Listen to the Math


I remember it was a Scorpions cassette tape that hinted at the musical connection I would share with my father. It was around 1998 and like any other kid going through puberty—an era when MTV was still king and modems noisily signaled to the rest of the world for a decent internet connection—I was neck deep into pop music. I thumbed through newsprint song magazines that had chorded song lyrics and months-old news from faraway lands. Other kids had Teen Beat, J-14 or Smash Hits, I had Solid Gold, Smash, and Radio Romance. My meager allowance wasn’t enough to buy cassette tapes so I resorted to recording songs on the radio and (on TV) to form my own mix tapes; a mash of late 90’s OPM, Top 40 staples, and every Celine Dion song I could find on the radio. In this spectrum, a German hard rock band is an unlikely fit. But that night, when my dad came home with the Scorpion’s Gold, it was my inauguration to the halls of Tito/Daddy Rock.

I assume living in a house with two of my uncles, who listened to music using an old, hulking box of a music system (the one with a record player, cassette player, and radio), also helped usher me into the power rock and ballads of the 70s and 80s. The late 90s became the playing ground for local artists to dabble on “retro” music: Jose Mari Chan covered songs from John Denver, post-Mara Clara era Judy Ann Santos relied on an Eddie Peregrina song for her self-titled debut, and Regine Velazquez released R2K. A dusty songbook from the early 90s helped me sort through all these covers and retro albums. Almost every song from that time was either of reckless abandon or impenetrable sadness: two things that spoke closely to my adolescent heart. It was the latter that I mostly gravitated to, the lonely call leading me to artists like Bob Dylan, The Carpenters, James Taylor, and Simon and Garfunkel—music that would later on become an integral part of my life.

Years after, stuck in post-college limbo, I agreed to take on a nightly radio show that played folk music—my hometown’s companion to dads, titos, and PUV drivers navigating the lonely hours. For my first night on board, the folk rock CD I bought my dad a few years back became my atlas. I mixed Jim Croce, Peter Paul and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot with the indie folk I’ve come to love such as Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, and Fleet Foxes; music that I brought home to my dad who silently approved of our shared musical inclinations.

But of course, he wanted me to pursue my profession and saw this stint as a bump on the road. This brief period of unemployment (I hardly consider the radio show a job since it paid shit) put a strain in our relationship; here was his son fresh off college who wakes up at night and spends the rest of his time online writing and looking for more songs to add in his playlist. He told me to look for a job almost every day but I wanted to bide my time until something worth settling down to came along. I guess the sight of my lazy ass bumming around his house wasn’t his idea of adulthood. But there was the music. I’d make him listen to my newfound gems and he would point me to more of the music that he loved, the loving strains of guitars and husky tones of Americana forming a warm atmosphere that pulled us closer.

I left for Manila a year after, working in a newspaper that I knew he read daily. He would send a text message asking me if I had an article published that day and if I had, he’d buy the newspaper and show my article to his friends, pointing to my byline rather proudly. For the first two years of my work at the Special Projects section, I was put in charge of the Father’s Day special, an opportunity that I seized to subtly give my father a nod every chance I get.

I write this as I listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Live from New York City,” 1967, holed up in my box of a room, my dad a distance away. “We speak of things that matter, the words that must be said,” Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sing in The Dangling Conversation. My dad and I are never one to sit down and talk, just talk. But when we listen to the songs we love, the songs that we’ve pinned down most of our lives on, it’s more than enough to say whatever it is that we want to say to each other.


Found Stories: Brillante Mendoza


Note: This article was supposed to appear in The Phillippine Star around December 2012, in time for Thy Womb’s MMFF run. I have no idea though if this article ever saw print. 

