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Quebec Premiere
  • Philippines
  • 2013
  • 101 mins
  • DCP
  • Tagalog
  • English (subtitles)
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“Beautifully written, tightly packaged and with a fine cast… a rare crime drama in which the human conflict is more gripping than the criminal mechanics” – Derek Elley, FILM BIZ ASIA

Father of two and long-reformed felon-turned-fisherman living in a small coastal town north of Metro Manila, Andres (Joel Torre) is a stern working man, struggling to look out, as best he can, for the good of his family. A wishful recurring dream haunts him one morning. Showing him bathed in light, watching over a happy united family, the dream might have something to do with the fact that his son is seeking to pursue expensive studies in the city. Or perhaps it is that his daughter is soon to be married to a man he despises. As he sets out to sea, still shaking it off, two styrofoam boxes float towards his boat. He discovers they are filled with shabu, a.k.a. methamphetamine, potentially worth millions. As his wife Dindin (Bing Pimentel) warms him up to the idea of selling it, Andres ropes in experienced friend Jose (Arthur Acuña), and realizes that with money come problems. And as tragedy strikes the already fragile family, and Malaysian gangsters get involved, the repercussions of his actions become far more catastrophic than he ever could have gambled for. Quickly, that morning’s dream shatters and turns to nightmare.

Jury Award winner at the recent Cinema One Originals Film Festival and co-produced by Erik Matti of last year’s acclaimed gangster film ON THE JOB, Alfonso Torre’s KABISERA puts a highly emotional and intense spin on the expected Filipino crime thriller. Existing in the wake of smash hit TV series BREAKING BAD, Torre creates here a poignant character study in its own right, despite the now-familiar normal-man-turned-drug-kingpin narrative. Like its predecessor, it is carried by incredible performances from all involved, as well as sharp, alternately gritty and dream-like imagery, showing the Filipino drug underworld in a new, intimate light. Dreams bookend the film, providing great insight into Andres’ derailing psyche, and our first hint of tragedy comes with the title. “Kabisera” translates as head of the family table, a position which Andres will struggle to keep as his entire world implodes around him. In the role, veteran actor Joel Torre is absolutely spell-binding, nuanced and touching, and combined with a relentlessly intense plot progression, and an intimate, gripping approach to what could have easily been told as a bombastic, mindless action film, KABISERA amounts to one of the most powerful, lasting genre films to come out of the Phillipines in recent years.

— Ariel Esteban Cayer