At Large

A belated appreciation

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Trolling the TV air-lanes the other night, we came upon an unexpected gift: a TV documentary on Jose Rizal, whose death anniversary was being observed that day.

The documentary, titled “Pluma: Rizal ang Dakilang Manunulat” (Pen: Rizal the Great Writer), attempts—as promotional materials put it—to “trace the evolution of Rizal’s writings… show(ing) how Rizal was able to document every stage of his life himself through his writings, detailing the crucial situations he faced as a nationalist.”

“Pluma” was produced originally to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Rizal last year, and has been named as a finalist in the 2012 New York Festivals.

What struck me most about the documentary was the overall quality of the writing, production and acting, especially coming from a viewing of “El Presidente,” the much-hyped but ultimately disappointing film based on the memoirs of Emilio Aguinaldo, first president of the Philippine Republic.

One would think that “Pluma,” being a product of the “lesser” medium of television, would have been subjected to much less rigorous supervision or quality control. Deadlines on TV, after all, fall far more frequently and leave a lot less room for fine-tuning. While a movie, especially one prepared for an annual festival, would have a far longer gestational period, with numerous chances for those behind the scenes to think and rethink the concept, script and overall approach of the finished product.

But I found the opposite was true. “Pluma” was certainly the far superior product, with an engaging script that allowed Rizal—the boy, the young man, the budding nationalist, the mature writer and patriot—to emerge in his own words, engaging viewers and allowing them to appreciate him in both a personal and historical context.

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INCREDIBLY, even the acting was far better in “Pluma.” Young actor Rocco Nacino portrayed Rizal, subsuming his own persona to that of the hero’s, allowing the viewer to suspend disbelief and immerse oneself in the world that produced a national hero. And thank God for small blessings! While most of the actors in the documentary were little-known and thus not as familiar to the public, at least none of them were comedians whose cameos in a historical project would elicit laughter and incredulity from amused moviegoers.

My only beef is that, in portraying the various “loves,” or at the very least, romantic interests of Rizal in the Philippines and across Europe and Asia, the producers apparently ran out of Caucasian or even mestiza women to feature. Some of Rizal’s women, notably Josephine Bracken, the Eurasian “companion” of a patient and his final lover and mother of his son who died at childbirth, are jarringly portrayed by “native-looking” females.

Adding credibility and perspective to the juxtaposition among Rizal’s writings, his life story and historical events was the commentary from local and impassioned historians: Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua, Dr. Jimmuel Naval, Rev. Fr. Jose Arcilla and Gemma Cruz Araneta, who aside from being a noted essayist and historian, is also Rizal’s great granddaughter.

So overall, even if we viewed it about a year late, still, “Pluma” is a fitting tribute to a hero whose personality and motivations are still a matter of controversy a hundred years since. Congratulations to everyone behind the project, most notably narrator Howie Severino, executive producer/writer Cris Sto. Domingo, screenplay writer Katte Sabate, and everyone else employed behind the scenes.

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WITH my family, I watched “One More Try,” best picture winner in the still-ongoing MMFF, and came away appreciative of the exploration of personal and social issues involved.

As most everyone would know by now, the movie tells of the search of a single mother Grace (Angel Locsin) for a cure for her son Botchok (Miguel Vergara) who is suffering from a virulent form of anemia.

The most obvious option: a bone marrow transplant from the boy’s father Edward (Dingdong Dantes) who isn’t even aware that he has a young son, and who is now happily married to high-powered advertising executive Jacqueline (Angelica Panganiban).

When Grace seeks out Edward and pleads for her son’s life, she throws everyone in their circle, including her boyfriend Tristan (Zanjoe Marudo), into turmoil, surfacing everyone’s insecurity, guilt, jealousy and yearning.

Of course, all other options like a tissue match or artificial insemination are eliminated in favor of the more sensational plot point: Grace and Edward need to produce another natural child who would provide for Botchok the tissue he needs to survive.

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I SEEM to remember a local film, whose title escapes me at the moment, that centered on much the same premise: the need for a former lover to “borrow” the husband for one night of sex. If I remember right, the movie goes on to prove that one night is never enough, ultimately threatening the marriage.

It’s much the same scenario in “One More Try,” when the initial tryst between Edward and Grace proves unsuccessful and Jacqueline and Tristan lose both their patience and trust in the arrangement.

The movie is easy on the eyes, what with the good-looking leads and the to-die-for designer accessories sported by both Locsin and Panganiban that had my daughter and me commenting on them even as the film reached a dramatic climax.

Overall, a satisfying, if ultimately shallow, viewing experience. The only major beef I have against the movie is the “best actor” award bestowed on Dantes, when most of his screen time is spent looking blank and unfeeling, with no hint to his inner turmoil, if there ever was any.

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