Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Topel Lee's Amorosa - Revenge of the Vigorously Confused

As a child, Amiel (Martin del Rosario) was diagnosed with Retinitis Pimentosa, an irreversible and incurable eye disease that eventually leads to blindness. Rosa Calderon (Angel Aquino), Amiel’s mother, the carrier of the illness, feels responsible for Amiel’s misfortune. But she enlists his other son Rommel’s (Enrique Gil) dedication to assist Amiel as he gradually loses his vision. ‘Di tayo aayaw; ‘di tayo susuko, Rosa reminds her son. She further says, “Sa ‘yo ako humuhugot ng lakas, anak.” Amiel and Rommel grow up close and supportive of each other. They play Beethoven’sFur Elise” together on the piano. They even prepare for the eventual forfeiture of Amiel’s vision by counting the steps to familiar nooks in the house.

One fateful day, the family figures in a catastrophic accident instantly killing Rosa’s husband (Lloyd Samartino). Rosa gets thrown out and survives with a mere contusion. But the wreckage perilously hangs by a cliff. The townsfolk turn to the site to pull the survivors out of the car. As time critically ticks by, a samaritan shouts to Rosa: “Sino ang sasagipin?” Rosa’s knee jerk reaction has her shouting, “Yung nakasalamin!” (Amiel). Rommel hears this and gets heartbroken. This scene has since defined Rommel’s relationship with his mother and brother Amiel.

Surviving the accident turns into an icy chapter in the lives of Rosa’s family. The once obedient and dutiful Rommel has turned wayward, preferring constant night outs with friends of ill repute. Moreover, their financial standing has down spiraled. Situation turns dicier when Rosa accepts an offer to manage a desolate inn in foggy Tagaytay where Amiel and Rommel spent their summers as children. Rommel acquiesces when he renews acquaintance with childhood friend Amanda (Jane Oineza) who’s grown into a lovely girl.  

But the old and creaky house rankles with an ominous past. A girl named Sandra (Empress Schuck) was gang raped and murdered in the house 15 years ago. Since then, men – suspected rapists – die mysterious deaths around the area. A killer is running loose, and Sgt. Villegas (Richard Quan) pays Rosa a visit to warn her about this. Meanwhile, Rommel’s demeanor towards his mother and brother changes abruptly with Amanda’s constant visits (she delivers flowers to the guest house). Fetching scenario, right? But are they safe from the wandering killer? Is Rommel free from the influence of his delinquent friends (Ejay Falcon, Franco Daza and Nico Antonio) who have their eyes on Amanda? Has Rommel mended his strained relationship with Rosa and brother Amiel?

A convoluted plot replete with several intervening narrative strains makes this mostly incongruent flick a herculean cinematic experience. The issues involved in “Amorosa” are disparate, and director Topel Lee vigorously pieces them together like oddly-shaped parts of a puzzle.  There’s the beautiful title that would have you believe that titular Rosa is the focal character in this story.  Well, she isn’t. There should be something about her that deserves a theatrical “title” other than the fact that she’s the genetic carrier of her son’s Retinitis Pigmentosa; maybe a glimpse into her past? But if you really think about it, Rosa could be written differently, i.e. as a supporting character or a flashback - and this wouldn’t harm the major premise that’s more about sibling rivalry than the guilt of a mother who wants to pass her burden to her younger child. How convenient, right?

During the accident, the Samaritans who went to the vehicular wreckage chose to “ask which one to help” losing more time in the process. Most people with brains would readily act on it than ask for decisions. They were at the scene, for Pete’s sakes. It was their call to just pull anyone out before the car tumbles down the ravine. But no, in their moment of idiocy, they had to ask the confused, contused and flustered mother which one should they pull out of the wreckage. Moreover, what mother would choose a child over another? This moral dilemma is really a narrative catachresis, clumsily manipulated to draft a situation.