Brillante Mendoza merely laughed when I told him that his film Kinatay, which won him the Best Director award in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, has become a benchmark in depictions of graphic violence on screen. In Slant Magazine’s review of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, John Semley cited Mendoza’s film in contrast with Bigelow’s violent scenes of torture. “The scenes are disturbing, but by cinema’s post-Kinatay or The Passion of the Christ standards, Zero Dark Thirty‘s graphic incitements are slight,” Semley wrote. Mendoza somehow finds this amusing, seeing how Kinatay has earned him a degree of notoriety in world cinema. Granted, the film had shocking displays of violence but Mendoza has since ventured on films that are less repugnant, particularly in his film Thy Womb.

Kinatay is perceived to be very violent and Thy Womb is [about] unconditional love,” Mendoza says. “Sa akin naman, nakikita mo yung pagta-tackle natin sa mga istorya, not just because gusto lang natin magpakita ng violence. If there’s an interesting story, yun ang mas tinitignan ko. With Thy Womb, affected ako when I first saw the place. Once kasi na-catch yung attention mo, yun ang gusto kong ikwento. The way I felt during that moment, yun yung gusto kong i-capture sa film.”

Thy Womb premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September and competed in the festival’s main slate against world cinema greats like Terrence Malick, Brian De Palma, and Marco Belocchio. The film has since earned accolades and citations from critics around the world and is currently making rounds of film festivals. This December, Thy Womb is part of the Metro Manila Film Festival, the same festival that rejected it in the first place until another film pulled out of the competition, way after Thy Womb’s success abroad. But Mendoza is more than happy with the film’s selection to the MMFF, seeing this as an opportunity to share his films with Filipinos around the country.

A different perspective

The film also marks the return of Nora Aunor to the big screen. She stars as Shaleha, an infertile midwife who searches for a second wife for her husband so he can have a child. Thy Womb is starkly different from Mendoza’s previous films. Blue skies not only mark a momentary respite for the film but it is actually a reflection of the Tawi-Tawi island that the film is set in. Mendoza used this film as an opportunity to tell a different side of the people of South.

“The first time I went to Tawi-tawi was for me a great discovery of the place. I knew little about Tawi-tawi,” Mendoza recalls. “Like most of us here from Luzon na napaka-minimal lang ng alam natin. Ang alam lang natin diyan, violent yung lugar. We tend to have a lot of misconceptions and we tend to generalize Mindanao as a whole. This is a beautiful island. They Christians and the Muslims coexist peacefully. In the same community, from different tribes pa, you will see mosques and chapels in one street. So sabi ko if I’m gonna make a story here, dapat kasama itong community na ito, dapat ma-capture ito hindi lang yung story na hindi lang nakikita yung lugar. In my films kasi, the place is bigger than the ego. Whenever we tell stories of people, people are just part of the big community and somehow represents the community but this is basically the story of the place.”

Working with the superstar

Inspired by a true story of a woman from Tawi-Tawi, Thy Womb’s harrowing story of self-sacrifice and selflessness needed a mature and experienced actress to tackle the role. Mendoza thought of Aunor right away and the decision was met with a degree of negativity. Aunor is said to be a difficult actress to work with but Mendoza proved otherwise during the filming of Thy Womb.

“With Nora, kahit naman big [star] siya, siguro there’s a reason why she’s [called] the superstar, kung bakit siya nandito sa stature niya ngayon, because alam niya kung kalian siya magluluko-luko, kung kalian siya magpapakatino, kung kalian siya gagwa ng ganito, ng ganyan. She plays everything by heart, by instinct, and alam niya kapag napipinpoint niya yung tao. That’s how I read her. So when I worked with her siguro nakita niya rin yun so wala kaming problema. Kapag nakikita niya na you are really serious with what you’re doing, nakikita rin niya yung commitment ng mga actors, ng mga staff and crew, siguro nadadala na rin siya doon,” Mendoza explains.

A new experience

Filming Thy Womb opened Mendoza to a new experience. He spent months of research and immersion in Tawi-Tawi to somehow tell the story of its people, culture, and environment, through Shaleha’s story. He didn’t want the film to end up as a touristy photoplay or a haphazardly told tale about the South. He took his time in making the film knowing that he is dealing with a culture that is rich and captivating. He even made a cultural event the centerpiece of the film.

