Philippine cinema’s best scenes of 2019, part 4

This is the penultimate part of our best scenes of 2019 feature. You may also check out the earlier installments: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Part 5 features the scene of the year.

Flower icing / Fire walk (John Denver Trending)

Kayo Jolongbayan, reviewer: “I was shaking after I saw John Denver Trending in Glorietta last year as I wasn’t emotionally prepared by the film’s disturbing and raw take on how a single social media post can change the life of an individual. This film has many subtle yet powerful scenes, but what made the flower icing moment stand out is how writer-director Arden Rod Condez magnified the relationship between John Denver and Marites. With minimal dialogue, Condez allowed his actors, the brilliant Meryll Soriano and Jansen Magpusao, to capture that key moment and made his viewers realize that their bond is unbreakable. Through thick and thin, John Denver and Marites’ relationship as mother and son is strong; it’s them against the world no matter what happens. After that moment, Condez then proceeds to a scene that sets up the trajectory of the film as John Denver walks through the dark with sparks of fire behind him. It’s hard for me to brush off this scene as the succeeding sequences felt like a nightmare. In a simple yet thought-provoking way, the screenplay and the direction allowed the audience to set their expectations throughout the film; that from then on, John Denver’s path is going to be dark, and there’s going to be scrutiny and bullying as if he’s walking through fire. The deafening silence, Rommel Sales’ fantastic framing, and Magpusao’s rawness captured the calm-before-the-storm feeling of that scene and as an audience member, you can’t help but feel helpless yet curious on what’s going to happen next.”

Stephanie Mayo, reviewer:Director Arden Rod Condez managed to utilize the power of the film in that single scene. There are no speaking lines; just a lone boy in his school uniform walking home at night with a heavy step. Then he passes by a burning rubber, its flames dying, the glowing embers lighting up the pitch-black night behind the boy.

That scene is searing and powerful. Not only for its exquisite beauty, but for communicating big emotions. The boy walking away from a normal childhood towards the depths of hell. The sparks of fire behind him like the fake accusation against him, spreading and rising; each flying ember like smoldering violence that follows the boy.

This scene is the most symbolical of the film’s mise-en-scene, echoing so much poetic vision. That one scene summarizes John Denver’s nightmare. The camera captures the shell-shocked face of a child victim. He walks home. But you know that home will never be home. It will never be a sanctuary. Even his mother can never shield him from something so massive and dark. And it will only get worse. Much worse. And it’s soul-crushing.”

Rommel Sales, cinematographer: “Cake flower scene. What I remember about this scene was this was among the most tender moments we shot for the film. Madalas magulo yung camera namin as if it’s someone constantly watching and following John Denver. But for this scene medyo mas well-framed siya and mas static as if yung nanonood kay John Denver ay napatigil at naging sympathetic sa kanya. Shooting this, isa ito sa last sequences we shot that day. Buong araw palipat-lipat kami ng location. Nagmamadali at naghahabol ng araw. Conscious kami na kailangan mabilis ang galawan, pero nung eksenang ito na para bang habang shinu-shoot namin ito napatigil ako at nanood na lang ng eksena haha.

Yung firewalk sinakay namin yung camera sa pang-deliver ng case ng beer kasi wala kaming dolly para makuha yung shot. Yung apoy dinagdag namin kasi maganda siyang panimula sa paparating na paghuhusga na mararanasan ni John Denver.”

Arden Rod Condez, writer/director: “Being a writer, palagi na lang tanong sa akin kung paano kakapitan ang characters na sinusulat ko. Gusto kong kapitan si John Denver ng mga manunuod kaya gumawa ako ng isang eksena for that. But I don’t want it too pronounced. Fifteen years old si John Denver, madalas sa mga gano’ng edad, hindi sila gano’n ka-vocal pagdating sa emosyon. Hindi rin naman gano’n ka-vocal ang love nina John Denver at Marites sa isa’t isa. But I wanted to show their bond. John Denver’s love for his mom was muted, yes, but it was always felt.

