Diaz-Abayas 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
do strange things without explanation. We dont know, for example,
why Arnaiz insists on leaving a well-paying job to work as a maid
for Dante Rivero. We dont know why Arnaiz, a stripper, seems
as innocent as a provincial virgin. We dont know why Arnaiz
readily gives in to Riveros advances, or why Rivero is so
unsurprised when she does. Raymond Bagatsing, on the other hand,
fiercely rejects Arnaiz, though you dont see any earthly reason
for him to do so. Shes a whore? So what? Rivero has no problem
with that; no one does, except Bagatsing.
character is problematical: the best performance in Milagros happens
to be the simplest, by Noni Buencamino as the blind brother. Hes
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 hes 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.
stroke and subsequent heart attack come off as old-fashioned plot
functions. Same goes for Buencaminos suicide, and Arnaizs
ultimate end; people have a tendency to die in this movie whenever
the script runs out of steam.
is strangely nonsensual for a story thats driven by four mens
obsession with one woman. Theres more heat in Torres
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 Arnaizs
nightclub dancing resembles half-hearted calisthenics.
the finished product, Diaz-Abaya bravely defends the film, calling
it "experimental" and asking critics to abandon their
need for narrative-bound cinema. Im willing to let her throw
the textbook out the window, but she does so at her peril: as is,
shes 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 its
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.
Chronicle, April 20, 1997.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.