With each film that he makes, Mendoza is bent not just on showcasing our culture but also our capabilities as a filmmaking nation. “There’s such a thing as a Filipino filmmaker doing it in a Filipino way na hindi pwedeng gawin sa iba at hindi nagagawa ng iba. Whether we like it or not, iba tayong gumawa ng pelikula, dahil nasa kultura natin yun as Filipinos. People just love to share, they just love to help. Kultura natin yung tumulong. YungSige wag mo na akong bayaran’, ‘Sige pang-taxi na lang’. You can’t do that abroad. These are the things that I share and I’m proud. I’m proud that I’m a Filipino filmmaker. ”

Apocalypse Now and Forever: Lav Diaz’s Norte


How do you end a world consumed by its own corruption? In Lav Diaz’s Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Fabian (Sid Lucero), a law school dropout, sees no point in continuing the morality imposed by societal conventions on a dying civilization. Fabian goes on to ramble about his philosophy to his professors — the coffee shop they’re in being the most innocuous venue for such discussion — how the negation of truth and everything society perceives as “wrong” is also an act of liberation in itself. After minutes of discussion, he then proceeds to borrow rent money from his audience. Fabian postulates his ideations as somewhat that of a radical’s, someone who is drunk on the power of living, enough to put his own theories to their own destructive course.

It is here that Diaz freely plays with Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment — the Russian author being a life-long obsession in Diaz’s filmography — transposing the Russian psychological warfare into the dust of a third-world setting. Fabian is Raskolnikov, Dostoyevski’s handsome dilettante whose loathing towards normalcy and ethics is the spark that sets off an upheaval of another world. High on the sway of his own call to arms, Fabian goes on to murder his pawnbroker (Mae Paner, devoid of her Juana Change contraptions) and her daughter, launching into ruin not only of his own but of another parallel universe. In Norte, the fall is taken by Joaquin (Archie Alemania, far from his comedic comfort zone), a DVD peddler accused of the pawnbroker’s murder, his ties to her include a mountain of debt and a short burst of a tantrum after she refused to return his wife’s pawned ring.

Fabian goes on about his life as if the act of killing is a necessary recourse of existence. He further isolates himself from the rest of the world, even from his closest friends. Joaquin’s family, on the other hand, suffers from the shattered life they are consigned to living. Joaquin’s wife, Eliza (the quietly powerful Angeli Bayani), tries to make ends meet, selling vegetables in a rickety cart around their town while Joaquin desperately lives his saintly disposition inside the prison, never crossing boundaries and keeping his mouth shut if needed. This is a set-up for a dreary exposition into squalor and defeat, but Diaz, never one to indulge in such games, opts instead to steer his four-hour film (which runs like breeze even for a millennial attention span) into an astonishing study of madness and its accompanying instruments.

Norte is Diaz’s first film in color for over a decade, and his first working with material co-written by another playwright, Rody Vera. The film still bears Diaz’s distinctive mark, its blood coursing through familiar themes that the filmmaker has closely explored in his career. Norte only occupies a unique place in his filmography, being his first Cannes Film Festival entry and one of his most lauded films to date, landing on top yearend critics list such as Sight and Sound, Artforum, Sense of Cinema, and La Internacional Cinéfila.

Praised for its epic scope and intimate look at the lives caught in time’s undertow, Norte offers up a relevant response to how our country has gradually been victim to our crimes, even those that we commit to the ones we hold dear.

Sumpa ang mabuhay, Joaquin. Dahil hindi natin hawak ang buhay,” a character ominously proclaims, the specter of death hanging like a palpable scent in the air the characters breathe in. Norte is never happy, despite the stark blue of the skies that follows its characters. Its novel-like length gives Diaz the freedom to explore his characters in more detail, allowing high-caliber actors such as Lucero, Alemania, Bayani, and the ever-reliable Mailes Kanapi, as Fabian’s Bible-thumping sister, to sink their teeth deeper into the turmoil. That Diaz’s direction allows his actors to roam freely into their characters’ psyche adds only to the film’s rattling thrum — the sound that echoes with the fury of our cries.

