Movies & TV

How These Filipino Films Align With Oscars 2021's Frontrunners 

Themes and ideas in Filipino cinema match with Hollywood’s best.
IMAGE IMDB/ Plan B, Stage 6 Films
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The Academy Awards in the Philippines are a tenuous thing. Since it airs during the daytime in the Philippines, it is common to discuss it over lunch break at work, but usually most haven’t seen any of the nominees. This is truer this year, given the complete shuttering of cinemas with no end in sight. Which is unfortunate, as more than any other year, 2021 is when ideas in Filipino filmmaking seem to have aligned with Hollywood. Here are three double features featuring Oscar frontrunners and their Filipino counterparts.

Surreal Experiences of Women Living in a Man’s World

Promising Young Woman/ Babae at Baril

Promising Young Woman and Babae at Baril are perhaps the most closely linked film of these double features. Both feature similar jumping-off points, in which a woman wronged by the world decides to take matters into her own hands. Babae at Baril is about a department store clerk whose life changes after she finds a gun, while Promising Young Woman is about a med school dropout who plays dead at nightclubs to attract men and teach them a lesson. 

Both films are the result of women carving their own way, with Promising Young Woman’s Margot Robbie producing for first-time director Emerald Fennell, and Babae at Baril’s Rae Red directing with cinematography from Tey Clamor. 

In an interview with Cinema Escapist, Red shares: “I interviewed a few department store salesladies to get a somehow accurate depiction of what they go through. [From] what I’ve gathered, a lot of their experiences have some sort of equivalence to mine, [and the experiences of many other] women I know. There is a common ground to women’s experiences, especially those who belong in the same class.” 

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Fennell echoes similar, yet contrasting statements. “What I wanted to do is try to write a film about how an ordinary woman might take revenge in the real world, and that's very rarely reaching for a gun,” she says in an interview with Coup De Main. Despite this, Babae at Baril and Promising Young Woman both depict the perilous and surreal experience of a woman living in a man’s world.

New Faces of the American Dream

MinariYellow Rose

Much has been made about Minari’s branding. The film tells the story of an immigrant Korean family who moves to Arkansas in the ’80s in search of agricultural opportunities. While some claim it as a Korean film, it has been labeled an American film for its focus on the American Dream and was indeed produced by American companies a24 and Plan B. 

Meanwhile, Yellow Rose is about Filipina would-be country musician whose mother is abducted by ICE. In contrast to Minari, however, director Diane Paragas stresses that it only came to be thanks to Filipinos. “What finally turned the tables was when I stopped asking permission from white male Hollywood. I went to my own community,” she says in a panel moderated by Variety’s Jazz Tangcay. “The film was financed by a Filipino company and Filipino private equity investors. That’s who said yes. I did not have to convince them. We found each other.” Both Minari and Yellow Rose aim to show a new face of the American Dream. 

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Political Realities and Cinematic Heritage

Judas and The Black Messiah/ Midnight in a Perfect World

Variety profile revealed that, as early as 2014, writers Kenny and Keith Lucas were pitching their film about the brutal political assassination of Fred Hampton as “The Conformist meets The Departed.” As such, Judas and the Black Messiah exists heavily within the context of the political thriller. 

Midnight in a Perfect World is a dystopian sci-fi horror thriller about a city with mysterious blackouts where something lurks in the darkness. A Blade Runner/Alien-esque nocturnal trudge, director Dodo Dayao uses flashy cinematography and subverts genre tropes to comment on political issues like martial law, EJKs, and everything in between. “Genre films give you aesthetic wiggle room to literalize impossible ideas,” he says in an interview with NME. Though Midnight in a Perfect World exists within a more fantastical framework, both films utilize cinematic heritage and language to address and discuss vicious modern-day political realities. 

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