Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jose Javier Reyes' Mga Munting Lihim - Acrimony and the Ties That Bind

Mariel and Carly (Judy Ann Santos and Iza Calzado) have been inseparable since they were little girls; they might as well be sisters. As adults, their exclusive circle has grown when Sandy and Olive (Agot Isidro and Janice de Belen) decided to join them.

Carly (Calzado) is a prosperous, albeit ball-busting lady executive who gets whatever she sets her mind to. Despite her triumphs, Carly feels incomplete. Her view on most things is met with apprehension and she jadedly believes people have unflattering motives for the things they do. In fact, when a relative asks for help, her thoughts would meander: “May mga kamag-anak ako, pero walang pamilya.” More than anything, she’s envious of her friends for having started families of their own. Meanwhile, romance seems to keep its distance from her.

On the other hand, Mariel (Santos), with feet firmly planted on the ground, is happily married to Vince (Roeder Camanag) - with children to boot. Her life is so domestically chaotic, she frequently bemoans her hectic routine and the absence of personal space. She hasn't even been to nearby Hong Kong because more urgent priorities always supervene. Sandy (Isidro), who’s eternally and intentionally late for their soirees, is married to a filthy rich geriatric. She doesn’t waste time flaunting her designer wardrobe and her jetsetting lifestyle. Olive (de Belen) is married to a much younger guy whom she met from a chatroom. He now works in Dubai, so money is occasionally scant. Though the girls occasionally squabble and annoy each other, they all manage to thrive in their respective domestic anarchy.      


One day, Mariel drops a bomb. She has pancreatic cancer, a proverbial death sentence in most cases. This brings the friends closer than ever. But when Mariel eventually dies, she leaves a box full of journals. And she has tasked Carly to peruse through her entries – entries that contain her deepest thoughts about each of her friends; entries that reveal specific moments in their lives, underlining the weakest links in their relationships: like when Mariel had to clandestinely sequester Eman (Gino dela Pena) from Carly, just to prove that Carly does not always get everything. Sometimes, these friends aren’t always emotionally supportive: they tell thirty-something Olive that her 21 year old chatmate (a former actor) is a “kabit ng bakla”; that she never pays what she owes - and even lies about them. Carly muses that Olive isn't the smartest girl. And they even conclude that Sandy’s marriage to an older guy was merely for convenience, inferring that Sandy’s an inveterate gold digger. What’s happening here? With friends like these, who needs enemies? More importantly, is this friendship even worth keeping?     





It is instructive how scriptwriter and director Reyes is able to delineate his characters with luminous contrast. Mostly, it’s thanks to the intuitive performances of Santos, Calzado, Isidro and de Belen. Iza Calzado confidently glides through the cinematic palette with persuasive charm. She reminds me of Bea Alonzo’s character in “Sa Yo Lamang” – the iron butterfly with an emotionally-charged back story. And why not? She lost “the one” who could have given her happiness – from her deceptive best friend. Judy Ann Santos’ role is surely a walk in the park for the effulgent Santos who doesn't succumb to the theatricality of Mariel’s situation. She displays adequate control of her emotions, avoiding mawkishness. Agot Isidro is venomous without being irritating, while Janice de Belen is compelling. And it is high time de Belen, one of our better actresses, graces our celluloid dreams once again. A regular date with the treadmill would have her in perfect form.


While it is true that the four actresses provide a variety of clamorous and symbiotic emotional landscape for this narrative, it is also clear that Calzado and Santos’ roles weigh more than their co-stars. It is thus ridiculous not to be able decide and pick a single “Best Lead Actress” from the four actresses. Iza Calzado stands out from this amazing ensemble. What I’m saying here is, giving the Best Actress and Supporting Actress plum to the four actresses is a cop out – and the product of lazy or inferior minds. It’s a matter of discussion among the Cinemalaya judges to peel through the individual aptitude and merits of each actress. Kaya nga contest para may isang mananalo... then we end up with FOUR winners for TWO categories! If this isn't ridiculous, then it’s hilarious!


The awarding ceremonies of Cinemalaya have always been sketchy. Jim Pebanco won "Best Supporting Actor for "Patikul", remember? Ina Feleo won Best Actress for whatever role she played in any Cinemalaya entry. Heavens, where has delicadeza gone, amigas y amigos? Next thing you know, sister Ana Feleo would headline another entry - and win an award! We then have one award-winning happy family, don't we?

