Philippine cinema’s best scenes of 2019, part 2

This is the second part of our best scenes of 2019 feature. You may read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Refugees arrive via Pasig River (Quezon’s Game)

Emil Hofileña, reviewer: “It’s impossible to view the ending of Quezon’s Game (and the rest of the film) outside the context of our political situation today: human rights abuses, the qualities of a leader, and the Philippines’ own sovereignty are just several issues that now enjoy regular airtime in the news more than ever. And through director Matthew Rosen’s sensitive direction, he gives us a reminder of the truly selfless humanitarian acts that our leaders are capable of when they assert our national identity as one built on love.

Like most of the film, the scene is simple and the production design modest. President Manuel Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) and the other principal characters stand overlooking the Pasig River at night. One by one, lanterns from boats float into view: the Jewish refugees—persecuted and chased out of Germany on the brink of World War II—have safely arrived to one of the only countries that took the risk of giving them a new home.

On its own, it’s a powerful image of hope—a foreign people in need being embraced not just by another nation, but a government that actively defied its colonizers for the greater good. The relief that washes over Bagatsing and Billy Ray Gallion’s characters (Gallion plays the Jewish Alex Frieder) is enormously cathartic, and one is suddenly overcome with pride (arguably a rare commodity these days) seeing the Filipino people’s capacity to be heroes.

The understated nature of the scene works not only for the film, but as another reminder to us that not all victories need to be loudly celebrated. In a time when strongmen and their cronies shout obscenities and display their temporary power, Quezon’s Game asks us to commit wholeheartedly to simply doing as much as we can for the welfare of others. The scene might not have been this powerful if recent history was different, but as it is, it’s a gift and a remarkably tender piece of filmmaking.”

Matthew Rosen, director: “The Scene in Quezon’s Game depicting the arrival of the Jewish refugees is one of the most important scenes in the film. It had to be triumphant.

This was a big motion picture with a relatively small budget. Every scene had to be shot to make it look as big as I wanted BUT within the budget the producer had provided for it. This scene was no exception. This is how we did it:

We were shooting all our exteriors in Las Casas de Acuzar… most beautiful location. We had identified an area that looked like Malacañang on the Pasig. Actually it was the entrance to the village on the lake. You could see the village clearly on the other side of the lake at day but not so well at night. We shot this scene in 4 hrs. The building we were using was also a restaurant so we had to wait for it to close at 10:00pm.  We then started moving in our equipment and we shot all the acting scenes first. I wanted Quezon’s Game to look like a movie shot in the 40s (like Casablanca or Citizen Kane) and I maintained this style of lighting, framing and blocking throughout the movie. Our difficulty was it was typhooning during the week we were shooting. To hide this we suspended rain shields over the area we were shooting in. The typhoon did slow us down quite a bit but we had to keep moving forward. With my very hardworking and experienced crew we were able to shield every shot successfully and you can’t see the typhoon… although occasional drips of rain can be seen getting through – if you know where to look.

The last piece of the movie magic jigsaw that had to be put in place was the illusion of grandeur. I wanted to show hundreds of refugees arriving at the dock of the Palace. But there was no Palace or dock….and only a handful of refugees. To form the dock we stripped bare a water taxi and tied it to the bank of the lake. For the refugees we put the European actors (about 6) on the front of the raft and dressed the lighting crew in refugee costumes at the back of the raft. We then sent that one raft out to a place where you could just make out that it was a raft and it chugged towards the bank where the camera was. We then shuffled everybody on board, swapped hats around and sent the raft out again to return using a different route. We did this about 10 times. In post-production we combined the various takes into one and it looks like we have multiple rafts all loaded with refugees lining up to dock in front of Malacañang. Sometimes the scenes that are the hardest to shoot work out the best. Looking back at this scene I think we were lucky we did not have the budget to set this up for real as trying to choreograph at least 15 rafts and 150 extras in a typhoon would have been a much harder task. Not to mention that his was the second time we shot  this scene…we attempted it a couple of weeks earlier but got hit by a more severe downpour that forced us to pack up before we could finish.

When we did our sound design our designer showed me an unfinished version without any live sound… just the very touching composition of Dean Rosen’s score. It seemed to be more moving without any sound… just the music…. so we faded out all sounds and I strongly felt what I had was perfect. It’s a very unorthodox treatment for a film’s finale formed from both design and fate… but I really like the way it turned out.”

Janice Perez, co-writer: “To be quite honest, the real event didn’t happen that way exactly. The Jewish refugees actually came in several migrations riding those big, inter-ocean liners throughout the span of 2 years (1938 – 1940).   However, due to budgetary and time constraints, we decided to simplify it for the film, thus showing them riding the river taxis arriving to Malacañang Palace, greeted by President Quezon and his family, which is also not historically accurate.  But we needed to make that penultimate scene much more dramatic and powerful, that’s why we showed them arriving on several water taxis, with President Quezon and family welcoming them to Manila. My research shows though that river taxis were very common in that era, so who knows, maybe a few of them did take the water taxis?  🙂 And I guess the VFX work done by our editor, RJ Aquino, must have been really good (granted Pinoy Rebyu voters counted this scene as a selection) because truth be told, RJ duplicated those river taxis to look like there were multitudes of them, when in actuality, there was only just 1 river taxi available to shoot.”    

Family inuman session (Kalel, 15)

Mayk Alegre, reviewer: “Lasing lahat. Tropa-tropa lang. Walang magu-magulang. Walang anak-anak. Nasa pinakamagaling nilang pagganap sina Jaclyn Jose, Elora Españo at Elijah Canlas habang senglot na pinag-uusapan nang parang magkakabarkada lang ang kaputanginahan ng buhay.”

