Superstar Nora Aunor had a long reputation for unfinished films or projects
abandoned due to production costs and other reasons. These are films that
actually started filming but were never finished, while others were left on the
In February 1979, Nora Aunor met Eva Fernandez Merlin at a restaurant in
Pangasinan. There was a disquieting parallelism between their lives. Aunor
sold water at a train station before she became a Superstar while Merlin
washed clothes for a living before she married a multi-millionaire who owned
several commercial buildings in Philadelphia. Her rags-to-riches story
fascinated Aunor. Lino Brocka thought it would be good material for a film.
Merlin's husband was going to produce his wife's life story starring Aunor. After
several attempts, the planned biopic did not push through.
In 1983, Aunor worked on two Regal films back-to-back: the Maryo de los
Reyes family drama Kapalaran, later retitled Minsan, May Isang Ina and
Hustisya, intended for the Cannes Film Festival reuniting the Superstar with
Himala director Ishmael Bernal and writer Ricky Lee. In the film, Aunor plays
Belen, a woman accused of killing a priest with Christopher de Leon playing her
defense lawyer and Jimi Melendez as the arresting police officer. In a bold
move, Bernal wanted to tell the story from the police officer's perspective,
envisaged as an attractive, vulnerable young man. Despite a week's work on
the film, Lee's writer's block prompted Bernal to abandon the project. Hustisya
would have been a groundbreaking film that represented a radical change in
Bernal's style, possibly heralding a new late phase of cinematic creativity. That
same year, Aunor was offered Ano Nga Ba Ang Pag-Ibig?, a melodrama to be
produced by Viva Films with a formidable cast of stars including Christopher de
Leon, Hilda Koronel and Phillip Salvador under Zenaida Amador's direction.
Sadly, the movie did not see the light of the projection bulb.
In 1984, another project for Viva followed. Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Pabrika with
Gina Alajar and Amy Austria where Aunor will play a character similar to Sally
Field's Oscar-winning role in Martin Ritt's Norma Rae (1979). Riding on the box
office success of Ishmael Bernal's Working Girls, Viva big boss, Vic del Rosario
suggested the title be changed to Factory Girls. Aunor's shooting schedule
cannot be reconciled with everyone involved in the production, Viva cancelled
the project. After her affecting portayal of Milagros Cruz in 'Merika, Aunor was
offered the role of Mering in Gil Portes' Bukas, May Pangarap. Tommy Abuel
was cast to play her husband. The project lasted for one day after Aunor
learned about the producer's plan to enter the movie in the Metro Manila Film
Festival where her other film, Mario O' Hara's Bulaklak Sa City Jail was one of
the official entries. Aunor was eventually replaced by Gina Alajar.
After the EDSA revolution, Joseph Estrada asked Marilou Diaz-Abaya to direct
Victory Joe, a co-production with Viva Films advocating the removal of the
American bases. Aunor shot for three days but problems with funding got in the
Regal on the other hand presented another melodrama to Aunor in 1987. Sa
Dulo Ng Panahon, a material based on komiks, to be directed by Danny Zialcita
where she will play the role of Melinda, a time traveling librarian. The shooting
with Jay Ilagan, Hilda Koronel, Richard Gomez, Janice de Belen, Dante Rivero
and Chanda Romero went smoothly. With only eleven days left before the end
of shooting, production was halted due to an on going conflict between Aunor
and Mrs. Lily Monteverde. After Jay Ilagan's accidental death in 1993, footage of
the film resurfaced as one of the episodes in the Regal omnibus Ligaw-
Ligawan, Kasal-Kasalan, Bahay-Bahayan. Some months later, Aunor was
spotted at a press conference for Alila. Frank Vrecheck developed the film for
The Asian Ameican Film Institute, the newly created production company
behind Chito Rono's award-winning Olongapo The Great American Dream.
Ricky Lee who was commissioned to write the screenplay backed out of the
project after a heated argument with Vrecheck over Olongapo's writing credits.
Alila, never reached the production phase.
In 1988, Aunor was struggling to finance, produce and direct the feature film
What I Did For Love from Raquel Villavicencio's screenplay. The shoot was a
nightmare. The problems the production had to go through were incredible.
Aside from technical problems, Aunor had to face the major problem of casting.
Knowing that she did not have enough money to cast a major star, the search
was difficult. She tried several actors, known and unknown until Aunor made the
decision to cast Chuck Perez. The movie was too much pressure for her,
starring, producing and directing it herself. Aunor was not too enthusiastic
anymore and pulled the plug on the production. The same screenplay
reappeared in 1995 with a new title, Sa Ngalan Ng Pag-Ibig, this time starring
Lorna Tolentino, Christopher de Leon and Alma Concepcion directed by Maryo
de los Reyes for Regal Films. Chuck Perez played the minor role of
Concepcion's jealous lover in the movie.
The opportunity to play Gabriela Silang came in 1989, when Duran Films, a
newly formed production company offered Aunor to do Gabriela. To her
surprise, Tata Esteban's film was not about the Philippine heroine but a political
drama about a society mired in poverty and repression. Aunor turned down the
project and the lead role was offered to Carmi Martin. The story about Aunor's
filmmaking career did not end with What I Did For Love. Aunor realized that her
first attempt was not the kind of film she wanted to do. There was something
lurking in her mind, a different film about a singer. Referring to George Cuckor's
A Star Is Born (1954) but unlike Judy Garland's Esther Blodgett, Laura Villa is
full of contradictions and was shown going through a lot of emotional scenes in
the film. The title Greatest Performance has become appropriate. Cast as her
leading men were Tirso Cruz III and Julio Diaz with real life son Kristoffer Ian de
Leon playing a pivotal role. As shooting went on, the film was turning out to be
darker than originally envisioned and problems beset the production. Among all
of Aunor's films, Greatest Performance is the most unpredictable. There is no
telling how it would finally shape up. Greatest Performance was rejected by the
Metro Manila Film Festival screening committee. Aunor reportedly has the only
known videocassette copy of the movie. The location of the film's original
negative is unknown.
Intended for the 2003 Metro Manila Film Festival was Elwood Perez's Bituin,
Buwan At Araw for Angora Films International with Tirso Cruz III, Snooky Serna
and Aiza Seguerra. The film was deemed not commercially viable by the filmfest
committee bringing production to a standstill. After Bituin, Buwan At Araw
stalled, Maryo de los Reyes began preparation for Naglalayag with Nora Aunor,
Aleck Bovick and Yul Servo.
When Aunor left for the US, she was offered film projects that were stuck in
development hell. This is a place where ideas go to die. In 2009, Master
filmmaker Lav Diaz offered Reclusion Perpetua to Aunor. The two met in Los
Angeles to talk about the project unfortunately, financial difficulties plagued the
production before filming began. Reclusion Perpetua represented a
breakthrough in Diaz's artistic development. Gone were the epic social dramas,
in its place came an improvised approach, a freer, more personal kind of
Celso Ad Castillo, whose failed attempt to work with Aunor in the 1999 dramedy
Prosti tried to do the same with Do Filipinos Cry In America? written by his son
Chris Castillo. The film didn't survive the production phase. One wonders, what
if Nora Aunor finished these films? Would they have reaped more acting honors
for the Superstar? Regrettably, we'll never know.