Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's The Man in Her Life is outrageous melodrama, so unbelievable that you can't decide whether to laugh or cry. Critic Noel Vera chooses to grin from ear to ear.


As usual with the team of filmmaker Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, his mother Armida Siguion-Reyna, and writer Bibeth Orteza, Ang Lalaki Sa Buhay Ni Selya (The Man In Her Life) is handsome to look at: it has a Viva Films-like opulence, a pretty Romy Vitug sheen; Carlitos toys with his film frame, and comes up with one beautifully composed image after another.

If this were a travelogue, or a documentary on the interiors of houses in the province, it would be a technical triumph. Carlitos and company, however, insist on a film about people, acting out some kind of story. The resulting film takes off into the Twilight Zone.

Selya begins with Selya (Rosanna Roces, displaying the latest in plastic surgery) kneeing the groin of her sex-starved boyfriend (Gardo Verzosa, so hilariously macho you wonder about his masculinity). He leaves her (which is understandable); she changes her mind (which is less understandable), and chases after him. Along the way Roces meets a high-school principal (the uncommonly good Ricky Davao) and his busybody aunt (Eva Darren); Davao is gay, and has a lover (pretty boy Allan Paule) whose wife and child he supports. Darren has an idea: if Roces marries her niece - er, nephew - the rumors about his homosexuality might stop. Roces marries Davao, uncovers his secret, and taunts him in public for being gay.

Verzosa pops up again on a motorbike and schemes to take Roces away; his plan consists of revving his bike’s engine under her bedroom window at night, while Davao lies impotently beside her. Incredibly, Roces falls for this blatant piece of symbolism and they fornicate fifteen ways till Friday. When Roces gets pregnant Verzosa drops her like badly soiled underwear.

Selya in outline sounds like Filipino komiks except that komiks were never this outrageous. Ms. Orteza assigns each character one or two traits (plucked, it seems, out of a small hat with a hole in it), and leaves them (like Polaroid film) to develop themselves. Carlitos in turn orchestrates the actors’ performances like a Looney Tunes animated short - they enter, flash their obsessions in your face, and start screaming hysterically.

It doesn’t help to ask intelligent questions about the film; its plot is irrationally structured, like a dream (or nightmare), or a house of cards. Why are the townspeople so confrontational, if Davao has been a long-time principal and the town has long known he’s gay (Filipinos don’t confront; they are world-class back-stabbers)? Why does Davao put up with this treatment? Why has he stayed as a school principal? Why, if Davao is such a sweet and gentle soul, is Roces so furious and cruel when she learns he’s gay? The list of questions could go on and on.

But wait - things get better. Verzosa comes back in a Pajero (his every appearance is accompanied by ever larger vehicles; by the film’s end, you expect him to sail in on the Titanic). He sees his son, likes him, hatches yet another scheme, this time to win custody. He approaches Roces, and again she falls for him (Roces’s character here shows all the intelligence of soiled underwear - which may explain Verzosa’s attitude to her). She agrees to testify that Davao is gay and an unfit father, and tries to get the rest of the town to testify.

Verzosa and Roces approach Paule, who is dying of tuberculosis; he strikes a saintly pose and refuses to hurt the man he once loved. Verzosa and Roces leave; behind them, Paule collapses, as if on cue (Paule’s character displays impeccably comic timing; when Roces and Davao later pay him a visit, Paule expires at the moment of their departure).

The climax will surely become a classic: Verzosa and Roces come to Davao’s house to claim their son; Davao refuses. Verzosa pulls out a gun; Davao defies him. Verzosa and Roces (despite Verzosa’s gun) relent, and turn to leave; Davao changes his mind - the boy needs his mother, he says. The boy is packed (in record time) and pulled by Verzosa and Roces out the gate; then - Roces changes her mind and abandons Verzosa. Verzosa is left staring in impotent fury at Eva Darren (you wonder for a moment if he will shoot her).

This scene sums up everything unique about the Siguion-Reyna tandem. It’s all done in a series of long takes, faultlessly executed, breathlessly paced; it’s also unbelievable melodrama, as if they had decided to throw the script out the window and stage a bit of Dadaist theater. It’s like something straight out of Men In Black, or from a specially subversive episode of The X-Files - aliens beam down into a Filipino film studio and immediately start making films, without doing a shred of research on human beings, or even a simple look-see to observe how they act or talk.

Don’t get me wrong; Ang Lalaki Sa Buhay Ni Selya is wonderful entertainment. It’s melodrama like you’ve never seen before - and with luck, never will again. I loved every minute of the film, and left the theater smiling; it took hours to wipe the grin off my face.

Note: Businessworld, February 20, 1998. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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February 6, 2007

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