This has its satisfying moments and unsurprising twists.
The three ghosts are somewhat stuck in limbo, thinking that they might be at a state of fulfilling a final purpose before they are taken away by Ate Shawie which seems to be a symbolism of another realm. They go into a journey of “visiting” the ones they’ve left. Along their journey they meet three college friends who are into anything recently considered popular and conjure into the usual problems involving family, friends, love and whathaveyou.
This dark comedy nearly sticks to the direct translation of it’s title.
Starring Erich Gonzales, Maria Isabel Lopez, Mark Gil, John Lapuz, Joel Torre, Alfred Vargas, Odette Khan, Dennis Padilla
Story by Richard Somes, Screenplay by Somes, Boo Dabu, and Jimmy Flores
I have never seen Erich Gonzales in an indie role before. Nor have I ever imagined her being as feisty as her role in Mariposa sa Hawla ng Gabi. If there ever was, you are free to remind me or let me know of it. We all remember her as that girl who won the star search, that girl from Davao who won household hearts with her roles in local telenovelas and movies with leading men and storylines that are a bit risqué but with the help of the studio she is in contract with it becomes your typical “tweetums” flick. She’s your typical image of sweetness.
But in Mariposa, we see a different side of her acting prowess as she takes the lead as Maya, a simple but feisty young woman from the slums of a province who goes to Manila in search of her older sister. She receives a telegraph from a woman whom her sister lives with, played by Maria Isabel Lopez. With a little hint from a calendar Maya looks at, the year is 1994. There is nothing much in the set design that would contradict that we are in the early nineties, her outfits are mostly boyish flannel shirts and jeans and Chuck Taylors.
As she arrives in Manila, posters of a young woman endorsing soap is everywhere. Is she her older sister? Or does she just look familiar? Maya looks at the poster but doesn’t say anything. This may or may not lead us to think of the two but that I cannot tell and I guess you’d have to see the movie yourself. At the bus station she meets the Maria Isabel Lopez character. She asks about her sister but only gets a bad feeling that something has indeed happened. She asks the irritating question of “Asan ang ate ko? Anong nangyari sa kanya?” / “Where’s my sister? What’s happened to her?” I guess more than once… but she doesn’t get a reply. We the audience are left to believe that there is something in store for this story. And we are about to get a brief answer.
Maya is brought to the morgue to see her sister’s dead body, but since she doesn’t have enough money to claim the body, she decides to avenge her sister’s death and make the people responsible pay. She starts off by looking for her sister’s ex-boyfriend played by Alfred Vargas. He accompanies her in tracking down the people who killed her sister. Turns out the bad guys work with the police so turning them in would be difficult, but that event never happens anyway. The leader of the bad guys is played by Mark Gil whose bittersweet romance with his ex-girlfriend turns into a sick business of kidnapping girls and changing their faces to match that of his idea of the “perfect girl”. He’s also into monkey business which you’d have to watch to film first to understand what it is. The addition of that into the story is something I find bewildering. The early action scenes were exciting to watch although you’d get to see a different woman’s hair being pulled instead of Erich’s (her voice gave it away, I guess. It was so funny to watch rather than exciting) but as the story continued to progress, so did the enthusiasm I had earlier to continue watching the film. Figuring out whatever symbolism or meanings there were in each scenes, I’d say it fell flat as there was that need of a back story to back up the part where they all go back to their lives like nothing happened. They just had to finish it off by finishing it off the way movies do—- killing the bad guys and walking out.
It’s still a good film you should consider watching. But proceed without any expectations of the type of action films you’re hoping to look forward to.
Starring Alessandra and Assunta de Rossi, Adrian Sebastian and Sue Prado
Alba and Alban are half sisters who share the same name when written in “Baybayin” (which I’ve learned was incorrectly referred as “Alibata” but is known as the Tagalog/Filipino Script). Alba’s father is Canadian, while Alban’s father is a Palawan who died a few years back due to malaria. Their mother is a healer who at the beginning of the film cures a young boy named Bagtik from being sick and possessed. Upon being cured, Bagtik decides to never speak again and chooses to write in Baybayin as a means of communication for the rest of his life.
Alba and Alban form a friendship with Bagtik and they grow a fondness for him and his innocent ways. Their mother and their father notice this and had once talked about how their friendship might be like an old fable about two sisters falling in love with one man. A few months later, their mother dies from Malaria. As a tradition in the Palawan culture, when a family member dies the family left behind must leave their home and build a new one elsewhere, so that they can leave the past and move on. Alban being the oldest is left with her relatives, while Alba is taken by her Canadian father.
A few years later, Alban and Bagtik are now older, played by Assunta de Rossi and Adrian Sebastian. Their fondness has bloomed into love and so they decide to live with each other. Assunta picks the spot at her former childhood home, a lovely spot beside the shore and a shoreline that connects their home to the other island, which seemed to be traced by God Himself.
Alba is now played by Assunta’s real life sister, Alessandra de Rossi, who also played a part in Solito’s Busong. She is now clad in modern clothes and speaks Tagalog more fluently than Palawan. She makes a stop first by a relative’s birthday party wherein she meets a soldier who introduces himself to her. This man is played by Mon Confiado who reprises his role as, well, a promising villain. Alba ignores his attempts to woo her and he seems to be dissatisfied by this. On the evening of her stay, he attempts to rape her but she manages to fight back and run away into the forest. In the forest she is found by an old friend who takes her to her sister.
What I don’t like much about previous Filipino films is that when there is a necessary shot in the forest, especially at night, you will anticipate a fight with the darkness. You will be left clueless as to why there is a scene in the forest although there is nothing you could see. Independent and mainstream cinema has improved and we can now see into the dark spaces, unless it is a required technique that everything has to be dark and the acting is really blah.
Unless the projector used is really dull, I assure you that although some scenes were shot during dawn or at night, you can see that the acting (especially the locals) is really natural. I was worried at first that I might not see Alessandra properly making her way out of the forest, but I was not disappointed. The “innocent” love scenes between Alban and Bagtik are also impressive. Since it is told in the movie that Palawans do not kiss but rather they feel each other’s presence, and that is enough. It felt romantic and important, not cynically depressing.
The people’s love for tradition and their island is not always evident in all places. This pretty much describes our whole country in general. While others strive to protect our Indigenous people, others are blinded by what money, modernism and image can do. Aureaus succeeds in showing us the beauty of own country, our own traditions, our own language, and that love is innocent and kind, if that is what this movie attempts to show us about.
Mon Confiado’s character along with the American tourist and his stout, colonial-mentality infused wife help make the movie real, by trying to steal this Paradise from its caretakers. There is one scene in which Mon and his troop find their way into the elders’ ceremony and steal their gongs just because he heard that the gongs are expensive when sold and that the sound of these have irritated him for the past three years.
The de Rossi sisters are effective as Alba and Alban. I have never heard of them being in love with one man in real life but if they have been able to translate it to the film quite convincingly. They are both known to be loud and outspoken in real life but they have a way of being their exact opposites in the films they star in. Not that I am offended by them being chosen in this role. I was actually excited to see them act together again. They are effective as a team, along with Adrian Sebastian, because they understand each other. A normal person, let’s say that person has been brought up in values of this dog-eat-dog world, would not allow this situation to happen. But since Alba understands that Alban and Bagtik have been taught growing up that this kind of situation happens. That kind of innocence and naivety can exist. This kind of idea may sound threatening to most of us, but the three makes it seem harmless. That as long as love exists, in both sisters and their love for one man, and their love for cultures and traditions, it doesn’t really matter.