Filipino filmmaker Carlo Enciso Catu makes a lovely low-pitched directorial debut with My Life With a King. It’s a light touch with a lanky formalism that recalls early Hal Hartley and Aki Kaurismäki that makes much of Catu’s tranquil comedy of manners so engaging. That the film is rooted in Pampangan culture is something of a rarity, making it a facile from left field refreshment.
My Life With a King contains characters and settings that are seldom, if ever, captured in cinema, and that is certainly part of the joy in watching and getting to know these characters.
Jaypee (Ronwaldo Martin) is a sad sack student with an unreliable motorcycle who is sent by the Sapang Biabas Academy to pick up and deliver “King” Francisco Guinto, poet laureate and curmudgeon — played by Francisco Guinto, the man himself, an actual poet, and, one supposes, not unlike the eccentric seen on the screen — for a tribute celebrating the famous alumni of the school.
Francisco, whom people do indeed affectionately refer to as “King” is a bit of a lush, a tad chauvinist, and more than a little bit cantankerous. The relationship between Francisco and Jaypee develops in amiable fashion, gradual at first, when he up and asks the old man if he can call him “Pop” he blithely allows it. Later on Jaypee asks Pop to help him write a poem for his girlfriend who’s about to up and move away, and the resulting prose, and the process in which it develops is an absolute pleasure to behold.
Using a cast of mostly non actors in dusty, rundown, and absolutely authentic locations, Catu presents a unique and attenuate cinematic offering. Catu accomplishes a lot of visual panache with such modest means — there’s perhaps only one or two dolly shots in the entire film — reaping maximum effect from static frames or staged but still succinct matching shots.
Jaypee and Francisco live in a friable landscape of sun-scorched barren fields populated by stray dogs, roosters meant for fighting (with little evidence to suggest that this is what they actually do), gossiping gadflies, and the women who thanklessly shepherd them. Sure, the film takes a little time to establish itself and make its measure and meter ascribable, but when it does it’s a verifiable delight and a tiny jewel. My Life With a King wears a modest but captivating crown.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)