ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
long-standing misconception that I dislike the films of Carlos Siguion-Reyna.
Nothing could be further from the truth; I look forward to his films
with great pleasure.
Like his latest,
Ligaya Ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin (Call Me Joy). This is his version
of Greta Garbos Camille, which was based on Alexander Dumass
La Dame Aux Camelias; the book has also been adapted into
an opera, Guisseppe Verdis La Traviata, which in turn
was made into a sumptuous (if literal-minded) film by Franco Zeffirelli.
to say that Ligaya neednt bow its head in the presence
of its upper-class siblings: director Carlos Siguion-Reyna and his
writer-wife Bibeth Orteza, in their never-ending attempt to crack
the international festival circuit, have taken this classic tale
of love and redemption and stamped it with their own inimitable
style. The film, from first frame to last, is a hoot and a half;
if you dont find yourself laughing by the first 15 minutes,
check yourself for a pulse.
This time the
Marguerite figure, Ligaya (Rosanna Roces), is a prostitute working
in the most unreal whorehouse this side of Disneyland: the place
is a squat-ugly BLISS housing development type stuffed with 19th-century
furniture and lit like a soft-core porno movie set. She meets a
young farmer (John Arcilla), falls in love, and moves in with him.
The rest of the movie is a hodgepodge of heavy symbolism, outrageous
coincidences, unreal acting, and supersilly melodrama. The actors
intone kilometric lines - generously draped with flowery turns of
phrase - managing to look vaguely zombielike one moment, totally
hysterical the next (Ive always wondered about the stilted
dialogue in Siguion-Reynas films. Watching this movie, it
hit me: the words must have been written to appeal to international
film critics. They only want translation and subtitling to achieve
that perfectly pretentious literary tone).
And the pumping
scenes - the famous pumping scenes. Frankly, I dont understand
what all the fuss is about (if its really fuss, and not manufactured
to promote the film): I always thought the MTRCB can censor a movie
only if the people in it looked like they were having sex. No one
in this picture was engaged in anything that looked remotely like
sex; mud wrestling, maybe. My favorite instance is when Roces takes
the mayors driver by the hand, and leads him to her room;
she proceeds to hump him as if she possessed the male genitalia.
also a good deal of spitting and rape in this picture, with Roces
on the receiving end of both: shes raped and spat on, raped
and spat on endlessly, to the point that you feel she needs both
a chastity belt and an umbrella to protect herself. Then theres
the scene where Arcillas uncle (Pen Medina) forces himself
on Roces, sodomizing her. Siguion-Reyna also had sodomy in his last
picture, Abot Kamay Sa Pangarap (Elenas Redemption)
- that time, it was Maricel Soriano who got it in the end. A portrait
of the degradation of women, fine, but we got the point in the first
film; you wish a little more imagination was exercised this time
around. With every frame of the picture just dripping with meaning,
you start to wonder whats the real significance behind all
of this (or the significance of all the behinds).
Roces has a
lively delivery style when shes being profane and bitchy;
once or twice she gets to fire off one of those funny asides shes
famous for in her previous movies. As this movie wears on, however,
Siguion-Reyna manages to shoehorn her into his approved style of
film performance, and she acquires a whining tone for the so-called
heavy drama scenes. John Arcilla, Eva Darren, and the rest of the
cast all fall under the directors spell; even Pen Medina,
a ferociously talented actor, succumbs. Only Chanda Romero seems
to break free, despite the fact that her character makes a totally
unmotivated hundred-and-eighty degree turn; her whorehouse madam
(belatedly implanted with a heart of gold) at least has the look
and feel of a human performance.
La Dame and La Traviata ended in a rising crescendo
of masochism: Marguerite leaves her man out of love for him, and
is humiliated by said man (he throws money at her face); she later
dies of consumption, her penitent lover weeping by her side. Here,
screenwriter Orteza roots out the leave-him-for-his-sake subplot
but has Arcilla fling money at Roces anyway (he hits her somewhere
between her shoulder-blades). He does this because she left him;
she left him because he called her a whore; he called her a whore
because - well, were not sure why, but clear and forceful
motivation doesnt seem to be a priority here.
The film then
tries to make some existential, post-modern point that money - even
money thrown and meant to humiliate - is valuable, and should be
set aside (Chanda Romero is so impressed by this - again, were
not sure why - that she closes down the whorehouse and sends her
girls away). Orteza also lops off the death-by-consumption climax
and concludes with the two lovers reunited; a happy ending, if having
more sex Siguion-Reyna style can be called a happy ending.
about this movie is almost beside the point. Siguion-Reyna and Orteza
dont make bad drama; you need human beings for that. No one
- except Romero sometimes, and perhaps Medina - acts human in this
movie. They arent driven by ordinary human motivations; they
dont even talk ordinary human speech. The result is rather
entertaining: you might be watching a particularly macabre episode
of The X-Files where aliens have already taken over a small provincial
town and are trying to make a sex movie. They know the dictionary
definition of "story" and "emotion" and theyve
observed countless examples of human lovemaking but the actual execution
- well, they try; oh, how they try. You can only stare and laugh,
a best-selling title, Carlos Siguion-Reyna is from Mars, Bibeth
Orteza from Venus; this latest from their distinguished team seems
to have dropped in from the far side of Pluto.
Chronicle, February 9, 1997.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.