What happens when a stripper works as a maid for a man and his three sons? Why, sleep with them of course. Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Milagros (Miracle) is so unbelievable that only a blind man's groping constitutes the best performance. Noel Vera waits... for a miracle.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Milagros (Miracle) is about a nightclub dancer (Sharmaine Arnaiz) who works for a man (Dante Rivero) and sleeps with his three sons (Joel Torre, Noni Buencamino, Raymond Bagatsing).

I liked her last film, May Nagmamahal Sa Iyo. Diaz-Abaya, looking for another project, must have found the chance to direct a Rolando Tinio script (a prize-winner at that) too tempting to resist. Would that she resisted: Milagros is a hodgepodge of lukewarm acting, narratively senseless acting, and some very good acting indeed, mired in a story lost somewhere north of The X-Files and west of Twin Peaks.

Characters do strange things without explanation. We don’t know, for example, why Arnaiz insists on leaving a well-paying job to work as a maid for Dante Rivero. We don’t know why Arnaiz, a stripper, seems as innocent as a provincial virgin. We don’t know why Arnaiz readily gives in to Rivero’s advances, or why Rivero is so unsurprised when she does. Raymond Bagatsing, on the other hand, fiercely rejects Arnaiz, though you don’t see any earthly reason for him to do so. She’s a whore? So what? Rivero has no problem with that; no one does, except Bagatsing.

Actually, everyone’s character is problematical: the best performance in Milagros happens to be the simplest, by Noni Buencamino as the blind brother. He’s hardly more than a plot function to round out the brothers, but Buencamino manages to make his role coherent, even memorable. This may be because the film has no heavy symbolic baggage to assign Buencamino, so he’s free to create a recognizably human being.

There are lapses in continuity, like Bagatsing driving Arnaiz out of the house and back to her nightclub; cut to next scene, and Arnaiz is back with the household as if nothing had happened. You wonder if maybe the projectionist had skipped an entire reel.

Rivero’s stroke and subsequent heart attack come off as old-fashioned plot functions. Same goes for Buencamino’s suicide, and Arnaiz’s ultimate end; people have a tendency to die in this movie whenever the script runs out of steam.

The atmosphere is strangely nonsensual for a story that’s driven by four men’s obsession with one woman. There’s more heat in Torre’s grappling with Bagatsing, or Bagatsing with Buencamino, or Rivero with Torre, than there is in Arnaiz embracing any of them. Diaz-Abaya seems unable to give an erotic charge to anything; even Arnaiz’s nightclub dancing resembles half-hearted calisthenics.

Stuck with the finished product, Diaz-Abaya bravely defends the film, calling it "experimental" and asking critics to abandon their need for narrative-bound cinema. I’m willing to let her throw the textbook out the window, but she does so at her peril: as is, she’s caught in the trap of going too far and not going far enough. "Experimental" puts her in the same playing field as directors like Luis Bunuel and David Lynch. Difference is, no matter how twisted their tales became, their imagery had a compelling audacity, a sense of something that soars beyond ordinary logic. Diaz-Abaya is a tasteful and intelligent director, and it’s these qualities that keep her otherwise formidable courage earthbound. The only thing that seems inspired is, strangely enough, her arguments on behalf of the movie; if she had put as much passion and imagination into the film, then we might have had something really worth watching.

Note: Manila Chronicle, April 20, 1997. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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