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Cavite (2005)

Director: Neill Dela Llana, Ian Gamazon
Starring: Ian Gamazon
Unrated Running time: 80 minutes
Released by Magnolia Home Entertainment

Who would have thought that a film featuring little more than a man wandering the streets while talking on a cellphone could be so damned fascinating? Alex (Ian Gamazon), a thirtysomething American of Filipino heritage, returns to his homeland after his fathers death. While he waits for his mother to pick him up from the airport, he receives a call from someone claiming to have kidnapped his family. To prove he is not lying, the caller directs Alex to an envelope which has been placed in his luggage. Alex opens the envelope and finds photographs of his mother and his sister, bound and beaten. There is only one way for Alex to ensure their safety, the caller says, and that is to do everything that he is told.

The plot of Cavite is about as bare-bones as they come, yet grows into something much more complex, raising questions about identity, heritage, and religion. I cannot say much more about the story without giving away too much information; part of the film's magic is the way the story evolves from a one-note thriller into a genuinely thought-provoking story about a man being forced to make a choice you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

Two men - one working the camera, and the other in front of it - have created a film which is intelligent, atmospheric, and a thousand times more absorbing than any thriller Hollywood has put out in years. Amazingly, they accomplished this with no money and almost no crew. Shot hit-and-run style in the Philippines, Cavite is DIY film making at its finest. The almost documentary approach to filming and the hypnotic use of traditional music create a claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere that the Philippine Tourism Authority is sure to disapprove of. Dela Llana and Gamazon have created a tight, cliche-free thriller of which I cannot say enough nice things about. This film deserves to be seen - especially by anyone who thinks that it takes a lot of money to make a truly remarkable film.

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