Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: 100 Tula Para Kay Stella is a Messy & Heartbreaking Journey Worth Taking

TL;DR At its best, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (100 Poems for Stella) is a sprawling, heartbreaking movie that captures the messiness of life by being messy itself.

Realizing you’ve fallen in love with someone for the first time can fill you with equal amounts of dread & joy. Suddenly, the world opens up to you, your head full of endless possibilities. But you only have two options on how to proceed: reveal your feelings at the risk of getting rejected or stay silent to retain the status quo.

Fidel (JC Santos) finds himself in a similar position. He’s a freshman college student who loves to write poetry & studies BS Psychology in Pampanga during 2004. He’s a stutterer; he can only speak normally if he’s reading the words as he talks, sings, or uses only three words when he talks. Due to a mishap during Freshies Night that caused him to have a ketchup stain on his pants, he decides to stay out of the event. That is until an aspiring rock star named Stella (Bela Padilla) approaches him & loans her jacket to cover up his stain. Their friendship begins, with Fidel slowly falling in love with Stella due to her kindness & confidence. She becomes his muse for his poetry, & he decides to give her all of the poems as a declaration of his love for her. However, Stella has a boyfriend, so he decides to withhold his plans & continue writing about her. Soon, their lives will take numerous turns, with Fidel moving to Manila to continue his studies, while Stella doing everything she can to become a successful musician.

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Both of them will meet new people, learn new things about themselves, & their relationships with others will improve & deteriorate. The movie leans on this aspect, creating a sprawling, intimate epic where our current situation, wrong timing, missed opportunities, & events beyond our control hamper our ability to achieve what we want in life, how it affects the way we perceive others & what happens when it’s out of reach.

It’s even one of the few period pieces set during the last decade, using it to explore the decade’s Pinoy music scene through Stella’s dreams of becoming a famous rock star. It’s a time where there was a boom in OPM (Original Pinoy Music), thanks to the continued popularity of Kitchie Nadal & Rivermaya, the rise of new bands like Itchyworms, & the success of novelty acts like Masculados & Sexbomb Girls.

And there are also the poems Fidel writes for Stella, which the movie uses to track Fidel’s writing ability & how his feelings for Stella continue to grow, even if how he views her doesn’t match the actual reality. There’s always a risk in showing someone’s creative work in film, since the audience has to believe what the movie thinks of a character’s work of art. Thankfully, the movie starts with Fidel writing terrible poems & the movie is aware of its quality. Throughout the movie, we see his poems start getting better, & while none of them are excellent, they do turn into something good.

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It amounts to an ambitious, bittersweet movie about growing up & at its best moments, it succeeds in capturing the messiness of life by being messy & overstuffed itself.  At its worst, the plot & the characters are undercooked, since it’s rushing to tell its ginormous plot; especially during its third act. Even at two hours, one wishes the movie had time to breathe, since it takes shortcuts by telling us what happened, instead of showing it to us. It also could’ve used more time to explore Fidel’s Nice Guy behavior, like berating Stella for ignoring her studies for band practice – which has her boyfriend as one of its members – when it’s clear it’s partly self-motivated.

Still, the movie is anchored by great performances from JC Santos & Bela Padilla, who hold the whole movie together. JC Santos is endearing & charismatic as Fidel, & he softens Fidel’s Nice Guy behavior; often to a fault. The real standout is Bela Padilla, who plays Stella as a tough, confident, frustrated woman weighed down by her family & dreams, & she gives life to her victories & failures fully. It’s easier to see both of them as friends compared to an actual couple, but that is part of the point.

In the end, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (100 Poems for Stella) falls short from its ambitions, but it’s hard to look away from the long-winding journey both characters take. It may have started because a man fell in love with a woman, but it expands to reveal the sadness at its very core. Because no matter how you feel about someone, it doesn’t always work out the way you want. And as the movie posits, that’s fine.

