THIS YEAR’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) made history as it showcased 10 films on the silver screen, up from the usual eight.

The lineup offers a variety of genres–family dramas, historical films, fantasy, horror, and comedy.

Four of the 10 competing films were chosen in July 2023 out of 26 script submissions, while the other six were announced in October and were selected out of 30 completed film entries.

Here is the Varsitarian’s review of the final six films on the 49th MMFF roster.

‘Becky & Badette’

Written and directed by UST communication arts alumnus Rudolfo “Jun” Lana Jr., “Becky and Badette” is a heartwarming comedy that sheds light on gender-related issues and shows the realities of Filipinos living paycheck to paycheck.

Headlined by two of the most notable comediennes in the country, the film tells the story of Becky Naman (Eugene Domingo) and Badette Imaculada (Pokwang), who have been friends since high school.

Now in their mid-40s, the two end up living and working together, often signing each other up for gigs to be able to pay the bills. They struggle to make ends meet.

“Becky and Badette” takes a wild turn when the protagonists attend their high school reunion organized by long-time rival Nirvana Batungbakal (Agot Isidro). There, they face discrimination because of their economic status.

Intoxicated and feeling vulnerable, Becky decides to falsely come out as a lesbian who is in a relationship with Badette—a “confession” that goes viral online.

Beyond eliciting laughs and gags, “Becky and Badette” tackles head-on issues rarely talked about in Filipino films, like queerbaiting and gender-based exploitation. There is also a healthy balance of humor and irreverence in the film, with each dialogue creatively written to deliver a punchline without offending anyone.

The film’s color grading, cinematography, and score are also commendable as they complement its comedic genre. The theme song of “Becky and Badette” won Best Original Theme Song prize in the 49th MMFF.

Although its music and pacing are on point, the film falls short in doing justice to the story as it ends up rushing to tie loose ends, hence leaving a lot of conflicts unaddressed.

Despite its lapses, the film underscores what is important: self-discovery and self-expression. Being a comedy film that has queer representation and gives voice to the oppressed, it is a breath of fresh air and is deserving of the “Gender Sensitivity” citation it was given.

‘Broken Heart’s Trip’

Lemuel Lorca tells an original story by Lex Bonife in his latest film titled “Broken Heart’s Trip”—the adventure of five brokenhearted queer individuals in their quest for self-healing.

Led by award-winning actor Christian Bables, the film unfolds with a titular reality competition where the characters are taken to breathtaking destinations in the Philippines, such as Cebu, Laguna, Ilocos Norte, Lobo in Batangas, and Mount Banahaw. To continue in the competition, however, they must remain single.

With each destination becoming an avenue for the participants to confront their pasts and navigate their road to recovery, the film poses a perplexing question to the participants: Will they strive to win the pot money or choose to find love along the way?

“Broken Heart’s Trip” takes its audience to more than just a roller coaster of emotions. It also seamlessly integrates the wonders of Philippine provinces into the narrative and offers a visual treat to its audience.

The film’s cinematography runs parallel to the emotional peaks and troughs of the characters. It uses intimate close-ups to depict the vulnerability of participants as they confront their past and sweeping panoramic shots to capture the stunning views that surround them.

The film also switches smoothly between poignant moments and lighthearted scenes, creating a rhythm that keeps the audience engaged. Flashbacks and dream sequences add depth to the narrative and allow viewers to have a peek into the characters’ hearts and minds.


Fresh from the success of the hit historical drama “Maria Clara at Ibarra,” director Zig Dulay takes Filipinos once again to a coming-of-age journey in his new film, “Firefly,” which won the Best Picture and Best Screenplay awards.  

The film takes the perspective of Tonton (Dingdong Dantes), who attempts to prove the originality of his work titled “Firefly” to journalist Abby (Max Collins) by reminiscing memories from his youth. The young Tonton (Euwenn Mikaell) experiences bullying at school and only finds solace in his mother’s bedtime stories, which are notably about fireflies in a mystical cave in Ticao, Masbate.

Moved by his mother’s death, the young Tonton embarks on a quest to find the island. Like any other adventurer, however, he encounters battles and discovers realizations along the way, eventually coming to terms with them at the end.

Acclaimed Thomasian cinematographer Neil Daza is responsible for cinematography. He uses mostly natural light in shooting “Firefly,” which makes for a serene and melodramatic depiction of the story, similar to that of a fairytale book.

Apart from camera work, another strong aspect of the film is its direction and screenplay (by Angeli Atienza). Their collaboration has transformed the story of a mother and son into an epic fantasy that explores the sentimentalities of childhood.

