Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The last few years has turned Cinemalaya into an actor’s showcase rather than a training ground for newer perspectives in local cinema. And this year is no exception. The lineup of actors ranged from the darkly comedic (Sharon Cuneta in “Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha"), an ensemble effort (as in the case of “Nabubulok” and “Baconaua”) or to the irrepressibly singular (Best Actress winner Angeli Bayani and Best Actor winner Noel Comia, Jr., and the other acting category winners, Dido de la Paz for “Respeto” and Yayo Aguila for “Kiko Boksingero”).
Simplicity can be deceptive. It’s something that can be said of the two winning performances — Bayani in “Bagahe” and Comia in “Kiko Boksingero.” The treatment they lend to their characters is understated, the emotional heft of their complex roles carried through glances and a few simple gestures.
With Bayani, who spends the most screen time in “Bagahe,” it is arguable that she is the movie, passively absorbing the abuses committed against her while contemplating the moral repercussions of her choices. Comia, on the other hand, exhibits a lived-in weariness as the titular boxer-in-training. Kiko is mostly left to his own devices yet he is earnest with the connections that he wants to forge with his absentee father, while coming to terms with his own loneliness. As his yaya, Aguila patiently holds out her heart for her young ward, kept at bay for they share no direct familial ties, except for the strong bond that they choose to give to each other.
Though there are several performers absent in this portfolio (some of them didn’t make it to the Cinemalaya press conference when this was shot), it is a snapshot of the range of talent displayed during the festival’s run, and one hopes that they will go on to inspire and impress more audiences outside the independent circuit.
Gina Alajar in “Nabubulok”
The characters in Sonny Calvento’s “Nabubulok” serve as fuel to a fire, walking in circles in their struggle to unravel the truth about a missing woman. Gina Alajar’s Ingrid is the spark that sets the whole thing in motion, roving the limits of her world while carrying a growing unease in her heart. She is many things at once: a concerned relative, a gossipy neighbor, a crusader of justice. She is both adamant and fearless at the same time, ready to cross lines — and the law — once her paranoia turns into anger. In one scene, she serves as a stand in for the audience, letting out a stream of expletives out of frustration against the justice system that’s supposed to be on her side. “Putang ina nilang lahat,” she says over and over as the world weighs down on her shoulders.
Jake Macapagal in “Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig”
Confusion reigns on Jake Macapagal’s face as he plays a hapless Cuyonon priest in “Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig,” unable to do anything to address a series of murders in his small town. His presence becomes a reminder of how religion can prove useless in the face of folly, especially when someone decides to play god, dispense justice, and take matters in their own hands. With a breakout role as an embattled father trying to make ends meet in Sean Ellis “Metro Manila,” and as a maligno ruler in HBO Asia’s original series “Halfworlds,” Macapagal’s turn as Father Romi in “Kuliglig” is another great addition to his filmography.
Angel Aquino in “Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig” and “Kiko Boksingero”
What is there left to do when you’re Angel Aquino? Having amassed a number of impressive turns since she began acting in 1996 (including roles in other Cinemalaya films such as “Donsol” in 2006 and “Sta. Niña” in 2012), she has inhabited almost every character imaginable. As Dolores in “Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig,” she becomes a fiery embodiment of wrath and loss. Aquino burns bright on the screen as a woman scorned, her cries of passion even reverberating off the screen. And briefly, in “Kiko Boksingero,” her cameo as a nurse lends a light touch to the film’s sobering perspective.
Shamaine Buencamino in “Bagahe”
Buencamino plays a glowering NBI officer in “Bagahe,” who doesn’t hide her disdain for the protagonist's criminal choices. Buencamino plays her role well, transitioning from neutrality to judgement and hatred once the criminal liability of her subject fully unravels. It is always a pleasure to watch Buencamino, having deployed her canny acting skills in other Cinemalaya films such as “Niño” (2011) and “Requieme” (2012), and more recently as the evil stage mother in “Bliss.” Even in small roles in films such as in “Ang Babaeng Humayo” and “Vince and Kath and James,” Buencamino makes an indelible mark, making her one of the most essential Filipino actresses of her generation.
