ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
Paano Ka Ginawa?
(Leas Story) is the latest by Lualhati Bautista, from her
novel. Bautista is not an inconsiderable artist; she earlier wrote
the screenplay for Mario OHaras Bulaklak Ng City
Jail (Flowers Of The City Jail) and for Ike Jarlegos Nena
- the earlier works having a roundness, a concern and skill with
character development thats unusual for a Filipino writer.
In her earlier
screenplays, Bautista dealt with people from the lower classes -
a stripper in Nena and a woman convict in Bulaklak. Vilma
Santos character in Bata is recognizably middle class,
even upper middle, and Bautista seems less inspired by the milieu.
Her characters look idle and bored - not a promising start for a
constructive activity is social action; Santos works at a non-government
organization (NGO) that helps raped or battered women. Im
not sure if its a problem with the script or with the production,
but this particular NGO hardly looks real - a touch too well-equipped,
perhaps, the workers just this side of being too good-looking (not
to mention Santos who, dressed and made up, is the most glamorous
NGO worker Ive ever seen).
kills the credibility of the NGO scenes is when Cita Astals, as
a battered wife, walks in with her heavily-beaten face. Or rather,
her heavily made-up face, the bruise makeup being so unbelievably
thick and colorful that instead of recoiling in horror you find
yourself repressing giggles. Astals is usually a sharp and intelligent
actress - I liked her abusive- adoptive-parent character in May
Nagmamahal Sa Iyo (Madonna And Child) - but for this movie she
seems to have been told to listen to her worse instincts and overact
outrageously. You watch this circle of women surround Astals while
she recounts her story of beatings and abuse - all the while breathing
heavily and crying gallons of tears - and you cant be sure
if the pity is for her hard life or for her thankless role.
life at home is, if anything, even more unbelievable. She has two
children from two different fathers (Albert Martinez, Ariel Rivera),
one of whom (Martinez) she lives with, the premise that drives the
movie. Its a novel situation, to put it mildly, and, to her
credit, Bautista writes Santoss character as strong-willed
and defiantly fun-loving. Santos wants to be independent of the
men in her lives, at the same time she wants to enjoy life at her
character can be a touch too defiant; she wears her independence
a touch too openly on her sleeve. There comes a point when her many
declarations of womens rights become less a battle cry and
more an acute pain, and you begin to wonder how any man can put
up with her, let alone live with her.
heart of this films problem is that, without the kind of desperate
situations Bautistas protagonists found themselves in in her
previous films, her feminist rhetoric rings false. It was moving
when Nora Aunor, as a convict, insisted on her rights to keep her
newborn in Bulaklak; and it was moving when Sharmain Suarez
insisted on her right to strip and show her body in Nena; but what
kind of sympathy can we feel for a woman who lives in a house as
expensive as Santoss (two storeys, with several bedrooms and
a large living room) and insists on her right to ignore her children
whenever she sees fit?
saying that its impossible to feel sympathy for such a character:
writing about the middle-class or well-to-do is possible but, if
anything, even more difficult than writing about the poor. Im
saying that the challenges are different, the need for realism greater.
And the film fails to deliver on the challenge.
As the mother,
Vilma Santos delivers a varied, even competent performance, but
not much else. Shes on her Sister Stella L. mode, from the
Mike De Leon film of the same name, full of righteousness and rhetoric,
though with uninhibited sexuality (largely implied - Santos nowadays
is about as sexual as a grandmother). Its been a long time
since Santos has had a role that was even halfway exciting; now
that shes a city mayor and successful financially and politically,
she seems to have lost the kind of hunger that drives an actress
and Raymond Bagatsing are good-looking but dull; they hardly leave
an impression. Even the usually interesting Albert Martinez seems
subdued in this film. His best scene is when he listens to Santoss
farewell speech: he generously cedes center stage to Santos, supporting
her with his sometimes sympathetic, sometimes uncomprehending reactions;
he seems to be genuinely trying to understand what shes trying
to tell him, and failing miserably (acting the part of a listener
is no small skill, and rare among our attention-hungry actors).
Poorly characterized men are a given in feminist films, but Martinez
almost - though not quite - manages to give his cliched male boor
some semblance of humanity.
The film was
supposed to be Laurice Guillens comeback film, and you wonder
if she could have done a better job than Chito Rono - Guillen loves
defiant women characters, as she has shown in Salome and Init
Sa Magdamag (Midnight Passion). Shes even worked with
Santos before, on The Dolzura Cortez Story, and the result was a
moving, decently made melodrama; she certainly cant do a worse
job than Rono. His camera is endlessly restless, panning here, panning
there, except when he holds still for a prettily lit shot; its
watchable - all of Ronos films are - but completely at odds
with the rest of the movie. Bautistas stories hunger for a
plainness in visual approach that Rono cant seem to understand.
better served in her two previous films. Ike Jarlego, a former editor,
brought a straightforward honesty to his interpretation of Nena,
while Mario OHara brought a sensitivity, a largeness of spirit,
and one of the most formidable visual imaginations in Philippine
cinema to Bulaklak.
Sa City Jail is, in fact, Bautista at her best: there is an
urgency to her storytelling thats largely absent from Bata,
Bata. OHaras direction is a model of how to adopt
Bautistas scripts to the large screen: plain, gritty realism
for the establishing scenes, an almost Renoir-like simplicity for
the dramatic scenes. And when Nora Aunor as Bautistas convict
heroine escapes into Manila Zoo, OHara knows how to pull out
all the stops: the zoo is transformed into a baroque fantasyland,
a nightmare jungle of animal hoots and shrieks, where a gorillas
arm can unexpectedly snake out to hook you, and a mother, desperate
and exhausted, gives birth on the floor of a lions cage. In
Aunor, Bautista has her perfect heroine - wordless, almost painfully
inarticulate, yet strong and no-nonsense when the occasion demands.
Her performance, and not Santoss, is what real cinema is all
September 11, 1998.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.