Three unhappy sexual relationships and one unhappy film. Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's Tatlo... Magkasalo (Three) has one remarkable scene but otherwise makes sex look tiring and unsatisfying. Noel Vera reviews.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

To be honest, I’m not a great fan of Oguri; watching his The Sting Of Death felt very close to the real thing. But he did say one thing that struck me: "As many flowers can grow in one pot, so is there room for filmmakers like me and Spielberg."

Not a bad philosophy, but I’d like to have asked him: what about filmmakers like Carlitos Siguion-Reyna? He’s a real original I think, a filmmaker who does scenes we’ve never seen before - and, with any luck, never will again. All of his films boast of high production values, glossy cinematography, inventive staging, and the sense of "we’re doing something special, for the sake of art." His works are also (especially with his wife Bibeth Orteza writing) excessive, self-indulgent, campy, melodramatic, and totally out of touch with reality.


Take the tangled skein that’s Tatlo... Magkasalo (Three). Ara Mina’s character doesn’t enjoy sex with her husband (Tonton Guttierrez) but with her former girlfriend (Rita Avila); Guttierrez enjoys sex with his wife, and also with a work colleague (Sharmaine Suarez). Avila loves sex with Mina, but that doesn’t stop her from having sex with her live-in partner (Gina Alajar).

The film supposedly deals with the issue of lesbianism and, maybe, the Siguion-Reynas felt that lesbians and their supporters will flock to champion the film. I hope not; I like to think that lesbians have as much good taste and sense as anyone else and not champion something that will embarrass them, and this film is nothing if not embarrassing.

The dialogue is atrocious, as usual; people use words you won’t find outside of a poetry-reading contest, in sentences that sound stilted even for a Filipino film. What’s new is that Orteza’s lines, as directed by Siguion-Reyna, have acquired a new cadence: now they sound like they were written expressly for translation into poeticized English, and they’re spoken slower, with longer pauses, for easier subtitling.

 

The Siguion-Reynas often brag that they and their films have traveled to international film festivals; seems to me that they’ve learned a few mannerisms from some of the more pretentious festival entries along the way.

The sex scenes are sex scenes in name only. Siguion-Reyna can’t seem to build any momentum or erotic charge, despite the presence of Ara Mina’s formidable swinging breasts; actually, you get the distinct feeling that he’s not all that interested. The sex acts look mildly kinky, but there’s no heat to them; the actors seem to be performing aerobics (they’re sweaty and breathless afterwards, and look more weary than satisfied).

Siguion-Reyna had the same problem with Rosanna Roces in Ang Lalaki Sa Buhay Ni Selya (The Man In Her Life) and Ligaya Ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin (Call Me Joy). Roces showed wit and spirit in cheap Seiko sex-flicks like Patikim Ng Pinya (Taste My Pineapple), but Selya and Ligaya are supposed to be art films, so Siguion-Reyna has her act world-weary, bored. The result is wearying, not to mention boring; Siguion-Reyna, in a bid to turn Roces into a "respectable" actress, killed what little talent she had as a comedienne.

 

Not that there’s much to kill in Ara Mina. Both in here and in Chito Rono’s Curcacha, she’s inexpressive and has no presence at all; her face is fixed in a permanent, petulant stare, which seems to be her idea of intense acting. Rita Avila and Gina Alajar don’t fare much better; you can add them to the long list of talented performers who’ve been overwhelmed by the house style of overacting. Tonton Guttierrez injects much-needed energy into the picture by hamming outrageously and kicking or wrecking whatever happens to be nearby: cups, saucers, wine glasses, gay neighbors, Rita Avila, taxis - half the production budget must have gone into buying things for him to smash.

Only Sharmaine Suarez seems to rise above it all; hers is the only relaxed performance in the film. In fact, she figures, with Tonton Guttierrez, in the one scene in the film that has any credibility. Suarez and Guttierrez are in bed together: Guttierrez is doubting his masculinity because he’s learnt that his wife is a lesbian; Suarez is doubting her femininity because she can’t take Guttierrez’s mind off his wife. They exchange hostile remarks; Suarez realizes that she has had enough and leaves.

Suddenly, Orteza’s dialogue and Siguion-Reyna’s direction snap into focus; their work in this scene is more honest than anything they’ve ever done, and the difference is startling, even a little dizzying. What makes the scene so good? Maybe because it deals with two people who realize that they’re not as talented as they thought they were; that they’re not, in fact, the people that they thought they were. They have to lie in bed together with this cold, hard fact between them, and the sheer pain of the realization destroys what love they have left in them for each other.

Note: Businessworld, October 2, 1998. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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