I was only able to catch one Cinemalaya film during the CCP/Greenbelt run: Loy Arcenas' Niño, from the New Breed feature film category. I came in with different biases. Seeing the trailer, I was afraid I wouldn't like it. But I heard second-hand that it was good and I had met the director previously, so that made me feel more confident that my time and P150 would not go to waste.
The subject matter is one I would shy away from: family drama revolving around a generation attached to an old house and their children who don't want to keep it. That will be as much as I will say about the story. But what the film lacks in mainstream appeal it makes up for in skillful execution.
For a first feature, Nino has none of the pitfalls of first-timers. It is not indulgent, nor has it overlooked any particular technical aspect.
Instead of focusing on the house, which I expected Arcenas to do (he is a theater designer after all), the focus was on the inhabitants and their relationships. The characterizations and dialogue are exceptional, as each character is fleshed out. Credit goes to Rody Vera's excellent screenplay. The family's secrets are slowly revealed and the details all have purpose.
There is music, as the matriarch is a former opera singer (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, in a role I cannot imagine giving to anyone else), but very little scoring. The subtitles are actually very helpful for the songs.
Cuyugan-Asensio and Arthur Acuña (who plays her son) have an occasional theatricality about them. But Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino and Raquel Villavicencio, themselves theater actresses, show none of this. Child actor Jhiz Deocareza, even when dressed up as the Sto. Nino, appears very believable, a boy wonder in a different sense.
Except for the sometimes unsteady camera, which makes you feel like an intruder in the house, there are no rough edges. However there are two things that bothered me that I would not blame on the filmmaker: the digital projection at Greenbelt resulted in a shower of pixels and the sound recording came out uneven a few times.
Having seen Niño, I am still not fond of the topic. But this is the kind of work that Cinemalaya is precisely for: a well-made Filipino film that tells a story that may otherwise never get told.