Saturday, November 22, 2008
By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:20:00 11/21/2008
Before World War II, there was a substantial population of Japanese migrants in Davao province, many of them forming friendships with Filipino families. One such friendship resulted not just in a young man’s relative ease with the Japanese language, but also in the survival of the entire family. At war’s end, having survived exile and forced evacuation, the family remains intact and whole. As does their upright piano, which the young man describes as “the heart of our family.”
Music, friendship, loyalty, family and our shared humanity—these are themes that run through the movie “Concerto,” an entry in the recent Cinemalaya competition that is now making its commercial run.
Directed and written by Paul Alexander Morales, “Concerto” tells the story of a family in wartime Davao, based on the diary of Lt. Col. Anastacio Campo as annotated by his granddaughter Virginia Yap Morales, the director’s mother.
It is the Japanese Occupation and the family, headed by Ricardo and Julia, and their six children have left their home in Davao City and are staying in the farm of a tenant, along with Julia’s brother. Ricardo (Nonoy Froilan) used to be with the military and was severely beaten by Japanese interrogators. As the movie opens, he is sick and hobbling, embittered by his experience and vowing revenge against the invaders. But the eldest son Joselito (Jay Aquitania) takes a more practical, pragmatic view. Using his knowledge of Japanese, he sells sweetened camote to the soldiers in the nearby Japanese camp, striking up friendships with the officers who begin to visit them regularly.
A woman of faith and graciousness, Julia (Shamaine Centenera Buencamino) receives the foreign troops as best she can, as does Maria (Yna Asistio), who embarks on a budding romance with a young Japanese lieutenant. Nina (Meryll Soriano) the older sister is ambivalent, nursing feelings for an American soldier she met before the war’s outbreak. Complicating matters is the fact that their oldest sister is married to a doctor who has been conscripted by the guerrillas.
* * *
There is a sense of foreboding throughout the movie. Will the Japanese intelligence officer discover the Filipino family’s connection to the guerrillas? Will Ricardo give vent to his pent-up rage and frustration? Will Joselito’s forays to the camp and his familiarity with the Japanese get him into trouble? And what of the news that the American “liberators” are about to descend on Davao?
The film’s climax is an impromptu concert staged by the family to celebrate the return of their beloved piano, which the Japanese had transported from the city. The timing proves providential, if a little sad, for most of the soldiers are due to leave camp the next morning to take up kamikaze or suicide missions, a last, desperate ploy of the Japanese military. In an evening of Filipino airs, Japanese martial songs and classical piano pieces, the family and their Japanese guests seek solace and resolution, come to terms with their humanity, and reach across the void created by nationality, culture, religion and war to establish a human connection.
* * *
Many times in the movie, one expects it to fall into any one of the clichés of wartime cinema—the rape of the daughters, for instance, the revenge killing, the incarceration of the friendly Joselito, or even the massacre of the family.
But while the film doesn’t obscure or soft-sell the horrors of war—the children come across the body of a civilian in the forest, and Joselito calmly removes the shoes and puts them on—neither does it over-dramatize its impact.
Under Morales’ confident handling, the movie is more interested in exploring how war, in all its dehumanizing horror, manages at the same time to strengthen and burnish one’s humanity. In the family, and in their varied ways of coping with the situation, one sees how, in rising above their difficulties, they manage to maintain the values that have kept them strong and united, surviving even the harshest of times.
There is a lesson here for families everywhere—and in our own “worst of times.” The economic news may sound dire and desperate, but if this family survived the war with just prayers, music and friendship, then surely today’s families can find their own sources of strength, too.
* * *
Although an “indie” production, “Concerto” looks, sounds and feels luxurious. Perhaps it’s the cinematography (by Regiben Romana), which bathes every scene in a warm, golden light. Or maybe it’s the more-than-competent acting, with not a false note by any of the cast.
Outstanding are Shamaine Centenera Buencamino who rises above the challenge of giving nuance to a stereotype, managing to imbue her pious, kindly mother role with some steel and softness. A revelation is Jay Aquitania, who portrays Joselito so comfortably and confidently. Likewise a revelation is Yna Asistio, whose first film role this is. It’s difficult to believe, too, that “Concerto” is Nonoy Froilan’s first venture in film, for he lends the aging, bitter military officer a quiet dignity and resolution. Meryll Soriano has long been an “indie” favorite, and she shows us why in this film, for despite her experience she deliberately keeps her emotions muted.
