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QCinema presents the best of Southeast Asia

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THE QCINEMA International Film Festival ended this week, with its most elevated lineup since its eleven years of existence (and not just because this year’s theme was “elevated”).

What BusinessWorld took note of for this edition was the success that has befallen many of its Southeast Asian selections.

“This year, we welcomed over three times more foreign guests and international filmmakers compared to last year because of our programs,” Quezon City mayor Joy Belmonte said in a speech on closing night on Nov. 26.

Acclaimed films from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, and many more graced big screens around Metro Manila from Nov. 17 to 26.

Asian Next Wave, QCinema’s main competition program, has long highlighted the work of emergent Asian auteurs. This year, eight films were selected to compete, three of which this writer was able to catch.

TIGER STRIPESAmanda Nell Eu and her film Tiger Stripes won the Pylon for Best Picture at the QCinema awards night, adding to its accolades that include the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix. Ms. Eu also took home the prize for Best Director.

It is also no wonder the film is celebrated — it provides a unique Malaysian voice for the coming-of-age body horror genre. Twelve-year-old Zaffan, who starts getting her period, finds that the transition from girlhood to womanhood is horrific, or at least becomes so since it is treated as such by society.

While the film is Malaysia’s official entry to the Oscars 2024 International Film category, it sadly faces censorship issues in its home country. A shame, be cause for teenage girls in a conservative setting, Zaffan’s story could be cathartic, from her innocent playfulness to her feral frustrations about people.

GITLINGJopy Arnaldo took home the best screenplay prize for Gitling, which started its journey in Cinemalaya earlier this year and now rightfully takes its place among regional gems.

For using subtitles in a very unique, rewarding way, it deserves the screenplay nods it has gotten. Set in Bacolod, Gitling follows Jamie who is hired to be a translator for filmmaker Makoto. Mainly, Makoto speaks in Japanese while Jamie speaks in English, although she often uses her mother tongue Ilonggo and sometimes the national language Filipino.

Makoto and Jamie partake in this mishmash of language, coming from relationships that suffered from communication breakdowns. The two speak a lot and find themselves in romantic situations, and yet so much is left unsaid between them. And the subtitles fill the gaps!

INSIDE THE YELLOW COCOON SHELLFinally, Pham Thien An’s Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell, which won in QCinema’s cinematography category, injected the festival with a dose of calming, dreamlike meditation.

It places the (futile? confusing? meandering?) search for faith in its appropriate home in the slow cinema genre as a man travels from Saigon back home to a rural part of Vietnam where unanswered questions await.

While it is easy to get turned off by the religious talk, it does make sense in the context of the character trying to understand it all. Dinh Duy Hung’s cinematography has beautiful framing choices with lush landscapes and sources of light, letting viewers be both sleepy yet also transfixed.

Notably, the film will be added to Netflix on Dec. 11. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

Joseph Emmanuel Garcia




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