Monday, July 01, 2013

NYAFF ’13: Aberya

A Filipino-American boxer says he can take Pacquiao.  Those are fighting words in the Philippines.  However, Lourd Villegas has not come to spar.  He is looking for love, plus a little side action in Christian Linaban’s Aberya (trailer here), which screens this afternoon as part of Manila Chronicles, the Filipino cinema programming focus at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Villegas came to his parents’ homeland looking for a bride.  He thinks he may have found her, but he has also lined up women for every other day of the week.  He explains as much to viewers, but he is not really talking to us.  He is just in the habit of narrating his life as if it were a film.  One might logically assume he will be our central protagonist, or at least our focal anti-hero.  However, Linaban will fracture his narrative and timeframe, giving us backstory on three other characters, whose fates will intertwine with Villegas.

Villegas thinks Eden is the one.  He is ready to marry her, fully knowing the unemployed nurse has a weird pagan sex tape floating around the internet.  Of course, his idea of commitment is rather problematic.  Angel is one of the women he would like to spend some quality time with right now.  The former nun has a dark past—real, real dark.  Through her dodgy associations, she comes in contact with Mike, a politician’s prodigal son dealing drugs and liberally sampling his designer wares.  Having apparently read too much Aldous Huxley, Mike is trying to warp time and reality through his special stock.  In doing so, he may have attracted supernatural attention.

Aberya is a dashed difficult film to get one’s head around.  It is hard to tell whether Linaban is going for hipster irony, cult-movie trippiness, or class-conscious tragedy.  The wacked out, old school vintage low budget 1980’s look of Mike’s hallucinations further complicate such judgments.

At least Aberya is definitely something, bolstered by two genuinely intense performances from Will Devaughn and Iwa Moto, as Villegas and his sort of fiancée, respectively.  Charismatic screen presences, they develop some intriguing chemistry together.  Devaughn is a particularly forceful, slowly getting under viewers’ skin as he reveals the extent of Villegas’ egoism and his cynically nationalistic vision.

Shot on-location throughout Cebu, Aberya nicely showcases the island’s local sights and talent.  Linaban’s DIY digital cinematography consistently evokes mystery and passion, except during the film’s not infrequent freak outs.  Frankly though, the highly sexualized Catholic imagery is more clichéd than shocking at this point.  A bit more discipline would have strengthened the inconsistent film, but it still offers a chance to see the up-and-coming cast go for broke quite admirably.  Mostly recommended for adventurous fans of Filipino cinema that can get away for a long lunch, Aberya screens this afternoon (7/1) at the Walter Reade Theater, as a selection of the 2013 NYAFF.