REVIEW | Anino sa Likod ng Buwan / Shadow Behind the Moon (2015)

The trailer of Jun Robles Lana's Anino sa Likod ng Buwan, which is dark, grainy, somewhat static and capturing the humdrum of a domestic life, doesn't reveal much. Yet proceeding to watch the full movie will reveal a tense, exciting, and riveting chamber piece, making this one of the best films in recent history.

Set in the early 1990's, during an armed conflict between the military and the rebels in the remote province of Marag Valley, we are taken to the dilapidated house of an internal refugee couple, Emma (LJ Reyes) and Nando (Anthony Falcon), entertaining their kindly soldier friend, Joel (Luis Alandy). The story takes place only one night, during a rare lunar eclipse, and like the earth's shadow covering the moon, the three characters are shadowing secrets of their own.

Shot in one continuous take, in a boxed 4:3 aspect ratio in low light, it feels like watching an old VHS home-video from 1993, or acquiring access into the CIA video archive, complete with hardcoded English subtitles, therefore giving us a voyeuristic experience of a jaw-dropping little psychological thriller in that era. This cinematic treatment, with Carlo Mendoza's apt cinematography, is a necessity and Lana's most brilliant decision, as the effect is powerfully immersive, establishing a deeper, more up-close and personal relationship with the characters.

Anino, in essence, is a character study of three individuals caught in a mind-warping war, and we listen into their conversations and lamentations, which wildly swings from the mundane to the philosophical, to rage, to humor, to impassioned ideologies, to despair, until they bleed into a guessing game of hidden agendas and manipulations, the plot twists more startling than your regular mainstream suspense-thriller. There is a 10-minute sex scene, but it is pivotal rather than gratuitous.

The screenplay is terrific. Lana's words are intelligent and razor-edged, beautifully poetic and incisive, that if the intermittently unnatural delivery of the lines from the actors (especially from Falcon) initially distracts you, that you wish they could sound more natural and conversational, you realize that these words are best spoken semi-theatrically.

The camera never really ventures outside the nipa hut, but the effect is never claustrophobic. Instead, it transports you in the moment. Like Emma and Nando, we are tethered to that place, trapped in a tragic life, and we can only imagine the atrocities beyond our sight, pausing now and again with trepidation whenever gunshots would ring in the night.

I just have one disappointment: Joel repeatedly begging in one scene, "Emma, please, mapag-uusapan naman natin ito..." kind of eroded the beauty of the moment and the dignity of the character. I wish it were a different response, just quiet, or arrogant, or frightening.

All in all, Anino sa Likod ng Buwan, which garnered major local and international prizes, including Best Film, Director, and Actress, is a compelling tour de force. Missing this would be a mistake.

4 out of 5 stars
Screening again this July 2016 (R-18)
Check the film's official Facebook page for screening schedules.


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