On the other hand, Sandra’s (Empress) story, which starts the movie, is hokey. To add to Rosa’s grief, Director Lee has decided to throw in an avenging ghost who kills “rapists”. The film would have you believe that Tagaytay is the Rape Capital of the Philippines; rapists are a dime a dozen and they roam the streets like happy vagrants looking for damsels in distress. And restless Sandra haunts and kills them. But what bothers me was after having exterminated the characters played by Ejay Falcon, Nico Antonio and Franco Daza, what happens to the avenging Sandra? Her story has conveniently become an unfinished business, right? Unless she has decided to retire from her protracted retribution.  What did Sandra do to her own rapists – Carlo Aquino, Johan Santos and Lemuel Pelayo? Why kill others, but not your own rapist/murderers? Busy sya? Anyare, kuya?

And didn’t you notice how Manila boy Rommel’s friends seem to follow him all the way to Tagaytay? Moreover, there’s an albularyo (Nanding Josef) who intermittently warns Rosa of impending events, and there’s a child (Xyriel Manabat) who seems to see ghosts. Yet all of them are disposable characters that are as quickly forgotten as they are introduced into the story. Let’s not forget Lilia Cuntapay who provides asinine humor, an absolutely misplaced thread in an already confused narrative body.

Furthermore, Director Lee wasn’t happy with these plots so he further deviates by providing another twist! In what could be the silliest form of “deus ex machina”, Rosa is suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that would have her believing that Amiel survived the accident. But such gravity of delusion and visual hallucination isn't part of Post Traumatic Stress. Try Major Depression or Schizoaffective Disorder, but absolutely NOT Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! Isn’t it easier to actually consult a psychiatrist if you were to make a cinematic case out of a psychiatric diagnosis than cursorily reading about hallucinations from Wikipedia? Some people could be so inept or lazy.

It turns out, post-accident Amiel was but a figment of her imagination. How very Shyamalan!

Angel Aquino boasts of an arresting presence and an earnest take on mother’s guilt. Empress Schuck is, as usual, fetching and sympathetic as Sandra. These two ladies make watching Amorosa a little less painful, churning out commendable performances in shoddily written characters. Others aren’t as lucky. Ejay Falcon displays course depiction too far removed from most Star Magic actors. His characterization is, in fact, very Mac Alejandre’ish - mediocre, loud, predictable, and shallow. Enrique Gil and Martin del Rosario mostly deliver perfunctory turns, but they’re nothing to crow about. After all, the bond between these two actors is mostly fabricated, more than visceral.   

I have to admit though that the setting and cinematography are a pleasure to the eyes. Fog bound Tagaytay, gigantic trees with a thousand branches that reach to the heavens, atmospheric corners of some eerie locations provide a very visually compelling cinematic canvas. Unfortunately, mere beauty doesn’t suffice. A beautiful girl with the brain of a paramecium soon loses novelty, and we eventually see through her hollow skull. And it’s becoming clear how Topel Lee, once a very promising indie talent, has failed to deliver his promise. With visually succulent scenes, all he’s able to churn out are the superficial requirement of his cinema. Visuals are an integral part of a film, but it’s a valid story and an intuitive storytelling that drive any cinematic vehicle. In “Amorosa”, cerebral occupancy is nil! There’s just no one home but an unmanned camera.

Nanding Josef and Nico Antonio
Empress Schuck is the avenging Sandra.

Martin del Rosario is Amiel. Enrique Gil is Rommel. They are brothers... from a different mother... and a different father! See any similarity? You have to judiciously use your imagination for that. :)

Ejay Falcon is William, the present-day rapist; Carlo Aquino is Jerry, the rapist of the past! 

Pretty Jane Oineza plays flower girl Amanda, Rommel's childhood friend.

The cast of "Amorosa: The Revenge" and their confused director.


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PISARA.me said...

When will Pinoy directors realize that humor has no place in psychological horror? You can place jokes and humorous offbeat characters in slashers, but not in psychologucal horror.

Mosang, Lilia and the kid's characters could have been done away with, really. What could have just happened is that the house has been handed down to them, since the woman who owns it promised Angel Aquino's character that it will be given to her when death comes.

This way, we get to remove the scene of the lovers who did not know how to act.

Anonymous said...

if i were to review this movie, kamukhang kamukha ng review mo.

didnt like the movie. what's up with these messed up ABSCBN Skylight Productions horror films? (first being Corazon)


Cathy Pena said...

