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At Large

Families in a courtroom drama

Only one name is needed to explain why “The Trial,” Star Cinema’s latest offering, will be a hit. And that is John Lloyd Cruz, a certified “bankable” actor in both the small and big screens, even if in this movie he portrays a character far removed from his usual persona.

In “The Trial,” Cruz portrays Ronald Jimenez, a young man with developmental disabilities who finds himself accused by his teacher Bessy (Jessy Mendiola) of rape.

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Such a film would be classified as a “courtroom drama,” but local critics describe it as a “family drama,” and with good reason. For the focus of “The Trial,” apart from the crime and the people caught in the eye of the storm, are the families both torn apart and drawn together because of it.

There is, for one the Buen family: Julian (Richard Gomez), who defends Ronald; developmental psychologist Amanda (Gretchen Barretto), who both counsels Ronald and investigates his motivations; and their late son Martin (Enrique Gil), who was, they find out, Ronald’s best friend.

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Already beset by issues of disloyalty, betrayal and guilt, the Buen couple’s marriage is shredded to bits by Martin’s accidental death. There are hints aplenty that, by taking Ronald’s side, the Buens are making it up to their son, atoning for their part in his dying.

Then there is the Jimenez family, which is as eccentric as the Buens are conventional, but warm where the Buens are chilly and distant from each other. Indeed, Ronald’s family lies at the movie’s heart, with a lesbian mother (Sylvia Sanchez) and a flamboyantly gay father (Vincent de Jesus) wrestling with their guilt and faith in their son, and their loud, busy extended family of gay impersonators.

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Indeed, the only major character without a family of her own is Teacher Bessy, an orphan who must struggle with the expectations and disappointment of an aunt (Vivian Velez), who owns the school where Bessy hopes to be a full-time teacher and where Ronald is a special education student. As well, she must cope with the abuse of her boyfriend to whom she is forced to cling because his family is a shareholder in the school.

Based on an original script by Ricky Lee and reworked by a team headed by Kris Gazmin, “The Trial” moves far beyond the confines of a courtroom and examines such issues as social attitudes toward the developmentally disabled, the plight of sexual minorities, the way the legal system is skewed to favor the rich and influential, and even the role of social media in creating and distorting news.

But all this is told in an engaging manner, and we must credit director Chito Roño for his deft handling of such “heavy” matters, even the sprinkling of humor and bite in selected scenes.

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As expected of an actor of his abilities, Cruz carries off Ronald without a moment of inconsistency or self-consciousness. This is a difficult feat, mind, since remaining faithful to Ronald means depriving the actor who portrays him of acting “moments.” I love how, even in moments of high drama, Cruz’s gaze remains blank, innocent, guileless.

Roño is even able to draw creditable performances from Gomez and Barretto, never in my list of favorite actors, but who in “The Trial” manage to emerge as credible and three-dimensional human beings, parents and spouses.

Mendiola is a rising star in her home network, but she has yet to develop the necessary gravitas to portray a convincing victim.

The real revelations here are Sanchez and De Jesus, who portray caricatures without resorting to the easy laugh or histrionic turn. True, their characters are the source of much comic relief. Still, even as they reach for the comic moment, they essay their characters’ inherent dignity and faith in their son.

I have but one cavil about “The Trial” and that is the home shared by the up-and-coming Buen couple. Usually, Star Cinema products have a shiny, polished art-directed look, but the Buens reside in an old-fashioned mansion with heavy dark brown furniture, including the marital bed. I would think such a wealthy couple would have a sleeker setting. But that I even found time to nitpick should mean there is so little to complain about in “The Trial.”

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There was a time when cross-stitching or needlepoint was all the rage. Not just among homemakers, but even among those least expected to take up needle, thread and patterns. Some career women took it up as a way to pass the time (and dissipate frustration) while stuck in traffic. Businessmen picked up the hobby as a way to test their skills and concentration.

But like all hot and heavy pursuits, cross-stitching soon fell out of favor. Maybe because even the most fervent hobbyists soon tired of producing framed pictures of “fairies, ballerinas, cute little bears, flowers and the like.”

Still, some adherents persisted in their craft. Proud Pinoy Stitchers, or PPS, aims to bring back the popularity of cross-stitching, but this time expanding and deepening skill levels by producing not just cutesy designs but also “serious” art, based on patterns created by thread maker DMC Philippines of paintings by Filipino artists Fernando Amorsolo and Manuel Baldemor. Their needlepoint art will be displayed in an exhibit titled “Karayom,” opening on Nov. 5 and on view until Nov. 11 at the LRI Gallery.

Founded by Margaret Tipton, Proud Pinoy Stitchers is a Facebook group that has expanded from the original members—Tipton, Rene Millare, Yeya Albano, Honey Refe and Dicky Huang—to include many others who regularly meet and share creative ideas.

Art lovers may also find themselves in possession of authenticated replicas. Every Amorsolo cross-stitch masterpiece will come with a certificate from the Amorsolo Foundation, while every Baldemor piece will be signed by the artist himself.

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TAGS: At Large, Courtroom drama, entertainment, Family, Films, John Lloyd Cruz, Movies, opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, The Trial
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