Kaya naisip ko ang flower icing sa cake. Sa probinsya, pag may cake na take-home mula sa party, pinag-aagawan ang flower icing na nasama sa slice. Hindi madalas nakakatikim nun, kaya sya importante. Kaya tinago sya ni John Denver. Naging selfish sya. But when he saw his mother working to pay for a debt that he obtained, it was his guilt, and yes, his love that made him surrender the flower icing and let his mother eat it.

Ilang beses naming inulit ang eksenang ‘yon kasi matagal matanggal sa alambre ang bulaklak. Tawa kami nang tawa. This was one of the scenes that we did on our first day of shoot. ‘Yong tawanan na nangyari dito set the tone for the entire shoot.

Tungkol naman do’n sa embers na nasa background ni John Denver habang naglalakad sya pauwi, that was just the strong wind helping us make the scene more cinematic. Lol. Dahil dalawa lang ang dala naming ilaw from Manila, kinailangan naming mag-bonfire ng mag-bonfire sa lahat ng night scenes para hindi madilim ang mga eksena. In a way, nakatulong. Indeed, scarcity can be an indie filmmaker’s best friend.”

The kiss (LSS)

Mayk Alegre, reviewer: “Unang engkuwentro nina Zack & Sarah (Khalil Ramos at Gabbi Garcia) sa bus nang masaya silang magkatabi sa upuan habang patapos na sa background ang ‘Ride Home’ ng Ben & Ben. Pasulpot-sulpot ang iba pang mga awitin ng banda sa pelikula pero pinakamatingkad ang ‘Kathang Isip’ nang aksidente silang magkatabi ulit, sa gig, habang parehong umaambon sa pisngi nila hanggang magkatitigan sila at selyuhan nila ang gabi nang labi sa labi. Hindi na marahil sila duwag. Handa na silang bumalik sa umpisa. Hindi na sila nag-iisa.”

Emil Hofileña, reviewer: “We’ve all been there: listening to a song that hurts more than it should, letting the music overwhelm you until you”re barely capable of rational thought. Using this common experience, Jade Castro takes his two heartbroken protagonists (and the audience) on an emotional rollercoaster that’s funny, achingly romantic, and altogether endearing. When Zack  and Sarah are finally pushed toward each other, the results are messy and probably more than a little awkward, but in the moment it’s everything they need. It’s heartbreak, recognition, validation, and comfort in a few brief minutes, and it’s wonderful to behold.”

James Espinoza, reviewer: “What sets LSS apart from its contemporaries is it rejects the ‘you complete me’ narrative prevalent in its genre. LSS is less about a relationship than about two individuals going through their own personal shit and by chance happening to find that one person who supports you. I think this context is important in analyzing why the ‘Kathang Isip’ scene is so brilliant.

Pasensya ka na sa mga kathang isip kong ‘to…’ Indeed, the scene plays out like a daydream – in the middle of a crowd, while their favorite band is playing, the two protagonists come face to face, stare at each other, and then kiss. It’s the stuff that rom-coms are made of, but somehow this one feels authentic not only because of its emotional weight but also its effective mise-en-scène.

Ako’y gigising na sa panaginip kong ito at sa wakas ay kusang lalayo sa iyo…’ The scene happens around the film’s midpoint. A year has passed since Sarah and Zack first met, and the film has spent that time to establish each character’s aspirations. What’s changed is that these dreams have just been shattered. Devastated, they walk through the crowd, sobbing and no longer aware of their surroundings. They each end up on the opposite sides of a gig-goer wearing a Big Ben clock costume. They have no idea, but the audience already does.

Gaano kabilis nagsimula, gano’n katulin nawala. Maaari ba tayong bumalik sa umpisa upang ‘di na umasa ang pusong nag-iisa?’ Timing is another theme that LSS explores, and bad timing is what had separated Sarah and Zack thus far. But in this scene, time, by way of the costumed fan, literally gets out of their way. Pushed further by an apathetic crowd, Sarah and Zack bump into each other and see the very person who has encouraged them in that fateful bus ride. Their tears spoke as words failed them. They understood. Taking solace in misery, they lean in for a kiss, setting themselves free of all the baggage and restrictions of life, even for a moment.

