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By Justin Rev Ino Tamang

May laro, may laro, may laro,” yells a scrawny kid as he runs around town to announce an upcoming game of patintero. In the village of San Jose, this game means everything. Youngsters settle their disputes (no matter how trivial) by playing this game. Opposing teams lay down their terms before a match and the losing faction abides by the conditions set by the winner.

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Almost all residents of San Jose can play the game well, with the exception of Meng (Nafa Hilario-Cruz). Any team she joins ends up losing, hence her label patalo or loser. Wanting to turn things around, she assembles her own team to win an upcoming village-wide tournament.

Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo puts the spotlight on an underdog and her quest to win. Rather than focusing on the game patintero, it becomes a vehicle to highlight Meng’s story – her status as the underdog, her friends, and her family life. Through this approach, the film connects with its audience and showcases its two key strengths: heart and nostalgia.

Heart is that one thing Patintero never runs short of. It captures the competitive spirit of the characters, the very force that makes them consider a trivial street game highly important. It shows the melancholy of being distant from your family, the glee that comes with developing a crush, and the silliness of petty, children’s stuff. Every theme the film touches on translates to scenes that feel genuine despite being silly. The cast deserves a lot of praise for being able to achieve this, especially Nafa as Meng.

Patintero also works because of its nostalgic appeal. It is a beautiful throwback to simpler times, back when we weren’t so preoccupied with smartphones and social media and when kids actually went outside to play. Patintero presents the world from the eyes of a child, one where the biggest worries are grades and games, not politics or jobs.

Also, considering that the last memorable local film directed towards children is RPG: Metanoia back in 2010, Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo proves to be a refreshing title. Be it intentional or not, Patintero serves as some sort of tribute to a bygone era in Philippine cinema, to a time when children’s films such as Ninja Kids, Cedie, and Magic Temple were given lots of attention (and sizable budgets).

One last interesting aspect of the film I’d like to point out is its art style, especially during the game scenes. These sequences feature green screen inserts that come with effects that feel like a mix of comics, sports anime, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. These purposefully cheesy and overblown scenes work well on screen and translate to a better narration of the game without sacrificing cuteness and hilarity.

Admittedly, these game scenes still feel rushed at times, though it’s a great attempt to better illustrate how a game of patintero pans out. Compared to the original cut of the film in its QCinema Film Festival 2015 run, these extra scenes are a welcome improvement.

Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo scores where it counts. It is a charming story full of heart and nostalgia that has depth. With an amazing cast, a fun storyline, and an effective treatment, Patintero is easily a children’s film I’d recommend everyone to see.

4.5 stars

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