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Just The Fucking Worst: 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten Receives an R-18 Rating

Yes, it’s good to remind ourselves of what’s making us happy every now & then, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore horrible shit. So here’s what is hopefully an occasional feature that highlights anything that is just the fucking worst.

The Filipino indie movie 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten, the winner of Best Picture in Cinema One Originals 2016, is released in theaters & more people should watch it while they still can. It’s a provocative, bittersweet coming-of-age tale of first love set during the 90s in a post-eruption Pampanga about Felix, whose ordinary life is rocked with the arrival of Magnus & Maxim, his two new Filipino-American classmates. It is also an exploration of American imperialism in the Philippines, the diaspora caused by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, & broken families. It is all of these things, mixed together in a unforgettable brew, without forgetting that the heart of this story is a boy who falls in love with another boy, who may not love him back.

And MTRCB decided that it should get a rating of R-18 in cinemas. You can see the complete rating below, but it contains few spoilers.

It’s an infuraiting, disappointing result struck down by the Movie & Television Review & Classification Board (MTRCB) on Petersen Vargas’ excellent film debut written by Jason Paul Laxamana. In response, Petersen Vargas wrote a long, passionate Twitter thread that is worth reading in full:

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Don’t get me wrong: 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten has acts of sex & violence throughout the movie. But most of its run-time is dedicated to the main characters’ struggles. Of course, when the movie does veer into adult material, it does so with maturity & restraint. There’s not even a trace of full frontal nudity here!

But the main sticking point appears to be the fact that its supposed propagation of murder, which is a flabbergasting read of the movie. Without getting revealing much of the film’s plot, it doesn’t propagate murder. There’s not even a scene here that can top Logan in terms of gratuitous violence, a movie full of blood & gore, including a child named Laura rolls a decapitated head to her captors.

And yet somehow Logan got a rating of R-16, continuing the double standard that acts of brutal violence are more tolerable in our conservative Filipino society compared to any depictions of sex, from the tame to gratuitous, especially if it concerns those in the LGBTQ+ community.

But what’s infuriating about this decision is it severely limits the movie’s audience, and it’s not just because of the rating. R-18 movies are almost non-existent in the Philippines thanks to SM Cinema’s draconian rule of banning R-18 movies in their malls, due to its owners’ insistence of delivering clean entertainment for the whole family. The problem is SM Malls are the largest mall chain in the country, and it has more provincial cinemas compared to its competitors. In a country where the movie-going experience barely exists outside malls, it’s a huge handicap to producers wanting to deliver movies with mature content to a bigger audience. Local producers were less hesitant to make films that might get an R-16 rating & international distributors stopped delivering movies that might get an R-18 rating; except for notable exceptions like the Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker. It created a cinematic ecosystem where family-friendly entertainment is valued more, which limits the kinds of movies people can watch. It’s a huge problem that the MTRCB made the R-16 rating just so movies containing adult material can get shown to a bigger audience.

Add to the fact that it’s a Filipino indie movie means its survival in theaters will be a steeper uphill climb, making it hard for the movie break out with the right audience.

And queer movies are more prone to receive harsher ratings, which is a huge shame. What Petersen Vargas wrote above making”every single boy whose confusions become their life sentence” less lonely is completely true. Not only that, these stories create diversity not just by representing an oft-maligned members of society, but also in the kinds of stories that can be told.

In the end, the losers here are not just creators who want to make risky, adult fare, but the audience losing out on a chance to watch it. The combination of MTRCB’s harsh, conservative ruling, SM Cinemas’ ban on R-18 movies, & theaters’ continued eagerness to pull out Filipino indie movies ensure that most Filipinos will live only on Hollywood blockbusters, romantic comedies, & the latest movies from Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, & Mother Lily who excuse their mediocre output by saying it’s great for the whole family. That’s not good for the country’s artistic & cultural growth in the long run.

And that’s just the fucking worst.