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An emerging ‘summer’ of fine cinema

/ 08:24 PM September 10, 2013

There is a lot of drama to be mined, and a lot of melodrama to be wrung, from the basic story of “Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle (Twinkle’s Summer).”

A military officer takes for his own the infant daughter of an NPA couple, believing both parents were killed in an encounter. Fast-forward 18 years later and the officer, Cenon Payawan, is now a retired army general, raising 18-year-old Twinkle who has turned into a rebellious drug addict. Then an emaciated stranger turns up at their gate, saying that he is Twinkle’s biological father and that he has one last request before he dies from cancer: to meet with the girl (whom he calls Kalay, short for Kalayaan or freedom) for at least an hour and introduce himself and his late wife to her.

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Of course things are not so simply resolved. On the road to reconciliation and understanding, there are many wrinkles to iron out and obstacles to overcome. First of all is Twinkle’s addiction to cocaine, and then her unresolved resentments against her adoptive parents, plus her feelings of something missing in her life. A lot of these questions are resolved when Twinkle (Ellen Adarna) meets Ka Ruben (Arnold Reyes), but there are her adoptive parents in the way (Cris Villanueva and Rina Reyes), and two boyfriends whose devotion and influence she must simultaneously spurn and renew.

Twinkle is joined in her refuge where she undergoes rehab by the seriously ailing Ka Ruben. Under the ministrations of her adoptive parents, doctor (Pinky Amador) and caregivers, Twinkle’s summer of recovery is a slow, winding process of healing, discovering, confronting and growing. What initially plays out as a combustible tale with touches of politics and ideology, family drama and personal pain, winds down into a coming-of-age tale, and a discovery of the humanity in everyone.

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Given the material, “Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle” thankfully veers away from melodrama at the right points in the film, thanks to a low-key script by director Gil Portes’ favorite collaborator Eric Ramos. Much is made of the humorous aspects of Twinkle’s name, of the “clash of cultures” between the country’s affluent (the general and his wife) and the struggling rural poor (Ka Ruben and his ilk), as well as of the lingering conflicts between the military and the communist rebels.

My only complaint is the sudden turn the story takes when the general-father of Twinkle’s spurned boyfriend makes an appearance demanding to take Ka Ruben in his custody. The scene is meant to prove how General Payawan’s loyalties have shifted, from the military establishment to the man whom he has come to consider a friend, but it proves an awkward interlude all around.

According to Portes, the seed for “Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle” was planted way back in the 1950s when, as a child and the son of Huk sympathizers, he heard about the story of a Huk “amazon” whom his parents took care of during her pregnancy and delivery. The family later learned that the woman, who brought her child with her to the hills, had been killed in an encounter. “We never knew what happened to the child,” said Portes.

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The tale of the Huk amazon has thus been transported to present-day Philippines, to the still-persistent communist insurgency and to the hundreds of personal tales spawned by the conflict and the clash of ideologies and politics. These tales are as much about personal pain as they are about social upheaval. And rarely are the stories resolved as neatly and as satisfyingly as it is in “Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle.”

The news is that Portes had originally cast in the role of Twinkle a network star but that this star ultimately bowed out of the project upon the objections of advertisers who had required her to maintain a “wholesome” image.

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Certainly, there is little that is “wholesome” about Twinkle in the early part of the film—indulging as she does in drugs and sex and temper tantrums—but in the hands of Ellen Adarna, Twinkle emerges as a complex character, torn between her nascent rebellious streak and her need for the significant adults surrounding her. Her gentle, unassuming beauty is also an added gift to audiences.

Reyes as the dying former rebel brings remarkable commitment to his role, reportedly going on a stringent diet the better to assume the emaciated appearance of a former rebel fighting his final battle. Despite his fragile frame and delicate condition, his Ka Ruben is still capable of flashes of humor and irony.

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Even better news is that “Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle” is just one among a number of films included in the “Sineng Pambansa (National Film) Film Festival, All Master’s Edition” which showcases 10 independent films from 10 of the country’s “most accomplished veteran filmmakers.”

From the trailers alone, the movies in the festival promise to be among the most rewarding, fulfilling viewing experiences to be gained in a long while. Indeed, it seems we are in the midst of a glorious “summer” of innovative, brave and experimental films. Movie-loving Filipinos have the Film Development Council of the Philippines to thank for this development. Last February, the FDCP chose the directors taking part in Sineng Pambansa, granting each filmmaker a seed fund of P1.5 million to create their dream projects, free from the pressures and limitations of commercial filmmaking.

Sineng Pambansa reels off tomorrow at SM Cinema, the largest exhibitor chain in the country, assuring at the very least that these artistic efforts will be accessible to the great number of Pinoy film lovers out there.

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TAGS: Cinema, column, Rina Jimenez-David, sineng pambansa
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