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 6th movie on my list is Baby Nebrida’s Across the Crescent Moon
Across the Crescent Moon was one of rejected entries for the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 & was released this year without any fanfare or a huge audience clamoring for it to stay in theaters.
Let’s keep it that way.
It’s a movie made with the best of intentions, but almost every aspect of filmmaking fails it completely. That’s not even counting the horrible & confusing message at the center of this godawful movie.
It tells the story between Abbas (Matteo Guidicelli) & Emma (Alex Godinez). Abbas is a Muslim SAF agent married to Emma, a Christian woman who converts to Islam. Her conversion didn’t sit well with her Islamophobic mother Mita (Dina Bonnevie). This all changes when her younger sister & the rest of her friends are kidnapped by human traffickers. Now, it is up to Abbas & the rest of the SAF (Special Action Force) team to rescue all of them.
It takes a long while to get to the main conflict of the story, though. We are treated to a few action scenes, but the first half is dedicated to showing Emma’s life as a member of an ordinary Muslim family & the affluent Christian life she left behind. It is presented in the broadest, most annoying way possible. Conversations with her mother devolve into witless, screaming matches about religious intolerance. There are scenes of Emma learning about the Islamic way of life, but it turns into a lecture Emma & the audience has to listen to. These scenes are disconnected from the main plot. They aren’t used so we could know more about Emma, Abbas & the rest of their families besides their backgrounds, because the characters are flatly written caricatures. Subtlety just doesn’t exist in the world of Across the Crescent Moon.
There’s even a pointless scene set around Mita’s birthday party that goes on forever, showing us footage of everyone having a good time eating & dancing, while telling the audience once again about her strained relationship with Emma without adding any new wrinkles to their dynamic. At the same time, Emma’s younger sister (Jerene Tan) ask both of her parents’ permission about their planned beach trip in full detail. We see her get rejected by her mother, & get permission from her more lenient father (Gabby Concepcion), while they also talk about Emma’s strained relationship with her mother. It is mind-numbingly repetitive & useless.
That’s not even counting the blatant product placement for Tanduay products & Cobra energy drink, the latter of which has Matteo Guidicelli as its spokesman.
When we do get to the meat of the story, it just emphasizes how inept this whole endeavor is. The action scenes are a bunch of rote, badly edited, shaky cam nonsense that do not thrill in the slightest. What’s worse is these scenes play as pure propaganda, since it supports President Rodrigo Duterte’s fight against crime, specifically drugs. One of Duterte’s speeches is played through the TV & Mita approves of his agenda & Ku Aquino is even playing General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, where Abbas’ operation to save the victims of human trafficking fall under him. It creates a narrative that supports Duterte’s agenda without poking through the very visible cracks within it.
This creates a morally dissonant movie, where there are pleas for acceptance among Muslims amid negative stereotypes while supporting Duterte’s war of drugs, which has caused numerous deaths & human rights violations. Apparently, pleas for humanity appeal only to Muslims, but not to drug users suffering from addiction. It doesn’t help that for a movie that shines a light on the plight of Muslims, there are no actual Muslims in the cast. It even has Rez Cortez even plays a Saudi Arabian man with a stereotypical voice; which should be noted is listening to a PowerPoint presentation about their booming human trafficking scheme.
And none of the actors are good enough to save the horrible script. Matteo Guidicelli is terribly miscast here. He just can’t make the horrible script work for him. Not only that, he looks less like a local Moro whose parents are supposed to be Christopher de Leon & Sandy Andolong, & more like the Spaniards who colonized Mindanao. Dina Bonnevie, Alex Godinez & Gabby Concepcion do get a chance to ham it up, but the dialogue they’re spewing is so dire & lifeless, it just makes it all worse.
All the movie has is its excellent presentation, with high production values, clear cameras, & crisp audio, but that barely makes for an average film. Once you dig slightly above its shiny surface, Across the Crescent Moon reveals itself to be a shrill melodrama, bland action movie, & Duterte propaganda all wrapped into a single movie. It wants you listen to its message, but blunders through it by being terrible. But if the message is as muddled as this, that might be the one good thing about this movie’s existence.