Fairly good films win awards and lose theater allocation in 2019 MMFF

by Pablo A. Tariman

The 45th edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival came to a close Friday night with the jury’s choice in sharp contrast with audience preference as reflected in the unofficial box office results of the first three days.

The festival rule doesn’t allow release of actual box office results.

Brillante Mendoza’s “Mindanao” – earlier rated A by the Cinema Evaluation Board — went home with 11 awards including best picture, best director (Mendoza), best actor (Allen Dizon) and best actress (Judy Ann Santos).

Second best picture was “Write About Love” by Crisanto Aquino and third best picture was the only horror entry, “Sunod” directed by Carlo Ledesma.

The irony of it all is that as the top three best pictures were announced, the award winning films were also losing theaters to the box office champions.

The most jarring result (and the big exception) was the non-inclusion of Nuel Naval’s Philippine adaptation of a 2013 Korean drama film, “Miracle in Cell No. 7” in any of the award categories.

Also rated A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, “Miracle in Cell No. 7” is actually making major miracle in the box office threatening to dislodge the box office standing of the Vice Ganda starrer, “The Mall, The Merrier”  and the Coco Martin film, “3pol Trobol: Huli Ka Balbon” which were reportedly leading the initial  box office race.

The Aga Muhlach-starrer had many sold-out screenings in many theaters on the third day of the festival and still counting.

The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2019 organizing committee revealed on FB that the first day gross of the festival was comparable to last year’s good MMFF earnings.

This was confirmed by MMFF organizing committee spokesperson Noel Ferrer who said the box office result was surprising despite the closing of some cinemas in the Visayas and Mindanao due to the onslaught of Typhoon Ursula.

For the record, the total gross of the 2018 MMFF was over a billion pesos.

A surprise box office hit and rated A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, “Miracle in Cell No. 7” connected very well with Filipino audiences.

The film with well-nuanced direction by Nuel Naval revealed a new portrait of Aga Muhlach as an actor. John Arcilla as the prison officer was equally a standout.

The real treat of the film is the excellent prison ensemble led by Joel Torre and JC Santos and that lovable kid named Yesha (Xia Vigor) whose adult counterpart got a perfect adult transformation in the portrayal of Bella Padilla.

On the whole, the film is really pure melodrama with light comic treatment. Screenwriter Mel Mendoza del Rosario had the arduous task of re-inventing the sense of humor to make it real for Filipino audiences.

Thanks to its stable of good actors, the adaptation worked and created miracle in the box office.

“Mindanao” — which won the best picture, best actor, best actress and best director awards — is another fine film evocation of the endless conflicts in that part of the country.

The film narrative is part folktale and part social reality. Interspersed with the animated part, you see Mindanao portrait unfolding in the plight of a Muslim wife, Saima (Judy Ann Santos) and her husband, Malang (Allen Dizon), the combat medic.

It is pretty much a big echo of the Marilou Diaz-Abaya film, “Bagong Buwan.”

The second best picture “Write About Love” directed by Crisanto Aquino of TBA Studios focuses on the screenwriters’ life.

This is a refreshing subject to explore because as far as one knows, there is very little film titles exploring the subject.

Two writers (Miles Ocampo and Rocco Nacino) — one a newbie and another the seasoned one — take on the challenge of rewriting a film called Just Us. All at once, you see a mentor-pupil relationship as they exchange ideas and find out what works and what doesn’t.

But in terms of craft and directorial execution, the third best picture “Sunod” by Carlo Ledesma is easily one of this year’s best horror pictures. The film chronicles the horror of daily existence of a single mother played with sensitivity by Carmina Villaruel. The good screenplay allows the moviegoer to enjoy the quiet moments before unleashing its shocking elements.

Director Carlo Ledesma and Carmina Villaruel. Their film, “Sunod,” is easily one of the year’s best horror films.

On top of a good screenplay, “Sunod” has excellent cinematography which frames the story in good context.

Alvin Yapan’s “Culion” which won the special jury prize for its ensemble is a quiet but haunting tale of an island of the living dead.

It is an island of memories, of lost love and yes, hope for a better life.

The island characters shine — Anna (Iza Calzado). Doris (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) and Ditas (Meryll Soriano).

On its advance screening, it was the cameo role of John Lloyd Cruz as the long-lost love of Ditas (|Soriano) that elicited unanimous applause.

It was well-deserved.

Without dialogue, Cruz’s countenance radiated deeply felt sense of longing so indescribable it was simply heart-breaking.

Hopefully, the three best films get back their theater allocations after the awards night.

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