The Rose of Manila - Short Film Review


Written & Directed by: #AlexWestfall

Starring: #PollyCabrera

Short Film Review by Taryll Baker

Still from The Rose of Manila

Archival footage and reenactment evoke a moment in the life of young Imelda Marcos, the wife of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The events here, based on a true story, take place a month before Ferdinand swept her into the sphere of politics and power.

Fine beauty is often found in the most unlikely corners of cinema, and The Rose of Manila is that beauty. Though simply too short for my liking, there’s a lot to love within the runtime of the new documentary/reenactment from filmmaker Alex Westfall.

The splendid sound design of this ravishing little film, alongside the beautiful 16mm and digital cinematography makes for a viewing experience full of splendour. The crisp colours and framing evoke the same wonderful feeling that was present in Portrait of a Lady on Fire; another stunning display of a tantalising treat for the eyes. Moises Zee and writer, director and editor Alex Westfall have shown true understanding of visual storytelling — their cinematography shows that strength in every second.

There’s a small amount of music by Didier Lucceus threaded into the film, with a very moody but cautious vibe. Delicate string movements over the top of a droning sound bed, creating the ultimate ear pleasing experience. Running at only 10 minutes, Westfall’s cut is snappy but carefully handled. The content is full of life but unfortunately we’re only given a snapshot of it. As someone who knows nothing about the material adapted into this archival / reenacted film, it was difficult to enjoy the substance beyond the gracious technical achievement.

Polly Cabrera leads with shining talent and the few times we do see her seemingly raw (such as the final moments), it’s a greatly engrossing performance — as if the technical aspects weren’t already, she carries the film. Westfall’s eye for details is something I always love to see shown in art pieces such as this. In some ways, The Rose of Manila comes across as the type of arthouse film that your small run-down but beloved cinema would screen, bringing in a smaller crowd, though well appreciated. This is a delightful piece of filmmaking.

The Rose of Manila screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player: