two in the resurrection of Nora Aunors career: star in a
successful melodrama. Which she does: Muling Umawit Ang Puso
(When The Heart Sings Again) is a no-holds-barred Viva extravaganza,
with an all-star cast, an ambitious Ricky Lee script, a handpicked
team of reliable technicians. No one is taking any chances that
this film will flop, least of all Aunor herself.
Loida Verano, a big movie star and all-round celebrity - the
biggest ever - who falls into obscurity because of substance
abuse, then later makes a big comeback. Sounds familiar? But
Ricky Lee, expert tale spinner, improves on the story; Aunor
is not just playing herself; shes playing an idealization
the perfect superstar: gracious, diligent, talented, and ever
so generous to the lower-class fans that adore her. She gives
money to hard-luck extras, and shows concern for her maidservant
(Janice De Belen), whos heavily pregnant, and yet insists
on taking care of her beloved mistress.
and simple, but corn so carefully chosen and so lovingly cooked
that it has a certain irresistible flavor. For most of the film,
Lee and Director Joey Lamangan are careful to keep Aunors
Loida rooted to the ground. They open the film with a terrific
first scene: Aunor walks through a crowd of reporters with her
longtime rival Glenda (Rita Avila); they exchange sarcastic
barbs from the corner of their mouths while smiling and nodding
to the cameras (You can spot Frank Mallo, ardent Aunor fan and
showbiz scribe, playing a gleeful Glenda supporter).
Aunors performance is simple and direct, her trademark
intensity kept largely checked: just enough shows through to
suggest that she achieved stardom through hard work and sheer
force of will. Lamangan seems to take his cue from Aunor: his
direction for the most part is spare yet forceful, and the films
efficient pace allows it to tell a good deal of story in a fairly
Martinez is... a revelation.
Not once does he raise his voice throughout the picture, yet
cant take your eyes off him: he has
a quietly commanding presence,
and he uses it to draw you to him.
He has an effect on Nora Aunor...
Their scenes together, hinting at
depths of intimacy, showing a rare
adult honesty, are the best in the film.
Lee and Lamangan are working in a melodrama where, by definition,
things happen melodramatically. At a concert, Aunor finds her
struggling actor boyfriend Tony (Ricky Davao) struggling passionately
with Avila backstage. Aunor is devastated; she rushes out blindly
into the audience. The crowd goes wild, shots ring out, De Belens
hapless pregnant maidservant is crushed and dies giving birth.
Again, Lamangan serves the material better than it deserves
by rushing it past you so quickly you dont have time to
look close and pick holes. Even the obligatory loving mother/friend/daughter
crying over the recently trampled dead is done quietly, and
Lamangan, however, refuse to dwell on the stars downfall:
her career is ruined the old-fashioned way, through alcohol,
not drugs. The blame is laid entirely on a double whammy of
guilt (the maids death) and trauma (the boyfriends
betrayal), not on vague feelings of fear and insecurity. But
of course: the former causes are easier for an audience to grasp;
the latter are subtler, depressingly realistic, and - when done
well - far more terrifying.
showing alcoholism Lamangan is strangely tactful: Aunor nods
off in her dressing room just before a concert and when she
wakes up, shes alone. Theres a bottle in one hand,
but she looks much too good to have drunk herself unconscious;
she might have been taking a nap (its as if she wrecked
her career because she couldnt get enough sleep). What
might have made a vivid horror story is given a light going
over, apparently to avoid reopening recently healed wounds.
a few years later: Aunor lives quietly outside of Manila. Avila
and Davao have married; Avila has succeeded Aunor as the countrys
most successful actress, and Davao is now a congressman (again,
sounds familiar?) Enter Donna Cruz as sweet, pretty Naomi; Aunor
decides that Cruz can become another star like her and puts
her through a rigorous training program of singing and acting
lessons (no dancing, though).
ending's) a big letdown from
what was up till then an entertaining
little potboiler; as if the money
ran out to fund Joey Lamangans
intense, engaging storytelling
and he was ordered to shoot a
big climax, any way he can.
seen this story before, from Pygmalion to My Fair Lady to all
three versions of A Star Is Born. You wait for Cruz to develop
a mind of her own and defy Aunor, but Cruz is such a sweet and
pretty actress she doesnt put up much of a fight; every
time they confront each other Aunor blows her off the screen.
Better yet is Jennifer Sevilla, who plays a similar young hopeful.
She has a short scene with Aunor, and the sight of her face
while she relates in a flat, fragile voice the monstrous things
she did (or had done to her) to get where she is now - nowhere
- sticks out like a sore thumb in its power to unsettle.
is full of fine performances. Rolando Tinio as a fallen reporter
gets a laugh out of the audience simply by the way he sits,
glum and lonely, surrounded by empty beer bottles. Tony Mabesa
is hugely entertaining as a corrupt and lecherous senator. Ricky
Davao strikes sparks onscreen as Aunors suave, smoothly
treacherous boyfriend and Mabesas sidekick. Rita Avila
recovers from her hysterical acting in The Flor Contemplacion
Story to play Aunors savagely bitter rival. Michael De
Mesa as an idealistic director (hello, Lino Brocka) has to struggle
through the early scenes with a silly wig he might have borrowed
from ex-Mayor Sanchez; later though, his performance gains conviction
as he assumes the role of Aunors social conscience.
Martinez is Aunors second lover, a crusading young news
reporter, and hes a revelation. Not once does he raise
his voice throughout the picture, yet you cant take your
eyes off him: he has a quietly commanding presence, and he uses
it to draw you to him. He has an effect on Aunor, calming her,
making her reach for every kernel of dramatic truth in their
dialogue, of which Ricky Lee provides plenty. Their scenes together,
hinting at depths of intimacy, showing a rare adult honesty,
are the best in the film.
half hour starts to come apart as Ricky Lee strains mightily
to tie all the plot strings (the Donna Cruz story, the political
corruption story, the Rita Avila-Nora Aunor rivalry) into a
single unbreakable knot. Cruz has a falling out with Aunor,
and jumps over to Avilas camp, where Davao plans to make
a gift of her to Mabesa. Aunor learns that Avila and Davao were
responsible for the riot that resulted in her careers
tailspin and De Belens death.
is killed for trying to investigate Mabesa and Davaos
corrupt politicking. Holding back over De Belens corpse
must have been too much, because this time around Aunor couldnt
help overdoing her weeping-over-the-dead scene a bit (the audience
I was watching it with couldnt help responding to her
small indulgence by giggling. Cruel, but there it is).
De Mesa march to Mabesa and Davaos election rally, where
Aunor delivers a wild political speech accusing them of Martinez
and De Belens death; for good measure, she throws in charges
of illegal logging, jueteng (gambling) and white slavery.
More shots are fired: Michael De Mesa is martyred and joins
Janice De Belen in a nearby grave. (Id love to see a Filipino
drama that wasnt resolved through bullets or tears. Any
a big letdown from what was up till then an entertaining little
potboiler; as if the money ran out to fund Lamangans intense,
engaging storytelling and he was ordered to shoot a big climax,
any way he can. Thats one more down for local film artists,
one up for lousy local cinema. The biggest losers, however,
are us, the audience, who have to wait for the next good Filipino
film to come by. If we can hold our breath that long.
Note: Manila Chronicle, December
30, 1995. The above also appears in Noel
Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO
Click here to order.