There's this Pinoy indie film that you've probably been hearing about since last year. It's been quietly garnering awards left and right from different film festivals abroad as well as our very own Gawad Urian Awards. It was given a grade of "A" by the Cinema Evaluation Board and was rated "R-18" without cuts by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. (With SM Cinemas refusing to show R-18 movies in their theaters, I'm guessing it's probably been a while since you caught one in a movie house, right?). This movie's release has been threatened by online piracy and has had to struggle to get cinemas to screen it for audiences.
The film I'm talking about is Jun Robles Lana's Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan and it's finally enjoying limited release in certain theaters in Metro Manila as well as Davao. You're probably wondering what the fuss is all about and if it's even worth watching at all. Before we delve into the movie a bit more, I think it demands to be said that Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan is unlike any movie you've seen before.
Why bother convincing people to watch your movie
when your poster already speaks for itself?
Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan (or Shadow Behind the Moon as it's being called overseas) is set in Marag Valley during an armed conflict between the Philippine Army and communist insurgents in the early '90s. Caught in the middle are three people: Emma (LJ Reyes), her husband Nardo (Anthony Falcon), and the couple's friend Joel (Luis Alandy) who also happens to be a soldier. When I say caught in the middle, I mean that in the literal sense because much of the movie happens in an old and rundown shack right smack in the middle of what is known to be "no man's land".
That's as much as I'm going to tell you about the plot of the movie because a big chunk of the satisfaction audiences will get when watching it is finally figuring out what it's all about. I spent the first 30 to 45 minutes of the movie wondering what I had gotten myself into as I listened to the actors philosophize about war, morality, and love. But I watched the rest of the movie in awe and found myself applauding with the rest of the audience when it was finished.
There are a lot of impressive things about Anino, but the one you'll probably be hearing about the most is that it was done all in one shot for two hours. No cuts. One continuous shot. Can you imagine how difficult that would be? Although many would assume for that to be the case, it apparently wasn't the way the movie was filmed. It was done in a span of five days but the makers of the film were able to hide the cuts through clever editing and camera movement. The same thing was done for Oscar-winning movies such as Birdman and The Revenant by Alejandro González Iñárritu. With the lines of the movie being more theatrical than cinematic, it gives the audience the impression that they are right there in the room with the characters and everything was happening in real-time.
They probably hated it when someone sneezed in the middle of a scene
and they had to do that take and get into character all over again
As the script is dialogue-driven, it was up to the actors to bring to life the story that writer and director Jun Robles Lana had in mind. Credit goes to Luis Alandy and Anthony Falcon for being able to deliver emotionally-charged performances but it's great to know that LJ Reyes was recognized by different award giving bodies for this movie. She actually won the Best Actress award from Gawad Urian this year and she definitely deserves it. She had very emotional scenes in this movie that required her to really get into character. In the colloquial parlance, one might say na ang lalim ng hugot ni LJ Reyes dito. You might watch the movie and find faults in their performances but that would be like watching Kobe Bryant's 81-point performance and complain that he had only two assists. Wala ka nang kakuntentohan niyan.
Tensions start to rise when LJ accuses Luis of eating
the last piece of porkchop. No, not really
There's also that much talked-about 10-minute sex scene in the movie that you have to prepare for. Usually when sex scenes are presented in cinema, it's done through different angles. Close up of a woman's back. Close up of the couple kissing. It's all done very stylishly that you get the impression that they're making love though you never get to see anything really. It's just scene after scene of limbs tangled with each other. Now how do you film something like that when the movie is supposedly shot all in one take? What you get is a sex scene that happens in real-time which can become quite graphic but also very raw and honest.
The movie's look is reminiscent of those old VHS videos
you would steal from your father's closet
I applaud Jun Robles Lana for doing a movie like this. He had a unique vision on how he wanted his story to be presented and it seems to have played out the way he wanted it to. Knowing that it would be rated R-18 by the MTRCB, he most likely knew that the movie might not enjoy commercial success but he did it anyway. He could have made compromises, but it would probably diminish the tensions and emotions he wanted the audience to feel. At first I was disoriented by the fact that he used a 4:3 aspect ratio with a grainy resolution. It felt like watching an old VHS tape you found somewhere in your basement. But once you get the hang of it, you come to realize that it works well for a tension-filled movie about lies and deceit.
As someone who writes about movies, I can say that I've seen quite a lot of films. Some of them you forget immediately once you leave the cinema, some of them you forget about after a few weeks. However, there are a rare few that remain ingrained in your mind for a long time. Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan is one of them. I recommend the movie to anyone who's willing to try something that's a bit different, something you haven't seen previously from our local film industry. It's currently showing in Robinsons Galleria, Robinsons Metro East, Festival Mall, and Gateway as well as Gaisano cinemas in Davao, Toril, Tagum, and Digos so do catch it if you can. Let's all support Philippine cinema and allow our filmmakers to tell the stories they want to tell.
9/10. While it's not a perfect movie and is probably not for all audiences, it's uncompromising and will probably be remembered by those who saw it for a long time.
Rey de la Cruz Jr. likes talking about films as much as he likes watching them. He runs www.reyview.org, a site that provides Filipino moviegoers with reviews written in a voice that is uniquely Pinoy.
[Editor's Note: A previous version of this review stated that the movie was done in one continuous take. The good people behind Anino brought to our attention that the film was actually shot in five days. Changes have been made to this review to reflect those comments.]