Thursday, September 10, 2009

BILANGIN ANG BITUIN SA LANGIT... The Quintessential Tagalog Movie

This is the quintessential Tagalog movie and a loving tribute to the "Golden Age of Philippine Cinema." Director Elwood Perez paints a melodramatic and panoramic portrait of the rise and fall of a poor, hard-working, and determined barrio lass and her lifetime stormy relationship with a childhood sweetheart. Legendary Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III are magnificent in dual roles, in a love-hate affair that spans generations, from their high school days in the province, to their twilight years in the big city. The supporting cast led by Perla Bautista, Gloria Romero, and Miguel Rodriguez is also good. The cinematography and visual effects, complemented by a thoughtful production and costume design, are outstanding. Perez's direction and Jake Cocadiz's script accentuate the passing eras' whims and fancies, and the dramatic confrontation scenes between the two stars dote on the so-called "masa" or "bakya" crowd. But the picture has enough sweep, drama, humor, and local color to make it an epic worthy of every moviegoer's attention and praise.

The cast is fine, especially Perla Bautista as the heroine's quiet, sympathetic, and indestructible mother. The two "contravidas," however, are straight out of Disney---or every oppressed Filipino peasant's image of the mestizo ruling class. The two actresses who play these villains nevertheless show contrasting abilities. Gloria Romero as a high-strung, high-faluting "doña" is effectively spiteful. She is one actress who takes risks, like a professional soldier who follows do-or-die orders. In this picture, as in her previous assignments, she seem to have reveled in excesses---truly the ideal soap villainess. Ana Margarita Gonzales as the heroine's sister-in-law, for her part, is also a "matapobre," but beside the redoubtable former movie queen, Ana lags far, far behind in the acting department. The kid, obviously still an amateur, sticks out like a sore thumb from the largely competent cast.

Tirso Cruz III, never known for Great Moments in Acting, does have his moments here. The very idea that he is not overshadowed by his blinding co-star speaks well of his talent as well as of his rapport with his perennial screen partner. But "Bilangin" is clearly a Nora Aunor vehicle. The actress is in almost every frame of the movie, showcasing her awesome talent and exhibiting gradations of emotions---sad and pathetic, one moment, flippant and impetuous the next; loving and pleading now, then seething and raging like a woman scorned. Not only does she essay the complex transformation of a woman in a time period spanning her mid-teens to middle age. She also plays dual roles---those of Magnolia, a strong and determined woman, and her youthful, exuberant daughter. This was the same theme which the recent trashy "bold" picture, "Virginia P.," aspired to dramatize, but failed, because, in that other movie, not only slapdash effort was visible; the filmmakers could not contain their contempt for the audience. In an accident in which her husband (Miguel Rodriguez) falls from a horse carrying a baby, the man dies but the tot miraculously survives. The number 2001 may not mean anything, but I won't be surprised if the director, a true-blue movie buff from his younger days is merely paying homage to a classic film, "2001: A Space Odyssey," though the styles and concepts of the two movies are galaxies apart. Maybe the director sees his job here as some kind of odyssey that stretches the boundaries of his brand of filmmaking, something he has succeeded in doing.

Film Review By Mario A. Hernando as published in Malaya, 1989

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

BELOVED... A Complex Range of Romatic Human Relations

Beloved (VIVA Films, 1985) tackles a complex range of human relations premised on romance, but problematizes it quite rigorously so that love, though central in the lives of the characters, is continually reread and therefore rewritten. Ensuing from the the competing affections between Adora Bernal (Nora Aunor) and Renee Regala (Hilda Koronel) over Dindo Tuason (Christopher de Leon) and his conflict with Ver Alonzo (Dindo Fernando) is a struggle that does not at all resort to conventional melodramatic tactics. The film is filled with emotional rigor through which the affairs of the heart are dealt with, and dealt with intelligently. How Adora and Renee choose to make their lives more difficult by staking their right to love Dindo inspite of the circumscriptions of traditional heterosexist norms engenders a creative tension that enables women to appropriate the power to break the culture of silence and express sexuality in specific terms within specific situations. Adora has to inevitably give up the fight, but only after she has achieved a realization that strikes at the core of practical realities. Beloved cleverly choreographs the elements of cinema and local melodrama with restraint and without the komiks winded tediousness normally associated with the exercise.

Nora Aunor's highly textured performance suffuses the melodramatic heroine with the spirit in which it could have been strategically envisioned. Aunor's constant displacements climaxes in a cleverly orchestrated maneuver that careens from deception to sacrifice and on to the struggle of prefiguring an ending which may not necessarily be happy, and a happiness which need not be the inexorable ending. Hilda Koronel on the other hand, shows that the strength of women need not come from the repudiation of feminine traits and roles as constructed by patriarchal systems. The acting method employed here is able to twist the logic of cliche and reconstitutes the drama of yearning with passion and grace. Koronel's portrayal is one that can hold a candle to Aunor's substantial work in this film. Dindo Fernando expresses desire in all its discrepant aspects breathes a different rigor into the tradition of acting for the screen. Finally, Christopher de Leon's intelligent handling of his character resonates with the perspicacity and method of the film's dramatic goals. Beloved's achievement rests on its skillful appropriation of the conventions of a commercial feature in its earnest effort to come up with a truly artistic, purposive and serious motion picture.