Philippine cinema has not gone unnoticed in recent years: it’s scored big wins at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. If you’re at all curious about life in the Philippines, or are up for a sensory adventure into this colorful country, here are six award-winning Filipino movies you must watch.
Sid Lucero won Best Actor at the 19th Los Angeles Comedy Festival for his role in TOTO, a film that takes an often light-hearted look at the Filipino obsession with the American dream. The sole breadwinner of his family, Antonio “Toto” Estares works at a Manila hotel as a room attendant. Desperate to earn a visa and move to America, Estares enters one harebrained scheme after the other, putting himself, his relationships, and his dignity at risk.
Winner of the Bronze Hugo Award at the 19th Chicago Film Festival and a Viewer’s Choice Award at the CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2008, Himala follows the story of a young girl in a remote northern village, whose visions of the Virgin Mary cause a stir in her small town. The movie was filmed in just three weeks, and stars much-loved Filipino actress Nora Aunor, in what many pundits rate as the best performance of her career.
Noted Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar named this one of his favorite movies of 2013. Metro Manila opens with one family’s decision to leave their rice-farming roots in the countryside, in hopes of a better life in the capital. However, they quickly get entangled with Manila’s murky side. The head of the family forms a tense relationship with his partner at an armored truck company, while his pregnant wife lands a job as a bar hostess for a Makati nightclub. The movie took home the Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Jaclyn Jose snatched the title of best actress at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for her role as a struggling, drug-dealing mother in this Filipino drama, directed by Brillante Mendoza. Exploring small-scale drug dealing, poverty and corruption, the film was described by critic Peter Bradshaw as, “a cold, hard look at what it means to be poor.” Ma’ Rosa is especially relevant viewing, in light of President’s Duterte’s crackdown on drugs in the Philippines.
Focusing on the first 15 years of the life of boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, Kid Kulafu shows the boxer’s humble roots, as he attempts to eke out a living on the streets of General Santos City. His natural talent for boxing appears to be his only way out of poverty, but it’s a brutal journey to stardom. Pacquiao himself was involved in the making of the film, organizing key interviews and tweaking the script for accuracy. Robert Villar, who plays the young Pacquiao, bagged the Achievement in Acting Award at the Guam International Film Festival.
Clocking in at almost four hours, this is perhaps not one for those with a short attention span. Director Lav Diaz tells the story of a former school teacher who wins her freedom after 30 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Essentially a plot about revenge, the underlying narrative of the movie shines a spotlight on the effects of Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. Shot entirely in black and white, The Woman Who Left nabbed the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice Film Festival.