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by Heinrich Domingo

The subjectivity of art in cinema can be construed as having the freedom to interpret and understand. But, as any filmmaker would attest, the notion of independent thinking ceases when the camera starts rolling. The lens zooms in to specific shots, frames are selective of certain environment, and lighting is used to overemphasize characters. Yet, no forewarning was sufficient to prepare us in the three-hour agony of watching a self-glorifying, history-mutilating, sect-promoting film that is Felix Manalo.

Felix Manalo’s grand production cannot salvage a self-serving storyline. It begins with a flashback-filled narrative that chronicles the journey of a religion founder named Peles Manalo. The audience is made witness to a story of a country boy’s transformation to become one of the most influential Filipinos in the recent century. One by one, Manalo conquers his foes and establishes his own religion. The film proceeds in gradually erecting a towering pedestal for the bust of the protagonist as it cements him in a position reserved for the gods.

The series of debates between Felix and his religious contemporaries established a crystal clear standpoint of the film. From the beginning, the movie is created to be nothing but a tool in promoting a certain religion while combating others. The script, without subtlety, plays favorites as it draws a line separating the righteous Iglesia ni Cristo versus the ‘fake’ religions.

Dennis Trillo and an ensemble of capable casts cannot help either. Trillo’s (playing Felix Manalo) characterization of an empathic evangelical leader coincides with what the film wishes to establish. His portrayal fulfills the stereotypical bible-loving, all-knowing, and messianic image of a pastor. But beyond this, Trillo fails to dig deep in his character. He cannot scratch off the surface and reveal the man beyond bible and religion. Maybe, this is bought by the production’s limitation to explore the subject matter.

Musical scoring and heavy editing add to the pile of the film’s flaws. The seemingly ordinary scenes were overemphasized by a theatrical play of a full orchestra in the background. Additionally, shots were recolored to simulate a melodramatic vibe. Both were made in order to turn a dull plot into an overly-exaggerated movie.

The boring sequence of events concluded with a showcase of INC’s ‘achievements’ through the years. Flaunted in the big screen are infrastructures built by the church and recognitions they have achieved through time. It was a proud moment for the church’s members. Yet, for cinemagoers who expected for a trip down to memory lane, the work is beyond shameful.

Felix Manalo offers nothing but a pageantry of a family’s supposed legacy in the country. The effort of the production to make the set realistic, to fill the screen with popular artists, and to celebrate Dennis Trillo’s beautiful face can be easily discarded. What stays in the mind of the viewers is the production’s willingness to let go of their art and just act as endorsers of a religion.

It is unacceptable to sit in a cinema and endure hours of watching a badly made film but it is worse to be lured in watching a ‘historical film’ that glorifies characters of religious organization instead of retelling the past. For cinephiles who believe in the power of cinema to emancipate the people from ignorance, Felix Manalo is painful to watch.