Elora Españo, actor: “We rehearsed the scene multiple times. Mejo hirap kasi ako sa pagiging kantoish nung character ko so everyone helped me out. We shot the scene around 9am, Miss Universe telecast nun so mej distracted kami. 😅 It took us 2 days to make the whole inuman scene. 1st day was with Ms. Jane (Jaclyn) and 2nd day yung kami na lang ni Elijah. The instructions were to really enjoy each other’s company, be casual. Pagtawanan ang mishaps ng isa’t isa. May mga adlib pero very minimal. Nasa script the rest. Ganda na kasi ng script ni Direk Jun. 😁

This inuman scene is really important for Kalel, since this is the only family bonding they had in the film. They talk about their issues, they have fun and reflect on their problems. It’s their way of being vulnerable and comforting each other. Makikita talaga yung dynamics ng pamilyang ito sa inuman.

Kalel, 15 was one of the most important films I made as an actress, it’s socially relevant today and it tackles many issues I myself advocate for. I am so grateful for Kalel, 15 because of the overwhelming support of each individual that is involved, from our staff, crew to my co actors and director. It challenged me as an actress: even as I was exploring the character, they didn’t make me feel inadequate; I felt loved and supported all throughout. I hope that this film be showcased not only abroad but especially here for our communities to see.”

Elijah Canlas, actor: “I remember being so excited ‘cause when we tried to do that scene during the look test and I first got a taste of how it feels like to be in a scene with Tita Jane, it made me so pumped to shoot it for real. Iba-iba talaga yung ibabato niyang choices every take, and you’re gonna have to accept that and work with those choices every time and I really cherish that fun dynamic as an actor. I was personally challenged the most whenever Kalel was alone and whenever he was with family. He wears a different mask whenever he’s around different people in his life and I figured there were more layers whenever he’s with family than with friends and others. Importante talaga kay Direk Jun ‘tong eksena na ‘to eh. It actually took us so many takes just to get the tone right. He still welcomed us to do improv though but we had to retain the structure and flow of the way it was written. I think the key to making the scene work was how Direk Jun and Tita Jane encouraged us to just play with it and have fun.”

“Come to Mommy!”, Fuccbois

Naz Tabares, reviewer: “Tension fills the screen as Ace (Royce Cabrera) and Miko (Kokoy de Santos), drugged and drunk, join ‘Brithany’ on the bed. This is not their first time do a threesome as mentioned in the film. But with Ace wanting to leave Brithany for a real woman who can also provide for him financially, things got more complicated. And being trapped in an island owned by a corrupt closeted mayor with men and women at his payroll, what can two innocent young men can do? Imagine that. Then imagine being forced to have sex with your friend for the pleasure of another person or die because a gun is pointed at you two.

The scene felt as though it was a very long night. That hopefully it would end sooner but things have gotten way worse. It’s that scene where anything bad can happen, you don’t know if you’re ready for it but sex, drugs and violence that leads to a murder happen. But Royce, Kokoy and THE Ricky Davao are all game. F#*@BOIS‘ choices are bold and shocking, like it doesn’t care about anything but to just be honest to its characters.

There are things I never thought Ricky Davao would have dared doing in this film, but he did them and the results feel as if the narrative liberates itself from its limits and moves forward to a direction where young men are not supposed to be in. The threesome of Cabrera, de Santos and Davao will be remembered as one of the most provocative, intense and daring scenes of the 2010s and so is the line ‘Come to mommy, boys!'”

Kokoy de Santos, actor: “When we were shooting that scene I was so pressured because that was the first time that I’d be doing an intimate scene, most especially sa big screen, to think na si Sir Ricky ka-eksena namen, sobrang nerve-wracking pero kailangan i-overcome yung takot at kaba. And of course hindi naman kami pinabayaan ng Direktor namin. Very hands-on sa’min si Direk lalo na when it comes to intimate scenes. Alalay talaga. I remembered sinabi samen ni Sir Ricky before we shot that scene, ‘Kung gagawa kayo ng ganitong klaseng eksena, bigay nyo na kesa yung ginawa nyo nga tapos pag pinanood mo e manghihinayang ka kase may kulang na sana ginawa nyo na’.”

Eduardo Roy, Jr., writer/director: “Ang vital ng eksenang yan sa buong pelikula. Yan din eksenang yan ang naging sukatan ko sa pagpili ng gaganap na fuccbois, dapat kaya nilang gawin ‘yan ng buong makakaya nila. Sina Kokoy at Royce nagkaroon pa ng matinding sensuality workshop para sa scene na iyan. Habang si sir Ricky natatandaan ko habang kausap ko sa phone di ko alam paano ko sasabihin na hahalik s’ya at kakain ng paa, pero pumayag s’ya,  biro ko pa nga na magpapafootspa naman yung dalawa. Pagdating sa set walang naging problema. Ready ang lahat. Binigay nilang tatlo ang makakaya nila. Ang ‘Brithanygaile’ na name wala naman talaga sa script. Isang gabi kasi habang kinukunan naming yung eksena na dumating si Mayor sa bahay bakasyunan nya kailangan ng bangka. May nakasulat na Brithanygaile sa bangka dapat papaburahin ko pero naisip ko na baklang bakla yung name, bakit hindi ko gamitin. Boom! alter ego name na lang sya ni Mayor. Kaya nung sinabi ni Mayor sa dalawang bagets na come to mommy… dinagdag ko sa threesome scene ang line na ‘Who’s your mommy?’ At ang pabulong na sabi ng dalawa, ‘Brithanygaile’.”

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