Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Himala (1982)

WHO:  Ishmael Bernal directed this.

WHAT: About five years ago, CNN selected ten films from Asia and the Pacific Region to compete in an online poll to determine the audience favorite all-time film from the region. Most of the ten selected titles should be well-known to, and probably frequently-seen by, most Western cinephiles. I'd seen seven and certainly heard of all but one: Himala, which translates to "Miracle".

That Himala was able to handily best established classics like The Seven Samurai and Pather Panchali, as well as widely-admired more recent films like Oldboy, Spirited Away and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, may be best explained by the mechanics of online polls and the social-media passion that can arise around an internationally-neglected cultural artifact, and that more broadly famous artworks might not have access to. (Does the Mona Lisa have a cult following?) But it's also a sign of the mismatched reputations of certain national cinemas' classics when placed next to the international 'canon' of great films.

One understandable instinct of a cinephile who finds a film she or he has never heard of winning a popularity poll might be to pooh-pooh it as a purely mainstream-appeal film, an equivalent to a mediocrity like The Shawshank Redemption winning audience polls despite critical indifference or disdain. In the case of Himala such a reaction is misplaced. I don't want to oversell the film, but it seems to me to have potential to be more like a Casablanca: appreciated greatly by audiences but also by critics, if they found their way to see the film. I really liked it myself but haven't the time to explain why, so I'll link to one of the few English-language reviews I've found, by critic Michael Mirasol.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 7:30 at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts.

WHY: It may seem incongruous that a thirty-year-old film has been selected to launch a five-day, 16 title program called New Filipino Cinema 2013. But scratch the surface and it's not so strange. As YBCA film curator Joel Shepard remarks in a just-published interview, he's screening a brand-new restoration that only just premiered in the Phillippines last Christmas. He points out that "it's new not only in that it's a new digital restoration, but it's new in the fact that film restoration itself is a relatively new concept in the Philippines. In general, they haven't done a good job of taking good care of their film history; but, there are a lot of efforts now to change that."

I highly encourage you to read the entire interview, conducted by the perceptive and knowledgeable Michael Guillén, as it not only provides fantastic context for the series as a whole and its potential for shedding light on a multifaceted, vibrant, and truly independent cinema scene in the often-overlooked archipelago, but more practically serves as a guide to which of the New Filipino Cinema selections might be particularly rewarding viewings this week. You might also look to Adam Hartzell, who highlights his own most-anticipated titles for the VCinema site.

HOW: Digital projection, preceded by a 6:30 PM reception for the festival.

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