Sunday, December 05, 2004

After watching last year's surprise box office hit from Unitel Pictures I was ready for more. This, I proclaimed, would usher in the start of a brand new age in Philippine Cinema! After more than a decade of mediocre presentations that yielded brown and green jokes in the guise of slapstick comedy, hysterical dramas, exaggerated actions movies, and sex flicks, the audience deemed it time to move on. Then came another year and the same studio came out with another offering titled, Santa Santita ("Sanctimonious"). I've been wanting to watch ever since the first day of showing but weeks came by and every chance I got to watch the move didn't push through until today. Me and my mom's expectations were soaring high from the promise of a great plot, a great director, a couple of great veteran actors (specifically Cherry Pie Picache, Johnny Delgado, and Hilda Coronel), and of course a studio that couldn't do wrong. Now I can sum up my verdict in two words: IT SUCKS!!! I can't believe the Cinema Evaluation Board gave it a grade of "A"! An "A"?! A "C" would have been more appropriate and generous too if I were to give the grade. Grrr!

The promising story revolves around Malen (Angelica Panganiban), the only child of a pious intercessor, Chayong (Hilda Koronel). Chayong is one of the group of "mandarasal" or prayer ladies who take their positions at the entrance of the Quiapo Church day after day listening to the prayers and confessions of people who have something in need while Malen is one of the scapular and rosary vendors hawking their wares in the church premises outside. Very much the opposite of her mother, Malen is a rebel who dresses seductively and dreams having a really good time away from her mother. She meets a driver cum tour guide for hire named Mike (Jericho Rosales) during one of her rounds and the two hit it off immediately. While Malen likes to live on the edge, Mike is like the devil incarnate who succeeds in seducing her to the dark side. A very worried Chayong offers up a prayer exchanging her life for her daughter's safety after the latter dallied off with her new found lover. Chayong soon dies of heart failure soon before Malen came home. With tongues wagging and clucking, the neighbors and Chayong's co-prayer ladies condemned her for causing her saintly mother's death. With no other source of income to pay the rent and put food on the table, she was forced to take over her mother's role in Quiapo Church. What started out as a pasttime turned out to be something more creepy when all the intercession prayers for difficult and impossible problems began to be answered. Soon word began to spread out causing the head priest to turn her away from the premises. She's forced to set up a prayer area where she could receive the sick and those in dire need of prayers in her backyard, a sympathetic nun (Cherry Pie Picache) and a temporarily exiled priest (Johnny Delgado) looked over her welfare. While Malen tries to make sense of everything that's been happening to her, Mike returns to her after a long absence and seduces her again. This causes a bigger discomfort as God seemed to directly intervene in all their lives using a chain of events to teach everyone involved a lesson.

Said story would have made a lot more sense if they didn't make some unnecessary scenes so overdrawn and the ending rushed. They could have edited the whole thing and explained why it happened to Malen, explain the head priest's sexist remarks and antipathy towards this exemplary relevant instance as an example of Jesus wanting to reach out to the poor, an explanation or at least a focus on the exiled priest's case that was being investigated and his new found faith (the poor man was driven to drink and smoking out of depression), and an explanation or at least a focus on what made Mike change his mind and change for the better. I must also commend Jericho Rosales for coming up with such a convincing character (he's the kind of villain you'd really love to hate while at the same time sympathizing with him for the troubles he's seen). He's quite a surprise in this movie and very far off from his usual sweety-sweety leading man roles. It's quite unfortunate that this movie that could and should have dissected the different reactions to religion and theology from the religious to the blasphemous failed to deliver what could have been a deeper look on what defines the Filipino's faith. Sayang.

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