“In the last part of World War II, a special piano concert is held in the forests of Davao. In these boondocks, a displaced Filipino family becomes acquainted with a group of Japanese officers, similarly camped nearby.”
Concerto is surprisingly successful most of the time. Attempting a period film with a miniscule budget is a dodgy proposition at best, but Morales makes it work. More than that, he gives this small story a fairly epic feel.
Independent filmmakers are constantly striving to outperform their budget, but these attempts often feel clumsy. The team of Concerto did it with style and grace.
A large part of the credit for this should go to the production design team and the camera department. The PD aspect is obvious. Period costumes, props, and believable set dressing. The design team shows competence in the best sense of the word, people who know what they are doing and get the job done. Less obvious, but far more impressive, is the visual storytelling of the camera department, headed by the cinematographer, Regiben Romana. Understated and elegant, the camera movements and lighting never call attention to themselves, since they seem to be completely in service to the story. It is rare to see this level of thought go into each shot. With this film, we may be seeing Romana entering the rarified air of among our most gifted cinematographers. Where indie almost almost means stylized beyond recognition, Romana shows us how classic film language done well will always have a place in movies.
Aside from its technical achievements, Concerto is a fairly good movie. It finds ways to tell a simple story with complex themes and well-realized characters. Much credit must be given to the director, Paul Morales. This seems to be his first feature, and as such he shows great promise. His actors were good, and they were all well-balanced as well, which tells me that the director showed a good eye in guiding them.
The film has two big faults for me. The first is a lack of any real insight. There are general themes of family, humanity, war, art, etc… but nothing deeper, or unique. The emotional core is there, so the film isn’t a waste of time. But neither is it very compelling.
The second fault is a common one, and in light of the extremely personal nature of this film to the director, it’s almost forgivable. When a filmmaker doesn’t trust himself, his audience, or his material enough, he tends to explain too much, to say too much. This can be in actual words, or sometimes with acting or shots. This is seen in the ending especially, which I won’t give away here.
All in all an decent effort. Thank god for competence. 6 out of 10.