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What to know:
1ST SEM is in the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival - it may not be a regular, endorsed title
Recommended age 12-18
103 minutes
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Despite being made in the Philippines, the relatable story, natural acting and superb camera work make this a film that everyone can enjoy. 1st Sem, at the core, tells a coming-of-age story. There are many more elements in the plot ranging from intense drama to light humor to romance.

This indie film tells a story about a young Filipino man named Maru who has just finished high school and is heading to the university. There's more to the story. His family doesn't have a lot of money so the two brothers and mother have to all work hard to get him into this school. Sadly, a first-night separation anxiety becomes too powerful for him and he returns home. The film has two main stories that intertwine. The first focuses more on Maru's journey and trying to figure out what to do, but the second focuses on the somewhat dysfunctional family Maru lives in. The two play together perfectly making for an emotional and exciting story.

There are so many features that make this an excellent film. The one thing that could be improved is the soundtrack. The music doesn't lack quality, but the timing and genre of the music feels off. Most of the soundtrack has a rather upbeat tone which doesn't work so well when it's in scenes with a more dramatic and sadder tone. In those scenes, it almost ruins the mood. This one small issue doesn't bear weight against the many positives, including the writing which feels natural and smooth. My favorite aspect has to do with camera work. The entire film has stupendous cinematography, right from the very first shot.

My favorite scene (or more specifically shot) is the first scene I mentioned previously. In this scene, the family is packing Maru to go to school and, the whole family (including a dozen cousins) are there to see him off. The entire four minute scene inside the house is done in a single shot. This isn't that uncommon for films to have very long shots, but what makes this so amazing is how the filmmakers choreographed a dozen things happening to the main characters as well as all the additional characters that run around them and it comes off so naturally and perfect. As this whole scene is one shot, they had to shoot the entire thing in one take.

There are quite a few mature topics which older teens and young adults could relate to best. For that reason, I recommend this to ages 13 to 18. I think parents will enjoy this film as well because the concept is so universal. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars. It really is an excellent film that's enjoyable to watch with a small issue in the timing and tone of the music that don't support some of the best dramatic scenes in the film.

Reviewed by Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

This film really touches on so many emotions about families and communication. It offers a very realistic depiction of a Philippine single mother dealing with her son's misadventures when he leaves home to attend the university and returns almost immediately. It explores an issue that is not unique to the Philippines but to families everywhere. Sometimes the transition to move away from home to further your education is more than some kids can handle. Maru bails from the university before he even starts. He can't stand the idea of being away from his mother and family and, as his story winds we discover there is more beneath the surface that we thought. It offers an inside look at a middle class Philippine family and their community. We see how a parent and extended family members have sacrificed so much so that their child can succeed and, hopefully have a better life than they have. This is very well produced with great camera work and authentic locations and situations. The shots of the countryside are beautiful and the background music quite charming. I recommend it for the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival for youth ages 13 to 18. In Filipino with English sub-titles. Julie S., KIDS FIRST! Juror
The love-hate relationship between mother and son intensifies when the latter decides not to pursue his promising college education in the city after suffering from separation anxiety.
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