Festivals, Reviews

MMFF 2019: Not Really a Miracle in Cell No. 7

I consider storytelling one of the greatest inventions of mankind. There is no greater pleasure than seeing a story come alive, to be able to lose yourself and be transported to another world, another time, and another reality through magnificently crafted sequences. But for this to happen, a film must have a solid team of people who are passionate and competent enough to get it done. To make a movie is relatively easy: pull out a camera, shoot a couple of scenes here and there, and piece it together. But to be able to craft a compelling story and deliver it with genuine gusto is a different hurdle altogether. The Philippine remake of Miracle in Cell No. 7 is indeed a movie with a brilliant set of actors and a critically acclaimed story basis. But was it able to deliver? I don’t think so.

The premise of the story does not deviate much from its original material. Joselito, an intellectually disabled father to Yesha, is accused of murder and rape (among other things) when he was mistakenly convicted for the death of a senator’s daughter. From there, the story unfolds to reveal the rotten justice system of the country and the heartbreaking story of a father’s undying love for his daughter.

It would have benefitted the film to tweak the original story a bit more to make it more socially relevant, especially in our current dire time. Despite the film’s themes of flawed police investigations and the corrupt justice system, the drug war was not at all mentioned. Its inclusion would have had a powerful impact to its mass audience. However, the film played it safe.

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Great storytelling is much like a well-oiled machine. Without one part, the others won’t work. In Miracle in Cell No. 7, there is no doubt that the A-list actors delivered. Aga Muhlach, albeit too aggressive and a little too clumsy in his take on Joselito, was still convincing and empathetic. His cellmates, played by Joel Torre, Mon Confiado, Jojit Lorenzo, Soliman Cruz, and JC Santos, were great supporting characters, giving the film more depth, devastation, and heart; a feat considering the little space they were given to explore their own characters. John Arcilla was riveting in his scenes. Tirso Cruz III and Mark Anthony Fernandez were also great in their villainous roles. Bella Padilla delivered despite her minimal screen time.

However, you can’t just rely on your actors and plot to deliver a strong story on their own. One of my biggest problems with the film lies in its technicalities and production. I was confused the entire time because I didn’t know what year the movie was set in: there were cameraphones and an obvious Miniso store in a 90s Manila. The prison cells felt too polished, too convenient; removed from its grimy, dark, and dirty reality. The dubbing was ineptly executed. Let’s not even talk about that questionable hot air balloon CGI by the end.

Scores are supposed to help accentuate the mood of the scene; a gentle whisper to nudge you towards the feeling the scene wants to convey. But the score of Miracle felt too loud and all over the place. The choice of sound was generic, and almost as if it was shouting at me: THIS IS A SAD SCENE, HENCE HERE I AM, A VERY MELANCHOLIC SONG. NOW, FEEL SAD AND CRY BECAUSE AGAIN, THIS IS A VERY SAD MOVIE.

I easily cry in movies, but I didn’t shed a single tear here because I felt to disconnected from the story. It felt like a story being told to me instead of me experiencing it myself. The technical inconsistencies sadly overshadowed what the story could have been. It felt too commercially made, as if the intention was not to adapt and show a Philippine take on the story but to release a local version of it: merely add familiar and cookie cutter Filipino humor and make money out of it. The movie was there, but sadly, the storytelling did not come into complete and sweet fruition.

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