ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
Deocampo's Mother Ignacia is a bigger, better-funded, better-produced
film than his Pedrong Palad (Pedro Palmer); why, then, do I
prefer the latter so much more than the former? Is it because the
former - the life and times of a saintly woman, and the 400-year history
of the group she founded - is less personal Deocampo, and so much
less interesting? You bet.
admittedly puts in clever touches like the use of a beautifully
detailed model of Intramuros, and he has campy fun with some of
the evil fantasies that torment Mother Ignacia (there's a great
moment where she's with a man, and instead of kissing him goes down
on her knees). Otherwise, it's a largely forgettable exercise in
conscientious and tasteful storytelling - a restful two-and-a-half
hours in the movie theater. On the last day of [the Filipino] Filmfest
2000, there were two significant shorts shown, before the main features:
Raymond Red's Anino (Shadows) and Peter Chua's Buwan
(Moon). Both are well-budgeted 35 mm shorts. Anino, about
the wanderings of a photographer around Manila, has the advantage
of an extraordinary cast (Eddie Garcia, Ronnie Lazaro, John Arcilla)
and lovely amber lighting.
is even more remarkable, its black and white imagery edited to move
with all the fluidity of a dream - or a nightmare, if you prefer.
Both, however, suffer from huge lapses in credibility - in Anino,
we're asked to believe that the photographer (Lazaro) would just
give his camera to a child; in Buwan we're asked to believe
a man can lie atop a hugely pregnant woman and rape her (it's like
raping a woman with a basketball strapped to her belly). On the
evidence of the two shorts, it seems that we have an abundant supply
of daring and imaginative filmmakers - it's the writing that needs
Avellana's Anak Dalita (The Ruins) gives us the lovely image
of a poor community living in the ruins of a large cathedral, and
the love affair that ensues between a one-armed man (Tony Santos
Sr.) and a bar hostess (Rosa Rosal, whose statuesque figure - 100
per cent natural, mind you - puts to shame the silicon sensuality
of Rosanna Roces, or Ara Mina). Avellana's neo-realist film quickly
and quietly tells the story of the two lovers, with the surrounding
church and community for backdrop. The ending is melodramatic -
the result of two deaths, a shootout, and a villain's dramatic last-minute
conversion - but otherwise the film is a model of economical storytelling.
De Leon's The Moises Padilla Story - about an aspiring mayoral candidate
(Leopoldo Salcedo) who is tortured and killed during election season
- was a quickie political propaganda flick made on behalf of Carlos
P. Garcia during his election season. One man's propaganda, though,
may be another's cinematic near-masterpiece; De Leon's vivid direction
- plus the film's bullet momentum and intense acting, puts this
one near the top of his considerable oeuvre.
Leon keeps a firm rein on Salcedo's tendency to act larger-than-life
- his Padilla is a recognizable human being, vulnerable and charming.
The filmmaker turns Salcedo's rugged handsomeness (he was nicknamed
The Great Profile) into a heroic icon, and understands that icons
achieve full magnificence only when they are desecrated - when they
are spattered in their own blood. De Leon spatters a lot of blood
in Moises Padilla; the beating and whipping of Padilla may well
be the longest and most intense torture scene ever put into a Filipino
may be the Christ figure, but acting-wise the film belongs to its
Judas - Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada as Padilla's
best friend, called in and compelled to supervise his torture. The
way Estrada plays him (with a brooding intensity worthy of James
Dean) you couldn't tell who suffers more - the man being tortured,
or the man inflicting the torture (when cornered at the end of the
film, Estrada looks relieved to be caught).
actually a big joke. A scandalous killing essentially ended Estrada's
career way back when; no producer would touch him, until De Leon
asked for him in Moises Padilla with only one condition - that he
play the villain. The punchline is, Estrada comes through with a
performance of complexity and great sensitivity, bordering on the
miraculous. Now if he can only reprise the role for his real-life
Businessworld, February 25, 2000. The above also appears in Noel
Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.