Verdict, the Filipino film which won the Special Jury Prize at the Horizons (Orizzonti) section of the recently concluded (76th edition) Venice Film Festival, and on Thursday, Film Academy of the Philippines announces “Verdict” as the Philippines’ entry for the International Feature Film category of the 92nd Academy Awards.
After Venice it was also screened at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (5-15 September 2019) as part of its program Contemporary World Cinema and in Telluride Film Festival. It is the only feature from the Philippines to play at Venice, Telluride and TIFF. In the past Oscar winning entries for the foreign language film category took this ideal path.
Sometime between Venice and Toronto, Verdict played at the 46th Telluride Film Festival (Colorado, USA) as part of its main program, the Show. TFF ran from 30 August-2 September.
The film was directed by Raymund Ribay Gutierrez. It is his debut feature and was produced by the Center Stage Productions of Brillante Mendoza (2009 Cannes Best Director awardee), and co-produced by Films Boutique, Playtime, and Bord Cadre.
The film is a domestic drama that tackles the brutal beating of a wife by a drunk husband and the legal process-court procedures that follow. It stars Maxine Eigenmann, the late Kristoffer King, Jordhen Suan, and Rene Durian.
Emerging from the Brillante Mendoza Film Workshop and the Armando “Bing” Lao Found Story School of Filmmaking, Verdict has already received positive reviews from Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.
In his online review of the film for Asian Movie Pulse, Marko Stojilkovic wrote, “Gutierrez knows [the state of Philippine domestic violence] and is not shy to show it openly using the stylistic choices along the lines of cinema verite and its echoes all over the world, usually relying on long, hand-held takes done by the cinematographer Joshua Reylesand somewhat rough editing by Diego Marx Dobles. The emotional effect is maximized even before the film’s greatest trick – the smooth transition from the domestic violence drama to procedural and court thriller of sorts that also corresponds with the transition from an individual to a more universal level. The ending with a twist is also a treat that deserves to remain spoiler-free.”
Stijilkovic also mentioned the faulty state of the country’s bureaucracy.
Matthew Scott, in his writeup-review of the film titled Hidden Gem: “Verdict” Examines a Struggle for Justice in the Philippines in The Hollywood Reporter, said, “Writer-director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s unflinching drama evaluates rampant domestic abuse in his home country but intentionally offers few answers.”
To which Gutierrez commented: “I wanted to show the problem but not try to offer any solutions at all. Things are not black and white. The law is not always fair. Filmmaking is about life, and I just want to show how life is.”
Only 26 years old, Gutierrez, both a screenwriter and a director, first delved into shorts. He is the first Filipino filmmaker to compete for the Palme d’Or twice in the short film category at the Cannes Film Festival. His first short film, Imago (2016) was nominated for the Palme d’Or Best Short Film in Cannes and won Best Short Cuts at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Best Short Film Award at the Stockholm International Film Festival in Sweden, and Best Short Film at the London Short Film Festival.
In 2018, his second short film, Judgement (2018), received a nomination for the Palme d’Or Best Short Film in Cannes and was selected for TIFF in 2018.
Gutierrez is a product, through mentorship, of both Mendoza’s filmmaking workshop and Lao’s found story scriptwriting workshop.
It is to be remembered that the Mendoza-Lao tandem brought Mendoza the Cannes Best Director award in 2009 for their collaboration, Kinatay. Both espouse and favor the found stories theory of filmmaking, focusing on the cinema verité style, which has been Mendoza’s trademark in telling stories in contemporary Philippines.
Aside from the Best Director award from Cannes, Mendoza is the recipient of major film awards and honors from the international festival circuit. He propelled Jaclyn Jose to the Cannes Best Actress award in 2016 via Ma’ Rosa.
Verdict had it’s Philippine premier and exclusive limited screening at the 3rd Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino in selected cinemas nationwide from 13-19 September 2019. Rated A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, the film is being distributed under Solar Pictures.
This post is written by Boots Agbayani Pastor for The Web Magazine