How ‘Larawan’ got its groove back

/ 05:30 AM January 11, 2018

Like the Filipino’s resilience to which it poignantly pays tribute, the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival entry “Ang Larawan” had to hurdle a string of challenges to disprove the peanut gallery’s dismissive notion that art has no place in the popular culture it’s supposed to inspire and enrich.

The screen musical, which eventually won the festival’s Best Picture award, took the long route on its way to proving its naysayers wrong.


In fact, based on the scriptwriting criterion set by the 43rd edition of the MMFF, director Loy Arcenas’ big-screen adaptation of the acclaimed 1997 stage production by National Artists Nick Joaquin and Rolando Tinio was deemed inferior to the scripts of box-office champ “The Revengers,” “Ang Panday,” “Meant to Beh” and Best Screenplay winner “All of You.”

When the festival’s last four movies were finally revealed, “Larawan” did make the cut, but only after “Siargao,” “Deadma Walking” and “Haunted Forest” were announced before it.


But “Larawan” is clearly a cut above the rest. And its struggle for acceptance in its own country is ironic because, after its debut at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, Variety noted in a rave review that Arcenas’ “universally accessible tale about art, money, family conflict, national identity and female emancipation” isn’t just for film enthusiasts and culture vultures.

As it pokes fun at the Filipino penchant for melodrama and self-deprecation, the film makes its intimate tale’s end-of-an-era doom and gloom into something that brims with optimism, and celebrates its protagonists’ ability to turn dispiriting challenges into reinvigorating moments of self-actualization.

But observe how it had to literally fight for survival the moment it found its way into the eight finalists’ circle.

Shortly after it opened in 53 cinemas on Dec. 25, its producers began to feel the pinch: It wasn’t getting enough traction at the box office despite the effusive praise being heaped on it.

On its second day, it lost 17 theaters. But, participants of the 14-day festival were forewarned not to disclose box-office grosses and the entries’ day-to-day ranking—a rule reportedly put in place to help the MMFF’s “underperforming” films hurdle moviegoing bias. How’s that for transparency?

It soon came time to put its followers’ money where their mouths were. So, banking on perfervid pleas on social media to help bring back its quickly diminishing venues, the production worked closely with writers and netizens, who began posting, tweeting and generally calling for support for the embattled screen gem.

“Larawan” lost nine more theaters on Day 3, but the rave reviews and enthusiastic word of mouth helped keep its head above water — contra mundum.


The tide began to turn as soon as the film won Best Picture on Dec. 27, along with five other awards — including the crucial Best Actress prize, for lead actress Joanna Ampil. The following day, five theaters were immediately added to its lineup. It wrapped up its first week with 55 theaters, and continued to grow thereafter.

Its instructive come-from-behind success and reversal of fortune didn’t end there. On Day 10, 77 cinemas were screening it. And on its 13th day, one day before the official end of the annual Pinoy-movie parade, it was being shown in 81 theaters.

In a nutshell, that was how Arcenas’ “little film that could” managed to get its groove back and trumped commerce and consumerism.

But why should superlative, subsidy-worthy movies like “Ang Larawan” fight tooth and nail to justify its raison d’être? Why, indeed, MMFF?

As evinced by the MMFF selection committee’s predilection for revenue-generating escapist fare, the movers and shakers behind the December festival have clearly signified their preference for profit over product, especially after it made less money from its “revitalized” 2016 edition.

It’s a clear case of one step forward, two steps back for the once-proud movie fiesta that championed such exceptional films as “Himala,” “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?,” “Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo,” “Ina Ka ng Anak Mo,” “Karnal” and “Kisapmata.”

These days, the MMFF gauges success by the amount of money an entry raises at the tills. But whose purpose does it serve?

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TAGS: Inquirer editorial, Larawan, Loy Arcenas, Metro Manila Film Festival, MIFF, nick joaquin, Rolando Tinio
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