THREE entries in this year’s Cinemalaya film festival explored wholesome and religion-oriented storylines, taking a break from the usual violence and gore in independent films.

Full-length films Niño and Bisperas and the short film Niño Bonito had family-oriented settings—with displays of Filipino popular piety amid social problems.

Niño, directed by Loy Arcenas, tells the story of how the once-prominent Lopez-Aranza family depended on the Sto. Niño (the image of the child Jesus) to change their lives.

With various accounts proving that the Sto. Niño is miraculous, Celia, the matriarch, grows fond of the image and strengthens her devotion.

As the movie progresses, some of the family members’ darkest secrets are unraveled, while Celia tries to keep the family from falling apart.

She then calls on the Sto. Niño to turn around the family’s horrible situation, to the point of dressing his grandson with the costume of the Holy Child.

The movie shows how one’s devotion to a religious image could go overboard.

Bisperas by Jeffrey Jeturian, meanwhile, portrays how desire for material things can trigger emotional unrest in a family relationship.

Set on Christmas Eve, the movie’s pivotal point is when the Aguinaldo family’s residence is attacked by burglars. This causes members of the family to discover not only the loss of stolen objects, but also their deep and silent hatred toward each other and themselves.

Jeturian portrays the communication gap within a family, and exposes the personal conceit brought by the family’s concept of Christmas, which was more like a time of gift-giving than a celebration of Christ’s birth.

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The familial plight presented in the film and the eventual realization of the characters show the true meaning of Christmas.

Finally, the short film Niño Bonito, directed by Milo Tolentino, a Communication Arts alumnus and former Varsitarian literary editor, shows how divine intervention takes place in a God-forsaken community.

The movie depicts the harshness of urban poverty through a child’s kaleidoscopic perspective.

Despite a stepfather cum petty crime mentor and a drug-dependent mother and brother, Boni keeps his faith strong as he tries to ward off the influences of drugs through a rap battle called “fliptop.”

Boni struggles in the entrapment with the sinner around him while finding the saint within him. Maria Luisa A. Mamaradlo and Ana May R. De la Cruz

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