‘Patay na si Hesus’ surprise sleeper hit of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino

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A scene from 'Patay na si Hesus.'

When the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino festival opened last Wednesday, not a few expected films like Enzo Williams’ “AWOL,” Kip Oebanda’s “Bar Boys” and Jason Paul Laxamana’s “100 Tula Para kay Stella” to be the top grossers given that they have over 100 theaters, more than the other entries.

True enough, the three films performed well on the festival’s first day, as confirmed by no less than Film Development Council of the Philippines Liza Diño-Seguerra. As of the third day of the festival, “100 Tula Para kay Stella” is the leading top grosser.

What no one saw coming was the box office success of Victor Villanueva’s “Patay na si Hesus.” Playing on full house screenings just about everywhere, the screwball road comedy topbilled by Jaclyn Jose and a supporting cast of Cebu-based actors has emerged as the the festival’s surprise blockbuster and in fact, ranked number two in the box office on opening day.

According to producer Moira Lang, “Patay na si Hesus” was one of the films that were originally assigned with fewer cinemas compared to the other PPP entries.

“We originally had 70 cinemas, 29 of which had whole day screening of our film and 41 sliding, meaning we had to share the day’s schedule with other movies. When we opened last Wednesday, we were able to open with 87 theaters, 30 of which were assigned solely to us and 57 were sliding that we had to share,” co-producer Moira Lang revealed in an interview with InterAksyon.

By the film’s third day, 18 more cinemas were added to “Patay na si Hesus” including SM Cinemas in Batangas, San Pablo City, Tarlac, Bulacan Olongapo, Baguio and Cagayan. If the upward trend continues, the producers expect more theaters will be added in the remaining days of the festival.

“The word of mouth is strong. Our second day outgrossed opening day, which is a really good sign. I hope our weekend sales are so strong that a second week in cinemas is assured,” Lang shared.

Co-producers Bianca Balbuena of Epicmedia and Rex Tiri of T-Rex Entertainment attributed the film’s success to sheer word of mouth and the power of social media.

“People really made lot of noise,” Balbuena conceded.

“They cannot stop talking about it after they have seen the film,” added Tiri.

“People say they are genuinely surprised—both at how funny it is and how it also moved them to tears. Family stories resonate deeply with us, especially when they’re as sublimely acted as in this movie,” Lang further noted.

“There’s visual comedy, hilarious banter, slapstick, and absurdity to create a dynamic film that’s funny and yet still touching from beginning to end,” wrote InterAksyon film reviewer Wanggo Gallaga in summing up the film’s overall entertainment value.

In further commending the film’s entire cast that made “Patay na si Hesus” more than just your average comedy, Gallaga singled out lead star Jaclyn Jose for anchoring a strong ensemble performance.

“Jaclyn Jose’s performance nails the comedic skill that’s at work here and leaves you breathless with laughter…Despite all the strangeness and funny barbs, Jose delivers the image of a woman who must pay her respects to a man she has unresolved feelings for while the children she forced on this journey is unraveling around her,” Gallaga further wrote.

Balbuena added that it certainly helped that the film held a number of special screenings long before its theatrical run. The film was already the toast of last year’s QCinema International Film Festival where it won the Audience Choice and Gender Sensitivity awards.

Jaclyn Jose, Vincent Viado and Chai Fonacier during the advance screening of ‘Patay na si Hesus’ to launch InterAksyon Cinema Club last May. (Photo by Bernard Testa/InterAksyon)

And just last May, “Patay na si Hesus” was the initial offering of the recently launched InterAksyon Cinema Club where the film was presented with a pristine new print further enhanced by improved color grading, tighter editing and remastered sound.

And then just last month, the film was picked up for distribution by Columbia Pictures Philippines, which was helpful in providing more awareness for the film.

Even back then, audiences laughed their hearts out at the film’s irreverent and subversive humor, which challenges certain stereotypes and pokes fun at time-honored traditions.

“Patay na si Hesus” is already a strong contender for one of three Audience Choice awards that the PPP will bestow and it’s not a remote possibility that it may also win the festival’s Critics Choice awards given all the rave reviews.

Although it’s still too early to tell but the word-of-mouth success of “Patay na si Hesus” is reminiscent of the underdog stories of phenomenal indie blockbusters like “Heneral Luna” and more recently, “Kita Kita.” These are films that like “Patay na si Hesus” were headlined by acclaimed actors that were not necessarily box office stars.

If “Patay na si Hesus” remains in cinemas even after the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino concludes its run on August 22—and there’s a good chance that it will—then lead actress Jaclyn Jose can soon add the title of “box office star” to the long list of accolades that have characterized her distinguished career.

“The cinemas have been responsive to the audience’s warm reception of the movie and are giving us a lot more screenings. We’re really grateful for that,” Lang concluded.