Philippine cinema’s best scenes of 2019, part 1

For our 2019 poll, we have invited 37 film reviewers to name their favorite scenes of 2019. Below is the first part, featuring behind-the-scenes commentaries of the filmmakers.

The Scene of the Year will be revealed in the last installment.

Warning: The notes from the filmmakers and reviewers include details of important scenes in the cited movies. Read at your own risk.

The ending (Ulan)

Nicol Latayan, reviewer: “Actress Nadine Lustre described Ulan, her first movie since her award-winning performance in Never Not Love You, as a movie about self-love. That in order for someone to love another, she has to love herself first more than anything. This was perfectly encapsulated in the film’s final scene.

It’s a new day after the heavy storm. Maya walks home, and suddenly it rained. She’d always have a strong dislike of the rain since her Lola says the rain is a reminder of man’s sins. We can’t blame her after all; the rain was present when she couldn’t play outside, when she missed her first kiss, or when she realized that her young love isn’t what it really was. But then, she sees younger Maya playing under the rain and Maya joins and celebrates the rain with her younger self.

This ending is beautiful… literally. There’s the slow motion rain of a post-storm garden with the two Mayas running to meet in the middle, as Janine Teñoso’s haunting stripped down version of the Rivermaya classic plays in the background. Irene Villamor directs this scene so delicately that there’s a lot to unpack in it if you analyse it per frame. It was the young Maya who invited the older one to play in the rain, but it was the latter who first extends her arms to touch her mini-me. I honestly don’t know if these were deliberate directorial choices, but they’re surely impactful in the said scene.

But what makes the ending a perfect one is by looking at it in the course of Maya’s story, it’s the complete full circle moment of her journey in discovering her path to loving herself. Maya has experienced a lot – to love, to hurt, to heal, to love again, to accept – not necessarily in that exact order. Truth can really be stranger than fiction. It’s not the fairy tale closing her younger self had hoped for, but it’s one that her current self will consider a happy ending.” 

Neil Daza, cinematographer: “The final sequence of the film was shot with a Phantom High-Speed camera. We shot the whole scene at 2,000 frames per second practically freezing rain drops in midair and then manipulated the movement of the young and old Maya giving a visually poetic ending.”

Irene Emma Villamor, writer/director: Ulan had its beginnings nung college pa lang ako sa UP Film.  Short story pa lang siya nun. At 8 years old pa lang si Maya. Wala pang version na magdadalaga siya. Nag-evolve yung character at yung kwento as I got older. Kaya tumanda rin si Maya kasabay ko. First screenplay ko ito kaya dala-dala ko for 15 or more years bago siya nabuo bilang pelikula. Pero kahit ano ang nangyari sa lahat ng drafts, that ending, hindi nagbago. Magkikita si older Maya at ang batang Maya at maglalaro sila sa ulan. Nag-iba na lahat ng pananaw ko sa pagpe-pelikula as I got to know the industry, from the idealist film student that I was, to a pragmatic filmmaker in terms of production, themes, lahat. From a child to a woman. Kaya sobrang importante sa akin ng last scene na ‘yan. When we were doing it, last shooting day na rin ni Nadine. Kaya buong-buo na sa kanya si Maya. It was a very emotional scene para sa aming dalawa pero yung execution kasi ang hirap, dahil napaka-technical. We were filming at 2,000 frames per second. Tapos kelangan mauna ang luha ni Nadine bago pumatak sa mukha niya ‘yung ulan. Sana makita ‘yun. At hindi siya daya. Ayaw ni Nadine dayain. So she had to cry for real, every take.  So may timing lahat, saan ang marker, ilang steps, kelan tutulo luha niya, cuing ng rain effect. Lahat dapat ma-achieve within 10 seconds only. Kasi yun lang ang amount ng slow-mo na pwede namin gawin per card per take. E palubog na ang araw. So we spent three takes for that walk. And had to move on for the playing under the rain sequence. Mabilisan na lahat. Gusto pa namin abutan ‘yung sunset sa likod nila while they’re playing so everything moved fast. For a scene I’ve waited years and years to do, nawala lahat ng emotion, puro “let’s go! let’s go!” Buti na lang, talagang may bonding na sina Nadine and Elia (the child Maya). Pareho silang magaling. Pati ‘yung staff and crew, walang araw na madali ang shooting eh. But that day, anlaki (ang mahal) ng at stake. So everybody knew it’s make or break.

Tapos nung pinapanood ko na sa premiere night, dun na bumalik lahat, nostalgic na ulit. Bumalik ulit ako sa pagkabata ko, the scenes of my childhood, kapit-kamay kami ni Nadine. Worth it ang slow mo. Kahit ilang segundo, tumigil ang mundo at masarap lang. Masarap lang ‘yun feeling. Kahit ano’ng hirap at tagal na ginawa ‘yung movie, o anuman ang kahinatnan niya, ok na kami ni Nads.”

