Director Peque Gallaga, who had made the erotic Scorpio Nights, might be reckless, intuitive, sensual and passionate when it comes to his movies. But Mrs Montero's Lover is not only Gallaga's attempt to remake his earlier movie, the project seems completely wrongheaded, says Noel Vera, wringing his hands.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

At first glance, D. H. Lawrence seems temperamentally perfect for Peque Gallaga (who had earlier directed Scorpio Nights). Lawrence, like Gallaga, is reckless, intuitive, sensual, passionate; Lawrence, like Gallaga, has that quality of being both less-than-wise and larger-than-life.

But Lawrence is master of a much broader canvas - of the sexuality and feelings of an entire society. His novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was written to advance the idea that sex was actually a healthy and natural act - radical stuff in the more conservative ’20s. But what made the novel really radical - and had it banned in several countries - was the manner in which it was written: Lawrence extended the same care and complexity and realism with which he wrote about his characters to the sex scenes - even down to the words the characters used before and after sex. For once in a major work of literature, people made love like they did in real life; afterwards, they even talked like they did in real life. As a result of this really very simple act, the novel was never legally published in England - Lawrence’s own country - until the ’60s.

From the very first scene, Gallaga’s Ang Kabit Ni Mrs. Montero (Mrs. Montero's Lover) seems completely wrongheaded. You have Mr. Montero (Edu Manzano) in his wheelchair, watching while a man - in a tableau that can only be described kindly as Arabian Nights kitsch - screws Mrs. Montero (Patricia Javier) three ways from Sunday. There’s an entire video crew on hand to record (and witness) the scene, and a screaming-gay director to scold Mr. Montero on his atrocious bad taste.

Gallaga’s beginning - entertainingly kinky as it may be - is miles away from Lawrence’s melancholy Wragby Hall, with its shell-shocked paralytic (fresh out of the horrors of World War I) and his lonely, frustrated wife.

Lawrence took pains to sketch his characters - Clifford Chatterley just this side of frigid, Connie Chatterley liberated, but not too liberated - and show how sex and sexuality change their lives during the course of the novel. By making the Monteros decadent from the start, Gallaga begins with his characters at their most extreme and leaves them with nowhere else to go but over the top. There’s a chilling power to reading about Lord Chatterley’s increasingly infantile dependence on his nurse; watching Mr. Montero become healthier and more sexually active under his nurse (Sunshine Cruz) doesn’t quite have the same impact.

But Gallaga doesn’t seem interested in developing his characters. Sunshine Cruz and Patricia Javier are by turns wholesome or nasty, depending, it seems, on what page of the script they happen to be reading at the moment. Edu Manzano sometimes looks as if he’s about to rise from the chair in a fit of healthful energy, sometimes looks as if he thinks he’s Dr. Strangelove. It’s not the changes that I mind - it’s the sheer carelessness with which the changes are brought about. The characters spin like tops, helpless in a rudderless story, and Gallaga doesn’t seem interested in giving them direction - any direction at all.

Robbed of context, character, and story, the sex scenes are just a series of soft-core pornographic sequences strung together. For the record, Sunshine Cruz possesses a superior body to Patricia Javier, but both give off relatively little heat during the sex scenes - maybe because they never understood why their characters are having sex in the first place. Edu Manzano has moments of campy fun as the chairbound Mr. Montero, though you sense in him the manner of a guest at a boring party, trying to stir up some entertainment on his own initiative.

Surprisingly, Gardo Verzosa gives the most successful performance, as the Mrs. Montero’s lower-class lover. Verzosa’s role is again a departure from Connie Chatterley’s gamekeeper, though this time for the better - Mellors was an egomaniac compared to Verzosa’s relatively more subdued security guard. It’s as if Gallaga was too preoccupied in ending the acting careers of the rest of the cast to bother with ruining Verzosa’s performance.

Given Gallaga’s accomplishment in Scorpio Nights, it’s sad to realize that he’s practically never made as good a film since. Deliryo was the saga of two talentless puppy-dogs (Jomari Yllana and Giselle Toengi), playing at erotic love; Scorpio Nights 2 - which Gallaga produced but did not direct - resembled a two-hour beer commercial, and was mildly kinky where the original was harrowingly perverse (you might call the sequel Scorpio Lite). Ang Kabit Ni Mr. Montero is Gallaga’s latest attempt to recreate the triumph of his one great film. Looking at that film, can you blame him for failing? And, at the same time, blame him for trying again and again and again?

Note: Businessworld, May 14, 1999. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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