much to dislike about Mario O'Hara's remake of Gerry De Leon's
Sisa. The sets are basically of the plywood-and-styrofoam school
of production design; the acting - sex star Gardo Verzosa plays
Jose Rizal, sex starlet Aya Medel plays the title role - is crude,
if not a bit embarrassing. The story is complex and difficult
to follow, shifting from past to present to fantasy to supernatural
reality, with little preamble and no apologies whatsoever.
something about Sisa thats difficult to dismiss. Sisa,
as all Filipinos know, is the madwoman who haunts the margins
of Rizals Noli Me Tangere. Dressed in filthy rags,
calling out the names of her two lost children, shes the
single most memorable character in the novel. OHara believes
that memorable characters arent created so much as they
are based on people the writer knew in real life. Rizal once
spoke of a "Miss L., who has the most enchanting eyes."
Its OHaras conceit (and the crucial difference
between his film and Gerry De Leons) that this "Miss
L.s" was the basis for Rizals Sisa, and that
she was the great love of his life.
In a sense,
OHara has been remaking Sisa all his life. He not only
wrote the screenplay for Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (Brockas
version of Noli Me Tangere), he also played Berto the
Leper, lover of Koala, the Sisa figure in the film. OHara
may have revealed more of his feelings than he intended in Tinimbang,
both in the screenplay and in his acting; his Berto (like his
screenplay) is warm and compassionate, infinitely loving and
infinitely tender towards the helpless, insane Koala. From writing
a great screenplay for Brocka (and giving, incidentally, a great
performance) to writing a great screenplay for his own film
must have been an inevitable, all-too-tempting step.
never really liked Rizal as a dramatic character; hes
always been too passive, too intellectual a hero for me to believe
in. Except for his execution, he lived a meandering, uneventful
life - hardly ideal stuff for film biographies. Ive never
really understood what drove him to write his novels, or believe
what he believed. His family was maltreated, yes, and he saw
Spanish injustice first-hand, but that was years ago, when he
was a child. Could there have been someone closer to him - some
woman, perhaps - whose tragedy drove him to do what he did?
Sisas greatest audacity, its innermost ambition - to explain
Rizal in such a way that he comes to vivid life before us. Everything
OHara does complements and reinforces this ambition. He
knew he couldnt create the world of 1896 on a two-and-a-half
million peso budget, so he deliberately creates an unrealistic
one, out of plywood walls and styrofoam props. He knew he couldnt
get top-notch actors to play his Rizal and Sisa, so he reconceived
them as a pair of crudely intense, emotionally passionate lovers
(Verzosa and Medel are nothing if not intense). OHara
has reimagined Rizals life the way Marc Norman and Tom
Stoppard reimagined Shakespeares in John Maddens
Shakespeare In Love - as a grand, once-in-a-lifetime love affair.
If you dont buy it, you find yourself hooting helplessly
in laughter; if you do buy it, you find yourself believing in
Rizal for the first time, as a fully human being.
sa Dapitan was the first, Jose Rizal the biggest. Coming
soon is Mike De Leons Bayaning Third World (Third
World Hero), which was invited to this years Cannes. Sisa
will probably fall between the cracks opened up by these three
works. Its a film too ambitious for its own good, a project
that fails (though fails magnificently) to live up to the promise
of its wildly innovative screenplay. It may end up forgotten
in the flood of Rizal films, relegated to the more obscure dustbins
of film history... except by those who can respond to its magic,
or thrill to its unfettered imagination.
Cinemaya magazine, Issue #44, Summer 1999.
The above also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.