A movie inspired by the late actor Rudy Fernandez a few months after his death sounds exploitative, but thankfully, Jose Javier Reyes' "Magkaibigan" is an effective melodrama that re-establishes Christopher de Leon as perhaps the country's most effective and yet restrained actors, making him sublimely effective in Reyes' tearjerker.
After last year's OFW-themed "Katas ng Saudi," Reyes teams up once more with Jinggoy Estrada in a no-frills story of two best friends, Atoy (de Leon) and Ruben (Estrada), and their respective families as they come to terms with Atoy's inevitable death due to cancer. While not as visually lush nor as extravagantly produced, this enthralling drama is more emotionally sincere than Mark Meily's "Baler."
While the film's story is a one-trick pony that veers dangerously close to running out of steam long before the end credits roll, the performances, if not played to perfection, are well-masterminded by Reyes to elevate the scenario from contrived drama into genuine humanity. These characters aren't just apparently reasonable, they seem so precise that their hurts and trials feel so penetrating and real from De Leon's sublime vulnerability and Estrada's huffy predisposition, to Dawn Zulueta and Maricel Laxa's understated performances as the men's wives.
"Magkaibigan" also benefits from Reyes' vastly improved mise-en-scene as compared to "Katas ng Saudi." The cinematography's sometimes elegant but never brassy cinematography, which relies on a lot of warm hues particularly in Atoy's home, bring a sense of intimacy that thrusts one into the characters' innermost emotions, and the piano-filled music is leaps better than the karaoke-sounding score of "Katas ng Saudi." Normally, these technicalities are but minor details but in such a straightforward narrative, these bring a sense of intimacy to the story and the performances that wraps one in an embrace and makes even the most nuanced moments fairly large in its meaning.
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