Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Filipino Cinema ’14: Anita’s Last Cha-Cha

There is definitely a Summer of ’42 vibe going on here, but there are also key differences. For one thing, it is set in the Philippines and it is a shy tomboy who develops a crush deeper than mere puppy love on the village’s scandalous beauty. Love hurts in Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo’s Anita’s Last Cha-Cha (trailer here), which screens during New Filipino Cinema 2014 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

As a twelve year old girl, it is only natural Anita would have trouble relating to her strict mother, ironically named Lolita, but the tensions between them have gotten even worse since her beloved father passed away one year ago. She is relatively happy playing kids’ games with the husky Goying and the future diva, Carmen, but she knows she wants something different.

She recognizes it when she first sees Pilar, a striking woman with a notorious past. After ten years living in Manila, she has returned to their northern hamlet. Anita’s mother does not think much of Pilar, but her friends are intrigued by her air of mystery, while she is downright smitten. However, unbeknownst to Anita, Pilar was once romantically linked to her cousin Oscar and has eyes to rekindle their affair.

Although Cha-Cha is likely to find most of its programming love on the GLBT festival circuit, it will still hold the interest of viewers (or at least guys) who are as straight as a rail, thanks to model-turned-thesp Angel Aquino’s dramatic presence. She has an earthy sexuality that makes an impression, but she also shows some nice comedic chops in Anita’s over-the-top fantasy interludes.

Yet, it is new-comer Teri Malvar who is really the film’s lead. She is terrifically likable and expressive, conveying all that tweener awkwardness. If she wants, she could have a long screen career ahead of her. In fact, Bernardo shows an assured touch (or a run of good luck) when it comes to eliciting strong performances from her young cast-members. As the bratty but fundamentally sweet-natured Carmen and Goying, both Len-Len Frial and Solomon Mark De Guzman are pretty spot-on.

Frankly, Cha-Cha’s most conspicuous shortcomings are Bernardo’s flawed wrap-around segments framing the guts of the film. Indeed, the intro (featuring the adult Anita serving as a drill instructor) is inappropriately jokey and cheap looking, whereas the coda lays on the running-through-fields-of-clover fantasy sequences far too heavily.

Nevertheless, Barnardo is quite surefooted avoiding didacticism. The drama here revolves around the universal experience of deeply digging someone, who does not return or even recognize that ardor. It is a serious bummer, but that happens in life. A modest but sensitive tale of youthful love, Anita’s Last Cha-Cha is recommended for those appreciate coming of age films of all stripes when it screens this Saturday night (6/14) as part of the YBCA’s annual New Filipino Cinema series.