It Might Get Loud: A Year in Pop

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.00.32 AM
I know it looks like a lunatic/pa-cool motherfucker made this list but really, these are the songs that I loved listening to the entire year. Spotify tells me though that my most played song is Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’, which doesn’t qualify for this list because it only includes officially released songs (if it were it would have been #2 in the list). So instead, since I had an EDM phase sometime in the middle of the year, I chose the Zedd-produced ‘Break Free’.
I don’t know if ‘Fireproof’ actually counts but it was released as a ‘teaser’ of sorts for One Direction’s Four, which is actually one of my favorite albums of 2014. I like how it’s a step into a grungier route (which is apt considering they look like druggies now, except for Zayn who is ***flawless with that long hair he’s sporting as of this writing). ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Fool’s Gold’ —cuts from Four (Album of the Year!) that properly reflect One Direction’s new, uh, direction—are also two of my most listened songs this year but they weren’t also released as official singles. ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ would have been #3 in my list. ‘Kilometro’ was a no brainer for my favorite song of the year.
Thyro and Yumi (who also wrote ‘Ikot-ikot’) are fast growing as writers who shape the new era of Pinoy pop (see also, ‘No Erase’, my fondness for James Reid aside, was catchy as hell). It’s a song blazing with the fiery ache of desire, almost verging on desperation but the way it puts its madness into words (Maging ang laot/Walang takot/Na tatawirin, etc.) reaches a momentum so deliciously sweet and infectious, you could sense that Sarah is inviting you surrender and throw yourself over the abyss as well.
A few notes:
1. It’s only been a week since I started listening to St. Vincent (here’s the part where I’m trying to sound cool) and my favorite song of hers is ‘Digital Witness’.
2. I was torn between Taylor Swift’s two singles this year. Initially, I wasn’t into ‘Shake It Off’, both the song and the video (“What a waste of your talent, Mark Romanek” *shakes fist in the air*) but I warmed up to it, especially with its horn section.
‘Blank Space’ won me over because Swift willfully plays with her depiction as a madwoman who eats boyfriends for breakfast.
3. Alt J wins best use of ‘eenie meenie miney moe’ in a song.
4. I liked ‘Kakaibabe”s hook but it wasn’t enough to pull me into its hype, unfortunately. ‘Dyosa’ on the other hand is utter ridiculousness (‘Anong mase-say?/Havey na havey/Di na ‘ko waley/ Hindi’ na ‘ko chaka-face’) but it’s the kind of earworm that I’ll gladly sing for days on end.
5. Lykke Li also had two excellent singles released this year: the one mentioned below and ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone’.
Anyway, here are my favorite songs of 2014:
  1. Kilometro – Sarah Geronimo
  2. Say You Love Me – Jessie Ware
  3. Two Weeks – FKA Twigs
  4. Dyosa – Yumi Lacsamana
  5. No Erase – James Reid & Nadine Lustre
  6. Sana – Lee Grane
  7. Left Hand Free – Alt J
  8. Blank Space – Taylor Swift
  9. No Rest for the Wicked – Lykke Li
  10. You Know It’s You – Slow Hello
  11. Break Free – Ariana Grande
  12. Fireproof – One Direction
  13. Girls Chase Boys – Ingrid Michaelson
  14. Queen – Perfume Genius
  15. Somebody to You – The Vamps ft. Demi Lovato

In God Country


Karl De Mesa’s non-fiction collection, Report from the Abyss, offers plenty of terrifying tales that will make you want to lock yourself up in a fortress or in a brightly lit room. Far from the full-on phantasmagoria of his fiction (the novella collection News of the Shaman, and the short story collection, Damaged People: Tales of the Gothic Punk), De Mesa’s latest tracks down horrors that we encounter every day. These are stories that you’ve heard of in the news magazine shows, ripped from the hazy corner of a yellowing tabloid.

