10/30/2015

Playground legend

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It may be easy to think that our local industry only has two kinds of films. On one hand, we have the ultra-serious, expertly done think pieces. Films such as Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan and On the Job all commit to its large (and often dark) scope and delve into the gritty-dirty elements of the genre. These are all remarkable for sure but these films are, more often than not, serious as f*ck.

On the other hand, most of our big budget commercial films go way beyond campy. These run-of-the-mill movies with their overused jokes, plotlines and actors flood the local movie scene offering the same thing year in and year out. It’s recycled hash that gets thinner and thinner and thinner.

Is it possible to have another kind of film here? One that has as much passion and heart as the serious films but also aims to be fun, family-friendly in a way that doesn’t become dumb or campy?

A couple of days ago, I finally saw the film I’ve been waiting to see these last couple of months. Nope, it wasn’t a foreign drama or a Hollywood blockbuster. After surviving EDSA a.k.a. Fury Road, I made it to the screening of Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo.

Directed by Mihk Vergara and showing as part of the QCinema International Film Festival, Patintero is a charming coming-of-age film. The story revolves around a young grade schooler, Meng Francisco (played brilliantly by Nafa Hilario Cruz), a patalo (loser) who is determined to prove her mettle in the brutal playground game of patintero. The movie is reminiscent of pop-culture classics such as Mighty Ducks and Little Giants — films that center on a group of misfit kids who band together to overcome the odds.

It’s surprising that we don’t have more films like Patintero. Filipinos love nothing more than underdog stories, and we have a wealth of young child actors, but oddly enough they never get to shine on their own as most of these kids only star in slapstick comedies or serious dramas. Maybe that’s why Patintero feels so fresh while still maintaining a sense of nostalgia that appeals to viewers of every age. It succeeds in making a fun, escapist film that has just as much brains as it does heart.

Patintero does for coming-of-age stories what Tonette Jadaone has done for local rom-coms. It doesn’t feel like it came out of a cold corporate movie factory. Given its lack of budget and big cinema support, the film accomplishes what most of our commercial films often fail to do: presenting a truly authentic movie. It keeps to its own little world and this gives the story integrity. There are no random product placements or tacky joke-of-the-day skits here — the film proves that not having much support from the outside doesn’t excuse us from not making great films. Especially impressive was how well the entire team of Patintero succeeded in making the film fun, which sounds harder than it looks. I can’t even remember the last time that a local film made me enjoy it so much while feeding my brain at the same time. Patintero wears its heart on its sleeve and delivers a great and clever film for every age.

According to a whisper here or there, Patintero, or at least a version of it, was supposed to be part of Cinemalaya but it was cut at the last minute. Well, Cinemalaya’s loss is clearly QCinema International Film Festival’s gain — while I wish there was more support for Patintero, I’d argue that the rejection works in its favor. The film itself, after all, talks about being rejected, being left out, feeling like the world is against you — I’m sure being that close to Cinemalaya and falling short gave the Patintero team more than enough inspiration for the film. The film might be about losers but Patintero is definitely a winner.

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