Segurista was one of the first Filipino films that became a hit in Singapore in recent years prompting further imports of Asian independent films. Filipino film critic Noel Vera in his new book, Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema, tells you why Segurista is not just a dirty sex film. The book will be published in April and available at this year's 18th Singapore International Film Festival.


Noel Vera

 

It's been the year of the "bold:" Priscilla Almeda pulled off her top in a horse's stable ("Sariwa" (Fresh)); Ruffa Gu-tierrez and a host of wet T-shirts followed ("Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa" (The Most Beautiful Creature On The Face Of The Earth)); Rosanna Roces modeled ladies' underwear in "Patikim ng Pina" (Taste My Pineapple); not to be outdone, co-stripper Natasha Ledesma mashed her breasts; Amanda Page swallowed the outflow from a phallic showerhead ("Sobra-Sobra, Labis-Labis" (Too Much Is Just Enough); co-star Ina Raymundo suffered rape via vibrator.

According to the MTRCB, these films are nothing compared to "Segurista" (Dead Sure); after all, those films made it to the theaters, more or less intact. This film was given an X rating, effectively banning it from exhibition.

So - why "Segurista" and not "Pina?" Good question.

"Segurista" is the story of Karen (Michelle Aldana): top insurance agent by day, beautiful Guest Relations Officer (GRO) by night. As GRO, Karen meets wealthy, powerful men; as insurance agent, Karen uses her body to sell policies and win fat bonuses for every target met.

The situation is so completely reasonable, so utterly logical it's incredible no one thought of it before (As a matter of fact, someone did: the film is based on a true story). Scriptwriters Pete Lacaba and Amado Lacuesta take the basic premise and fashion a subtly savage satire on the Ortigas/Makati corporate culture: on the little ants that infest the innards of Metro Manila's bottle-green glass towers

You recognize them. They're dressed in collared longsleeves with power ties, drinking mineral water and discussing stock options over a goat-cheese salad. They take espresso in little tables outside coffee shops, pretending to enjoy the refrigerated breeze blowing from giant mall air-conditioners.

They're the vanguard of President Fidel Ramos's burgeoning economy, his sleek corporate facade, his Great Brown Hope (light brown; many are well-groomed mestizas). They work long, hard hours, and when they leave office they want a reward: a Super Dry, perhaps, or a Blue Ice. But nothing beats the feel of a karaoke mike in one hand and a pretty young thing in the other, her tightly-wrapped bottom squirming in his lap while they both mangle the lyrics to "My Way."

The joke is that Karen does more than service these young urban professionals; she's one of them. She's professional, efficient, immaculately dressed. She practices the proven techniques of networking, synergy, and the soft sell (they come to her; if they want her, they have to buy what she's selling). Even funnier, she's beating them at their own game; they end up coming back to her, wanting more.

The film is remarkable enough as a barbed portrait of Metro Manila; its heart, however, lies further north, in the "lahar" wastelands of Bacolor, where Karen's husband and daughter live. When she goes home, "Segurista" becomes another film: the blasted landscape recalls the wilderness the Israelites wandered in for 40 years; here, there, rooftops and telephone poles poke through, bizarre monuments to the community that was.

God once chose two wicked cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, and razed them to the ground. With Bacolor, Pampanga, it's as if God had caused the ground to rise up and swallow the city whole.

 

In this desolation, thrown back to times so primeval even dinosaurs are missing, the people of Bacolor have kept something that Metro Manilans have lost. It's this something that Karen clings to, that keeps her going. Suddenly, the title "Segurista" takes on a new meaning: Karen is taking no chances. She lost everything to the "lahar:" now she wants it back, and she's using the surest, swiftest method to get it. Karen is an OCW (Overseas Contract Worker) who immigrates to a strange land - Manila - to earn a future for her family; she's a country lass long since corrupted by the urban jungle. Unlike Flor in "Bagong Bayani" (The Last Wish), or Julio in "Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag" (Manila In The Claws Of Neon) however, she's near the end of her exile, her dreams within reach. Then she falls in love, and it all turns into ashes.

Director Tikoy Aguiluz has assembled a cast of wonderful actors, from Eddie Rodriguez's suave elder executive to Pen Medina's sad little taxi driver. Albert Martinez shines as a hedonistic dance instructor with a streak of sadism and Julio Diaz is moving as Karen's loving, lost-looking husband. Gary Estrada as Sonny has that precise mix of arrogance and insecurity so distinctive of Generation X. (I have to say that, having seen - or slept through - "Sobra," "Pinya," "Sariwa," "Showgirls" and "Basic Instinct," none of them generated the kind of sexual heat you felt between Estrada and Aldana. With hardly any nudity, I might add.)

As Karen's best friend, Ruby, Ruby Moreno gives the best performance. Her Ruby is a mix of hard-earned wisdom and foolish romanticism. Unlike Karen, she has no dream waiting for her in Pampanga: her life is right here right now, and she wants to enjoy it now. Moreno takes this silly little character and fashions something warm and oddly touching. A cineaste who's seen her in the Japanese "All Under The Moon" (for which she won 13 different awards as Best Actress) thinks she gives a better performance here.

But as good as Moreno is, this is basically Aldana's film, and she carries a difficult role with grace and dignity. Aguiluz uses her ice-queen persona to good effect, presenting her as a sexy, unreachable object of desire. When things go wrong, when her life starts falling apart, the icy facade cracks and crumbles; the pain and loss on her face is almost unbearable to watch.

So - if the film is so good, why is it being banned? You have to remember that even with Jess Sison at the helm, the MTRCB is still using the same rules that banned "Schindler's List," or "The Piano," or "Priest." So many breasts here, so many pumping scenes there: tally the total and bingo! An "X." It's still the same moronic system, and only a congressional motion is going to change things for the better. (Ironically, "All Under the Moon," the award-winning film for which FVR congratulated Moreno, will be threatened by the same rules. I can see the Newsweek Asia articles: "Philippine President congratulates actress for film President's censors will ban anyway." Nice.)

But then, maybe it's more than just a formulaic law applied idiotically. Maybe the censors didn't like the sarcastic things that Aguiluz, Lacuesta and Lacaba have to say about our youthful businessmen, about our Great Light-Brown Hopes with their cellulars and laptops, about Philippines 2000. Maybe it's the insistence on dealing with dark, unpopular subjects that they don't want, the digging up of dirt they'd rather not see. Maybe it's not the sensuality, it's the honesty.

Maybe they're right: it IS the dirtiest film of the year.

Manila Chronicle, March 9, 1996


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