Sumabay sa agos na isinulat ng tadhana. Minsan siya’y para sa iyo, pero minsan siya’y paasa. Tatakbo papalayo’t kakalimutan ang lahat…’”

Siege Ledesma, co-writer: “During conceptualisation stage pa lang ay kontrobersyal na yang eksenang yan sa amin sa writing team. Ang vision kasi ni Direk Jade para sa pelikula ay maging disruptive ito sa kung ano ang uso (ie. mga ‘romcom’ films pero drama at nihilistic naman ang ending, and mga mumblecore style na usap-usap lang, at ang pacing ay close to real life) – at ang isa na nga dito ay dapat sa mid-part ng pelikula ay magka-magical moment kung saan magki-kiss ang estranged leads who are basically still strangers to each other. Isa ako sa mga nag-‘No’ (haha!) dahil bilang direktor din, alam ko na mapapa-work lang yung kiss na yun kung mahusay yung pagkakasulat (na trabaho ko mainly), edit at acting ng mga leads during the ‘time apart’ nila, to warrant that cathartic moment. But I womaned-up to direk’s challenge, and happy ako na may mga naka-appreciate naman sa kinalabasan ng eksenang ni-risk at pinagpaguran namin.”

Jade Castro, co-writer/director:I read last year’s best film scenes in Pinoy Rebyu, and I’m amazed that many directors knew exactly what they want then got it. The kissing scene in LSS was the opposite: It was a dive into the unknown. We always knew there would be a point in the film when the two characters Zack and Sarah would meet again after a long yearning, but exactly when that would happen and what would transpire was the question that underwent a grueling process. There are maybe a hundred versions of this scene, from writing (In one draft, it happens out of town towards the end) to sound mixing (We tried it with the music drowned out when their lips lock – I hated it.) The first version of the edit made me cry the hardest but it was also probably too long.

At some point, I embraced the idea that it was going to be a love-it-or-hate-it scene no matter what because much of what we were doing in LSS was counterintuitive anyway; To do the film’s only kiss as both grand action and simple nice-to-see-you-again, during the characters’ lowest and ugliest, was a risk that scared and excited me. Gabbi Garcia’s management allowed us to do only one kissing scene, so it had to be special and memorable and surprising and true but at the same time structured in such a way that people won’t notice or care it was the only one. It was like an ending right smack in the middle of the film.

We had one rehearsal day with the actors to work on this scene. There are so many things loaded into that moment – both characters just had their hearts broken, the noise and happiness around them, etc. – that it was never going to be easy. But Gabbi and Khalil already have such a deep connection to each other that they were able to find a way to communicate through all that without using words. When I saw the honesty in it, I said yeah, we can shoot this.

We shot with one camera. Most people get shocked when they hear that. How do we shoot a concert scene with three or four pocket events within it with only one cam? We first shot and recorded Ben&Ben as if it were an actual gig. We had these mini-concerts everytime, so the music and the energy were always like lightning in a bottle. This one was in 19East, and we had a strict time limit because it was an expensive place. Then we shot the kiss and the walk leading up to it last. We cast Miko Livelo to play the guy in Big Ben costume as the final thing that was in the way of Zack and Sarah. We cast real friends for minor roles, and Miko, who directed Blue Bustamante, was perfect as a cosplayer. It was a tribute to a real Ben&Ben fan who showed up at a gig as the clock, so it wasn’t really intended as a symbol of anything, even though I liked how it serves as a clue to the way the film plays with time, where sometimes the events of an entire year just disappears or when all of life happens in a single song. I remember going home with my assistant director Chad and cinematographer Malay, all of us feeling good about what we shot that day. In editing, my producer Quark said the scene was ‘pure cinema’ but that’s an odd description for something that was a cloudy proposition all the way up to today, when I’m still not quite sure what people make of it.”

Christmas lights dance (Isa Pa, with Feelings)

John Tawasil, reviewer: “In a way, all romances are built on communication; Isa Pa With Feelings takes it a step further. There are two dance sequences in Isa Pa With Feelings set to JK Labajo’s ‘Buwan’: the first encapsulates the film’s theme of empathy and understanding, in that it is a genuine attempt to share an experience with someone else. Mara’s use of vibrations and light to make Gali feel the beauty she experiences while listening to music is an attempt to bridge their differences, an attempt to make someone experience the world the way they experience it. This gesture is initially rebuffed, but it pays off later in the second dance sequence, with a set dressed up by production designer Nestor Abrogena and lensed by cinematographer Tey Clamor to look like an aquarium – they are two lovers no longer living alone in their separate oceans, but dancing together in their shared space, a profoundly intimate intersection of worlds.”