Back to the topic at hand, we have 4 winners for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Does that make sense? Once upon a time, people used their cognitive functions to choose one that's best among the rest. After all, "best" usually denotes a singular presence or entity, NOT FOUR! People used to "boo" at contemptible ties during awards night. Remember Sharon Cuneta and Nora Aunor sharing the award? How do we react to an atrocious FOUR-WAY tie spread between two categories? More importantly, what's the need for judges if they can't even decide on a singular winner? The world is sometimes full of lazy minds, isn't it? Next year, they should open up the categories to Best Actresses, Best Actors, Best Pictures. We've opened the flood gates of generosity, anyway. Let's all be generous and give everyone awards. Para masaya, debah?

Back to the movie, the pacing of the story is brisk, and the editing (by Vanessa de Leon) is dynamic. The atmosphere is bright and breezy, unlike most movies that deal with mortality. Among the Cinemalaya entries, Reyes’ “Mga Munting Lihim” (Those Little Secrets) is the most accessible for mainstream viewers. In fact the sensibility of the film is too far removed from what we perceive as "indie" fodder.

I also have to mention the participation of former Survivor castaway Gino dela Pena who captivates with his short, but attention-catching cameo as Eman, the “man that got away”. Dela Pena maybe tentative at times (it's his film debut), but there’s no denying his strong screen presence. More of Gino, por favor!       

Director Jose Javier Reyes fills his plot disclosures with a hundred and one acrimony. Some issues leave you with mouth agape; others leave you laughing hard on the floor. Countless times, you weep like a baby. Such is this cinematic dilemma. The narrative is a roller coaster ride of emotions filled with insightful situations reflective on your own relations. You find situations that are easily identifiable among your own group of friends. This makes the viewing so much entertaining because of its "participatory" characteristic.

On point of logic, revealing the unpalatable details of Mariel’s diary seemed pointless. Intimate thoughts of a dearly departed friend should never create dissension among the living. The act itself is counter productive. People should never dwell on the negative aspects of their past. Besides, which friendship is free from altercation and disagreements? Moreover, isn’t it clear that despite their differences, they still end up lending hand whenever one of them needs it? You may not always agree with each other. You may scoff at their choices. You may cringe at their manner of deduction and call them simple-minded. But you will always pick them up when they stumble. That is the magic of friendship.  

The revelations

Iza Calzado, Judy Ann Santos, Agot Isidro and Janice de Belen.

Gino dela Pena invites you to his table. Where do I queue? :)

Gino dela Pena: Captivating!

I'd prefer this more apropos theatrical poster over the more commercial one they are using in cinema lobbies.

4 comments: said...

Your comment ie: Cinemalaya awards is correct. For instance, shorts this year: five movies won awards. Victor won Best Short Film even though it did not win anything else. Why did that happen?

In DS: Posas won Best Film even though Kalayaan swept awards. What was that about? (I liked Posas, but...)

I also have a problem why Ang Nawawala did not get Best Prod Design. One week later, it hit me: one or more judges hate movies about the middle class. One of them even published a review giving the lowest grade for Ang Nawawala because it was too burgis. This judge should be fired.

Cathy Pena said...


Sometimes it's easy to think that Cinemalaya hires judges who don't know much about films. What's more obvious - the Awards Committee seems to be populated by "friends of the Feleos and their groupies". I've never really believed their winners and merely consider then a source of amusement, nothing more.

To be honest, after watching "Ang "Nawawala", I came out of the cinema thinking what a spectacular work it was. I was bowled over by it. For me, it deserves Best Director honors.

Whoever that (anti-burgis) judge is, has scruples that cloud his capability to think straight - thus should be chained to his house, i.e. should never be allowed to set foot at any Cinemalaya screening.

A good movie is universal and should not discriminate social class. "Ang Nawawala" was superior film making. :)

Anonymous said...

I loved Mga Mumunting Lihim. This is one of the best works of Direk Joey Reyes in recent years. I agree with you that the movie is the "most accessible for mainstream viewers". Pero halatang walang "producer" na nakialam sa pag likha ni Reyes ng pelikulang ito. Walang StarCinema, Regal o Viva! Though co-produced ito ng OctoArts, alam kong hindi sila nanghimasok sa diskarte ni Direk Joey o kung meron man, hindi niya ito hinayaan.

Mga konting puna lang:

*Gino dela Pena ang pangalan ng aktor na gumanap na Eman (hindi Gina)

*Hindi kasama si Bea Alonzo sa pelikulang Tanging Yaman

- richard :)

Cathy Pena said...

Hi Richard:

I just LOVE it when people tell me about my typos and mistakes because their/your "corrections" make my copies clean!

My fingers sometimes mistype and move faster than my eyes can catch - and sometimes I just don't care. I also meant "Sa Yo Lamang", not "Tanging Yaman". Thank you for pointing that out.

Imagine, 5 days after posting this piece, with some 400 readers of the article - and only one had the guts to correct me. Thanks! :)