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“MRS” and “LILA” at Sinag Maynila: Studies in contrast

by Anna Gamboa

Two reviews of films shown at Sinag Maynila 2016

MRS: when women run the world


Reeling in Sinag Maynila’s plums — Best Film, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Cinematography — MRS is a study in grace, despite desperation. Virginia (Elizabeth Oropesa) is a septuagenarian, living in an area with a fault line, and her home is falling apart — the cracks in the walls, floors, and ceilings betraying her stubborn refusal to sell or move from the place despite the pleas of a spendthrift/cash-strapped sister (Daria Ramiriez) and a daughter based in Canada. The only remaining daughter (a delightfully kooky Rosanna Roces) in the country is under the influence of a cult that espouses a strange sort of feminist energy in the absence of a dominant male. So, in response to the question: yup, girls do run this cinematic version of the world.


Men don’t seem to last long in this story — they leave, are abducted/absent, or are deemed good for nothing (and often are when judged so). Eventually Virginia’s reason for hanging on to the house is revealed: she wants a place for her only son, Sonny Boy, to come home to, despite his absence of over several years – being on the run from the authorities, possibly hiding underground, or summarily executed. A mysterious woman (Angeli Bayani) offers some hope and a warning: Sonny Boy is out there, but not in Mindoro, as Virginia wishes – because she will only find a mass grave there, but no clue regarding the remains or whereabouts of her son.


Delia (Lotlot de Leon), Virginia’s maid of 20 years, is pregnant and was supposed to marry her boyfriend, only to discover that he already has a wife and family. She struggles with the dilemma of whether or not she should keep her baby, and while she mentions this to her employer, you truly see the conflict mirrored in her troubled eyes, the way she touches a package of (possibly abortifacient) tablets. In the end you see nothing but a shiny pool of blood, hear Delia’s screams for help (providing some symmetry to the beginning of the film when Virginia cried out for her maid’s assistance) and witness Virginia descending down the stairs to come to her aid (in contrast to the film’s start, where the maid helped her employer up the stairs).


Providing more moving moments during the misleading calm than during the storm, MRS proves that the age of histrionics to bag an award (or get through to an audience) in this country is over. Long live an enlightened age of actors and directors.


LILA: the only girl as the final girl

Awarded the Best Production Design trophy, LILA’s story unfolds – or rather, blooms slowly, ensnaring the viewer with scenes from an idyllic-looking home in a quiet neighborhood, serving as the refuge of Jess (Janine Gutierrez). A young woman whose mysterious past will never give her peace, her cousin (Enchong Dee) is there to give her support but nevertheless reminds her to rejoin the world of the living – or at least the comfort of her extended family, which she isn’t willing to do. The kindly landlady (Sherry Lara), a devotee of the Child Jesus, seems to have had a happy parade of young women stay over her place before they moved on, leaving keepsakes for her to remember them by.


This halcyon period, somewhat reinforced by Jess’ discovery of the diary of a previous occupant (who had moved in with her little brother), eventually gives way to a feeling of dread, similarly echoed in the journal. As the lone boarder in the house, Jess can’t shake off the feeling that she’s being watched, almost as if she’s being preyed upon. But is this all in her head or for real?


Director Gino M. Santos cleverly borrows references from several psychological thrillers – most notably the shower/tub scene from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” – but they help propel the story along, instead of annoy the crap out of the viewer. Beautifully shot, the movie easily conveys Jess’ almost-dreamlike transition to her temporary paradise, although people who have recently watched Buhay Habangbuhay (by Paolo Herras) may get distracted by the fact that the same house was also used for the same flick.


As Jess, doe-eyed Janine Gutierrez makes you want to root for her as the final girl—even if she’s the only girl. Tanghalang Pilipino alum Sherry Lara shows off so many layers in her deceptive simple portrayal of the landlady: a crack in the veneer here, a slip of the tongue there, a little indulgent madness when she sways while playing her favorite tune on the record player. Telenovela mainstay Enchong Dee proves to be an effective supporting actor, and tries to rein in the mannerisms which work for television drama, but may seem overwrought in a psychological thriller.


Despite a glaring plot hole (for instance, Jess could have skipped reading through the diary and picked up at the last few pages to find out what happened to its previous owner) or two, LILA proves to be an engaging popcorn movie (as evidenced by its additional wins as the Blink Box Office Film and SM People’s Choice Award) , and Gutierrez a more than worthy successor to the showbiz lineage she is heir to.


Peanut gallery notes:

-Elizabeth Oropesa’s chest deserves a Best Supporting Actor award on its own. (editor’s note: *expletive deleted* autocorrect nearly wrote “tits”!) Holy crap, they’re almost more emotive than La Oropesa’s face, the heaving and stillness when she’s disturbed…


-Watching “MRS” and “LILA” back to back, you know that Janine Gutierrez has a long way to go compared to her mom, Lotlot de Leon—and of course their award-winning predecessor, Nora Aunor. But given time, who knows?

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