Liars depicts the dilemma faced by a journalist (portrayed by Alessandra de Rossi) when she uncovers the deceptive actions of kids and parents from Smokey Mountain.
Directed by Gil Portes, this drama film is included in the Directors Showcase category of Cinemalaya 2013.
In this reviewer's opinion, Liars can be considered one of the more thought-provoking and discourse-building movies among the entries of the 9th Cinemalaya.
This is not the first time that director Gil Portes and actress Alessandra de Rossi have worked together. They worked previously in the critically acclaimed Mga Munting Tinig that gained recognition abroad. But Liars showcases more of Alex's maturity as an actor who chose to step back and give more of the limelight to young, unknown kids who hail from Smokey Mountain.
Even though the narrative is eventually shown to be driven forward through the reflective eyes of a much older Alex, it is interesting how for 2/3 of the movie, Alex is not even seen. This drama film also stars Richard Quan, Sue Prado, and Dax Alejandro.
To sum up, Liars shows how a group of Smoky Mountain boys train, win, train, win, train, and win the World Cup Little Leagues for Baseball, and then see themselves lose that title.
As Eloisa Avelino, Alex brings life to the journalist who dared expose the truth and ended up paving the way for a whole country to be shamed.
Set against the backdrop of former President Joseph Estrada's impeachment trial and the debate regarding an infamous envelope, journalists are shown discussing amongst themselves the pros and cons of opening the envelope. Used as a foreboding of the choices Eloisa will have to make, actual footages of the impeachment trial are used in the background or integrated as actual scene elements.
When Coach Celio (played by Arnold Reyes) is offered the chance to bring a baseball team of young 12-year-old kids and below to the world championships, he does so using very illegal means.
Prior to this pivotal choice, Coach is shown to be a caring coach, having the team’s best interest on his mind. Things take a turn for the worse when an opportunistic government official (played by Cris Villanueva) offers to switch three members of the team in order to increase their chances of winning.
What may have been lacking here are enough scenes showing the motivation on the part of Coach Celio to have chosen this path. Yes, there were one or two reasons for his decision, but they are not that compelling enough. But perhaps this is forgivable given time limitations.
As for the young kids like Jan Harley Hicana, John Michael Bonapos and Jim Rocky Tangco, their motivations for choosing either side of the right and wrong spectrum are reflective of many people in Philippine society.
Two kids (Uly and Lando) along with their parents initially agree to the scheme of getting kicked off the team in exchange for money.
The character of Cris Villanueva convinced Coach Celio that his team won't win the World Cup if players Uly and Lando are part of the team. But since Uly and Lando are part of the winning national team that qualifies for each one to have a spot in the international team, Cris suggests the unthinkable: replace each weak player with a stronger, overage player.
This scheme could guarantee their triumph and give them a shot at bigger prize money and scholarships for the kids. Cris convinces Coach Celio that this is what they should do so that sports will finally be recognized by the government.
Uly and Lando allow their names to be used by two new boys so they can get money in return. The intrinsic problem here is that not everyone will end up a winner. When the team wins, will the original baseball players really get a share? How about the scholarships that will be issued in the names of the winning players?
One of the subplots of the movie focuses on Dante, a kid who gets bullied by his father. Because of an injury incurred from fighting his father to protect his mother, he loses his spot on the team. Dante is the one most bothered by the deception especially because his best friend Ato plays along with the deception.
Throughout the movie, the feeling of entitlement is subtly embedded: how the fake players feel they are entitled to all the recognition; how the coach and manager feel they are doing the right thing because each victory brings the nation more honor; how the original baseball players feel robbed of their chance at a better life and so on.
Later on, the baseball players echo a theme that underlies the movie: what did telling the truth actually produce? Was there any choice other than to expose the truth? Was telling the truth worth it for a start-up journalist like Eloisa who ended up hiding behind lies all her life in order to stay away from the after-effects of her expose?
Also, was it worth telling the truth, a truth that cost a nation its honor, a team their title, and young kids their field of dreams? All these and more are left quite hanging and open-ended when Dante and Eloisa reflect on this.
Liars points out that even though Filipino families are sometimes led to make wrong choices and lie in order to put food on the table, the film wisely chose to stay away from delving too much into this. It would have been too heavy and probably end up looking like a documentary. The oftentimes laughed-at but very real reality of corrupt government officials manipulating others was also shown through Cris Villanueva's character.
On the other hand, the belief of bringing honor to one nation-- whether it involves illegal means or not--is not explored as much as it should have been. Showing the ins and out of this and its implications on our national and cultural identity as a Filipino might have proved helpful.
In the end, Liars allows viewers to look inward at the choices we make for and against the truth; the choices that we make to bring honor or shame to our nation on a daily basis; and the choices we make and decide to live with.
(To learn about this year's entries, read: PEP Guide to Cinemalaya 2013)
The 9th edition of Cinemalaya will run until August 4, 2013. Entries are being screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, and Alabang Town Center.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.