FILM REVIEW: A sky full of stars and piaya



It has been almost seven months since I last stepped inside a cinema to watch a film on the big screen. One, because I am still wary of catching something whilst in an enclosed space. And, two, I have been mostly enjoying films and series from the comfort of my bed at home. Thanks to subscription streaming.

Homegrown films are not new sights in Negros Island. Award-winning films and masterpieces from Negrense filmmakers have become staple in the international and local film scene for decades. Thanks to the foundations laid upon by luminaries of the past and the present. This artistic tradition is continued by a multitude of autochthonous film festivals that celebrate storytellers, creatives, and actors.

Traditional vs intercontinental flavors

I must admit, I did not really pay attention when I viewed the cinematic trailer of Under a Piaya Moon. Maybe because I was watching it from my smartphone. Or maybe, because of a sense of familiarity.

In the vibrant city of Bacolod, says the film excerpt, known for its rich culinary heritage, 25-year-old Stephen (Jeff Moses) discovers that the path to both culinary success and personal growth is filled with unexpected twists. Having inherited his grandparents’ panaderia, he plans to revamp it into a chic modern pastry shop with the help of his girlfriend Joy (Pauline Dimaranan).

Their first big move is to join and win the recently revived province-wide Concurso de Calamay, a cooking contest that focuses on Negrosanon delicacies, especially the famous piaya, the excerpt continued.

Set in post-EDSA Negros, Under a Piaya Moon begs the question, “Should we cherish culinary tradition or reinvent our taste buds with flavors of foreign lands?” The discussion of tradition versus modernity extends beyond the realm of food.

The film was in fact, full of opposition. Old against young. Simplicity against complexities. Traditional against modernization.

Another Negrense story

Director Kurt Soberano and screenwriter Vicente Groyon wove the story in such a way that viewers of almost any age could understand, appreciate, and grow fond of. Coupled with the cinematography of Nathan Bringuer and musicality of Paulo Almaden, the 2024 Puregold CinePanalo Film Festival Best Picture proves that Negrenses can still produce films worthy of mainstream media attention.

A show of support to our friend Pauline Dimaranan (3rd from left) with the writer, Ditdit Lopez-Durán, and Cha Magallanes (l-r).
We watched the film at Ayala Malls Capitol Central.
Friends and family congratulate Pau.

While, honestly, there are a few gaps and elements of the film that left me wanting more, witnessing how the audience at Ayala Malls Capitol Central interacted with each scene made me smile.

Negrenses saw themselves again on the silver screen.

From the scrumptious delicacies to the crackling cuss words of Lola Fina (Charito Ferrer-Motus) and Lolo Poldo (in the person of prolific actor Joel Torre), I found myself and my cinema buddies cackling in our seats.

It also felt great not to code switch while watching a film. It felt natural to see my mother tongue emanating from the Surround Sound speakers of the cinema.

Friends and familiar faces on screen

My buddies and I initially planned to watch Under a Piaya Moon to support our friend, Pauline Dimaranan, who plays the snotty girlfriend Joy opposite actor Jeff Moses’ Stephen.

Pau did a splendid job of annoying us, her friends, right from the get go. The first thing we did when we met her outside the theater was to tease her with one of her catty lines (peace!)

It felt surreal watching Joel Torre perform in Hiligaynon along with familiar faces of mentors and contemporaries from the University of St. La Salle.

A scrumptious film

Almost every scene in Under a Piaya Moon had food. Lots of them. After every scene where the Stephen, Lola Fina, and Lolo Poldo would eat a delicacy, I would turn to my friends, Cha and Ditdit, and say “daw nagutom ko aw” (that made me hungry) or “nagalaway ko” (that was mouthwatering).

On top of the mouthwatering local food, the story proved easy to digest. It taught me to appreciate simplicity, tradition. While I still would love to innovate and take things my way, I am reminded by Lola Fina that if I want to make a twist on something, “make it Negrense.”

Under a Piaya Moon made me hungry for more Negrense films.

Filmmakers’ drafts for Bacolod Film Festival are about to be unveiled along with the upcoming new installment of Sine Negrense. More Negrense stories from different perspectives will come out soon, piping hot.

All I wish is that these stories will get as much attention and support from local viewers. After all, Negrense stories, whether bitter or sweet, are definitely scrumptious. | Cha Magallanes photos