J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Filipino Cinema ’17: Lily

This shape-shifting witch has become a popular Cebuano urban legend, but it should not surprise anyone to there is a man to blame for all her horrors. He did her wrong, but she would not be ignored. Her story will be told in a fractured, narrative-scrambling manner in Keith Deligero’s Lily (trailer here), which screens during the annual New Filipino Cinema series at the Yerba Buena Arts Center.

While hunting with a dubious friend, Mario Ungo nearly bagged a mythical sigbin, but one false step nearly did him in instead. Fortunately (or so it seems at the time), the titular Lily finds him. Hiding him in her room in a remote convent, where she seems to be a prospective novice, she nurses him back to health. Given all the time they spend together, it is not so surprising when Lily becomes pregnant with his son. Soon, they become a common law family unit, but Ungo is clearly uncomfortable and restless. Eventually, he leaves to find work in Manila, where he repeats the pattern with Jane, a stripper. Resenting his deceit and abandonment, Lily will come looking for him—and she is far more dangerous than he ever realized.

Or something like that. Deligero puts the film through a stylistic blender of jump cuts, flashbacks and flashforwards, lurid subliminal imagery, and poverty porn. To get an idea of the vibe, imagine if Khavn had remade Cat People as a hardcore music video. It definitely shares a kinship with aesthetically severe, experimental horror films, such as Khavn’s work and Dodo Dayao’s Violator, particularly with respects to the graphic visuals found in the former.

TV idol and rom-com movie star Shaina Magdayao certainly deserves credit for taking a chance on such an out-of-left-field departure. She is undeniably intense as the vengeful supernatural being, but she also connects with her tragic core. Rocky Salumbides is thoroughly despicable as Ungo, but in a believable way that helps the film get to where it needs to go. Natlileigh Sitoy also covers a lot of ground as the sultry but vulnerable Jane. Frankly, it is pretty impressive the cast registers at all, given the film’s jittery style and mondo extreme elements.

The regional mythos that inspired Lily is compelling stuff, but Deligero compulsively takes us out of the film by rubbing our noses in his experimental and bodily excesses. A small circle will be knocked out by his boldness, but for most viewers, less would have been more. Indeed, the sum of its more striking moments is greater than its whole. Recommended for those with adventurous tastes, Lily screens this Sunday (8/20) and Friday, September 1st, as part of New Filipino Cinema 2017 at the YBCA.

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