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2019 was a big year for Philippine cinema. The country witnessed iconic gems like John Denver Trending and Lola Igna in the Cinemalaya Film Festival and Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, respectively, saw another record-breaker in Cathy Garcia-Molina’s Hello, Love, Goodbye starring Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards, Mikhail Red’s Dead Kids became the first-ever Filipino film produced and streamed on Netflix, and the industry itself celebrated 100 years in the business.

As the year—and the decade—comes to a close, the Philippines hosts one final festival, arguably the most-talked about and dominant given how it sweeps the entire nation for two weeks with nothing but its competitors. The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), for many Filipinos, is considered our local equivalent to the Academy Awards in terms of grand scale—the difference however lies in the MMFF’s focus on commercial viability and Filipino culture.

This 2019 edition has some familiar players competing such as December box office rulers Vice Ganda, Vic Sotto, and Ai-Ai delas Alas, and some fresh looks like Carmina Villaroel appearing on the big screen for the first time since 2017’s Love You to the Stars and Back. With all these big names and more involved in the eight films selected for competition, there are a few that certainly draw the curtain on what has been quite a year for the Filipino film industry.

Miracle in Cell No. 7
Directed by Nuel Crisostomo Naval
Starring Aga Muhlach, Bela Padilla, Xia Vigor

Naval’s film is a remake of the South Korean movie of the same name, and centers around a mentally challenged father who is wrongfully accused and thrown into prison where his life changes forever. Like the original, Miracle in Cell No. 7 promises tears and wet tissues because of how it tackles a father’s love and the people he meets, this time tweaked with local issues and environments for Filipino audiences to relate more. Muhlach is the bright light in what is definitely an emotional movie, and the rest of the cast carry their own as they each throw in a reason this particular film is the perfect one to watch at the close of the Christmas season.

Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Starring Judy Ann Santos, Allen Dizon

Cairo Film Festival Best Actress winner Judy Ann Santos stars as a Muslim mother caring for her cancer-stricken daughter while her husband fights against rebels elsewhere on the titular island. What may come off as a war film is mixed in with folklore and animation through the drawings of the sickly Aisa, played by Yuna Tangog. While not as strong as his previous films, Mendoza gives enough weight in Mindanao as to why its complex issues of war and individuality should not be ignored, and Santos’ performance is all but enough to carry Honee Alipio’s crude screenplay. Mindanao won Best Picture for this year.

Directed by Alvin Yapan
Starring Iza Calzado, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Meryll Soriano

Director Alvin Yapan teams up with legendary screenwriter Ricky Lee to deliver a story about the leprosy-stricken island of Culion, Palawan and features the tremendous acting trio of Iza Calzado, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, and Meryll Soriano. Beyond the disease that is slowly killing them—this period film is set during the American occupation when leprosy seemed incurable—the three women have their own problems to deal with, and one of them involves a guest appearance by John Lloyd Cruz. Because of how sensitive the topic of leprosy is, and how the need for historical knowledge is vital, Yapan’s Culion will serve as a harrowing reminder for what can truly break a person.

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Source: Manila Bulletin

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