Movie Review: Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes is a Funny, Empathetic Beginner’s Guide to the LGBTQA+ Community

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrpUw4-MZY

TL;DR: Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (The Two Mrs. Reyes) turns a problematic premise into a funny, insightful look at sex, gender & the LGBTQA+community.

Filipino mainstream film studio Star Cinema’s first movie for 2018 – co-produced with Quantum Films & The IdeaFirst Company – has two cishet women receiving a crash course on the complexities of sex & gender in the worst way possible, after they found out their husbands are in a romantic relationship, bolting out of their lives & leaving them alone to pick up the pieces.

It’s not like their marriages were perfect to begin with. Lilian Reyes (Judy Ann Santos) is a successful owner of a plastic surgery clinic, who barely has any time with her husband Gary (Joross Gamboa) & her daughter Macy (Andrea Brillantes). She suspects Gary is cheating on her with a busty colleague, which pushes her to have breast implants. Cindy Reyes (Angelica Panganiban) is a loving wife who will do anything to please her husband Felix (JC de Vera). She also wants to be more sexually intimate with him, especally since her annoying mother-in-law (Carmi Martin) wants to have a grandson, but Felix rarely reciprocates her advances, spending more time with his cat rather with his wife.

So when both of their partners left without any warning, only to find out they’ve been in the closet for their entire lives, it was a devastating blow that left them reeling for answers. It took a while for them to talk to their husbands to clarify the situation or at least try to put things back to the way it used to be, but when they did, it got even more confusing for them. Gary is came out as a trans woman attracted to men, while Felix is heteroflexible cis man. They’re trying to take things in stride, but can’t get over the fact that they were cheated on, so what do they do: they’re going to split them up as a form of revenge before they get married in Taiwan.

It’s a very tricky premise that could easily go south, but director Jun Robles Lana handles it delicately. It’s not a surprise if you’re familiar with his work, since he’s directed a lot of classic queer Filipino films like Bwakaw & the surprise hit of Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 Die Beautiful; the latter of which is about the wake of a transgender woman & her friends trying their best to give her the funeral she wanted, while it flashes back from her complicated life to the grim present. But what he does here is nothing short of astounding. He lays out the nature of these two marriages, even before their husbands come out.

And once it does, the movie never turns the two Mr. Reyes into the butt of the jokes. They have a genuine relationship that is treated with utmost respect & nuance. It’s still chaste – which I assume is because our ratings board can be very harsh on queer movies – but it isn’t depicted as perfect either. They’re clearly in love but they have fights just like any other couple.

But the movie’s main focus is on our titular characters processing their unusual circumstances. They are at a loss as they are forced to understand the nuances gender identity & sexual orientation; especially once they start pulling off their plan to split them up. This might be the first Filipino fictional film to acknowledge the existence of other sexual orientations outside of gay & lesbian — such as pansexual & heteroflexible – & to mention LGBTQQIP2SAA with an explanation of what that means. They do mean well, even if they are don’t know what it means to be trans.

However, it also understands that they are coming from a place of sadness, confusion, & anger. It knows that their revenge, while juvenile & mean, is rooted in being shoved aside as their husbands form a new life without them. It even acknowledges how their duplicitous marriage is partly caused by a homophobic society that forces people to hide in the closet & lead unhappy, double lives to survive discrimination & violence. But it never loses sight of how horrible their plan is, especially once the two Mr. Reyes fears are suddenly realized.

Still, it doesn’t let the two Mr. Reyes get off the hook easily either. They did depart their wives without any proper explanation or time to process the news, & cheated on them, even if they aren’t heterosexual. That doesn’t mean they deserve hatred for coming out or because of their sexuality. They just completely mishandled the situation that left their wives wondering what went wrong.

What’s arresting is how Judy Ann Santos & Angelica Panganiban portray the complexity of what Lilian & Cindy go through with ease. Judy Ann Santos & Angelica Panganiban are great conspirators who find friendship through heartbreak. Panganiban is lively, snappy, & full of seething rage. Santos is less lively compared to Panganiban, despairing over the fact that an aspect of her life is now over, but she’s still capable of lashing out. Their different energies complement each other & it shows in their fast, comic banter.

And it is gut-bustingly hilarious! This is one of Star Cinema’s raunchier efforts – as raunchy one could get in the Philippines – yet it never relies on vulgarity alone. It is smart, silly, & at times slapstick, culminating in a memorable scene involving Lilian’s breast implants. Yet, it never loses sight of what all of them are going through.

That’s because Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes has huge empathy for all of its characters, even as it puts them through ridiculous situations. What’s impressive is it maintains a light comic touch even as it tackles the plight of the LGBTQQIP2SAA community through the eyes of two cishet females. As Lilian & Cindy learn, we should accept & allow them to live & love fully. Love is a beautiful thing that chooses no boundaries. Why bother getting in the way?

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: Salvage Drags Us Straight to the Surreal Horrors of Mindanao

TL;DR: Salvage is an ambitious, inventive found-footage horror movie that delivers us straight to the surreal horrors of Mindanao.