In the car with stranger (Sila-Sila)

Jim Paranal, reviewer: “Hindi ko makakalimutan ang eksena kung saan may nakilalang misteryosong estranghero (Boo Gabunada) si Gab (Gio Gahol) at sinamahan pa niya ito sa loob ng kotse.

Sa mga eksena bago ito, makikita nating magkahalo ang emosyon ni Gab na harapin ang kanyang mga kaibigan (Dwein Baltazar at Phi Palmos) at kanyang ex na si Jared (Topper Fabregas). Reluctant at halos ayaw niyang harapin ang mga taong malapit sa buhay niya.

Napilitan din siyang sumama sa reunion ng mga high school classmates niya na inorganisa ng mayamang karakter ni Adrienne Vergara. Dahil na din sa hindi niya matiis ang sa tingin niya ay pagpapanggap at pressure ng mga taong nakapaligid sa kanya ay binalak niyang tumakas.

Dito, inakala niya na ang misteryosong estranghero ay isang Grab Driver na kanyang na-book. Nang maamoy niya na nagma-marijuana ang binata ay sinamahan niya ito at nag-usap sila.

Madalas kong mapanood ang mga ganitong eksena sa mga stoner films sa Hollywood. Kaya siguro para sa akin ay kakaiba ito. Sa una, aakalaing hindi ata kunektado o angkop ang eksenang ito sa kabuuan ng pelikula. Pero sa huli, napagtanto ko na dito natin mas nakilala si Gab.

Sa una, may pagka-angas ang estranghero. Nang samahan siya ni Gab ay naging kumportable sila sa isa’t isa. Sa eksena ding ito, mas naging relax si Gab na makausap ang estranghero. Dito niya nabanggit na ang mga taong dating kilala niya ay hindi na tulad ng dati. Mga salita at saloobing hindi niya masambit sa kanyang mga kaibigan. Kung ano-ano na rin ang napag-usapan nila. Hanggang sa mabanggit at nilinaw din ng estranghero na straight siya.

Tulad ni Gab, may mga sandali sa buhay natin na gusto nating tumakas at mas may tiwala tayong sabihin ang saloobin natin sa isang estranghero at pagkakatiwalaan natin dahil para sa atin ay hindi na natin sila makikitang muli. At sino ba naman ang tatanggi kung isang tulad ni isang estranghero na karakter ni Boo Gabunada ang mapaghihingahan mo.”

Gio Gahol, actor: “Prior to beginning production on Sila-Sila, Gian set up a workshop for the actors to get acquainted and work on some of the crucial scenes that highlight the distinct and varying relationships of Gab; figuring out who and how he is depending on who he’s with. Boo wasn’t invited to this workshop.

We’d had a month-long break from shooting the day we shot this scene. All the scenes with “the Grab driver” were first on the callsheet and Boo was running late, coming from another shoot.

I know Boo personally but the suspense of finally seeing him on the set made me nervous. It was gonna be a full day, many big scenes to cover, very little time to sit down and chat about how to go about our scene, and, conveniently, he was running late.

Boo arrives. We talk a bit over breakfast but then we needed to do makeup, get dressed and grind stat. He asked me about the scene which meant he was not briefed. Good, I wasn’t alone.

We get on the set and nada. No briefing from Gian. We were thrown in without a clue how to go about our scene. Okay.

Finally, the scene inside the car. Long take, long dialogue, very short allowance of time to run through the lines and…action!

Nobody was prepared for this scene. And that’s just how it was supposed to be done, I guess. Nobody knew what was going on. Nobody but one—Gian. And that’s just pure evil genius. Evil. But genius.”

Theo Lozada, cinematographer: “Yung araw na isho-shoot namin yung scene na yan, sobrang daming delays, medyo nagmamadali na, medyo crunchtime na agad kahit umaga pa lang. I wasn’t getting the light I wanted for the scene, kaso di ko na afford na magtagal pa sa set-up kasi may one day lang kami to shoot everything sa location na yun at marami pang kukunan.

Nasa labas ako ng sasakyan for most of the shots habang nag-ooperate; may physical barrier kami ng actors, di ko sila naririnig, nakikita lang through the glass. All throughout ang naiisip ko lang, ampangit ng ilaw.

After the scene, habang nag-uusap kami ni Gian, nabanggit niya how much he loved the scene ‘tas di ko gets kasi nga for me andami kong mali sa scene na yun. Noon lang nakita ko siya as a scene in the film naintindihan ko.

Sa akin, nag-serve siya as reminder na at the end of the day, di importante kung perfect yung shot mo, kung maganda yung dolly move, kung astig at cool ang ilaw. At the bottom of everything, direction at performance pa rin talaga ang nagdadala ng kwento. It’s amazing na in this small scene pinakanagco-connect ang mga tao. At the end of the day, yung magic of cinema yung connection.”

