Ask the average Filipino about indie movies and the first thing they’ll tell you is poverty porn. It’s true, a lot of films being screened in independent festivals usually focus on people living in slums or resorting to illegal activities because of their status. Just this year, Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Pamilya Ordinaryo swept the the awards at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, winning five awards including Best Full-Length Feature Film, Best Director, Best Actress for Hasmine Killip. But every now and then, we are presented with a film that takes itself seriously yet doesn’t touch a depressing topic. A good example is Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo.
Mihk Vergara’s Patintero follows Meng Francisco, a 10 year old who loves one thing: the old-school game patintero. However, she isn’t really good at it, and is teased as patalo, or loser. Determined to prove she’s more than that, she gathers an unlikely team of losers to compete in the inter-barangay sportsfest. She is joined by new kid Shifty Alvarez, her best friend Nicay Chiu, and the mysterious superhero Z-Boy.
Patintero is one of those rare films that balance earnestness and fun. The game is treated more like war with serious consequences rather than just a simple game. In the film, deals are made through patintero and everyone is expected to keep their word. At the same time, the film is fun in that it trains its lens on a game adults today grew up with, without alienating those growing up now. It’s a film that can be appreciated by adults for nostalgia and kids for the lessons on friendship, teamwork, and fair play.
The kids in the cast are charming. They grew up in the age of computer games, but Nafa Hilario-Cruz as Meng, Lenlen Frial as Nicay, William Buenavente as Shifty, and Claude Adrales as Z-Boy were irreverently funny in their roles. It’s easy to forget they’re kids when they smoothly act out adult themes such as love and confronting bullies. I also like how the characters are multi-dimensional and not flat.
Meng is definitely not a saint here. But out of the four kids, Z-Boy has to be my favorite because he’s so cute with his superhero costume and his signature entrance line.
The superhero theme extends to anime-style graphics which really made Patintero more fun. I admit I laughed more than I should have in these sequences, but they were incredibly entertaining and deserve their own paragraph here.
What I find the most striking about Patintero is that its ending is not what you would expect from a mainstream-friendly film. Endings like this are common in indie films, but given its commercial release, Audience Choice award at the QCinema Film Festival last year, and its General Audience rating, it proves that alternative storylines can be presented to a mainstream audience. Simply put, it’s a film that doesn’t deal with bullshit and tells it like it is.
Patintero is a breath of fresh air in an industry that shows poverty and the lengths people go to to rise from it. Yes, it is true that a quarter of Filipinos live below the poverty line, but we are rich with our culture and in our traditions to offer stories focusing on those in the big screen. Cinema is a form of escape – sometimes it’s nice to escape from the real world instead of it being shoved in our faces.
Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo will be screened starting October 5, 2016. It is produced by TBA (Tuko Films, Buchi Boy Entertainment, Artikulo Uno Productions), the same team behind last year’s critical and box-office hit Heneral Luna.