Friday, May 27, 2005

La VISA Loca

Robin Padilla is spectacular in LA VISA LOCA

(My Open Letter/Review to director Mark Meily and Unitel Pictures)
By Reymundo Salao

The following is a film review/article on LA VISA LOCA for my weekend column JUST ANOTHER FILM JUNKIE on the Iloilo City newspaper daily The GUARDIAN, and a copy of it is also E-mailed to the film's director Mark Meily and to Unitel Pictures

First of all, A Great Big Thank You for making a film that will surely restore the faith of many to Philippine Cinema. I grew up with the sentiment that Tagalog movies are "always" awful. Late 1980's I was in my Elementary school when Tagalog movies were slowly and gradually deteriorating. Some master directors were dying, some were making delusional sci-fis and fantasies, and a great many were making "bold" films. And dare I say, all of them seem to give up their artistic skills to work under producers who have no real imagination when it comes to cinematic originality and quality. Unlike in Manila, and most of the Luzon area, there is a great big number of people here in Visayas who abhor "Tagalog movies" although there are indeed a few of these films that are fairly good. Generally, there are two kinds of moviegoers when we approach this subject matter; those who watch Tagalog movies, and those who don't watch Tagalog movies and prefer Hollywood movies. But there is the third one: The ones who watch Tagalog movies with hopes that they be one day as good as Hollywood movies. I think I belong to the third one. And it has been a long road of pathetic hits and misses. The few which may have been good films always have that one element of goof, slapstick, inconsistency, or just pure inappropriateness, all slight errors that will make you cringe in your seat, mumbling curses, for it could have been a film that could have passed through anybody's lowest strict standards for what may be considered a decent movie.

I had to research on old Tagalog movies to find the ones, which are flawless of any bad cinematic element. These movies which I consider to be of pure perfection are "Orapronobis", "Oro Plata Mata", and "Kapit Sa Patalim: Bayan Ko". Among my recent favorite directors is Marilou Diaz-Abaya, and Yam Laranas, both whose works are indeed praiseworthy, for they know how to balance artistic discipline and making it marketable. There are a lot of "artistic" directors, some of them have been around for quite some time. But their works are too flamboyantly artistic to the extent that it tends to be pretentious, and some just are too "un-straight" as if effeminate scholars are the only ones who deserve to appreciate good cinema. Many of these directors also tend to hide in "bold" (sex-trip) movies claiming that what they're making is the next "Scorpio Nights" or "Y Tu Mama Tambien" but they're really just under dictatorial orders from talent companies who would want to indorse and market their former teen idol into the adulthood of the perverse.

I watched "Crying Ladies" (directed by Mark Meily, Unitel Pictures) on rented VCD, surprisingly, I was watching it with my father and brothers who usually just watch action films, and my mother who usually just falls asleep when watching any other movie. As I was wholeheartedly enjoying the flick, I realized that they also adored the movie as much as I did. Much to my surprise, my father was asking if I had my own copy of that movie on VCD, so I decided to buy a copy myself. (Although I sure would've liked to buy an original DVD of it, but for its market price, which I couldn't afford on a regular day, it doesn't have an audio commentary or any other Special Features goodies that I would enjoy) Nevertheless, I stand my ground on claiming that "Crying Ladies" is beyond my expectations. Not only was it flawless, it had great characters, smart dialogues, and a well-written storyline. When I found out that it won several film awards, I was quite ecstatic for it.

Then came the news that you guys (Mark Meily, Tony Gloria, Sharon Cuneta and Unitel Pictures) was going to make this new movie with Robin Padilla and Rufa Mae Quinto on it, I was damn excited. I have always considered Robin to be the local version of Johnny Depp. And I agree with one article saying that Robin is an underrated actor, and why? Just because the effeminate scholars don't watch his action movies because they spend their focus-time too much on redundant dramas and false art films (sexy films which pretend to be artistic). And Rufa, well, she is her own original self, an icon of hilarity. When LA VISA LOCA's trailer was shown, I felt this unconscious surge of excitement, sure I've felt it when I've seen trailers of movies like "Star Wars" or "Batman Begins", but never have I been immensely excited over a Pinoy movie before.

LA VISA LOCA opens this week here in Iloilo, fresh off the Star Wars hype (that I cherished last week), I was ready to watch a local movie. After spending last week in a galaxy far, far away, a Pinoy movie that has our very homeland as one of the main subject matters is just appropriate. And I did enjoy it immensely. The storyline is indeed a Palanca winner (2004 Palanca-winning script written by Mark Meily himself) Robin Padilla plays Jess Huson, a driver who, like many Filipinos, has always had that lifelong dream of being an American citizen. He lives with his father who spends most of his time watching television and calling up a radio call-in program and expresses his angsts about society. Jess does hope to be reunited with his girlfriend who has moved to work in the US, but his aspirations crumble when his application for VISA is denied. Until he meets a foreigner named Nigel Adams (I failed to get the actor's name but he also played his part very well) who just may give him the opportunity to finally work abroad.

This is one film that has a lot to say about us Filipinos and our oftentimes-misguided colonial mentality to consider working abroad as an aspiration in life. Although some of us may be not like that, we would feel a certain familiarity with the film's characters like Jess, who long to be reunited with his girlfriend in the US, with Mara (played by Ruffa Mae Quinto) who has been somewhat abandoned by his former boyfriend who has long left the Philippines to work abroad as well, and to Jess' father (Johnny Delgado) who would soon feel that sense of longing o if and once his son would leave for the US. There is also a sense of relevance in the character of Nigel Adams, the foreigner (who seems to be British because of his accent) who initially has that admiration for the Philippines, but tends to lose that admiration when he gets the impression that he's just being suckered by opportunists that want to cash in on his being a foreigner. And lastly, is the unpleasant colonial mentality of some Filipinos who think ill of their nationality. The ones who credit every bad human trait as a Filipino trait, to the point that they deny being a Filipino at all. Certainly, this film of yours is rich in relevance, a profoundly made story of our culture.

But more than just that, it's a rib-tickling comedy that taps on real issues and realistic incidents. It's hilarious without the slapstick. From the naughtiness of Jess' senior citizen father to the bizarre world of Agimats, the film never leaves any room for dullness or cornball lameness. I also like the "choral" excerpts by Marissa Sanchez, Tessie Tomas, Noel Trinidad, and Isay Alvarez, for it is very Pinoy (one groundbreaking element making it very original). The only thing I didn't like about LA VISA LOCA was its poster.

In totality, the film is well balanced. It possesses just the right amount of intellectual and artistic substance, and the wit and humor that could entice each and every kind of audience, from the coƱos, to the sosyals to the masa, and even the effeminate scholars. I couldn't do much but salute you guys and hope that this film would be nominated for the prestigious Academy Award's BEST FOREIGN FILM because I would daresay (not in a kiss-ass manner) that it deserves it. LA VISA LOCA is one PERFECT Pinoy film.

Two Thumbs Up and A Standing Ovation

No comments: