about barrio doctors, an important and oft-neglected subject.
It features Jacklyn Jose and Gina Alajar, two actresses we should
see more often in starring roles, and often dont. It marks
the end of a long period of silence for writer Clodualdo Del
Mundo (who wrote the classics Kisapmata (Blink Of The
Eye) and Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag (Manila In The
Claws Of Neon)) and director Gil Portes (Merika).
be a pleasure to report that these talented names have put their
heads together and come up with a stunning film. Unfortunately,
Mulanay is the kind of movie that earns more respect
than admiration - a two-hour public-service recruitment ad for
health care and the environment.
starts with the premise: rich doctor (Jacklyn Jose) goes to
province to have her consciousness raised. Putting things mildly,
its been done - Akira Kurosawas Red Beard is probably
the best example; Northern Exposure the most recent. The challenge
these films faced was how to treat the doctor character: Red
Beard solved this by reducing the young intern to a mere foil
for Toshiro Mifunes larger-than-life, scarlet-bearded
medical practitioner. Mifune was accused of playing a Japanese
Dr. Kildare, of making his doctor too good to be true (a charge
all too easily leveled at Joses physician).
Mifunes interpretation, however, is anger: Red Beards
reaction to poverty and suffering is an all-consuming fury:
a kind of single-minded determination to fight suffering that
burns away all sentimental implications from his dippy do-goodism.
In this sense, hes flawed (he manages to alienate the
young intern with his brusqueness); hes also believable.
Exposure pushes the concept even further: Rob Morrows
Dr. Fleischman is not only not likable; hes a whining,
self-centered, cowardly heel. The joke is he doesnt even
want to do good; hes heroic in spite of himself.
might have taken the daring step of turning its ploddingly
sincere drama into a comedy (do I have to mention that a comic
treatment is not necessarily a less serious treatment, and that
irreverence can be a sharper tool for exploring tired, old issues?).
It wouldnt be an Exposure rip-off, not if it retained
the wonderful images of everyday living in the little barrio
(really the best scenes in the film). The filth and misery of
Mulanay, Philippines would be a good corrective to Exposures
unbelievably benign and beautiful Alaskan Never-never Land.
Jose tries valiantly but cant bring much life to her ill-conceived
barrio doctor. Gina Alajar manages to look right at home among
real barrio people, but her subplot - something about her and
an unforgiving husband - sticks out like a sore thumb in all
get me wrong - Jose and Alajar are wonderful actresses, the
best working in local - or any - cinema. Both have appeared
in films that werent worthy of their talent (Jose gave
the single best performance in The Flor Contemplacion Story;
Gina Alajar was the saving grace of the awful Delia Maga Story).
Sad to say, Mulanay is more of the same.
is rounded off by a host of excellent character actors and actresses:
Nonie Buencamino has his most substantial role yet as a two-timing
fisherman whose wife is an OCW (Overseas Contract Worker). Robert
Arevalo and Rosemarie Gil make good, if much too brief, appearances
as Jacklyn Joses parents. Tommy Abuel makes his short
but sweet as the slyly corrupt municipal governor.
films end (please skip this paragraph if you plan to see
the movie), Jose realizes she cant make a difference in
the villagers lives; only they themselves can. She calls
a town meeting to tell them this, then tells them that tomorrow
she is going back to the mayor to plead for money for a deep
well one more time before she gives up and returns to Manila.
Early the next morning she crosses the sea on a banca;
she lands on the other side, but before she can go to the mayor,
she is joined by the townspeople, who have followed in their
own boats. Doctor and patients march forward in a show of newfound
a wonderful conclusion - in theory, if not practice. The scene
might have played better if the people had made up their minds
during the night and followed her in the morning - if, say,
they hadnt waited until Jose had left her banca.
The way the scene plays now, you end up asking: how did they
catch up with Jose, who had what looked like half an hours
head start? You start trying to figure out the cruising speed
of different types of sea vessels and how much time a sea crossing
has to take for an entire village to experience a change of
and flaws of the ending is typical of the rest of the film:
wonderful broad strokes, sloppy details. The filmmakers have
their hearts in the right place; they just havent mustered
the skill to match their sincerity.
Chronicle, June 21, 1996. The
above also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.