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