Sunday, December 28, 2003

Angel Aquino, Sharon Cuneta, and Hilda Coronel playing the title characters.

Entries for the Metro Manila Film Festivals seem to be getting better and better every year. I started with the best of the lot which got an "A" rating from the Film Classification Board, Crying Ladies. This is the first(?) full length feature from ad director Mark Meily, producer Tony Gloria, and Unitel Productions's second (they're also the same guys who did American Adobo) and it really delivers the goods as promised. The story revolves around Stella Mate (Sharon Cuneta) who's been hired by Wilson Chua (Eric Quizon) to be a professional mourner in a wealthy Chinese patriarch's funeral. Since the family required three mourners Stella also engaged the services of her friends Rhoda Rivera (Hilda Coronel) and Choleng Benitez (Angel Aquino).

Stella is a streetwise hustler and gambler who was recently been released from prison after being convicted of estafa. She's constantly on the move in between her chore as a mourner, applying for jobs in agencies and joining various contests to scrape some money for her son Bong (Julio Pacheco) who she briefly got custody of from his father Guido (Ricky Davao). Rhoda, is a has-been actress whose sole claim to fame is a bit role in the Vilma Santos starrer Darna and the Giants. While she's not manning the store she can often be found dragging her daughter (Jomalene Estrada) through commercial screenings or taking the role of a ghost in one of the horror rides in a local carnival. And Choleng is a naïve religious woman who can't seem to resist the sexual advances of her friend's husband (Raymond Bagatsing). She would often retreat to the confessional to the consternation of the tired Parish priest who has heard the same set of confessions week after week.

The movie actually shows us a preview of the daily grind that cuts across classes of Philippine society. So the viewer is made to feel like a willing voyeur and eavesdropper on the conversations of the characters (we're made to experience their dreams, aspirations, hardships, and struggles along with them). The actresses can be credited for coming up with such a real-life portrayals of ordinary people that they didn't mind spoofing themselves in the process. Writer/Director Mark Meily can also be credited for coming up with a fresh concept that's totally devoid of the cliché found in a typical Filipino movie. There are no hysterical screaming or crying, no tears pouring down like a disastrous flood on the faces of the characters, and no old hat exaggerated comedy routines. The execution that has the feel of MTV but still manages to avoid the trap of being totally so (I can't help but smile at the cleverly done opening credits). He experiments with camera angles that may serve to distract the viewers from listening to the dialogue but not so much that it ruins the experience. There are some symbolisms and subtle nuances that can only be deciphered after some more viewings (but that may just be me). I also give two very ethusiastic thumbs up to the post production crew for the creative seamless dissolves and transitions in some of the scenes. Chalk up another notch for a possible Filipino entry to movie festivals abroad, 'cause this is a worthy addition to those who have discriminating tastes in their collection of Filipino movies.

Also, if you're planning to see this movie then I recommend that you try to go in a few minutes early since they also showed a truly excellent cartoon version of Larry Alcala's Siopawman. I have no idea if it's just an animation short (since they already rolled the credits for the crew involved in the film) but from the looks of it it may be a preview of an upcoming full length cartoon movie. If it is then it's something I'm looking forward to watching too.

* Turns out that it was done by Toon Manila Production, the same guys who did the Gen13 animation among others.

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