ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
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.
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.
up again on a motorbike and schemes to take Roces away; his plan
consists of revving his bikes 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.
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
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 hes gay (Filipinos dont
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 hes 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 films 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 (Rocess character here
shows all the intelligence of soiled underwear - which may explain
Verzosas attitude to her). She agrees to testify that Davao
is gay and an unfit father, and tries to get the rest of the town
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 (Paules
character displays impeccably comic timing; when Roces and Davao
later pay him a visit, Paule expires at the moment of their departure).
will surely become a classic: Verzosa and Roces come to Davaos
house to claim their son; Davao refuses. Verzosa pulls out a gun;
Davao defies him. Verzosa and Roces (despite Verzosas 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).
sums up everything unique about the Siguion-Reyna tandem. Its
all done in a series of long takes, faultlessly executed, breathlessly
paced; its also unbelievable melodrama, as if they had decided
to throw the script out the window and stage a bit of Dadaist theater.
Its 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.
get me wrong; Ang Lalaki Sa Buhay Ni Selya is wonderful entertainment.
Its melodrama like youve 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.
February 20, 1998.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.