The Ampersand’s Weekend Watchlist offers bingeable movie recommendations bundled into nifty little themes. Our recs for your weekend movie marathon: Filipino films with themes of freedom, justice, and morality.
Weekend Watchlist: 5 Films to Watch this Independence Weekend
To honor the country’s 122nd Independence Day, we’re compiling a list of Filipino films that explore themes of freedom, society, and morality.
For our recs, we’re veering away from the classics, instead, we’re spotlighting films released within the last five years and whose plot revolves around the struggles of our present times. After all, the nation’s fight for freedom, justice, and hope did not end 122 years ago—it persists up to this day.
Honor Thy Father (2015)
Two years after On the Job, Erik Matti returns to familiar territory with Honor Thy Father. The film stars John Lloyd Cruz as Edgar, a husband and father driven to desperation. The plot is deceptively simple: Edgar’s family gets mired in an investment scam and he goes to extreme measures to save his loved ones. But at its core, the film is an introspection on more complex issues of humanity, greed, and religion.
It has long been acknowledged that JLC is a great actor, but this film showcases just how broad his range is. We see Edgar fighting for survival, succumbing to his basest instincts, breaking his moral compass. And that’s the film’s basic premise: everyone has the capacity for evil—whether a religious leader, a devout churchgoer, or a simple unassuming person. Humanity’s moral gray areas are sometimes fueled by greed and corruption, and sometimes by something so basic as survival instincts.
Where to watch: iWant
Respeto intertwines the lives of Hendrix (Abra), a young inexperienced rapper from the underground Pinoy hip-hop scene, and Doc (Dido dela Paz), a veteran poet haunted by the horrors of his martial law past.
These two characters, at first seemingly different, eventually find connection with each other through their mutual love of words. Hendrix, forced by poverty into peddling drugs on the streets of Pandacan, is dreaming of fliptop battle dominance. He finds an unlikely friend and mentor in Doc, who helps improve his rap verses with his own poetry from the 1970s.
Beyond being a testament to the power of words, Respeto is also a portrayal of corruption, injustice, and human rights violations told through the lens of two people, two generations, two eras, two dictators—and yet, the experience of persecution, violence, and tragedy remains one and the same.
Where to watch: YouTube
A Game of Trolls (2017)
A Game of Trolls is a musical play and not a film, but we couldn’t overlook its relevance. It’s about trolls, unfortunately not the cutesy dolls kind, but the kind that creates fake Facebook accounts and threatens people.
The musical centers on Hector, a young man working at a troll farm that runs a pro-Martial Law online campaign. At first, he is neutral about the issue, but eventually he is forced to reevaluate his values and beliefs as ghosts of Martial Law victims start to haunt him.
A Game of Trolls is written by Liza Magtoto and directed by Maribel Legarda, the same pair behind Rak of Aegis. The musical is available to stream until June 30.
(Side Note: Even when he had a change of heart, we still think that Hector got off easy.)
Where to watch: PETA’s YouTube channel
Citizen Jake (2018)
Citizen Jake comes almost two decades after director Mike De Leon’s Bayaning Third World. The film stars Atom Araullo as Jake, a teacher and political blogger intent on exposing the ills and filth of corrupt politicians, including his shady senator father (Teroy Guzman) and congressman brother (Gabby Eigenmann).
Like all the other recommendations on this list (and all other Mike De Leon films), Citizen Jake is a commentary on the state of our nation. It explores—and warns against—fake news, historical revisionism, the return of the Marcoses and of dictatorship, the cunning of the trapo, and most importantly, how history is bent and distorted by a nation’s collective forgetfulness.
Where to watch: iFlix
The Kingmaker (2019)
The Kingmaker is a documentary film about Imelda Marcos, former First Lady and wife of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Under filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s precise yet damning storytelling, the vulgar, expensive, and excessive taste of the former First Lady is on full display. Fueled by sheer vanity, the Iron Butterfly poses next to a Picasso, shows photos of herself with Richard Nixon, and calls Gaddafi a friend.
Coupled with all that display of affluence is the Marcoses’ notorious denials of Martial Law injustices. And here, Greenfield methodically weaves her story: for each ridiculous word that comes out of Imelda’s mouth, is a powerful interview with friends, tortured activists, and ordinary people contrasting her narcissism and delusions of power.
Watching The Kingmaker and Imelda’s political calculations and attempts at redemption is enough to stir rage. In what seems like the heaviest blow, the docu reminds us of our past history of dictatorship and how we might be doomed to repeat it.
Where to watch: AppleTV
Patriz Biliran and Regina Peñarroyo co-run The Ampersand and write blog articles in their free time.