It’s easy to slide into pulp territory given the slippery nature of these incidences (indeed, two of the essays in the book are written in attention-grabbing tabloid vernacular) but De Mesa wraps them all up in crystalline prose while still thrumming with the eerie spirit of the weird and the occult.

For about half of the book, De Mesa takes us on a tour of his life and how each incident revolves around his manifesto to write about the horror and the macabre. Each part of his world that he lets us in harbors unique forms of terror that are far more harrowing than the supernatural. He reports from conflict zones; from his room while held up with a bad case of the flu (which becomes a brief rumination on how we transform after each disease that occupies our bodies); from a cramped prison camp where dreams are dissolved into transgressions and despair.

It only makes sense that the deadening brunt of the real world pushed De Mesa into writing horror. In his account of his coming of age in the Philippines starting from the pre-martial law era—an exorcism of a childhood spent in secrecy, communicating in codes and shuffling from one house after another — he lists his father’s incarceration as the primary reason for his shift from writing fantasy to horror.

“I wanted to draw the attention of the reader to real life, albeit indirectly, in a manner as subtle as an acupuncture needle being thrust into skin. I didn’t want escape; I wanted confrontation. Horror had it in spades. Plus, I was naturally drawn to the occult, the macabre, and mysterious. I dabbled in witchcraft, magick, psychic powers, energy healing, conspiracy theory, alien abductions, minor spells, conjurations and such esoteric stuff,” De Mesa writes.

See, unlike the coup of characters that wade in the charm of fantasia, ghouls, bloodsuckers and flesh-eating manifestations of fear can only drive us to face the monsters that we harbor within ourselves.

These creatures do appear, although briefly, in the book, and it might just be potent enough like the old world ghosts of a Lovecraftian tale. In “Adventures in the Heart of Darkness,” De Mesa talks to Tony Perez’s Spirit Questors about some of the most interesting cases that they’ve encountered. First, there’s the case of the Spanish poltergeist, which employs some basic scare tactics—doors slamming, footsteps on the floor, glass breaking—but still spooky enough for a haunted house account. Then there’s the case of the tikbalang familiar, something that followed Perez from a previous quest: an angry, 10-foot-tall creature that has the torso of a man and legs of an animal with horns and red eyes. Read it when the light of the day is fading with Eyedress’s ‘Nature Trips’ on loop and you’ll feel trapped in the most disturbing horror film you can imagine. And worse, it lives in your head and lingers long after you’ve turned the last page.

But the most interesting stories in Report are the ones that live on the streets. In the chapter “Friends in Bat Country,” De Mesa walks us through Quiapo, twice. First, at the tumult of the feast of the Black Nazarene, a microcosm of our country’s society and devotion to a higher power; and then in the stalls and vendors of amulets and talismans where people ask for powers that take them beyond this world. He also leads us into the cockpits of Manila, where superstition is a currency and science commingles with the Old Gods.

We Catholics live in “God country” and it isn’t surprising that different forms of magic make their way into our lives until now. The plethora of anting-anting vendors just within reach of a Catholic church do say something about how we turn to folk wisdom and the old world when things stop making sense.

Ultimately, Report confirms that ours is a colossal world of hurt and decades of gore and horror films have taught us that the ills that we encounter on the page and on screen are powerful reflections of turbulent times. De Mesa understands this and his documentary work is a testament to the strange conventions of the reality that we have to live in.

This article was originally published 12 October 2013 in The Philippine Star.


Battle Scarred

Alex Gilvarry, Photographed by Gabby Cantero; 2012
Alex Gilvarry, Photographed by Gabby Cantero; 2012

Alex Gilvarry’s acclaimed debut throws a Filipino fashion designer into the snarling jaws of New York’s fashion world.

The title of Filipino-American Alex Gilvarry’s debut novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, can be a little intimidating, or as Random House president Howard Kaminsky pointed out in the book’s testimonial video, annoyingly problematic. Its cover is grim: a mascot-looking prisoner reading a fashion rag as the darkness of his prison envelops him, the seven-word title stamped throughout the cover like a protest or a plea. It sounds like the kind of book that should only be read by anyone whose idea of a good time is watching CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.

