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

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


The year 2023 saw the best and the burgeoning talents in the world of Filipino filmmaking. But the MMFF capped the year on a triumphant note as it achieved unprecedented gross sales, breaking the festival’s 2018 record of P1.06 billion. This success prompted the festival’s extended run for another week. As more families made their way to the theaters, the country’s film scene proved to be as vibrant as ever—and perhaps even more radiant as it soars to greater heights. The LaSallian delves into the other half of the MMFF 2023 lineup.

Penduko, Jaime

Based on Francisco Coching’s Filipino comic book character, Jason Laxamana’s Penduko reintroduces the classic superhero in the realm of modern films. It starts off on a promising note, weaving cultural elements seamlessly into its narrative. However, the rushed pacing and the lackluster acting eclipse the strong suits of what could’ve been a hit film. 

Pedro Penduko (Matteo Guidicelli), the son of a renowned healer, joins an underground organization for people with supernatural abilities. His dilemma unfolds as he wrestles between the choice of healing victims of witchcraft and using sorcery to defeat the forces of evil. 

Compared with previous adaptations, Guidicelli lacked the charm that former incarnations of Penduko had. The supporting characters were underdeveloped and forgettable, merely existing as props to the hero’s story arc. The overly intricate Filipino screenplay paired with an unnatural delivery disengages the audience even further, turning supposedly epic moments into cringe-inducing experiences. As for the final nail in the coffin, the film culminates in a weak cliffhanger ending that felt like a shameless setup for a potential sequel.

Ambitious but poorly executed, the film leaves its viewers with a half-baked product. In an era where films drawn from Filipino comics have become rare, the shortcomings of Penduko sting even more, leaving the audience with a sense of missed potential. 

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Mallari, Maxinne

With attractive period recreations coated in vibrant hues, dynamic cinematography, and an experimental premise traversing spirituality through time travel, director Roderick Cabrido’s Mallari is one of the more striking entries this year. In it, Piolo Pascual dons three faces–those of real-life priest and serial killer Juan Severino Mallari, and two fictional descendants plagued by his actions: John Rey, a 1940s documentarian, and Jonathan, a present-day doctor seeking to thwart premonitions of his fiancée dying. 

While ambitious, Mallari does not make the most out of its potential. The actors are outstanding, but the fear factor needs elevation in many aspects, particularly audio. Creative sound design can lead audiences forward with trepidation, building tensions and raising hairs. However, the film relies on overbearingly shrill and thunderous noises accompanying very in-your-face jump scares.

Thematically, what makes Mallari intriguing does not translate from page to screen. For a story on generational burdens and self-determination, it would have benefitted from an inward-looking motivator instead of a doomed love interest; perhaps a psychological look into how a man can destroy himself chasing ghosts or compelling commentary on the Church’s bloody history. The latter was almost brought into fruition through Lucas (JC Santos), an extremely conservative deacon in training who believes he has the authority to deem certain people’s lives as worthless, including a queer sex worker.

Instead of pondering its message, audiences might leave the cinema wondering what Mallari could have been. Still, it certainly is a catalyst for an evolution in the Filipino horror genre. 

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Family of Two (A Mother and Son Story), Julia

At the helm of previous family melodramas such as Family Matters and Miracle in Cell No. 7, director Nuel Naval and writer Mel Mendoza Del Rosario have teamed up anew in hopes of recreating the same heartrending impact of films that center on filial piety. Family of Two revolves around a single mother, Maricar (Sharon Cuneta), and her only son, Mateo (Alden Richards), as they learn how to live outside of their familial obligations. 

The film strays away from the heavy-laden plots of large family reunions and focuses instead on the more intimate dynamics of a single mother and her son. This approach, however, falls short of delivering a truly tear-jerking narrative. In its attempt to be a lighter, more feel-good version of a single mother arc, the film’s climax fails to immerse the audience in the struggle between mother and son, making the eventual tearful display of Cuneta and Richards appear a touch too dramatic for viewers.

But one of the film’s commendable qualities is the deft restraint of Del Rosario in interweaving the protagonists’ subplots as these aptly addressed their individual struggles without sacrificing the mother and son focus of the story. Eventually, the film redeems itself with its ending and the masterful performances of Cuneta and Richards. Both contributed to a satisfactory conclusion that delivers the film’s message of building a life outside of the mother-and-son bubble. 

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Broken Hearts Trip, Lizelle

Lemuel Lorca makes his MMFF debut with Broken Hearts Trip, a story that follows five queer individuals looking to patch up their broken hearts as they enter the titular reality competition. For such a character-driven story, the film takes a gamble in casting niche artists in the entertainment industry. Each of the actors naturally embodies their characters, but it is long-time comedian Petite’s performance as a selfless single dad that truly stands out and moves the audience to tears.

However, recruiting a fun ensemble of actors is not enough to save this film from its shortcomings. Learning about the contestants’ past experiences with heartbreak successfully keeps the audience emotionally invested during the movie’s first 30 minutes. This early momentum gets squandered when the characters start jumping from one location to the next; the story becomes too rushed for its own good. The group endures physically strenuous challenges that are ultimately meaningless for their characters’ brokenhearted arc. As the contestants face their final moments on the show, the audience is left underwhelmed and disinterested in the ending written for each of the characters.

At its best, Broken Hearts Trip is a touching portrayal of the inevitable pains that spring from queer love. But overall, the film is marred with a lackluster plot that ultimately fails to make its profound message stick with the audience. 

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Firefly, Sam

Upon the loss of a loved one, grief manifests in personal manners. Testament to this is Zig Dulay’s Firefly, a family picture that follows children’s author Anthony Alvaro (Dingdong Dantes), as he retraces the etched legacy of his late mother Elay (Alessandra De Rossi) in his namesake award-winning fairytale. In a series of flashbacks and prolepses, young Anthony (Euwenn Mikaell), endearingly called Tonton, navigates loss and rebuilds loyalty on his trip toward the mythical Isla ng mga Alitaptap or “Firefly Island”. 

This story of an orphaned son proves that what dies does not stay dead—Elay’s shelved dreams to teach her son about bravery come to life through his son’s adventures. As common as the togethered strangers trope may be, it is a trope well executed in Firefly. With the help of chanced company turned found family, Tonton brings his mother’s stories to life as they decipher the landscapes of the Bicol region pictured in her epic-like characters of fairies and giants. 

Firefly pioneers an authentic revival of the Philippine alamat. With a successful employment of playful storytelling and a well-fitted soundtrack of Eraserheads’ Alapaap, the 49th MMFF Best Picture serves novelty while refusing to forego sentimentality. It comes with no doubt that the film changes Filipino cinema’s attitude toward seemingly juvenile concepts. Firefly changes the go-to adjective for the family genre from childish to childlike—lightheartedly hopeful.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

From the eerie tales of mysterious barrio killings in the 1800s to the magical excursions of a bereft son in search of a firefly, the latest edition of MMFF reminded everyone why Philippine cinema deserves to be celebrated. There was a movie that spoke to every Filipino. And despite some flaws in storytelling, in the end, nothing can truly take away the richness and diversity of the stories this proud nation has to tell.

Jaime Lallana

By Jaime Lallana

Carelle Samson

By Carelle Samson

Maxinne Vianca Tomas

By Maxinne Vianca Tomas

Samantha Ubiadas

By Samantha Ubiadas

Lizelle Villaflor

By Lizelle Villaflor

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