Tuesday, January 09, 2018

'Ang Larawan' Provokes Reflections While Looking Good and Sounding Good

Ang Larawan (The Portrait in English) is a musical film based on a musical stage play, which is in turn based on Nick Joaquin’s literary magnum opus A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.  It follows spinster sisters Candida and Paula, daughters of renowned painter Don Lorenzo, as they feel nostalgic of the glory days of their once-regal ancestral house which they are now struggling to maintain due to financial difficulties.  Money would have been easily attainable, as many are willing to pay a hefty sum for Don Lorenzo’s last masterpiece, something their father had left them.  They don’t really love the painting – they even feel that it’s burdensome and may even harbor animosity towards it – yet they refuse to part with it.  Instead, for their income, they rely on performing menial labor, such as capturing rats; the rent money of boarder Tony Javier, an opportunistic, sleazy vaudevillian pianist; and the unreliable support of their married elder siblings, who are more interested in selling the house than helping them keep it.

As a Filipino film, this is probably the first of its kind.  I personally haven’t seen a Filipino musical period piece done in film before.  More than that, it’s rich in wit, style, depth, cultural significance, and artistic flair – qualities that are rare in modern Philippine cinema.
There’s an initial awkwardness with hearing Filipino dialogue being delivered through singing.  It feels a tad silly at first.  But it’s only because I wasn’t used to it.  And it was only brief.  Once I got over that bump, the whole thing unfolded beautifully.

What was revealed to me is a thoughtful tale about love between sisters, as the changing times, plus the practical trials that come along them, assault and tax their will to stay true to their identity and roots – is sisterly love enough for them to withstand the onslaught?  On the side, it also explores how financial matters can compromise an artist – as the need for money may force him to “sell out”, to drop his craft in order to pick up a more commercially successful trade, or even perform undignified acts.

Its themes, which are rooted on the main idea of preserving our Filipino culture amid the influx of foreign ideals, may have been more relevant during the pre-Japanese occupation era which the story is set in, but they nonetheless remain relatable in the present, for they still remain true in one form or another.
Ultimately, the story makes us reflect on how much of ourselves now are made up of our real selves – in accordance to our heritage, our vision, our loves – and how much are shaped by external influences, the environment we live in, arising necessities, circumstances, and pressure to conform with the majority.  After considering this, we begin to ask ourselves: “Am I satisfied of what I’ve become?  Do I feel nostalgic of what I was and what had been?  Or do I feel mournful over what might have been?”

And that’s why it also preaches, “Contra mundum!”  If we truly believe our principles, then aren’t they worth standing up for no matter what?  Mustn’t we be willing and ready to go against the world for them, and never compromise?  And if it ever happens that we lose in the end, it should be because we’ve been broken despite our best efforts to stand our ground, and not because we folded.  If we have done our best for what is right, regardless of the result, our conscience is clear.  The extent of our regrets and weeping in the future, when we reflect on our lives at that point, is going to be dependent on how much we have truly been faithful in the present.
Aside from offering these profound insights, Ang Larawan also impresses with the craftsmanship and talent behind its production elements.  It looks good and it sounds good.  It got too dark during a blackout scene, but except for that part, the cinematography is lush.  Meanwhile, I thought at first that the soundtrack came off as unremarkable.  But a while after watching the movie, I found myself humming a couple of its melodies.  The music does resonate after all.  Now, I want to listen to its OST album.

The film boasts an all-star cast, which includes Joanna Ampil (Candida), Rachel Alejandro (Paula), Paulo Avelino (Tony Javier), Sandino Martin, Nonie Buencamino, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Robert Arevalo, Celeste Legaspi, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Rayver Cruz, Ogie Alcasid, Dulce, Nanette Inventor, Jaime Fabregas, Bernardo Bernardo, and Noel Trinidad.  Many of them have background in theater, and there are even some who have participated in the original stage play.  Thus, there’s no weak link here.  Everyone is impeccable on his or her respective role.  Moreover, though I’m not a fan of them, there’s something magical about seeing all those stage legends together on screen (particularly at the last part).
Ang Larawan is another proof that Filipinos are very much capable of making quality films.  The talents are out there.  What’s missing is consistent motivation and support.  Thus, I wish more Filipino filmgoers would choose to see films like this and more local theaters would choose to show them.  That way, Filipino filmmakers would be motivated to make more well-thought-out, well-crafted, innovative, worthwhile films instead of the lazy, factory-assembled, done-to-death ones they mostly crap out nowadays.  It’s always going to be a “profit over art” world, and if art won’t equate to profit, then there’s going to be a shift toward something that do equate to profit.  

Unfortunately, if the MMFF gross results are any indication, a Philippine film renaissance won’t come anytime soon, as most Filipino filmgoers prefer paying for crap.

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