@ Mark:

Writing a summary was such a headache because there were too many stories to tell - and when I do summaries, I try to make sense of what the film is trying to say.

I think Topel Lee has to re-learn his story telling acumen - and simplify his narratives. It's such a waste because he has enviable visuals.

And yes, Mark, humor is misplaced here. :) Gusto kasi ni Mr. Lee, "chopsuey". Damihan ng sahog para kumpletos rekados... just like a variety show - the horror version. LOL

Cathy Pena said...

@ Jason:

It isn't easy to marry off mainstream and indie sensibilities. This movie has a very busy, confused narrative. Skylight yata is meant to be the "more" experimental arm of ABS-CBN, but it has yet to produce a good product. This is sad.

Allan Carreon said...

I would agree with most of your thoughts on this movie (though for some reason I still liked it).

The one item I would disagree on / point out is the caption for the pictures of Martin and Enrique: "Martin del Rosario is Amiel. Enrique Gil is Rommel. They are brothers... from a different mother... and a different father! See any similarity? You have to judiciously use your imagination for that. :)"

This implies they can't be brothers because they look nothing alike, but in the real world it happens.

My oldest brother and I look nothing alike. He is very fair-skinned and takes after our dad and our paternal grandfather; in fact, he looks almost exactly like our lolo from his younger years. I am more moreno and takes after our mom; in fact, I look like a male version of our mom.

So just because two people don't look alike or have nothing physically similar in common doesn't mean they can't be siblings. In fact, I'd give credit to the production for casting Lloyd Samartino as the dad here. I suspect, but I could be wrong, that to justify how Martin and Enrique could be brother, they cast Lloyd and Angel as the parents.

Martin, being more moreno and Pinoy-looking, can be argued as having taken after their mother Angel more (especially given the plot point that his blindness was genetically acquired from Angel). Enrique, being mestizo, can be argued as having taken more after their father Lloyd - who is fairer-skinned and somewhat mestizuhin.

Just my two cents.

Cathy Pena said...

Hi Allan,

Reading your thoughts about Martin del Rosario and Enrique Gil who portray brothers in “Amorosa” was interesting. Your argument is valid, but this is the movies – and there are conventions in making them. After all, movie watching banks on the element of “suspension of disbelief” for a fully immersive cinematic experience.

Since movies imitate art, you have to acknowledge that cinematic story telling involves a series of events: the lifetime of a character or an epoch that spans generations. These will all be told within 120 minutes of screen time. But life, in general, cannot be logically represented in a 2-hour narrative to give it justice. This is why film makers have to “help” tell the story, create characters, depict situations and cast actors. Not all of realism makes a proper film. The medium doesn't allow that, but for a very select few. In this light, casting is crucial because this will dictate the authenticity of a narrative that runs for a mere two hours.

A biopic of Manny Pacquiao won’t be as enthralling if he gets portrayed by someone as dour or vocally unskilled - or to his aesthetic likeness, will he? Thus Jericho Rosales gets picked to portray him. This is too far removed from reality.

In “Amorosa”, while it is “possible” that someone like Martin del Rosario and Enrique Gil could be siblings by virtue of a father like Lloyd Samartino and a mother like Angel Aquino, the audience has to hurdle several degrees of separation. For a two hour film, why allow an audience to delve into their physical semblance for more than the time necessary when they have a more compelling story to watch and pursue? This is like casting Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos and Sharon Cuneta in a film where the superstars are cast as sisters. Is this casting possible? The world is too vast and many stranger things have happened for this not to happen. But this tests the viewer’s cognition and, well, patience. To say the least, it’s a stretch - and a diddly, if fanciful persuasion.

Martin and Enrique are too far removed from being siblings. This is so obvious, it doesn't really require cogitation. I wasn't alone in the cinema having similar concern when this was screened. You could hear people whisper. Instead of getting scared, they were wondering – like me – how their semblance is for the books. But yeah, they have a dad pala like Samartino and a mom like Aquino. This leaves an audience more concerned with matters other than the meat of the story. And this is sad. For a film maker to cultivate his conceit about this smacks of self-indulgence, cluelessness or both. :)