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Return to the Big Screen: A Guide to MMFF 2021

Article by: Crismhil S. Anselmo, Alyanna Ysabelle A. Faustino, and Rad Lem-ew Vince B. Balisong

Graphics by: Aliza Belle C. Dayao

The annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has become part of many Filipino holiday traditions for many years. With Christmas bonuses and pamaskos in hand, many people usually flock to cinemas to watch films and make the most of the festive season.

In its 47th year, the MMFF renewed the big screens with eight Filipino films of various genres. As cinemas reopened, last year’s festival gave viewers a chance to enjoy entries in person as it ran from December 25 to January 7. The New Builder comes up with a guide for choosing the suitable film to watch based on tastes and preferences.

Latest Flavor of Comedy

As this year’s awards sweeper, Director Jun Lana’s Big Night! bumps to the top as a primary pick for films to watch. It follows Dharna, played by Christian Bables, a gay beautician who discovers he is included in the local drug watchlist. Fearing for his life, he sets on a quest to clear his name. The black comedy film features an ensemble of veteran actors, such as John Arcilla, Gina Alajar, Eugene Domingo, Ricky Davao, and Janice De Belen. This movie is perfect for those who enjoy satire, dark humor, and social commentaries in film.

Big Night! bagged a total of eight awards during the MMFF’s Gabi ng Parangal such as Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Musical Score, Best Cinematography, Best Actor for Christian Bables, Best Supporting Actor for John Arcilla, and the Gender Sensitivity Award.

Heartfelt Tales in the Barrio

Deviating from the common comedic themes of the festival, Carlo Manatad’s Kun Maupay Man It Panahon (Whether the Weather is Fine) offers a unique dramatic experience to the average MMFF moviegoer. The Waray film follows mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio), her son Miguel (Daniel Padilla), and his girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol) in the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda as they aim to catch a ship to Manila in fear of a rumored next typhoon.

The award-winning film has won several awards from international film festivals and won seven in MMFF’s Gabi ng Parangal, which includes 2nd Best Picture, Best Visual Effects, Best Actress for Charo Santos-Concio, Best Supporting Actress for Rans Rifol, Best Production Design for Juan Manuel Alcazaren, the Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas Cultural Award, and a Special Jury Prize for Daniel Padilla.

Thrills in the Metro

In an action-packed and suspense-filled adaptation of a critically acclaimed Korean blockbuster, Lawrence Fajardo’s A Hard Day lived up to its stellar expectations while also upholding subtle Filipino realities at its core. The rollercoaster of crime, violence, and bad luck begins when corrupt detective Edmund Villon (Dingdong Dantes) flees from his mother’s funeral after being notified of a raid in his squad by Internal Affairs. Intoxicated and in a rush, he swerves the car to avoid a dog, but instead hits a homeless man, killing him. That hard day prompts Villon on a quest to cover his tracks, all while facing unexpected twists and turns in his way, particularly with Lieutenant Ace Franco (John Arcilla).

A Hard Day surely did not disappoint in MMFF’s Gabi ng Parangal, as it sealed victories for Third Best Picture, Best Sound for Albert Michael Idioma, Best Editing for Lawrence Fajardo, and the Fernando Poe Jr. Memorial Award.

Meanwhile, Lester Dimaranan’s Nelia won the Best Suspense Drama Movie of the Year in ASEAN Excellence Achievers Awards. The said film establishes a story in a disturbingly mysterious suspense thriller genre set in a hospital where the main protagonist (Nelia) tries to uncover the unsettling events of what seemed to be ordinary deaths in their workplace. Starring by a list of A-list actors such as Raymond Bagatsing and Wynwyn Marquez, Nelia was not able to bag awards in MMFF but won the hearts of critical Filipino cinema fanatics.

A New Kind of Kilig

As a ‘love letter to a generation,’ Cathy Garcia Molina’s Love at First Stream is a refreshing take on how the youth embark on a predominantly digital world. Truly a first of its kind, the film actively involves members of the Kumunity in numerous aspects, from singing the soundtrack to being cast in supporting roles. As a nod to the new normal, the film follows passionate dreamer Vilma (Daniela Stranner), charming breadwinner Tupe (Anthony Jennings), bad boy heartthrob Gino (Jeremiah Lisbo), and girl-next-door intellectual Megumi (Kaori Oinuma) as they explore life, friendships, and love through online streaming.

Beyond the concept of streaming, however, the film is dedicated to both teenagers and parents alike and the importance of family support and understanding in the achievement of dreams.

In an epic story of star-crossed lovers, Huling Ulan sa Tag-Araw by Louie Ignacio challenges the norms of love in the most unique circumstances. Not your typical love story, this film centers on seminarian Luis (Ken Chan), as he ponders on his future. He crosses paths with fierce entertainer Luisa (Rita Daniela), who longs for more time and needs extra income for her family. Believing Luisa to be the sign he wished for, Luis hires Luisa to accompany him to Pangasinan to meet his family, and from there, the unexpected romance unfolds.

Playing in the background throughout the film is “Umulan Man o Umaraw” written by Louis Ignacio and performed by Rita Daniela, which bagged the win for Best Original Theme Song.

Shaking, Rattling, and Rolling

Huwag Kang Lalabas (Don’t Go Out) by Adolfo Alix Jr. highlights the MMFF 2021’s standards in the horror genre. This movie anthology portrays three haunting urban stories starred by the following actresses: Kim Chiu, Beauty Gonzales, and Aiko Melendez. A certified must-watch that makes one reminisce the old pamahiins (superstitions) in Filipino culture, and also, the movie grabbed the Best Float Award.

The horror-comedy The Exorsis parodies the well-known 1973 film The Exorcist directed by Fifth Solomon under Viva Film and TinCan productions. This movie is rather refreshing to watch as the comedic elements ease up the horror setting. The story revolves between the two siblings (played by famous sisters Tony Gonzaga and Alex Gonzaga). The younger one is in dire need of exorcism as an unwelcome spirit possesses her body. At the same time, the elder sister is committed to bringing things back to normal. The hilarious tandem of the Gonzaga sisters managed to apply the same vibes in the movie, which is entertaining and impressive at the same time.

Armed with its vision to enrich Philippine cinema, the MMFF celebrates Filipino films while simultaneously cultivating appreciation from Filipino viewers—an integral and exciting feat. Because while Hollywood is yet to begin telling Filipino stories on the international stage, it’s up to our filmmakers to tell our own.

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