8 Things We Love
in the Last 20 Years
of the MMFF
By Macky Macarayan
The Metro Manila Film Festival, the annual showcase of Filipino films in December, has been called many names, but one sure thing it is not is dull. Every year, new films emerge, and with them, an equal amount of controversy. This year, many were shocked by the decision to split the selection process into two, which were finished films and scripts, and under the latter, some of the usual suspects have been selected. Be that as it may, there are still plenty of options for everyone. Those allergic to the usual mainstream fare can always see Loy Arcenas’ “Ang Larawan,” a musical based on a Nick Joaquin play, which we highly recommend, or Paul Soriano’s “Siargao,” if you want ”the feels” and the matching breathtaking scenery. With these, we look back on the last 20 years of the film festival, and list some of the things we love:
1. Marilou Diaz-Abaya and the rise of historical/ socially-relevant films
Before 1998, there has not been a historical film included in the MMFF lineup for about a decade. Enter “Jose Rizal,” a big-budgeted adaptation of the national hero’s life and legacy, juxtaposed with the characters in his novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” Directed by Abaya, from a script by Ricky Lee, Jun Lana and Peter Ong Lim, the film bagged 17 awards in the 1998 MMFF, including Best Picture. A year later, Abaya would follow the success of “Jose Rizal” with another acclaimed masterpiece, the fishing epic “Muro Ami.”
2. A renewed look at genre films
Genre films, such as action flicks, romantic comedies and horror have long been a staple at the MMFF, but in 1998, screenwriter Roy Iglesias and director Chito Roño redefined the erotic thriller genre with “Babae sa Bintana,” a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse game featuring a man (Richard Gomez) obsessed with his mysterious new neighbor (Rosanna Roces). “Babae sa Bintana” only had the misfortune of opening against “Jose Rizal,” but both are notable films in their own respect. Then there’s Yam Laranas’ “Sigaw” in 2004, which was a masterclass in cinematography, production design, editing and sound design. In 2013, Roño wowed again with “Boy Golden,” a gangster flick so unapologetically campy you never want it to stop.
3. “Crying Ladies” and the emergence of Unitel Pictures
In 2003, a charming little dramedy headlined by Sharon Cuneta went head-to-head with two ensemble films from bigger film outfits. Unitel Pictures’ “Crying Ladies” went on to win Best Picture and four other awards, and forever remained in our hearts as one of the best Filipino films in recent memory. Come on, we all enjoyed when Hilda Koronel taught Angel Aquino the secret to crying on cue. Unitel went on to make acclaimed gems such as “La Visa Loca” and “Inang Yaya.” Today, the outfit busies itself with CineFilipino, a film festival in partnership with TV5.
4. The return of the “Superstar”
Nora Aunor has been absent from the limelight for quite a long time, her last widely-released film being “Naglalayag” back in 2004. Enter “Thy Womb” in 2012, Brillante Mendoza’s regional tale of a barren woman pitted against tradition and social expectations. As Shaleha, Aunor again churns out one unforgettable performance. Only she can go into a staring contest with the moon (yes, the moon!) and make it compelling.