A special mention here of the actors portraying the Japanese officers and soldiers, who skirt the temptation of overacting and living up to the stereotypes of war movies, to allow the audience a glimmer of the soldiers’ human frailties.
Maybe that’s “Concerto’s” greatest gift: the realization that even in war, we were all, Japanese, American or Filipino, just human beings caught in a hell not of our making, but discovering amid the wreckage, the core of our true selves
Friday, November 21, 2008
by Philbert Ortiz Dy
posted on Thursday November 20, 2008
The general moviemaking wisdom would tell us that you shouldn’t really try to do a period film with a small budget. Many have certainly tried, and many, indeed, have failed. But in comes Concerto, which not only takes us to the past, but has the courage to try and portray a life during wartime. And amazingly, Concerto is mostly a success, producing a completely lovely picture that fares far better than many films with larger budgets.
The film is set near the end of World War II. The bombings in Davao City has forced a family to move to a small home just outside the city. There, they find themselves neighbors to a tiny camp of Japanese pilots. The patriarch, Ricardo, was once tortured in Japanese prison camps, and still harbors a grudge, but he finds himself having to be accommodating to the soldiers in order to let his family survive. The family is made to examine the line between love and hate as they continue to deal with the Japanese, letting them into their home, getting to know them better, and seeing them as real people capable of kindness. And as the war comes closer to ending, a piano concert is performed by Ricardo’s two prodigious daughters, marking a strange and special bond between the family and the invaders.
The narrative isn’t as tight as it could be, but it makes up for it by being emotionally taut. The film is based on true stories from director Paul Alexander Morales’ family, and as with most true, personal stories, they come with a little extra weight. There’s probably a good ten minutes of the script that could’ve been cut, and a few scenes that could have been rewritten to make things flow more smoothly, but it’s pretty easy to forgive. What this script delivers is a strong thematic depth and a good emotional punch that goes much further than your average film.
It takes a lot of guts to go shoot a period piece. It takes even more guts for that period to be a period of war. Director Paul Alexander Morales does a few really clever things to transport the audience to a different time. The production design really helps, but mostly, the movie works by setting the tone. Morales doesn’t really show us much of the war going on, but he makes us feel its effects. We mostly don’t see the bombs falling on the terrain, but we see the family hunkered down in a shelter, praying the rosary. Everything feels right, and the effect is astounding.
It also helps that the performances are so good. Jay Aquitania is a really clever actor, and he’s got a lot waiting up his sleeve as Joselito. Meryll Soriano has always been one of our smartest actresses, and as Niña, she puts on a nuanced performance that provides the most powerful moments of the film. Yna Asistio is quite lovely as Maria, and her talent is really evident. Shamaine Buencamino and Nonoy Froilan are tremendously good as the heads of the family as well. The cast is solid all the way through. Concerto came out of this year’s Cinemalaya without a lot of fanfare, mostly overshadowed by the juggernauts that were Jay and 100. But this movie just doesn’t deserve to fade into obscurity. This is a fantastic effort, one that outclasses many higher-budget affairs by a long, long shot. It could still be tightened up, but the story and the eventual message is worth sitting through the excesses. Recommended.
My Rating: 4 stars
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Last November 11, The Cinema Evaluation Board graded the indie feature Concerto an “A”, granting it a 100% tax rebate based on its artistic and technical merits.
The first full length film of filmmaker Paul Alexander Morales, Concerto has previously been heralded as an “ambitious historical film” and in its theme and execution “confident” even as it departs from the usual indie film fare. Concerto is one of the first Filipino films to focus on the war experience in Mindanao.
The film, set in Davao City in 1944, stars Jay Aquitania, Meryll Soriano, Shamaine Buencamino, Nonoy Froilan and Ynna Asistio. It also features a rare Japanese cast that include Hiro Sakoda, Masaya Okazawa, Hiroshi Okamoto, Lisa Takayama and Kazumi Yoshida.
The limited release of Concerto in five cinemas; Glorietta 4, SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, SM South Mall and Indie Sine at Robinson’s Galleria, starts November 19, 2008.
Concerto’s release heralds the wider showing of the acclaimed Cinemalaya 2008 films, with limited runs of Boses, 100 and Jay scheduled in the last quarter of 2008.
Concerto is also scheduled to be shown in Davao City in December 2008, where it has been invited to be the opening film of the annual Mindanao Film Festival, a limited run in SM Davao follows.
The film's trailers can be viewed at www.youtube.com/arthmael69 and at www.digitalspiritfilms.com