Giancarlo Abrahan, director: “The film for me was ultimately about making connections. Gabriel trying but finding it difficult to reconnect with his old life—his ex, his best friends, and his other friends. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with strangers, to be suddenly vulnerable people who know nothing about you.

It was very clear to me that this will be the major turning point of the film. It is the midpoint of the entire film, the midpoint of the reunion. It was—by design—really the heart and center. A film about relationships glued by a stranger.

I personally wanted to feel like a stranger to the character played by Boo Gabunada. And so it was one of those rare times, without meeting him in person, I cast him in the role and only met him on the day of the shoot. No time to get to know him except through his potrayal of stranger inside a car mistaken for a Grab driver. We started shooting the scene with barely an introduction. We let the scene do that for us.

On the other hand, we shot half of the film with Gio prior to this. But after shooting for an entire week, we took a month-long break before shooting this reunion at the house. And I thought it was perfect, to have had this rhythm and connection then to suddenly lose it and try to reconnect it that day.

We spent the entire morning for this scene. And almost the entire time, Boo and Gio were isolated in the car. They’d barely be able to get out, forced to chat in the car in between takes and while setting up the cameras and light diffusers. People on the set could not hear them and had no idea what was going on. There was a viscous intimacy building up between Boo and Gio. But I wanted that feeling na nakikisilip lang tayo sa moment.

And so the shot where the camera was closest to their faces, we would suddenly be behind them—their faces obscured by the headrests except for that sliver of a smile and their eyes locked into each other. Just enough para masilip natin. Kasali tayo pero nararamdaman nating may something na para sa kanilang dalawa lang…Tipong mapapatanong ka talaga kung may nangyari nga sa kanilang dalawa—kasi nakita mo iyung tingin at ngiti nila, nakaka-high maki-join sa pagka-high nila—pero at the end of the day, sa kanilang dalawa na lang iyun.”

The ending (John Denver Trending)

Engelbert Dulay, reviewer: “The last few minutes of John Denver Trending were among the most suffocating and maddening moments of 2019. Within those few minutes, we get a glimpse of what’s revolving around John Denver’s mind: the fear, the shame, the guilt, the desolation. He’s had enough of being both the suspect and the victim. In doing so, he runs away from everyone, away from the police who’s wrongly accused him of something he did not do, away from the society who’s so quick to judge and belittle him without knowing all the sides of the coin, away from the school who’s never defended him just because he did some bad things in the past, and away from his mother who’s seen him at his best and at his worst. He finds no sense anymore in fighting a fight that he knows he will not be able to conquer in the end. He escapes. Intentionally. And in his escape, he’s setting himself free from the hatred and the negativity surrounding him. Many people would think that such a scene would be a glorification of self-harm, but sometimes we need a dose of reality for us to understand the importance of mental health and the repercussions of our everyday actions. The shots were framed in a raw and nihilistic way, without ever trying to romanticize John Denver’s situation. It’s the truth. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Rommel Sales, cinematographer: “Originally shot as a single take. 2nd cam: Arbie Barbarona took over this scene kasi mas mabilis siya tumakbo kesa sa akin. Arden wanted the camera to act like a monster chasing John Denver. Bahala na kung magulo at shaky kasi nung pinanood namin siya sakto naman para sa isa sa mga huling eksena ng John Denver Trending.”

Arden Rod Condez, writer/director: “Aaminin ko, dito talaga ako pinakanahirapan. Hindi ganito ang original ending. Yes, the boy still committed a tragic act but after that, something else happened. But this changed when we joined the FDCP-sponsored First Cut Lab, a post-prod mentorship by some industry experts from abroad. Matthieu Taponier, the editor of Cannes-winning and Oscar-winning Son of Saul, suggested our final ending.

The image of a mother coming home without her knowing what’s waiting for her was indeed very troubling. Ito rin ang imahe na hinding hindi nawala sa utak ko simula no’ng una kong narinig ang isang balita tungkol sa isang magsasakang nanay na umuwi mula sa trabaho at nadatnan sa bahay ang isang trahedya. Ito ang imaheng nagtulak sa akin na isulat ang kwentong ‘to. The start of that radio news was the ending of our film.

Tama naman ang iba, it was too nihilistic. But in my opinion, it had to happen. Parang hindi ko binigyang respeto ang trahedyang sinapit ng binatilyong isa sa naging malaking inspirasyon ng kwentong ito kung hindi ko ‘yon ipapakita. Kailangan ito para suntukin tayo’t magising. Oo, nagsimula ang pelikula presenting a social problem and it ended very psychological. Pero ‘yon ang gusto kong tumbukin. That what is social for us can indeed be very personal to some. When we move on to the next viral video, some people are left behind to still deal with the misfortune.”

Part 2: Quezon’s Game; Kalel, 15; Fuccbois

Part 3: Metamorphosis, Jino to Mari, Edward

Part 4: John Denver Trending; LSS; Isa Pa, with Feelings

Part 5: Scene of the Year

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