by Philbert Ortiz Dy
It’s about time. Almost a year after its initial release, and having already made waves abroad, Confessional finally gets a proper release at home. And for the most part, it was worth the wait. This film is like a breath of fresh air in the smog of formulaic, poorly made star-driven films being churned out by local studios. Young and energetic, quick and inventive, Confessional is a fine example of where our local cinema ought to be heading, if everything goes right.
Ryan is a video editor and part-time videographer who’s become jaded about all the lies present in modern life. He takes a trip to Cebu with his girlfriend, Monet, to see the Sinulog festival. There, he starts filming a documentary about the festival for a contest. Along the way, he interviews a bunch of people about the history of the festival. But things take a left turn when he interviews Lito Caliso, a former mayor of a town in Mindanao, who’s convinced of his own impending death. He then begins to confess all his crimes to Ryan’s camera, and Ryan, finally faced with the truth, finds himself unprepared.
There’s a lot of cleverness in this script. Great, realistic dialogue mixed with some fantastic thematic writing all with a testy postmodern sensibility. It can feel a little too-cool-for-school, but it manages to stay true to itself by never forgetting about the honesty of the sentiment. The emphasis is still on the characters, the little eccentricities that give their struggles weight and meaning. It’s really great when the film goes and develops little moments, like Lito showing Ryan around his house, or Monet doing a magic trick. Some of the best lines in this movie are throwaway lines that only begin to reveal their depth upon reflection. The film also manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, which is a really good thing.
It’s the filmmaking that will really grab your attention however. The film is brimming with style. Shot somewhat like a documentary, the movie feels that much more real. What really sets this film apart is the editing, which is just phenomenal. The editing really gives the film its unique feel, keeping things moving and generally ensuring that there’s always something interesting on screen. There are times when things teeter over to the side of self-indulgence, but the film mostly keeps itself in check. The film also makes great use of its soundtrack, which really serves to enhance every scene.
The acting is all pretty good. The film’s lead actor is Jerrold Tarog, who also co-directed, edited, and scored the film. He doesn’t do anything explosive in the role. Instead he keeps it natural and real, and it’s a pretty good performance all in all. But the main attraction here is Publio Briones III, who plays Lito Caliso. As the former mayor, Briones is absolutely captivating. He adds so many little touches that help bring the character to life, and you find yourself rooting for him no matter what he says. The rest of the cast keeps it simple, and it all works very well.
This is the kind of film that we ought to be making. It’s original, it’s intelligent, and it’s really well made. It’s kind of amazing that we’ve had to wait so long for a proper release for this film, while dozens of lesser films make it into our cinemas every week. Confessional bodes well for Philippine cinema as a whole, and people really ought to be seeing it. It gets a high recommendation from me.