’s no question that Philippines is flooded with romantic movies. What’s exciting is they currently vary in tone & execution, thanks to the success of the Filipino independent scene, the major studios being more often to experimentation to create something unique yet palatable to all audiences, & those studios hiring writers & directors from the independent scene to make their own spin on a studio-approved romantic movie. This is how we got the formulaic delights of movies like Vince & Kath & James, the influential hugot-inspired leanings of That Thing Called Tadhana, the daring experimentation of 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten, or something push the studio template into exciting directions without breaking the template like Can We Still Be Friends?

Even if we are getting more romantic movies, it’s unfortunate that it’s still pretty much a heterosexual affair. While we do get movies like The Third Party Bakit Lahat ng Gwapo May Boyfriend? (Why Does Every Handsome Guy Have a Boyfriend?) from major studios, those are the exceptions from the rule. There are more romantic movies focusing on LGBTQ characters in the Filipino independent scene, which we should all be thankful for, but the number of movies coming out from that scene doesn’t quite match the number of romantic comedies with cishet couples at the center, & majority of those films are about gay couples. There still isn’t enough diversity in the kinds of stories that are getting made.

This is why a movie like Baka Bukas (Maybe Tomorrow) stands out so much. It’s one of the few movies to focus on a lesbian couple. It builds off on the foundations of the current slate of romantic movies while setting off on its own path, even if the results are mixed.

Alex (Jasmin Curtis-Smith) is a lesbian whose relationship with Kate (Kate Alejandrino) just ended. She’s a creative working on multiple jobs & projects, one of which is pitching an idea for TV series focusing on a lesbian couple. She hasn’t told her best friend/rising actress Jess (Louise delos Reyes) about her sexuality yet. She even hid her previous relationship to Jess & told Kate she’s hiding it from her mother, instead of her best friend. When she finally comes out to Jess, it comes as a shock to her. It also forces Alex to confront her true feelings to Jess, which she’s been hiding for a very long time. When she comes clean to Jess, they try to be a couple, which turns serious the longer they stay together.

It’s a premise full of promise, but is hampered by the the couple at the center of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, Jasmin Curtis-Smith & Louise delos Reyes are both great in their respective roles. Both are great at capturing the confusing situation they found themselves in & portraying each of their respective struggles & it’s easy to buy them as long-time best friends. But together, they have romantic chemistry so forced, it might as well be non-existent. Even odder is Jasmin Curtis-Smith has better chemistry with Kate Alejandrino compared to Louise delos Reyes. This works to the movie’s advantage when both of them are figuring out how to navigate their new relationship status, but it fails them when they’re supposed to fall for each other. The impression that it started as a whim between two best friends never goes away.

It’s such a shame, since the stiff romance, which is the movie’s main focus, drags an insightful, personal movie along with it. It presents a non-stereotypical lesbian couple in a world where homosexuality is only tolerated, but not fully accepted or understood – alternatively called current-era Philippines – probing its flaws by adding social satire in a very intimate movie. Alex’s pitch is daunted by concerns & questions about how advertisers might be wary to support a show with a lesbian couple at the center, how coming out isn’t a “thing” anymore, & how they’re wary of showing two women kissing in romantic manner. Meanwhile, Jess is daunted with concerns on how her relationship with Alex might affect her career as a respected actress & how she views herself; since she’s only dated guys.

But its best insight has to be the process of “coming out” is a constant process. Members of the LGBTQ community will have to decide whether to reveal or hide their gender, & if they’re willing to deal with the consequences. This is not only reflected in Alex’s story, but in another one where her co-worker/friend Julo (Gio Gahol) wonders if their other co-worker/friend David (Nelsito Gomez) is gay, since Julo has a crush on him & David hasn’t really been forward about his gender.

The setting also provides a chance to explore the world of trendy, upper-class creatives. It really shows with its gorgeous, softly lit cinematography by Sasha Palomares, making it look like it was filtered through VSCO filters, & the spare, synth-heavy score from Denise Santos with help from BP Valenzuela. And while that’s a setting that’s already been done before, Baka Bukas finds a way to make it an important part of the story.

Jess finds herself way out of her league with Alex & her friends. To Alex’s friends, Jess is an uncool outsider who peddles cheap entertainment, wears a sparkly dress to a hip club, & only uses Instagram filters instead of editing her pictures through Snapseed & VSCO. While it is a slobs vs. snobs fight between upper-middle class citizens, it pokes fun at the arrogance of people like Julo & David, who look down on anything uncool or made for the masses. Yet it becomes clear that the movie doesn’t really dive deeper into this conflict, since the movie presents their horrible behavior without fully admonishing it or exploring it further. If it’s a way to feature these types of people in this setting, it doesn’t work since the movie is exploring different issues thoughtfully, while this aspect feels undercooked.

Add a rushed, ambiguous ending, & the whole movie ends up being a frustrating mess. We should still be thankful this movie exists. Its aims are admirable, it has a shiny, bright exterior, & it has lots on its mind, but it can’t overcome the dull romance at the center of this movie. Maybe someday we’ll get our great lesbian romance for the modern Filipino era.

 

Guy with Internet Access’ Journey to #52FilmsByWomen 2017: An Introduction

As a film buff, one can never watch enough movies. I won’t seek out mediocre-to-bad movies regularly, but I’ll still watch it if it was presented to me. You can gain something from seeing terrible and hate-watching can be fun.

However, it’s easy to continue consuming the kinds of movie I want to watch. I tend to seek out movies with novel premises or those made by my favorite directors; like Wes Anderson or Antoinette Jadaone. It’s not a bad idea. I should watch movies I enjoy,  but it does create a movie diet that’s exclusive to my own tastes.

So as a way to expand my horizons, I’ll be taking the #52FilmsByWomen challenge. I will be watching 52 movies directed by women for the whole year. I will not count rewatches, but short films & films co-directed by a woman will count. The number is derived on the number of weeks in a year, but sadly I wouldn’t be able to watch a movie made by a woman every week. I will catch up before the year ends & that’s a promise!

Besides, this challenge is worth it. It’s a way for me to move away from the classic movie canon, which is a sausage party. I can watch movies focused on women’s stories made by women, humanizing women’s issues by putting a face on facts & statistics. I can also watch movies maligned for being “girly” like Filipino romantic comedies – our equivalent of superhero movies in terms of box-office revenue – which are mostly directed by women.

So I hope you all will join me in this journey, which will definitely be fun & insightful. I can’t wait to discover a movie I’ll preach to no end.