Sunday, January 23, 2011

Presa - Grazing the Surface

Sir Roger L’Estrange, an English writer, once wrote, “That which the world miscalls a jail, a private closet is to me. “


In Adolf Alix’s “Presa”, a group of women endure each other inside a correctional facility, each one carrying a burden in their private closets. There’s the zealous Baby (Jodi Sta. Maria) who’s nimble enough to sell anything inside the penitentiary to support her family outside. Nanay Idad (Perla Bautista) is silently grieving over the death of a woman who denied her romantic advances. Dolly (Tetchie Agbayani) refuses to utter a word, until she accidentally slips in the pool. Carmen (Daria Ramirez) is eagerly waiting for her impending release with her husband. Sylvia (Liza Lorena), the cellblock’s tough talking, abusive inmate makes slaves out of Nita (Angeli Bayani) and Rose (Ina Feleo) who diligently follow her around like paid servants. But it’s really Cion (Anita Linda) whose story gets the most screen time. Otherwise known as the Famas Award-winning veteran Esmeralda Cortez, 85 year old Cion got snagged during a buy-bust operation. She is enthusiastically waiting for a presidential pardon that his lawyer has been cooking up for the last year or so. Moreover, she’s antsy, if excited, at the prospect of shooting a film with popular actress Lian (Alessandra De Rossi), a move that might spell her rightful comeback to the Silver Screen. Meanwhile, Ampi (Rosanna Roces), Cion’s loyal fan and a former police woman, religiously attends to Cion’s needs.


This great assemblage of thespians can’t help but cook up a significant amount of excitement among lovers of local cinema. It isn’t everyday these respectable names come together for an omnibus project. This significantly underlines director Adolf Alix’s burgeoning influence in the industry.


Unfortunately, such multifarious casting comes at the cost of telling a legible story. In fact, you end up leaving the theater unsatisfied, albeit with a paltry subject for discussion among your friends. Why was Baby working so hard? Why did Dolly pretend to be a mute? Why didn’t war-freak Idad contest the supremacy of Sylvia where there should be redundancy of characters? The list is long, but they are nothing worth pontificating over because their stories were inadequately fleshed out. If this was a critique on the ability of the actors, I’d say the script writer needed a dash of inspired imagination to actually “internalize” his characters, to give them enough flesh and soul. But when you’re just grazing over the surface, all you get is the superficial matter, instead of the “salt of the earth” so to speak.


The performances are undeniably topnotch with Anita Linda’s Cion taking a big slice of the cake, simply because her story was fuller than the rest. Perla Bautista displays enviable skill in a part that has bypassed her all these years. Jodi Sta. Maria adequately fills out a character that instructs on subtlety and panache on emotive control. Rosanna Roces lights up the screen with understated charm. Roces has never looked this beautiful and svelte in years. In fact, in Alix’s “Karera” shown last December, she was uncomfortably robust. Roces can easily put the current crop of actresses to shame.


It’s actually the younger part of the ensemble I’m having trouble with: Ina Feleo is a misplaced soul as the vengeful Rose who killed her abusive employer. Though she understates her performance – with palpable unease, it’s the maudlin scenes that show her relative inexperience. While the inmates were enjoying a day at the pool, the camera pans at Feleo as she eats and drinks from their “baon”. For a maid who’s supposedly used to roughing it up, she was dainty. Her fingers graciously opening a bottled water, then carefully scooping a spoonful to eat. Absolutely something that a maid isn’t! Ina Feleo may be schooled in expressing emotions. She gets this in her silent moment where she doesn’t utter a line. You don’t always get two terrific parent actors, do you? Unfortunately, it’s the physical component of acting she’s sorely wanting. As an actor, you have to move the part, transform yourself into the gait of your character. Facial expression doesn’t suffice! After all, you are a maid who killed the employer who didn’t feed you enough. You can’t be persnickety like any fairy tale princess! Her mother, Laurice Guillen, suffered the same fate in the latter’s “Karera”. More acting workshops, perhaps?


It’s such a delight that we witness this gathering of talent on screen, but it could have been a more fulfilling experience for us if there were a single story that actually made us care. But when such snippets of stories feel nothing more like an afterthought, then you are left with something that’s essentially inconsequential. And that is sad!


Finally, I am disgusted with the organizers of the MMFF Committee – the MMDA – who proudly announced that 5 Independently-produced movies made it to the last Metro Manila Film Festival. As it turned out, these 5 titles weren’t even offered to the public for commercial screening last December! How these films became part of MMFF when they were only seen by the MMFF Screening Committee and their makers is a mystery of gargantuan proportions to me! I would call such move “deceitful” just to impart a veneer of “new birth” and “respectability” to the latest line of MMFF entries. Their spectacular “show” effectively made “jokes” out of the 5 indies (“Presa” included) who probably expected even a single day of commercial exhibition – which ended with “no day”! It was all for show! Shame on you, Atty. Francis Tolentino (MMDA Chair).


That Butch Francisco’s taste for cinema is reflected in his championing “Presa” as a Best Picture-caliber work – and Marian Rivera a Best Actress-caliber actress for a stupid role (“Super Inday and the Magic Bibe”) – is a reflection of the slow-but-sure depreciation of the quality of names winning from the next Urian Awards, a body of critics I used to hold in high regard. Now I know better!

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