By providing brief yet sufficient backstories to the supporting characters, the film also succeeds in not dragging the story further. It manages to interweave familial love, grief, trauma, and courage into a lovable story, serving as a tribute to storytellers and the people who inspire them.


“GomBurZa” by Jose Lorenzo “Pepe” Diokno III bagged the most number of accolades in the the 49th MMFF tilt. The portmanteau refers to the three priests whose execution in 1872 helped spark the Philippine revolution: Fr. Mariano Gomez, Fr. Jose Burgos, and Fr. Jacinto Zamora (played by Dante Rivero, Cedrick Juan, and Enchong Dee, respectively).

The film sheds light on the martyrdom of these three key historical figures. It also delves into the struggle for secularization of the clergy under Spanish rule, a fight to which Burgos’s mentor, Fr. Pedro Pelaez (Piolo Pascual) dedicated his career.

Apart from reintroducing the GomBurZa priests to younger generations, the film is an opportunity for viewers—especially Thomasians—to learn more about Fr. Burgos, the most multi-titled UST alumnus according to the late UST archivist Fr. Fidel Villaroel.

It also brilliantly fills in the deficiencies of the country’s academic curriculum that should have tackled the unjust colonial system and how it failed the martyr-priests.

GomBurZa won Best Director (Pepe Diokno), Best Actor (Cedrick Juan), Best Cinematography (Carlo Mendoza), Best Production Design (Erickson Navarro), Best Sound (Melvin Rivera and Louie Boy Bauson), Second Best Picture, and the Gatpuno Antonio Villegas Cultural Award.

The film gives important context on how Filipino identity developed from the indigenous clergy’s clamor for equality with the dominant friars of the mendicant orders.


Director Derick Cabrido and screenwriter Enrico Santos are at the helm of the historical horror film “Mallari,” which tells the story of the first recorded Filipino serial killer. It revolves around the return of the main character Jonathan Mallari (Piolo Pascual) to his ancestral home in Magalang, Pampanga, in search of a cure after being plagued by a vivid nightmare of his fiancée Agnes (Janella Salvador) dying from a disease.

The ancestral home, however, has a dark and twisted history as it once housed convicted serial killer Severino Mallari, an ancestor of Jonathan. Severino was parish priest of Magalang in 1812.

Jonathan begins to discover the secret of his heritage after stumbling upon a series of film cans shot by his great grand-uncle Johnrey Mallari in 1948.

With its ability to transcend timelines and generations, “Mallari” keeps its viewers on the edge of their seats as the film pieces together its non-linear narratives to solves the mystery of the Mallari family.

Its haunting cinematography, characterized by dark and dreary lighting to signify the mystery of Magalang, elevates its complex storyline. The Gregorian chants give a sense of foreboding but there is a tendency to overuse it to prepare the audience for jumpscares.

Despite bearing the heavy responsibility of playing three distinct characters from different timelines, Pascual portrays all three Mallaris with nuance. Also notable is JC Santos, who plays the role of Lucas Alarcon, a soft-spoken deacon and beneficiary of the Mallari family. He won the Best Supporting Actor award.

“Mallari” follows through on its ambitious storyline. It offers a fresh take on the conventional Filipino horror cinema and delivers a lesson on the importance of choices and how consequences may come back haunting those who make them.

‘When I Met You in Tokyo’

Films about overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) often center on family dynamics and work experiences abroad. Rado Peru and Romel Penessa deviate from this formula by injecting romance in “When I Met You in Tokyo.”

The film tells the story of two OFWs nearing retirement. Azon (Vilma Santos) meets Joey (Christopher de Leon) on a bad foot, but the two later learn to love and discover the complexities of marriage.

“When I Met You in Tokyo” uses semi-structured and unconventional angles to give the audience a raw and insider look into the lives of OFWs, zooming into their struggles of living on foreign soil and finding happiness amid the pressure of being breadwinners.

Instead of scenes focusing on urban parts of Japan, “When I Met You in Tokyo” highlights countryside locations in the land of the rising sun, not only to fit the character of Joey, who is a farmer, but also to set the scene of the protagonists having been long settled in the country.

By touching on the issues that OFWs face, the film serves as a timely depiction of the realities faced by those touted as “modern-day heroes.” It is also a testament to the timeless chemistry of the love team of Santos and De Leon.

“When I Met You in Tokyo” is nostalgia-inducing for OFWs who long for home, especially with the film’s release coinciding with the Christmas holiday.


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