Reviews

‘Break It to Me Gently: Essays on Filipino Film’ is required reading for anyone who wants to be a film critic

Filipino cinephiles, no doubt, are already familiar with Richard Bolisay and his blog Lilok Pelikula. For ten years, Lilok Pelikula was Bolisay’s home to talk about movies; becoming indispensable to anyone who loved to read about the craft. The blog has since been closed and missed. Break It to Me Gently: Essays on Filipino Film is Bolisay’s debut book, a collection of essays and reviews from his blog.

More than just a collection of essays, Break It to Me Gently feels like a time capsule; able to capture the spirit and the highs and lows of the so-called Third Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. You don’t just read about the films itself but its context and place in history. His ability to weave them all together feels natural and not preachy. Some critics are hesitant to include politics in their writing, but films in itself are political acts; Bolisay knows this and shows it through his writing.

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The introduction feels like a lesson on Philippine cinema. Bolisay talks of history (his own and of Philippine cinema), film festivals, class issues, and the sorry state of film criticism in the Philippines. What local film critics do to see and write about films compared to our counterparts in the West is rarely talked about. It’s refreshing to read a critic such as Bolisay talk about the lack of support or industry of film criticism in the country. 

Break It to Me Gently is essential reading for anyone interested in Philippine cinema and film criticism. Reading the essays gives you a sense of experiencing the films the way Bolisay experienced them. It’s filled with passion and love for cinema, all the while remaining accessible to readers. His reviews of Ang Nawawala (Marie Jamora, 2012) and Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza, 2009) are particular favorites: the former finding favor from those who navigated the same local indie scene as the main characters, the latter being the first Filipino film to win the Best Director Award in Cannes. Bolisay’s writing is sharp and raw, dissecting well-loved or revered films with precision. He is not afraid to be abrasive, and as Boy Abunda said, “He doesn’t break it to anyone gently.”

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