‘Felix Manalo’ Review: Epic blunder
“This is how humans are: We question our beliefs, except for the ones that we really believe in, and those we never think to question.”
The quote from Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead – the sequel of Ender’s Game which now centers on its protagonist who abandons warfare tactics to move from one planet to another to speak with verity about the lives of the dead – could have given screenwriter Bienvenido Santiago a bit of purpose in honoring Felix Manalo, founder of Iglesia ni Cristo.
The film, directed by Joel Lamangan, is an expected adulation of a man who must have lived a much more complicated life than what this self-proclaimed epic of nearly 3 hours would have its audience believe.
Life and death
The film begins with the birth of Manalo (Dennis Trillo). It ends with his death.
In between is a hodgepodge of events that can be simplified into three parts, a man who starts questioning beliefs, a man who latches onto a belief he arrives at by divine intervention, and a man who does everything so that that belief can never be questioned.
Of course, the themes are tailor-fit to delight its target audience, the stalwart members of the sect Manalo founded, with flowery language, generic drama, and a certain gleam of self-importance, to the dismay of almost everybody else. (WATCH: Dennis Trillo as INC founder in 'Felix Manalo' movie trailer)
Softly put, the film has an outline to display a man’s journey and fealty to a certain faith. It contemplates Manalo, as if patterned after Card’s fluent observation on humanity and belief, as somebody who exemplifies that very common facet of being human, which pushes us from a point of uncertainty to undaunted resolve.
Unfortunately, the film banners Manalo’s accomplishments ahead of his more film-worthy connections with the rest of us, making the film less a penetrating exploration of a man of historical value, and more a protracted advertisement. It’s quite unfortunate because there is more to Manalo than the shallow pageantry the film serves him. (READ: How Dennis Trillo got the role of Felix Manalo in Iglesia ni Cristo movie)
Overlaid with gold
Lamangan here is little more than a paid craftsman, hired not out of his political assertiveness but because of his being quite efficient. There is very little aesthetic insight in the film, except anything that will favor the goal of making it appear that the film is true to its factual aspirations. Everything, however, looks manufactured, from the props and sets that feel staged and spurious, to the performances that are drowned by their airs of eminence.
Even Rody Lacap’s usually reliable cinematography is drowned by the insistence to match the look with the film’s being a period piece with obvious desaturation of colors. Von de Guzman’s score is grand and sweeping, as it should be, perhaps being the only piece in the puzzle that fits the scope of the film’s improperly interpreted ambition.
Lamangan’s artistic choices are woefully predictable. He overlays the film with all sorts of heft and gold but forgets to install the basic cornerstone of a proper epic, which is narrative clarity. It is not enough that Santiago’s screenplay is rabidly lopsided in favor of promoting Manalo as somebody beyond reproach, Lamangan insists on painting the portrait with broad strokes of simplistic emotions and lavish propaganda.
Felix Manalo is confusingly episodic, skirting away from true conflicts with wordy dialogues that have little narrative significance. It jumps from one era to another with wild abandon, exchanging logic and poetry for the ability to inject as much trivial information about Manalo within the already staggered running time. (READ:‘Felix Manalo’ movie portrays Iglesia ni Cristo history)
Trillo manages to be a suitable anchor of attention for the film’s entire duration, even if his role mostly requires him to mouth words in an ornate fashion. Sadly, the film is severely overrun with glitter. It is overburdened with actors and actresses appearing out of nowhere, stealing attention from the film’s intentions with their pretty faces and prominence.
From this point of view, the film is a chaotic constellation of either underutilized or completely useless stars.
Felix Manalo is quite the unwieldy pedestal for such a beloved icon. The film is tight-fisted in its desire to sanctify its subject. It provides no opportunities for discourse except for the immense one its glamorized crafting suggests.
If the purpose of the film is to enlighten, then it has failed miserably because it only persists to reinforce an image that is far too rosy and romanticized to be taken with the same seriousness one affords any other biopic with more balanced perspectives.
If the purpose however is to stir a myth out of a man’s life, then the film only succeeds partially, because it only aspires to be understood and celebrated by that section of society where doubt, suspicion and curiosity are frowned upon. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios
More on Felix Manalo movie
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- How Dennis Trillo got the role of Felix Manalo in Iglesia ni Cristo movie
- ‘Felix Manalo’ movie portrays Iglesia ni Cristo history
- WATCH: Dennis Trillo as INC founder in 'Felix Manalo' movie trailer