MOVIE REVIEW: Kabisera: a tale with exceptional acting

In the Cinema One entry Kabisera, Joel Torre (middle) plays a family man turns to the drug trade to support his loved ones. However, things quickly spiral out of control as the police and a rival Muslim gang become involved.

If there is one irrefutable truth, it is that Joel Torre is an excellent actor. He has mastered the art so that he can register a range of emotions with the little nuances whether it be a lilt in his voice, shift in his eyes, or movement of a facial muscle.

He once again does justice to his role in the indie film Kabisera, as a father who wants to keep his control over his family and household at any cost.

Directed by Alfonso “Borgy” Torre III, Kabisera is one of the entries currently being screened as part of the 9th Cinema One Originals Festival, which is ongoing until November 19, 2013.

The film starts out with a very eerie scene of Joel Torre’s character, Andres, at the head of the dinner table (called the “kabisera”) with the rest of the family. There is no dialogue but the music has an unnatural quality as does the lighting. The room is awash in light and there is a light, jovial mood in the household.

The patriarch of the family awakes from the dream and goes about his day.


Andres is a fishpond owner who supplies fish to various market vendors. One early morning, instead of catching fish, he retrieves two huge packages of shabu, assessed to be worth millions, just floating in the water.

He hides the drugs in the outhouse, telling only his wife and his best friend (Art Acuña) about it. They hatch a plan to profit from selling the illegal substance in their small town.

But as greed overtakes everything else, the former strong bonds within the family and between long-time childhood friends are tested to breaking point.

Joel Torre, even at his character’s greediest, begs for our empathy as his motivations are relatable: to provide a good life for his family.

Art Acuña fascinates with his weather-beaten face whose layers are slowly peeled away throughout the story.

Bing Pimentel, the matriarch of the family, is beautiful in her strength and grace. She matches Torre’s father figure without buckling. She is sometimes gentle but mostly determined—as are many mothers in real life.

Bernard Palanca is sinister and very impressive as a sly, corrupt policeman who completes the triumvirate of “drug lords.”


Ketchup Eusebio is believable and despicable as the head courier of drugs.

Meryll Soriano essays the role of the unica hija caught between her overbearing father and her headstrong fiancé.

Though the film starts out slow, it suddenly picks up speed in the middle and by the end, screeches to a halt—with the echoes of the last scene still ringing in our ears.

The last scene imitates but does not quite match the first dream sequence. Just like the first dream sequence, the last scene shows the family gathered for a meal. The area is awash in light but there is a sinister atmosphere that pervades the scene.

My problem with the latter part of the movie is that it suddenly wants to reveal more information and to unload more emotional baggage than what the audience is prepared to receive.

As a result, the general mood goes from sullen to deranged…but it’s too much, too fast.


Still, the cinematography by J.A. Tadena—especially in the wide, scenic shots—is arresting. It makes the simple, quiet town idyllic, a vast contrast to the events that unfold and wreak havoc on so many lives.

In the end, we feel that we too are survivors of the tale. No one leaves unscathed.

If director Borgy Torre wanted people to leave the theater bothered, then he certainly succeeded in Kabisera.


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