Friday, February 1, 2013

Peque Gallaga's Seduction - Tepid Persuasions

As a firefighter, Ram (Richard Gutierrez) is dodging fire, embers and falling debris as much as he’s eluding people he owes money from. With dwindling resources, he is close to biting the bullet with his mates’ dubious practices. Headed by his friend Irvin (Jay Manalo), they extort money from building owners whose properties are aflame. Spew out P50,000 or they won’t put out the fire. You see, Ram has volunteered his kidney to save his father (Mark Gil) from impending kidney failure, but money’s tight and a transplant operation requires a lot more than what he is paid at the fire station. “Di ko nga alam kung papatulan ko na lang yung intsik na bading sa Binondo,” he tells Irvin.

When Ram saves Sofia (Solenn Heussaff), a French-Filipina journalist, from another raging inferno, it seemed like an answer to his prayer. Grateful for saving her life, Sofia hires Ram as driver and bodyguard – and money is no object. After all, the pretty mestiza is bequeathed with considerable wealth from her departed parents. Suddenly, the emotionally impecunious heiress seems to have found her “salvation” in the dashing fireman. Unknown to Sofia, Ram is warming up to Trina (Sarah Lahbati), a lovely neighbor who’s shown him compassion and affection. The attraction between Ram and Trina soon turns into passionate romps in bathrooms and bedrooms. It helps that Ram has conveniently moved to Trina’s boarding house.
When Trina learns of Ram’s financial dilemma, she even decides to sponsor the transplant operation by putting her house up as collateral for cash loan. Meanwhile, Sofia is intent on seducing Ram who’s gradually disquieted by Sofia’s sexual advances, not to mention the ubiquitous camera following them around (a French camera man, played by Artista Academy’s Jon Orlando follows them around, documenting their every move). When Ram moves away from Sofia’s grip, situation turns testy. After all, hell hath no fury like a rich woman scorned, right? What is obsession, coupled with an unhealthy dose of neurosis, not capable of doing?

Peque Gallaga revisits his fascination with stories redolent of his characters' unbridled passion; a familiar theme that always allows dramatic approach into the suspense genre. Like most of Gallaga’s ouvre, he tells his stories with characteristically provocative camera work. The scenes are exquisitely framed, the movement deliberate. Unfortunately, with a story that doesn't really convey a sense of exigency, it feels like the narrative has taken the sideline from the scenographic ruse. Let's take the scene where Sofia burns Trina's house: every "take" stretches on, robbing the moment off of its requisite urgency. 

There are inconsistencies in characterization, particularly of Gutierrez's Ram. When a woman (Shyr Valdez) drops in at the fire station to demand for money he owed her, he doesn't think twice to "work her up" in a room with frosted window, while his workmates could hear (and see) them next door. In another scene where he gets a visit from Sofia at the fireman's quarters, he bafflingly turns into a shrinking violet, rebuffing her advances. He would shag a matron and not a beautiful French woman who pays oodles of cash for his services? "Siguro naman, kaya mong sindihan ang aking apoy," Sofia suggests. So what gives?        

Richard Gutierrez postures like he usually does, but like previous efforts, he fails to convey sincere emotions, thus empathy is hard to come by. What's worse, a movie supposedly built around "passion" feels a tad frigid, which is a mystery considering the presence of Heussaff, who pulls out all the stops to inhabit her fruitcake character. The thespic palette gets better with the ladies: Solenn Heussaff plunges into her role with spot-on precision: she charms, she seduces, she turns pitiful (a challenge when you're rich, beautiful and successful), and just as easily, turns contemptible. Who would have thought of Solenn, when she was starting, that she'd turn into an instinctive, intuitive actress? These days, Heussaff does well in any genre she appears in, even in inane comedies like "D Kilabots: Pogi Brothers...Wehh". What's more inspiring, she has an enviable reputation for her impeccable work ethics.

Lahbati, on the other hand, displays unfeigned countenance. When she delivers her lines, there are no emotional excesses. Isn't it ironic that Lahbati had to come into her own when she's finally decided to desert the business? What a shame.

Peque Gallaga will always be remembered for his masterpieces, "Oro, Plata, Mata" and "Scorpio Nights". "Seduction", on the other hand, could hardly be considered a milestone in film excellence, except that 40 years after Director Gallaga's directorial debut in a film called "Binhi" (with Rosemarie Sonora and Dindo Fernando, 1973), he is still churning out movies about passion and the desires of men. This time though, he missed his mark where "sexy" is concerned.   

Richard Gutierrez

Sarah Lahbati

Solenn Heussaff

Sarah Lahbati and Richard Gutierrez

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