But Non-enemy Combatant is actually funny. It’s about a Boy Hernandez, a Filipino designer who moves to New York, and sets out to conquer the fashion world. Mostly everything goes according to plan — until Boy’s ties with a terrorist are uncovered and he is taken away to “No Man’s Land,” a notorious prison the likes of Guantanamo Bay.

From inside a six-by-eight-foot cell, Boy recounts his foray into fashion, name-dropping big designers such as Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrera and Diane Von Furstenberg. His confessional was later compiled by fashion journalist and editor Gil Johannssen, who introduces the heavier political threads that surround Boy’s case — and corrects Boy’s misappropriations (Boy, for example, attributes a Nietzsche quote to Coco Chanel and mistakes Flaubert for Proust).

Boy’s similarities to certain Filipino fashion industry figures, namely Bryanboy and Timothy Garcia, have led people to think that Gilvarry based his protagonist on these larger-than-life characters.

Gilvarry explains, “I wrote about half the novel when my friend Liz Moore said ‘You know there’s this guy Bryanboy. I don’t know if you know about him. He kind of looks exactly like the character you’re writing about.’ So I checked him out and his website. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ The similarities were crazy. Bryanboy sort of looks like the man I had been imagining as Boy.

“Bryanboy was one of the blogs I started reading more and more as I finished the novel so probably a little of him filtered in. In fact, I wrote him in the book, I mentioned him a few times. He’s one of the bloggers who writes about Boy to make him a little more famous in the Philippines,” Gilvarry says.

Gilvarry, a Norman Mailer Fellow who has contributed to The Paris Review, is striking in a Fil-Am sort of way (later, some people would tell me they picked up his book because he is “so gwapo”). He stands 6’3” and his warm voice makes for a perfect NPR commentator. He occasionally visits the Philippines and researching for Non-Enemy Combatant brought him more often in familiar places such as Manila and Samar, places that eventually became Boy’s past. Despite being born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Gilvarry admits his Filipina mom allowed him to grow up in a half-Filipino environment. He doesn’t speak Tagalog but his mom’s way of speaking English made him aware of the rhythms of the immigrant language.

Thus, Gilvarry’s Boy reeks of basic Filipino nuances — he maligns idioms and pronounces f’s as p’s or v’s as b’s. But Boy also bulldozes stereotypes in a world where Overseas Filipino Workers are usually portrayed as hardworking laborers who juggle jobs just to send money home; their voices clipped with Americanized English while hanging on to a hard Filipino accent as a crutch and a lifeline.

Non-Enemy Combatant comes at a period in the US where legalities surrounding immigration have formed a heavy cloud in an already volatile socio-political atmosphere. It has been the subject of many polarizing discussions, particularly now that the US presidential election is looming.

“America is a country of immigrants in some ways. Of course, now we don’t see it that way, people there don’t see it that way. There’s a big fear of the immigrants more than ever in recent history, I think. It was really just from inspiration and you can get a lot of metaphors out of the story of migration,” Gilvarry says.

Through Boy, Gilvarry weaves a gripping tale of post-9/11 New York, a city that has learned to stand ground and lick its wounds while still bracing against semblances of threat that hang in the air. The landscape may have changed and an enemy has been taken down but for Gilvarry, New York is still charged with the climate that has pervaded over the past decade.

“The biggest change was Osama Bin Laden is now dead, right? And I found that the climate hasn’t changed as much as we think it has, even though it has been 11 years since 9/11. We’re still at war with terrorists, we’re still very afraid of them,” Gilvarry says.

Non-Enemy Combatant not only skewers post 9/11 distrust and discrimination, it also addresses the dearth of the Filipino voice in American literature, something that he has always sought out as a publishing editor and as a reader of immigrant novels.

“I don’t think Filipinos are very well understood in literature and in American Literature, too. I feel like in the US, they already have Korean-American literature, which calls to mind a bunch of authors. Chinese-American literature, that calls other authors to mind. But we don’t really have Filipino-American Literature. But of course there are many who are coming around now. But I wanted a Filipino-American novel to tell that story because I don’t think it has been told enough, at least.”