Miggs Cuaderno in “Ang Guro Kong Hindi Marunong Magbasa”
It is an uneasy sight — yet an unerring reality — to see a child wield firearms. In “Ang Guro Kong Hindi Marunong Magbasa,” Cuaderno brings a quiet dignity to his role as a wayward sheep, taking up arms because the government has left people like him out of society and into its fringes. While “Guro” is not an easy film to watch, mostly due to faulty filmmaking choices and general narrative incoherence, Cuaderno and his band of fellow child actors make the best of their bits. Cuaderno himself is no stranger to Cinemalaya, having won a Best Supporting Actor award in his breakout role in “Quick Change” (2013) as a precocious boy speaking gay lingo and assisting his surrogate mother in her underground cosmetic surgery business.
Jameson Blake in “Nabubulok”
With only two films under his belt, Blake has been fortunate in getting roles that enable him to explore his capabilities as a young actor. In “Nabubulok,” despite scant lines and screen time, he reminds us why he won Best Supporting Actor in his debut in “2 Cool 2 B 4Gotten” in last year’s Cinema One Originals film festival. As a son stuck harboring a dark secret, Blake seethes with quiet desperation, proving that his triumphant debut isn’t just beginner’s luck.
Sharon Cuneta in “Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha”
It is undeniable that “Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha” is a film crafted with Cuneta in mind as its buoyant core. Cuneta shines in every scene, delivering every punchline with wry candidness. It’s been eight years since Cuneta appeared on screen in “Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love” in 2009, but she did appear in TV5’s “Madam Chairman” series to flex her potentially calcified comedic muscles. Cuneta’s big screen comeback is masterful, and the film, she admits, is a bittersweet love letter to all who have stuck with her despite her years of cinematic absence.
Jake Cuenca in “Requited”
It’s easy to forget that Cuenca has had an impressive acting experience when his man candy status comes up. He has drummed up quite an impression in ABS-CBN’s “Tayong Dalawa” (2009) as the other David Garcia Jr., and as the titular role in “Elias Paniki" (2010). Cuenca made a darker foray into acting with the Cinemalaya 2013 New Breed entry “Nuwebe,” which dealt with rape and incest. This year, he returns to the festival circuit in “Requited,” a road movie that deals with an emotive journey involving two friends. Cuenca ably hits the notes right as Matt, who chooses to leave his feelings unsaid while he faces his inner turmoil by going as far as he can from them.
Kiko Matos in “Ang Guro Kong Hindi Marunong Magbasa” and “Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha”
Matos has been a fixture of sorts in Cinemalaya since he debuted as Alex Medina’s online avatar in “Babagwa” (2013). This year, he returns with two films, “Ang Guro Kong Hindi Marunong Magbasa” and “Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha,” two wildly distinct films in terms of tone and treatment. Matos is almost negligible in “Guro,” appearing only as target practice for the film’s young rebels. But in “Pamilya,” Matos exudes Satanic machismo, seducing the women around him (even Cuneta, at some point) and using them for his own pleasure. Matos appears mostly as a romantic foil for Moi Bien’s comically magnetic househelp. Given Matos’ wicked charms, it’s hard not to see why Bien’s character falls head over heels for this cad.
Abra in “Respeto”
Many heralded Abra as a revelation in “Respeto,” the same way he arrived in the local hip-hop scene as a maverick. His role as a drug runner and wannabe rapper in Treb Montreras’ debut film — who has cut his teeth directing music videos for acts such as Ebe Dancel, Quest, and Sitti — seems only too perfect, with the role requiring someone who understands poetry to an almost mathematical point. This is Abra’s first lead role (he appeared in “Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles 2”) and it doesn’t show. Abra’s nuanced portrait of a struggling poet is striking and deeply compelling, and with the great Dido dela Paz to trade barbs with, being in good company only helps him to reach greater heights.
Yayo Aguila in “Kiko Boksingero” and “Bagahe”
As a women’s shelter psychologist in “Bagahe,” Aguila gives off a hint of both enthusiasm and fakeness to relate to the plight of her subjects, something opposite of her role in “Kiko Boksingero.” In the latter, a small, coming-of-age film, Aguila is the silent, steadfast pillar; a player who is almost relegated to the sidelines, but nevertheless is an important force in the titular character’s life. She starts out simply: worrying about Kiko getting home late or pushing him to eat vegetables, but Aguila understands that her role requires grace that is plain yet affecting. In the film’s quiet moments which she shares with Comia, there is a calm that washes over the proceedings. There are no words that need saying, only the palpable emotional connection that the two share. She is neither matronly or maternal, but rather a figure who will stand guard no matter what happens.