To people living outside the Mindanao region, especially those who lived their whole lives in Luzon & have never set foot there, it is a place full of wonder & terror. The beautiful beaches & waterfalls, the gorgeous mosques, & the fascinating mix of Filipino, Moro, & Christian cultures clash with the threat of violence that’s plagued the region; just look at the recent Marawi siege as an example. It’s a place dripping with complexities & contradictions caused by its history of colonialism, terrorism, & neglect & indifference from imperial Manila, that it can be easy to simplify or misunderstand its problems.

Such is the case for the Manila-based TV news team at the center of this excellent Filipino found-footage horror movie. After their team was suspended when their lead reporter (Joel Saracho) caused a scandal by verbally & physically fighting a female politician in Mindanao, they’re sent off to central Mindanao to do a puff piece done in the style of a video diary about a series of killings rumored to be caused by an aswang. No one in the group is interested to cover such a light story, & everyone is in varying stages of boredom & annoyance; especially their lead reporter, who acts snobby & condescends to the locals. When they got lost trying to reach their next destination, a group of men dressed up in military jackets try to abduct them. As they try to escape death, lots of screaming & running ensue, while they continue to record everything unfolding to them as evidence of their suffering.

At first, it unfolds like a well-executed but typical entry into the genre. There are lots of shaky, handheld footage, the video often glitches out, & the audio can get choppy, but none of it is distracting enough that it can be hard to know what’s going on. Everyone in the cast is suited to playing their role, especially Joel Saracho as the impulsive journalist with elitist tendencies. However, it’s more focused on creating a sense of unease from being trapped in an unfamiliar land without exoticizing Mindano; one of the movie’s creepiest scenes has the journalist insultingly asking a boy to hold a piece of white paper in front of a camera while the cameraman fixes the white balance.

It slowly becomes even more surreal & nightmarish as they go deeper through the jungle to escape their captors. But what exactly are chasing them? Is it a rebel group posing as soldiers? Is it a rogue military troop? Is it an order from the military themselves? Does it involve the aswangs somehow? The answer is somewhere in between. What’s clear is we’re seeing the unfiltered beauty, rage, & confusion of Mindanao caused by its complex history, distilled through a camera that sees the stark truths more clearly than the TV news team at its center; to the point that only the audience are privy to footage “seen” by the camera. It’s an ambitious effort, fighting back against the limitations of the format to capture the state of a misrepresented, undervalued region. The news team can edit & manipulate reality – once by asking local authorities to carry a body once again due to the camera’s incorrect white balance – but there’s no way of escaping this truth: They went into the region underestimating it & ignorant of its current state, & there may be no escape from the consequences.

 

Kabisera is Just Fine, And That’s Fine For Now

TL;DR: Kabisera is an average, earnest drama about extra-judicial killings made better by its timeliness & an outstanding performance from the legendary Nora Aunor.

Kabisera couldn’t have come at a better time. Based on true events, Nora Aunor plays Mercy, the matriarch of a loving, highly respected family in a small town. Her husband Tonying (Ricky Davao) is a virtuous barangay captain with unshakeable resolve, willing to help out people in need. Both of them have raised five children, each with their own problems, from his son pressured to take up nursing at the behest of his father to his other son who accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant. Their lives start to unravel when Tonying becomes a target of assassination, and is subsequently killed by the police who burst into their home without warning. They claim he & his son are members of a gang involved in a string of bloody bank robberies, & he was shot because he supposedly retaliated from the police. Now, Mercy has to keep her family together while seeking justice for her husband’s wrongful death.

This is one of the few movies this year that deals with the subject of extra-judicial killings, an unfortunate facet of Filipino life whose incidents increased since President Rodrigo Duterte took office; the fact it was made this year is pure coincidence, since the script was originally submitted for MMFF 2015 and was snubbed. Its inclusion in MMFF 2016 is very welcome, seeing as the film festival didn’t have room for explicitly political movies in the past. This movie is solely needed, especially after how “The Super Parental Guardians” explicitly tackled the effects of Duterte’s drug war with terrible results.

However, there’s a nagging sense that it could be better. The movie is split between two halves: a courtroom drama & a family drama. While the former fares slightly better, the latter is bogged down by having too many characters who aren’t given equal opportunities to shine. Both stories are hampered by scenes that are either broad or schmaltzy, an overbearing music that wouldn’t be out of place in a primetime soap. It’s the outcome of its earnestness to show the toll of losing someone in a cruel fashion, which is good-intentioned, but it results on a movie intent on recreating real-life events without delving deeper into its characters, making a hollow movie out of a heavy subject.

Still, it rises slightly above competence with the help of its stellar cast, headed by the always dependable Nora Aunor. She gives the movie the subtlety it needs to succeed, even when she’s saying obviously written dialogue. The rest of the cast follows suit with this approach, especially veteran actors like Ricky Davao playing the role of a good-natured, principled father that’s been one of his specialties. The rest of the cast comes this close to overcoming the script, but often flounders. But when the performances are in sync with the movie’s big moments, the results can be magical; where it finally nails its mix of broad theatrics & sincerity. It can be hard not to look away & get swept up by it.

This whole review might make the movie worse than it is, but that’s not the case. It’s a fine movie we sorely need right now, made better by outstanding performances from some of the best Filipino actors working today. Filipino pop culture will certainly deal with this topic in the near future, but for now, it will satiate the needs of those wanting to see horrid state of politics & justice in our country in front of a big screen. It achieves its goals, but it would leave you wanting for more.