ABOVE THE CLOUDS
by PEPE DIOKNO | Feature film | 2014 | The Philippines-France | 87 min | color
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After his parents die in a flood, 15-year-old Andy is forced to live with his estranged grandfather, in the cold northern parts of the Philippines. Andy becomes withdrawn and isolated here and nobody can get through to him, until one day, the grandfather gets an idea. He shows the boy photos of Andy's parents hiking up a beautiful mountain, and he takes his grandson to this place against his will. Tensions rise on their overnight hike, but through the journey, they start to come to terms with their grief.
Director/Screenplay: Pepe Diokno
Director of photography: Carlo Mendoza
Production design: Benjamin Padero, Carlo Tabije
Editors: Gisèle Rapp-Meichler, Lawrence S. Ang
Colorgrading: Yov Mor
Sound design and mix: Roman Dymny
Original score: Johann Mendoza
Production designer: Benjamin Padero, Carlo Tabije
Executive producers: Harlene Bautista, Jose Mari Abacan
Producers: Bianca Balbuena, Phillippe Avril, Pepe Diokno
Cast: Ruru Madrid, Pepe Smith
Production: Epic Media (Philippines) – Unlimited and Les Films de l'Étranger (France) in partnership with Harlene Bautista, Jose Mari Abacan, Poly Son Post Production, McMurphy Post-production
Supports: Aide aux cinémas du monde (CNC-Institut Français), Région Alsace, Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg, Asian Cinema Fund (South-Korea), Visions Sud Est (Switzerland), Globe Telecom (The Philippines)
• World Premiere: Tokyo International Film Festival
Asian Future Section
• 25th Singapore International Film Festival
Silver Screen Awards (Main Competition)
• Freedom Film Festival (Philippines Premiere)
ABOUT THE MOVIE
Five years after Clash (Engkwentro), his well-received debut, Filipino director Pepe Diokno returns with a family drama about a teenage boy and his estranged grandfather. His sophomore effort swaps subtle storytelling and sumptuous visuals for his former preoccupations with genre filth and fury.
Just as Clash lived up to its title by offering taut tension and ceaseless confrontation, Above the Clouds is as ethereal as a familial drama could get. Perhaps the mellowed vibe explains the lack of festival traction for Diokno's latest outing, which premiered in the Tokyo International Film Festival's Asian Futures sidebar and scored its only competition berth in Singapore. But the young filmmaker's surprising artistic restraint and his canny eye for natural beauty should inspire further festival bookings or ancillary action, particularly after distributor Doc and Film International shops the French‐Philippine co-production at Berlin's European Film Market later this week.
While inspired by a real-life catastrophe —the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana, which wrought deadly havoc on the Philippines in 2009— Diokno largely avoids the anger over social injustice so prevalent in his first film. (There are just hints of his opprobrium here: the young protagonist, Andy (newcomer Ruru Madrid), witnesses lawlessness in the streets as he searches for his missing parents after the storm, while his tetchy grandfather (Filipino rock icon Pepe Smith) suggests that he had to quit working in photography partly because of the political upheavals in the Philippines in the early 1970s.)
Instead, Above the Clouds is about the emotional journey of the two lead characters, as they reflect on the ways in which they abandoned the two figures whose deaths loom large over the film. Coming from one end of the age spectrum is Andy, whose reluctance to allow himself to be handed over to his grandfather's care is slowly revealed to be the result of his suppressed guilt about his part in his parents' death. Meanwhile, beneath the old man's crabby veneer lurk decades of grief and loss. Wallowing in squalor in the countryside, he laments his abandonment of his son, his family and, finally, his own chance at a happy life.
To his credit, Diokno never stoops to caricature or cliché as he highlights the differences between young and old, city and country, modernity and tradition. Instead, he unceasingly celebrates the ravishing beauty of the rural Philippines. Shot at Mount Pulag National Park on the island of Luzon, Above the Clouds provides stunning settings for both Andy and the grandfather to release and resolve their internal turmoil. Carlo Mendoza's camerawork provides a stirring survey of the landscape, while deftly highlighting the characters' relationship to all this nature, while Johann Mendoza's music also helps heighten the drama within.
Above all, however, are the excellent two lead performances, both perfectly tuned to Diokno's scheme of subtle things. Surprisingly, chemistry abounds between the upstart Madrid and local showbiz legend Smith, whose four-decade career in Filipino rock has earned him a reputation as something like his country's answer to Mick Jagger. To those who know and love his work, Smith's haggard, grandfatherly turn in Above the Clouds is sure to come as a compelling surprise.
(Clarence Tsui, The Hollywood Reporter, Feb 3, 2015)