Rant and Rave: The crowd-drawing magic of MMFF 2023—Part One

Truly one for the books, the 49th MMFF is marked by timeless storytelling that attests to the profound influence of Philippine cinema.


For nearly five decades now, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has continuously celebrated stories that distinctly belong to the Filipino people. In its 49th edition, the festival grew into a spectacle that drew endless crowds of people back to the cinemas. Even after its three-week run, local theaters continued to screen these films, much to the public’s delight.

With two more movies added to its usual roster of eight, the festival commemorated events of the past and of fiction; from the woeful history and heroic ideals of GomBurZa, to the cunningly comedic extravaganza of Becky and Badette, MMFF 2023 did not hold back in showing the depth and diversity of Filipino talent and culture.

But while the selection of pictures was a promising sign of the Philippine film industry’s current state, the festival puts its filmmakers’ storytelling abilities up for discourse. In no particular order, The LaSallian reviews the ten films that made up MMFF 2023.

When I Met You in Tokyo, Lizelle

Take two award-winning actors with a chemistry so inextinguishable that two decades after their last film together, thousands of Filipinos still flock to the theaters to watch them in action. This is the MMFF formula that directors Rado Peru and Rommel Penesa eyed and set forth for When I Met You in Tokyo.

The iconic 70s love team of Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon reunites on the big screen as Azon and Joey, respectively. The two leads are as charming as ever, delivering such a natural performance that would make one wonder if they’re still going by the script or letting years of familiarity dictate their characters’ movements. But MMFF Best Actress Santos truly stands out for her undeniable versatility as an artist; from her physical comedy to her tormented whimpers, Santos simply remains a force of nature in the industry.

But apart from the stellar acting, there’s not much else to speak of highly. The film even attempts a subplot of a brewing romance between younger relatives back in the Philippines to pose a contrast to the straightforward romance of Azon and Joey. But this diversion feels forced into the picture, with the main storyline losing momentum into the second act and settling for a dragging pace throughout its remaining runtime. Although a delightful watch, When I Met You in Tokyo doesn’t really bring anything fresh nor compelling to the table.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Kampon, Julian

What undergirds King Palisoc’s latest horror film Kampon written by Dodo Dayao is the grief of two women—one is unable to have children because of her infertile husband, while the other is haunted by the death of her mother and now seeks revenge. When their lives converge one night, they uncover a troubled past leading them to the secrets of Clark Martinez (Derek Ramsay), a retired police officer. 

The film’s success lies in its capacity to craft a strange and unsettling environment stirred by the absurd and surreal elements reminiscent of the worlds explored by renowned horror filmmakers like Ari Aster and Jordan Peele. The film’s cinematography, led by Kara Moreno, and performances by Ramsay and Beauty Gonzales as Eileen take full spotlight as they transport viewers to its tragic world. But Kampon leaves more questions beyond its narrative and conflicts, resulting in an inconsistent storytelling that hurts bits of the film. Its attempt to cohere the history of the living and the dead ends in an incomplete and almost inconclusive resolution. 

But Kampon is a significant step toward the building of a genre that is yet to fully thrive in the country. Palisoc and Dayao’s vision of Filipino horror marred by the eerie experiences of a population is one that might encourage other filmmakers to explore, interrogate, and engage in the genre. 

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Becky and Badette, Elijah

Writer-director Jun Lana is distinguishable for his creatively comedic attacks interwoven with LGBTQIA+ themes through renowned works like Die Beautiful. This year’s Becky and Badette is no different. With timeless comedians Pokwang and Eugene Domingo headlining the film, audiences are treated to a night of laughter. But in between the catchy verses of Finggah Lickin’ is a pertinent reminder of the near paradoxical treatment queer people receive in the Philippines.

Becky and Badette is a prime example of a story of robbed opportunities, shown by stealing opportunities from the underprivileged and exploiting a minority just to seize one’s moment. A typical tale of two friends since time immemorial, the film features Vilma Santos-worshipping duo Becky (Domingo) and Badette (Pokwang) who always had a knack for performing—but not the privilege. The film heavily relies on the humorous delivery of its profound message; however, what the film had in premise needs better execution. The first 30 minutes feel excruciatingly long before the main plot line is finally introduced through a high school reunion that propels the duo to the life of their dreams. And though the film successfully underscores the growing influence of the queer community, it uses a lot of clichés in doing so. 

In the end, many questions are left unreconciled. For a movie that started strong with sparkling intros, the ending is quite lackluster, to say the least. 

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Rewind, Lei

Of broken family relationships and neglected love, John (Dingdong Dantes) meets with Lods (Pepe Herrera) with a plea for another chance in a life short-lived. Directed by Mae Cruz-Alviar, Rewind tackles realistic consequences in family dynamics: unfulfilling love, overridden ego, and unbearing selfishness leaving a curious trail of resentment or inspiration.

Lods’ role of granting John a second chance at life may be seen as an attempt at a Catholic symbolism of God’s will, but the movie proved witness that change is borne out of regret. We see this in John’s disrespect in work; his belief that his solitude overpowers Mary’s (Marian Rivera) dreams; and his later moments with Lods. A realistic premise is shown: man will discover his true desire when he has faced the risk of losing all things he has not desired enough. The movie raises the principle of the aftermath of death, providing a sense of comfort that, ironically, is fantasy-like. 

The truth is that Rewind isn’t a lesson for granting second chances, but instead a reminder to cherish the first chance we get to inspire and love family like it’s the only one we have—because it is. A tearjerker that’s beautifully portrayed by the actors, Rewind showed exactly just that.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

GomBurZa, Jose Miguel

Up-and-coming director Pepe Diokno reignites the embers of a fading story in GomBurZa. The historical film set in the Spanish colonial era details a retelling of the story of three secular priests wrongfully accused of sedition and would later be executed. Jose Burgos (Cedrick Juan) forefronts the birth of the Philippine revolution alongside Mariano Gomez (Dante Rivero) and Jacinto Zamora (Enchong Dee) with their act of martyrdom.

The atmosphere of the film brings audiences back hundreds of years through a spectacular set design and sound engineering. Voices are often isolated, making scenes more intimate and secretive as Filipinos try to avoid the Spaniards’ eyes, while the brilliant and purposeful cinematography further highlights the great divide between the two. Its enthralling screenplay is elevated by this year’s crowned MMFF Best Actor Juan—delivering grit and emotions that keep audiences interested throughout the runtime. While the pacing might be considered slow for a two-hour film, it holds one’s attention by carefully crafting the story of an uprising that would slowly grow in number. 

GomBurZa’s intricate narrative checks most boxes of a good historical film, but the inclusion of Spanish and Latin languages can become a bit sloppy and unnatural. Some character relationships are also not explored in favor of Burgos’ storyline, which makes for a confusing second half of the movie when the priests cross paths. Overall, the film’s exceptional highs make up for its lows; the stellar cast and their astounding representation of their roles make GomBurZa a must-watch.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

This is Part One of The LaSallian’s review of the films featured in the 49th MMFF. Continue reading about the remaining films in Part Two.

Elijah Duanan

By Elijah Duanan

Julian Rias

By Julian Rias

Jose Miguel Octavo

By Jose Miguel Octavo

Lei Ventenilla

By Lei Ventenilla

Lizelle Villaflor

By Lizelle Villaflor

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