Friday, November 21, 2008

On Note

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