Tey Clamor, cinematographer (from previous interview): “Because of the nature of the premise, the film relies heavily on visuals. Prime wanted to use light and water as a visual motif for the film. So, our visual design together with our production designer, Nestor Abrogena, focused mainly on those two elements. We created an aquarium-like world for both the characters as a metaphor to depict how they live in their own worlds and how they try to come out of their state of isolation.”

Jen Chuaunsu, co-writer: “When we pitched the concept to Black Sheep, the Christmas lights scene was part of the pitch. It was inspired by a YouTube video of a hearing girl signing the lyrics of a song to her Deaf friend. The hearing girl was signing with such emotion that it was quite moving–two people from two different worlds sharing a song together. The hearing girl was trying to make her Deaf friend feel included in the music festival. We wanted to capture the feeling of that video and everything it represented in our movie.

Through all the revisions that my co-writer, Katherine Labayen, and I did, the Christmas lights scene was always part of the script.

Initially, the scene was intended to be a kilig scene where she helps him experience the song through lights and sign language. But the scene gradually evolved and became tinged with heartbreak.

This is the moment where the audience expects them to kiss after they’ve been dancing and flirting with each other. But at the last moment, Gali pulls back and lets his fear and insecurity get in the way.

Prime wanted to tell the story of two people from two different worlds at the cusp of falling in love. We meet the characters at the beginning of their story, each struggling with their own issues, which keep them from taking the leap.

We wanted to say that despite our differences, we can all try to understand each other and connect.”

Prime Cruz, director: What struck me the most during our research for the film was that the Deaf community lived in their own unique and separate world. As a result of being excluded and isolated from the rest of mainstream society who communicated primarily through speech, they developed their own language and their own culture.

I wanted to illustrate this by dividing the movie into two worlds: Hearing and Deaf. Mara who inhabits the hearing world is visually represented by light. Gali who inhabits the Deaf world is visually represented by water.

Throughout the film, Gali and Mara try to bring each other into their respective worlds. Gali takes Mara to an aquarium store and buys her a fish. He brings her to a deaf party and signs to her underwater. Mara hangs christmas lights in Gali’s apartment as a doorbell substitute.

In the scene featured in this article, Mara surrounds the dance studio with Christmas lights, trying to substitute light for sound which Gali cannot experience. She dances with him, surrounded with music and light. She holds his hand and leans on his shoulder as she attempts to bring him into her world.

We shot this scene for 8 hours i think and we had to get the right reactions and the right shots because this was a major turning point in the movie and we had to execute it without dialogue. I talked to Carlo Aquino and Maine Mendoza and we went through the scene together. We talked about what their characters were feeling and how it changes throughout the scene. We decided not to overdo the scene in terms of acting. I didn’t want them to pantomime their feelings with overt facial reactions. We decided to go the ‘honest’ route where they just had to feel the emotions in the scene for real and trust the camera to show it. We shot the scene is mostly medium and medium close ups, using wide shots and close ups sparingly to highlight important emotional beats.”

(From previous interview): “Kumuha si Nestor (PD) ng isang guy na magsi-sequence sa Christmas lights. Nagagawa yun para sumabay sa music. Naka-sequence yun. Ginawa yun ni Mara para mas ma-feel ni Gali yung song kasi hindi niya nga naririnig. Nung shinoot namin yun, kumuha kami ng point of view ni Gali, saka point of view ni Mara, saka general point of view. Ganoon namin covered. Medyo madugo kasi film plays on perspective. Kaya pag cover ng isang eksena, lagi kaming may general coverage… yung tipikal. Meron kaming perspective on how Gali sees it and how Mara sees it. Ganoon sa Christmas lights scene. Majority ng shots kinuha namin sa perspective ni Gali. Kung paano niya nae-experience o kung paano niya nakita. Kaya POV niya si Mara nung namatay nang medyo matagal ang sound.”

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