Thursday, December 20, 2012

Michael Angelo Dagnalan's Paglaya sa Tanikala - Matteo Guidicelli and the Saint

Berto (Micko Laurente) is a vagrant who roams the streets sniffing solvent. To support this addictive inclination, he snatches cell phones and wallets for a syndicate headed by Nardo (Nicco Manalo) and his ornery minions. One day, Berto, with his head still in the clouds, meets Brother Jerry (Matteo Guidicelli), a cathechist, who invites him to Casa Miani, an orphanage run by the Somascan Brothers. Though dingy and uncouth, Berto is embraced by the congregation who gradually introduces him to the Catholic faith and the prodigious story of St. Jerome Emiliani, patron saint of orphans.

Jerome Emiliani (also portrayed by Guidicelli), son of a noble Venetian family, lived in the tempestuous era of the late 14th century. Though his lifestyle was fraught with vices, Jerome was a good soldier who, at 25 years old, found himself steward of Castelnuovo, a fortress in the Italian mountains. Maximilian I, King of the Germans, eventually headed the siege of Castelnuovo and took Jerome as a prisoner, throwing him in a dungeon. While incarcerated, the brave and fallen soldier reflected on his life of sin and began praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He vowed that if he is freed from his shackles, he would change his ways and work for God’s glory. The Virgin Mary heard his prayers. Once free, he went straight to a church in Trevisio where he hung his prison chains in front of Mary's altar, thus the titular “Paglaya sa Tanikala” (Freedom from Chains). As promised, he was later ordained priest in Venice, devoting much of his time for the homeless orphan children. His story, intermittently told in disparate chapters, becomes Berto’s inspiration as he embraces his new family.

But something sinister is brewing in the horizon. Berto gets a visit from a seemingly well meaning couple, Nardo and Jenny David (Manalo and Sue Prado) who tells the parish rector (Jaime Fabregas) that they want to adopt a child. Once alone with Berto, Nardo – the syndicate head – instructs Berto to prepare for a heist, one that would divest the orphanage of its limited funds. Otherwise, he would hurt the other children. What to do? 

Stories of heroes and saints need to be told because they live an exemplary life. There are pages in their stories other people could cogitate on and emulate. However, it’s imperative that these stories don’t come out like propaganda. Otherwise, people would stay away in droves. Unfortunately, Director Michael Angelo Dagnalan’s work runs like one. It is preachy and brazenly milks its contrived plot with less savoir-faire that the vacillating narratives allow.

Imagine talking to a hungry, sleepy child like this: “In 1523, Father Jerome moved from Venice to…” What child wouldn't lapse into catatonia? And what nefarious couple (Prado and Manalo) would dress up as a decent couple just to blackmail a child in an orphanage? The act of masquerading itself is too fairy tale-ish to be taken hook, line and sinker. Manalo and Prado come off caricaturish, delineating characters too blatantly pasquinade.

Matteo Guidicelli makes for a dashing catechist who moonlights as an arnis instructor. I half expected him transforming into Captain Barbel. But Guidicelli is even more fetching as the valiant Venetian soldier who fought for his castle. He looks and speaks the part. Trouble is, Matteo's delivery requires more conviction as Jerome Emiliani. While I could swallow (well, barely) the soft-and-slow spoken, albeit calculated Tagalog delivery as the demeanor of a “religious” (Guidicelli is said to speak impeccable Visayan), his Italian gent-and-priest is rather tentative; more artifice than insight.

While the handsome star isn’t absolutely successful in his dual depictions, child star Micko Laurente hurdles his part like a pro, enveigling his pertinent transformation from a streetwise dope head to a reformed child with remarkable aplomb. Laurente is a find, and probably the only thing worth remembering in Director Dagnalan’s otherwise maladroit tale. Surely, Saint Jerome deserves better.

Fighting with the "Alemans".

St. Jerome Emiliani, Patron Saint of orphans.
Hit me gently, Matteo. Ayayay! :)

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