Short Film Review: Anino (2000)

Anino (2000) is directed and written by Raymond Red, widely considered to be one of the pioneers in Filipino alternative cinema. Anino was the first Filipino film to win a Cannes Film Festival award back in 2000, and is widely regarded as one of the best short films to have come out from the Southeast Asian nation.

Anino, in Tagalog, means shadow. In the case of this film’s title, it refers to the shadow of the Philippines’ biggest city, Manila. A densely populated and cramped city of contrasts, with a very distinct mix between the rich and poor. Anino feels like an almost nostalgic love letter to the city itself. However, this short film doesn’t so much aim to evoke a sense of warmth and familiarity in its nostalgia as it does the troubled and repressed traumatic mood evident in the city’s inhabitants.


From the beginning, as the title card rolls, we are greeted with the soft tunes of a guitar piece that seem to invoke a bittersweet feeling. We then cut to a shot of the traffic in Manila, with cars flooding the streets and choking the air with their exhaust. This shot then intercuts with shots of buskers and newspapermen pushing their carts and going about their day in what is obviously a lively street.

This scene perfectly encapsulates the mood of the rest of the short. The opening scene isn’t a glamorous establishing shot of the city mixed with nostalgic music. Instead, it showcases the shadows of Manila’s streets: grimy, jam full of vehicles polluting the air alongside an abundance of foot traffic. This whole time the scene's sights are colour graded with warm tones, as seen in films such as Little Women. We can see this contrast again in the short film’s ending, when the cityscape of Manila, with all of its noise and heat, is layered over with the same soft tune that was playing in the beginning of the short, yet again evoking that bittersweet feeling as the screen fades to black. Hence the short feels like Red’s love letter to Manila in ways that explore the shadows of the city and its inhabitants.


The two main characters of the film are: a drifter and down-on-his-luck photographer (Ronnie Lazaro), and a man in black (John Arcilla). It’s important to note that none of these characters have names, almost as if they were shadows roaming this bustling and choking city. The man in black is also likely a mere apparition from the photographer’s mind, as evident from when the man in black taunts the photographer in front of the church. During this whole scene, there’s no one who pays any attention to the commotion caused by the man in black as he shouts and accuses the photographer of “stealing people’s souls” by taking pictures of them. The bizarreness of the man in black character is most apparent in the film’s ending, with the man in black driving the photographer away, claiming that he is finally going “home”.


On one hand, the man in black appears to be a manifestation of death, who meets the photographer outside a church and appears after the photographer is beaten by corrupt cops at the end of the film. On the other hand, the photographer could also be a manifestation of the filmmaking cynic, particularly the middle-aged filmmaker/photographer who was once filled with optimism and had moved from the village to the city for work, only to become a hollow of his former self when confronted by the grim reality of the city he inhabits.


Both characters, along with all the other characters in the film such as corrupt cops and street urchins, are the ‘shadows’ that lurk in every street corner of the film. They represent the unseen that the privileged choose to ignore, just as they are blinded to the systemic injustices and poverty shown on screen. Clearly, the short film was meant to be a social commentary by Red, and it captures his attempt to highlight the issues of his country to a broader international audience.

The performances are superb all around. The three main actors, Larazo, Arcilla and Eddie Garcia give excellent performances with their commandeering screen presence. On a technical level, the cinematography is amazing as well. However, the sound mixing of the film could use more work, especially when the film relies so heavily on it. There are numerous scenes throughout the film where the music and the diegetic sound do not blend well together. At its worst, the music would sometimes just cut off completely when transiting to another scene. The film is also scored very sparsely, invoking a greater emotional response when it is used in a scene.

As Raymond Red puts it himself during his acceptance speech at the Cannes International Film Festival 2000, “(I share) this award with a lot of the struggling young filmmakers in the Philippines today, (who are putting) all their efforts in trying to make the country a better place with all their troubles today.”

I would also like to mention that Red spent most of his savings—more than $8,000—to make Anino, and he came close to bankruptcy to go to Cannes Film Festival, where he personally handed out photocopied promotional flyers for his film. For Red, pursuing his art has come at a hefty price and he is one of many passionate Southeast Asian filmmakers who are fuelled by their passion and love for the craft. To that end, I highly recommend Anino to anyone who wants to see an amazing short film from a talented and passionate filmmaker from the region.

Written by Erwin Lim

Watch the short film here:


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