As Filipino-American writers like Gilvarry, Miguel Syjuco, Lysley Tenorio and Gina Apostol pave the way for Filipinos in the greater fabric of world literature, we can only expect that the stature and myth that surrounds us Filipinos will expand to broader horizons, and that we will be known not only for our labor exports and YouTube cover songs.

“I think editors are now more aware of Filipinos and Filipino American literature and it’s only gonna get better and better for everybody as we build our canon,” Gilvarry says.

This article was originally published 22 September 2012 in The Philippine Star’s Supreme


Year in Filipino Films: 2013

Philippine Cinema is back on its feet, so declares its most rabid supporters—even tottering off to a new Golden Age. Given a much-needed adrenaline shot by Erik Matti’s On the Job, finally rousing the middle class to troop to a local film, things have been pretty upbeat for homegrown films and this time it’s not just people in the industry who are flaming the cinematic fire. It’s the triumph of Norte, The End of HistoryOn the Job and by association, Ilo Ilo and Metro Manila that got onlookers curious about Philippine Cinema once more. While the ninth edition of Cinemalaya went well, with more commercial-ready films at its wing, and tried-and-tested success of It Takes A Man and A Woman swept the nation off its feet, it’s when the Philippine delegation to Cannes 2013 sounded off with critical acclaim that the year became one hell of a time for Philippine Cinema.

Two new film festivals—TV 5’s CineFilipino and the Film Development Council of the Philippine’s All-Masters Festival—debuted this year, with Salamindanaw International Film Festival joining by the wayside. By the time CineFilipino wrapped up its screenings, prognosticators were all too happy to list a preliminary Best Filipino Films of 2013 because the crop of films were that good, you can actually fill a ballot up to 20. Some films got out of the indie circuit, thanks to distributors who still take a chance on little films. Films like Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin or Sana Dati were released alongside mainstream releases and Hollywood blockbusters. Although the numbers were still small, the fact that these films tried to exist outside film festival and onto a wider audience was enough to gain a glimmer of hope for better films.

Ultimately, this year’s best films dealt with the terrible embrace of the human condition: Norte’s nihilistic punch in the gut; Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na’s reshaping of our dark history; and Badil’s slow-burning tale of terror and corruption. But at the other end of the spectrum, there lies the light hearted toying on hot-button issues: Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita’s charming portrayal of young lesbian love; Lukas Nino‘s mythic plunge into young ambition and mythmaking, Blue Bustamante’s spin on 90s nostalgia and the OFW phenomenon; and Iskalawags’s gritty but tender take on small-town dreams and childhood fears. And then, there’s Sana Dati, a deconstructed tale of love fraught with familiar strains longing and loss.

20130805-bakit-hindi-crush-kim15. Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo? (Bb. Joyce Bernal)

otso14. Otso (Elwood Perez)

babagwa alex medina 00513. Babagwa (John Paul Laxamana)

1115bLUEBUSTAMANTE-212. Blue Bustamante (Miko Livelo)

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.21.38 AM11. Islands (Whammy Alcazaren)

laultima_0710. La Ultima Pelicula (Raya Martin and Mark Peranson)

quick-change-stills-119. Quick Change (Eduardo Roy)

on_the_job_018. On The Job (Erik Matti)

vlcsnap-2013-08-08-02h09m28s1047. Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarog)

Lukas Nino-Lead-2013-10056. Lukas Nino (John Torres)

Bukas-Na-Lang-Sapagkat-Gabi-Na5. Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na (Jet Leyco)

Iskalawags4. Iskalawags (Keith Deligero)

Angel-Aquino-and-newcomer-Teri-Malvar-in-a-scene-from-Ang-Huling-Cha-Cha-ni-Anita3. Ang Huling Cha-cha Ni Anita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo)

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.21.56 AM2. Badil (Chito Rono)

Norte 11. Norte: Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz)