We have no choice but to smile and embrace with all our hearts the lesson the filmmaker wants us to learn. For, after all, according to film critic Bienvenido Lumbera, the cinema is a school.
The film “Di Di Hollywood” (director Bigas Luna; writers Luna and Carmen Chavez Gustaldo) is shameless in underlining the moral lesson that, in this world, fame and fortune will not make us happy, for it is only the love of our family and friends that will. This is a very Filipino virtue.
This film tells the story of an actress whose wish for stardom comes with much sacrifice. Her name is Diana Diaz, a young woman with a grand yet familiar dream: to become a star.
Tired of working night jobs as a bartender in Madrid, Diana finally decides to leave her homeland, her best friend Maria, and her mother, to pursue her ambition. She goes to Miami in the US, where there are many modeling agencies.
Fed up with casting calls, hunger and poverty, she goes with an upcoming director named Robert to Los Angeles, where Hollywood is. She finds a manager and is told to sleep with a producer and an actor, her tickets to become instantly famous, something that is only possible in, where else, Hollywood. With that fame, of course, is money. Big money.
In exchange for that show-biz success, she has to give up so many things, like her friends and family, including her self-respect. She is so busy that she has no longer time to talk to her best friend, who is stuck in that infernal bar in Madrid and in a sadistic relationship with her drug-addict boyfriend. Instead, Di Di offers to send her money that Maria refuses to accept.
Soon, Di Di discovers that her actor husband is a bisexual. She catches him having sex with another man in their house. Instead of filing a divorce or leaving him, she follows the advice of her manager to keep quiet about it, for it will be bad for their careers. Sounds familiar, right?
In the beginning of the film, which is also the ending, for the story comes full circle, Di Di is in Madrid for the screening of her latest film. The audiences are so happy to see her and excited to see her latest flick.
In the dark moviehouse, while she is watching herself onscreen, Di Di sadly says in a voice over: “I heard the applause and I felt I had achieved what I’d been fighting for even though I was having the hardest time of my life.”
While Di Di is busy answering questions of reporters in another room, her friend Maria is run over by a speeding car.
The film ends with the scene of Di Di leaving the movie house alone, save for her two bodyguards, walking in a cold lobby, appearing grotesquely splendid in her silvery gown.
She stops to throw her diamond ring on the floor, the ring given to her by the producer she had sex with to become a Hollywood star. Long shot from above: Di Di is walking alone on the red carpet, her fans inside the moviehouse adoring her beauty on screen. Indeed, it is so lonely to be on the top.
Sometimes we look down on a work of art that is too obvious in stating its moral lesson. After all, my literary-criticism teacher Isagani R. Cruz would say that it is foolish, or not practical, to read poetry (and I assume all the other forms of fine arts as well) in order to learn a lesson, for it is not the role of literature to lecture or to moralize. That if we want to know how to bake a cake, it is wiser to read a cookbook than a collection of poems even if it is about food.
But in the case of “Di Di Hollywood,” the underlining of the moral lesson is apt and acceptable, especially now that we are living in a material world where our idea of success is being rich and famous. This materialistic value, of course, is very American and very Hollywood.
Now that the US capitalist economy is crumbling, we need films like “Di Di Hollywood” to remind us of what is more important than money and stardom.
Remember the Sharon Cuneta movie “Bituing Walang Ningning,” where the protagonist, a talented and very popular singer and movie actress, gave up fame and fortune for the love of her life? She would rather become a lusterless star in the shining embrace of the beloved!
The lesson that we got from this classic Tagalog film, we also get from this contemporary Spanish film. This simply shows that, across time and race, the criteria of a good human being is the same. For what is the primary role of art in society? To make us more human.
J.I.E. Teodoro, an award-winning writer from San Jose de Buenavista, Antique, is an assistant professor of Filipino at the College of Arts and Sciences of Miriam College in Quezon City.