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My Chair Rocks

‘Ang Larawan’ touches the heart

/ 05:14 AM January 07, 2018

After the hectic holidays, it was relatively quiet at our house. We enjoyed that little break while revving up for New Year’s Eve.

After the feasting, the children went to celebrate with “the other side” of their families. That done, they went off in search of surf and sun, some to Anvaya Cove, the others to Balesin. And just before the New Year, I bade a tearful goodbye to parts of my heart who took off for their home in Seattle.

They say that all good things must come to an end. This is sadly true. But no one has ever told me why. That’s life.

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After the recent Tokyo Film Festival, Richard Luispers of the Variety Review wrote about the movie: “Clearly made with the utmost love and care… ‘The Portrait’ is beautifully decorated and top notch in every technical detail.”

I watched Nick Joaquin’s “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” several decades ago with the inimitable Daisy Avellana in the role of Candida Marasigan. The play was in English. It was a drama deep and meaningful. Excellent.

I was living in the United States when other versions of Joaquin’s obra maestra were presented. I am sure they were equally good. But I just couldn’t imagine “Portrait” as a musical, a zarzuela for the big screen. Frankly, I thought it was a stretch. This I had to see.

The travails endured by “Ang Larawan” were expected. I suspected the “madlang pipol” would think it too highbrow and not pang-masa. And I worried about the three fearless producers who risked it all.

Early reports at the takilya were dismal, as predicted. Several theaters pulled out even on the first day. But they reconsidered after the reviews came out, and responded to public clamor.

Joy to watch

I am not a movie critic. I know zero about cinematography and even less about the technical aspects of movie making.

I only know what touches my heart.

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“Ang Larawan” moved me to the very core of my being. Its dialogue hits you where you live, as a Filipino.

It was a joy to watch Joanna Ampil as Candida, Rachel Alejandro as Paula, Paulo Avelino, Sandino Martin, with Nonie Buencamino and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Manolo and Pepang Marasigan, respectively. What a despicable pair those two. Robert Arevalo is Don Perico, a poet turned politician who gave up art for position and power. His scene gave me goosebumps. Celeste Legaspi is Doña Loleng, his irrepressible wife.

The ensemble was no small casting coup with the likes of Zsazsa Padilla, Rayver Cruz, Noel Trinidad, Mikee Cojuangco, Cris Villonco, Ogie Alcasid, Ricky Davao and Dulce. Loy Arcenas directed.

Leo Rialp in the role of Don Lorenzo Marasigan, painter of “the portrait,” has only one scene—an incredibly tender moment that speaks to the heart about forgiveness.

I was spellbound. Long after the credits rolled, I stayed in my seat. I wept.

Please ask me why. I want to tell you.

I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss. If I were to offer one Tagalog word to describe what I felt, it would be “hinayang.”

I saw a legacy wasted, an idyllic lifestyle abandoned. Old values and principles prostituted. Honor and integrity forsaken, for a price.

The story is set in an era that slowly faded away and disappeared. How I wish it were not so.

Reality confronts those of us who, today, desperately try not to lose hope, and tells us to stop dreaming; that those times are no more.

Have we really lost it all?

Glimpses of a life

For almost two hours, “Ang Larawan” showed me glimpses of my life in Manila, just before the war.

The Marasigan ancestral home looked familiar. We had the same capiz windows. The stairs reminded me of our aunt’s house on R. Hidalgo. The costumes brought back images of my Tia Trining and Aling Cornelia, our costurera. Both wore baro’t saya every day, comfortably, stiffness of the sleeves notwithstanding.

The scene of “La Naval” is stunning. You can almost smell the candles. I remember watching that procession with half my body leaning over the windowsill.

In those days people guarded their reputations passionately. Appearances were vital. The blackout scene in “Larawan” is a spot-on illustration of their fear of “el que dirán” (what people might say).

We owe a debt of gratitude to three courageous ladies: Girlie Rodis, Celeste Legaspi and Rachel Alejandro, who defied the odds. After obtaining permission from Nick Joaquin for the musical, they commissioned Rolando Tinio, another National Artist, to do the adaptation of Joaquin’s immortal prose. Ryan Cayabyab then set it all to music.

That it was chosen Best Picture of the year was no surprise.  And it has reaped many more awards. That’s just icing on the cake.

“Ang Larawan” is a movie for every Filipino, no matter your station in life. It strikes me as a love letter from the producers to the Filipino people saying, “You can be better than you think you are.”

It shines the spotlight on yesterday’s deep values and lofty ideals, daring us to defy the world, to resist, to push back against the decay and decadence that surrounds us. “Contra mundum,” it urges.

Is it too late?

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