The QCinema Film Festival formally opened Sunday at the Dolby Atmos Theater Cinema 5 of Gateway Mall with simple rites led by Mayor Joy Belmonte, who originally conceived of this festival seven years ago. This year's festival boasts of more than 70 local and foreign films, new award-winning festival releases and revisted local classics.
The Asian New Wave section is the main feature film competition selection, with three Filipino entries, along with five more from other Asian neighbors (Thailand, China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Laos). Previously only a line-up of all Filipino films were in competition. There is also a separate competition for local shorts and documentaries.
Last year, QCinema opened with "Shoplifters" from Japan, which had won the Palm d'Or 2018. This year, in recognition of the 100th year anniversary of Philippine cinema, the organizers decided to invite a Filipino film to be the opening film of QCinema for the first time. This is "Untrue," written and directed by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, her follow-up after her mega-hit "Kita Kita" (2016).
In "Untrue," two Filipinos happen to meet by chance in Tbilisi, Georgia. Mara Villanueva, 35, just arrived three months ago, and is now working as kitchen staff in a resto-bar. Joachim Castro, also 35, had been living in Georgia for five years now, and is an investor in a vineyard for grapes used for wine. After a whirlwind 3-month courtship, they tied the knot in Sighnaghi, Georgia's "city of love." One night, Mara, with her face swollen black and blue, shows up at the local police station, looking for her missing husband.
From the very start, Bernardo never let us feel that the match of Mara and Joachim was made in heaven. Instead of being romantic, the story of how the two met in their common apartment building was executed as if it was a crime thriller, if not an outright horror film. The foreboding musical score, the skewed camera angles, bluish color filter and dim lighting all told us that something very wrong was about to happen. The unfamiliar Georgian culture -- the Kartlis Deda statue, the Kartuli folk dance and an all-male singing quintet -- added further dramatic heft to thicken the tension.
Cristine Reyes and Xian Lim both looked like they were having a blast playing two extremely different versions of their psychologically challenged characters. Lim's portrayal of a heavyset, bearded Joachim and his lunacy was so over-the-top, in-your-face dark, it was entertaining despite the grim story being told. Reyes's portrayal of pixie-cut, red-haired Mara and her lunacy was more restrained in acting style, but still in complete contrast with the Mara in Act 1. Rhen Escano played the key (and very daring) role of school girl Ana, a ghost from a troubled past who persisted to haunt the present.
The first act of the film was their story told from the point of view of Mara as she was being interviewed by the police officer. Unexpectedly, the second act also told the same story, this time from the point of view of Joachim as he was being interviewed by his therapist. By this time, the whole film took the form of a major mind game, as roles and lines were switched from one character to the other. This part was actually a lot of fun to watch.
Up to this point, your mind would have already been all messed up, not knowing whose version was actually the truth. Then the third act unfolded to tell us what really happened before and was happening now.
After that tense build-up of Acts 1 and 2, the momentum did sag a bit here because of a rather lengthy explanatory flashback. However, as things go back to present events, the pace would eventually pick right back up and wrap the whole film up with an effectively stunning twist.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."