Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mes de Guzman's Diablo - Demons and the Family

Nanay Lusing (Ama Quiambao) lives in the looming presence of what seems like a demon. In a resplendent white house that’s seen better days, she alone maneuvers around familiar but empty hallways, once populated by five sons that have since grown up and moved on. At night, she dines alone, breathless from the occasional shaking of the ground. After bedtime prayers, she settles down her bed with midnight radio blaring loudly – her sole companion in the dead of night. But Nanay Lusing is frozen stiff, sleepless and wide awake from her room's hovering presence. This scenario repeats nightly.

Her sons occasionally visit, but they never stay on. Oscar (Carlo Aquino) heads a horde of religious cult followers, wearing white robes, and dwelling in a cave. He intermittently visits, bearing green mangoes, his mother’s favorite. Fernando (Fredie dela Cruz), a gun-toting military man. Ronaldo (Jose Escobedo) works in a mine. Ruben (Arnold Reyes) farms the rice lands. Ruben hasn’t spoken to his mother in a long time and spitefully avoids her visits. Alberto (Roeder Camanag) is Nanay Lusing’s itinerant, volatile, needy, albeit charming son. He’s perceived to be the favorite, despite his propensity to ask more than he deserves. Alberto lights up Lusing’s room with boundless energy and put-on affection so it’s understandable why she is drawn to him.

One day, he comes home, telling her stories of heart ache; his big city pawnshop has closed shop and he tells her he’s coming home for good. He brings along Angela (Althea Vega) who shall attend to Nanay Lusing’s needs (she recently suffered a fall due to osteoporosis and is thus confined to a wheelchair). Nanay Lusing gets asked by Alberto about their properties, products of a once progressive past. But she smells the ruse. Her sons never gather around like one big family. Not anymore. What Nanay Lusing has (for companions) are a couple of young thieves Matias and Jamaba (John Paul Escobedo and Ronald Caranza) now hired as household help. But Alberto detests their presence. One day, Nanay Lusing is told about Oscar’s sudden demise (he was stabbed by drunken tambays). Would this dreary occasion bring her sons under one roof? Who is the lingering silhouette in her night bed? Will it harm her?

Director Mes de Guzman takes a deliberate pace to tell his story, but he paints his picture with incisive strokes, it's hard to interchange the motives of the characters. This tack allows these people to grow on you which makes empathy easier to attain. Ama Quiambao dominates the screen with her subdued presence. In her clipped words and restrained grace, you find the patience of a mother who knows only too well what her sons are up to - like when Alberto starts discussing about their "nakatiwangwang" parcel of lands, in the guise of familial concern. She never spoke a word, but you notice the gradually pursed lips and the tightening of jaw. She was displeased after all. Director de Guzman's gift rests on his ability to tell his tale leisurely without these strains appearing contrived or forced.

Among Quiambao's co-actors, Roeder Camanag works hard, but doesn't quite measure up to the enticing pull of the veteran actress. Arnold Reyes does better here as Ruben, the son who felt that his mother was playing favorites. Reyes is a competent actor, but he occasionally forgets to temper his emotions. While his technique is always attention-grabbing, it isn't always sincere or appropriate. This is evident in his performance in "Intoy Syokoy sa Calle Marina". Someone please remind him that "less is more" because he already has the faculty to become better. Althea Vega, a habitue of sexy flicks and Pink Films like "Halik sa Tubig" turns in a decent performance. She registers well on screen so I am upbeat that she gets seen in more legitimate independent films.


As the film draws to a close, Nanay Lusing is distraught to find her transistor radio conking out. For years, its noisy commentaries about faith, the deception of demons, and its static have accompanied her solitude while she lies awake in the wee hours of the night. She's been sleepless. That night, noise turns soundless. Except for the reverberating sound of the old woman's snore. More importantly, the hovering demon has dissipated. We also realize that Nanay Lusing's "Diablo" finds closure when her family finally gains familial harmony. Isn't that hopeful?

Roeder Camanag as the opportunistic, but charming son Alberto. Arnold Reyes as the spiteful son  Ruben.

Carlo Aquino as the religious cult leader. 

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