MMFF in review, Part 2: ‘Die Beautiful,’ ‘Saving Sally,’ and ‘Vince & Kath & James’

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THIS year’s Metro Manila Film Festival ushered in a new era into the annual yuletide event, with its offering of a fresh lineup of quality films, mostly produced by independent outfits.

Headlined by both veteran and neophyte actors and directors, this year’s roster offers a diversity of topics: from social issues, religious horror and even technosexual dating. Here, the Varsitarian rounds up its take on the Magic 8:

Paolo Ballesteros and Christian Bables are Trisha and Barbs, transgender women who compete in gay beauty pageants, in Jun Robles Lana's "Die Beautiful." Screengrab from YouTube.
Paolo Ballesteros and Christian Bables are Trisha and Barbs, respectively, transgender women who compete in gay beauty pageants, in Jun Robles Lana’s “Die Beautiful.” Screengrab from YouTube.

“Die Beautiful”

JUN ROBLES Lana’s “Die Beautiful” carves its own niche in queer cinema by offering the audience an accurate glimpse into the lives of Filipino transgenders.

It zeroes in on Trisha (Paulo Ballesteros), formerly Patrick, who has been joining gay beauty pageants.

The narrative involves the wake of Trisha, who dies immediately after bagging a coveted national title. Barbs (Christian Bables), Trisha’s best friend, makes it a point to fulfill his best friend’s wish to be dressed up as a different celebrity each day over the course of her week-long wake.

The rest of the film shifts seamlessly back and forth between the wake and the different parts of Trisha’s life.

“Die Beautiful” mirrors the highs and lows of the LGBT community, some of whom were disowned by their parents in their quest for self-identity.

While told in a nonlinear fashion, “Die Beautiful” is able to tell a cohesive narrative.

Ballesteros and Bables, who were named Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in the film festival, respectively, were flawless in portraying their characters.

“Die Beautiful” breaks away from the shallow storytelling of other queer movies shown this year, such as Jason Paul Laxamana’s “The Third Party” and Lana’s “Bakit Lahat ng Gwapo May Boyfriend?”

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Lana, a UST communication arts alumnus, creates characters that do not conform to stereotypes and are not reduced to caricatures.

Through Trisha, Lana shows how members of the LGBT community face every obstacle that comes their way and, in the end, emerge triumphant.

It took more than a decade for the production team of “Saving Sally” to finish the film, which features a mix of live action and animation, due to budget constraints. Screengrab from YouTube.

“Saving Sally”

AVID LIONGOREN gives a rare offering for the Metro Manila Film Festival with “Saving Sally,” which blends animation and live action.

It took 12 years for Liongoren’s production to be completed as it faced a number of challenges, from recasting to the lack of funding necessary for visual effects.

The film revolves around Marty (Enzo Marcos), a comic artist, who is smitten by geek inventor Saly (Rhian Ramos) after she rescues him from school bullies.

Scared to lose their friendship, Marty keeps his feelings to himself and expresses his devotion to Sally by keeping sketches of her face in his room.

But Marty’s hidden desire for Sally is threatened when Nick (TJ Trinidad), Sally’s boyfriend, enters the picture and the heroine bares her plans to marry the latter to escape domestic abuse.

Filipino animation films are revamped with Liongoren’s application of the onion skin effect, a 2D drawing technique used to compare the drawings to their initial and subsequent figures; and flipping, a quick series of drawings in sequence to see the animation in motion and avoid jump cuts that spoil the movie.

The animated effects combined with Ramos and Marcos’ chemistry suffice to overlook a cliché and predictable plot.

“Saving Sally” is an outstanding film with distinguished computer-generated imagery. Though the story follows the modern-day love triangle trope, the visuals allow it to break away from mediocrity.

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Theodore Boborol's teen rom-com, "Vince and Kath and James," is based on an online romance series. Screengrab from YouTube.
Theodore Boborol’s teen rom-com, “Vince and Kath and James,” is based on an online romance series. Screengrab from YouTube.

“Vince and Kath and James”

Theodore Boborol’s “Vince and Kath and James” mirrors this generation’s obsession with technosexual dating.

Adapted from an online series by Jenny Almocera, the plot follows Vince (Joshua Garcia) who is in love with his long-time friend Kath (Julia Barretto), but struggles to admit his feelings for her. Trouble brews when his cousin James (Ronnie Alonte) asks his help to court Kath.

Vince, unable to confess his feelings for Kath, engages in a series of romantic conversations with her under the alias Var.

Underneath the guise of a light-hearted youth romance, “Vince and Kath and James” exposes the reality of how romances that take place in the digital world come with lies and secrets.

Garcia is the surprise of the film. His charisma makes his hopeless romantic boy-next-door character believable. A mix of charm and talent, Garcia proves to be an effective lead comparable to the likes of John Llloyd Cruz.

“Vince and Kath and James” took a risk by headlining neophyte actors. But with Boborol at the helm, the film shows how a teen rom-com is properly executed.

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MMFF in review, Part 1: ‘Sunday Beauty Queen,’ ‘Kabisera,’ and ‘Oro’
MMFF in review, Part 3: ‘Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2’ and ‘Seklusyon’

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