Cinemalaya 2011: I-FUNERALS Review
Isabel (Glaiza de Castro), a promising mass communications student, has just landed an internship that none of her classmates, who are interning in television stations and film production outfits, would envy. I-Libings, a company that specializes in covering wakes and funerals for its grieving clients, does not seem to be the proper place for Isabel's skills and talents. With only a lowly consumer-level video camera to work with, a crew of untrained technicians and a boss (Earl Ignacio) who is initially unimpressed with her capabilities to deal with, she treats her internship with the company as some cruel joke that fate has randomly dished her.
Rommel Sales' I-Libings (I-Funerals) starts off seemingly with very little ambition. It initially concentrates on Isabel's experiences in her internship, mining the unique nature of her work for nuggets of humor and sizable doses of irony. While somewhat entertaining, the exploits of Isabela and her workmates in and out of the funeral parlor, with camera on hand as they manage to get the most effective angles of the wakes and interments or edit the footage in the most efficient way, get tired and redundant. Thankfully, Sales does not limit the film within the confines of Isabel's life as an intern in a funeral video coverage company.
Apart from being the talent that rots away in a company that she has deemed unworthy of her, Isabel is also a bastard daughter of a family man (Rez Cortez). Her weekends are spent with her mother (Louella de Cordova), wondering whether her father will spend the night with them and getting used to the fact that her father probably won't. Sales depicts this area of Isabel's life with fascinating sensitivity, expressing the insecurities, angst and anger felt by a daughter born and living under less than ideal circumstances with ample clarity and believability. Those consuming emotions are all subtly communicated, just waiting to explode, waiting to burst at that precise moment.
And burst they did at that most precise of moments when all the film's incongruent elements converged to ground the film's single emotional highlight. Isabel, enveloped by both grief and frustrations, stands before her tormentors, revealing with the apparent disgust the most damning truth that death has conveniently shrouded. Isabel invests in that imperfect gesture, going against tradition, manners, and etiquette. She commits to the perpetuity provided by video recording the irreverence she was constrained to do, declaring to the world the pains of her life. She's only human, and I-Libings is better for it.
Confused whether it is a comedy, a drama, or a mixture of both, the film contains elements that do not always cohere. It is very frustrating, especially since the film has really momentous moments that are wasted by attempts at being funny that never quite work. The film's biggest sin is that it chose to end with another lousy bid at humor, betraying the abundance of emotions of the immediately preceding scene for an ineffective punchline. I-Libings is a sorely uneven film, but if only for that detour from the mundane concerns of intern life to tackle humanity's fragility within the frame provided by death and mourning, everything can be forgiven.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)