The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Cesar Montano, a superior story teller

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By Gigi Javier-Alfonso

I said of his first movie which was titled “Mananabas”: “Cesar Montano does have the talent for telling stories and using film language. It shows that he meticulously thinks of his audience.” But I strongly commented on his making use of images in this film which he thinks an action film should have and that puts him back to the usual Philippine action formula. The tested action formulas do not to rock the boat… a hero who is a victim of super harshness, the “anting-anting,” the powerful “maginoo” as oppressors, the “paghihiganti” which brings justice into his own hands, the warehouse scene ideal for the big production scene.

But his manner of visually telling the story is superior. He has done this again in “Panaghoy sa Suba.” I declared when I first saw his work that “I am whole-heartedly anticipating his next works and his development as a director. He visualizes his shots as a very concerned artist (he is a painter). His narrative has skipped linear story telling. I am also excited with the fact that he is not afraid of having an active camera and an intimate one at that. I awaited the time when he matures into an artist who makes his works delve into deeper issues and concerns.”

Cesar has matured as a director. It was a wise decision to use the Visayan language for his movie “Panaghoy sa Suba which means “call of the river.” It certainly helped in capturing the beat and the spirit of the time, place and the way of life of a people at that particular point of a community’s history. “Panaghoy sa Suba” is a story set in a village in Central Visayas during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. The river was the main means of transport and livelihood. Here is where different characters of different cultures meet.

Cesar is Duroy, a guerrilla who loves the river and is in love with an attractive woman played by Juliana Palermo who is dominated by her parents. Palermo does very well in performing the part of a hesitant, dominated woman. Jacky Woo plays a Japanese officer who is in love with the same woman.

There is a strong support cast that makes the narrative keep moving with a very rich texture. They are Caridad Sanchez, Joel Torre, Daria Ramirez, Ronnie Lazaro, Suzette Ranillo, Rommel Montano, and Rebecca Lusterio who give a sensitive performance.

Bohol has a very strong program for culture and environment. They have launched strong projects in eco-tourism. The many beautiful scenes and the insert of images of the tarsier remind us of the endangered animals in virgin forests.

Cesar has successfully brought to the big screen a film that gives importance to areas that are far from Metro Manila. This brings forth the issue of giving space to those who have not been talked about in the mainstream movies for the past many years. The renewed push for the independent filmmakers and new producers as the new face of Philippine cinema is about to happen. There is also that awareness that big budgets do not necessarily mean good films. This may help… but in the case of “Panaghoy sa Suba,” we feel the prevailing enthusiasm of the new filmmaker as the master of telling stories in sounds and images. It also wants to say that there are still many stories to tell about people and their lives. And that we do not have to get stuck in the same mold and genres that we are used to.

The big budgets are okay. But the more important concern is the story. The material that the film stands on is what we should be concerned about. Is it grounded on our experiences as Filipinos? Is it true to the beat of the community that we live in?

The writer of the screenplay of “Panaghoy sa Suba” must be given praise. Cris Vertido was a professor at the University of the Philippines for many years. He was in faculty of speech and theater department and became the chairperson of film and audio visual communication Department of College of Mass Communication, also in UP Diliman. He is a very accomplished actor and director for stage and he did work as writer for television. My last encounter with him was at work when I was directing a television drama and he was working with community theater. His life was then devoted to grassroots community work. It is no surprise that he comes out with good works for the big screen.

I am extremely enthusiastic about Cesar and Cris’ doing films together. Congratulations for the numerous MMFF awards. And I really am very happy that all the actors did not use makeup in “Panaghoy sa Suba.” It is so refreshing.

“Sights and Sound,” Philippine Daily Tribune