Her steely gaze into the camera holds you with its fear and sadness. The camera is placed high above the bed. The prostitute’s (Mercedes Cabral) long black hair curves the way her body does on the blood red, shimmering satin sheets. In slow motion, six male figures appear from each side. They creep onto her, their hands exploring her body. After a while of their hands going all over they suddenly stop and retract slowly going out of frame. A solitary African American comes from the bottom of the frame kissing her body. His body is a direct contrast, his large muscular frame overpowering her soft female form. Her face changes as if trying not to feel, her mind going to another place.
The scene above is from the film “Ganap Na Babae” which will be shown at 6:30PM on March 8, 2011 at the U.P Film Institute as part of the International Women’s Day Celebration. Other screening times include 5pm and 8pm on March 10 at U.P. Los Baños’ DL Umali. The film also recently qualfied for the SOHO film fest in New York.
“Ganap Na Babae” is the story of three very different and individual women who in truth are actually a part of each other. They come from diverse social strata, educational backgrounds and even different stages in their lives. And yet what is common among them is that they all represent the Filipina. Be it strong, independent, abused, uneducated, poor, young or in the twilight years. “Ina” with Mercedes Cabral is directed by Sarah Roxas, “Kaibigan” with Boots Anson Roa and Rome Mallari is directed by Rica Arevalo and “Kapatid” with Sue Prado and Jam Perez is directed by Ellen Ramos.
There’s a similar scene in “American Beauty” where Mena Suvauri looks longingly from above Kevin Spacey. Rose petals fall onto Spacey’s face as he fantasizes about his daughter’s cheerleader friend. Although the power of female sensuality is the center of both scenes, the context is entirely different. Mercedes Cabral’s smoldering sexuality is a metaphor for something more profound. The depth of her acting abilities was necessary to pull off the requirements of the role. It is the same skill that has won the attention and admiration of director Brillante Mendoza to cast her in “Sevice”, “Execution of P (Kinatay)” and “Captured” which is currently in production.
Had it been another actress, there would have been less emotional depth. Cabral is able to deliver gritty lines with the frailty of the Filipina. “Kala ko matututuan niya kong mahalin. Putang ina, di siya nagbabago mula nun. Unti-unti niya ko pinapatay…Paghinahawakan niya ko lagi akong bumibigay.” She shows that women don’t choose to become prostitutes or victims of spousal abuse. They are forced into a situation not of their choosing and yet they are judged severely by society. There’s nothing sentimental in Director Sarah Roxas’ style only powerful imagery, terse succinct dialogue that is efficient and moving.
Director Rica Arevalo won for “Best Director” in Cinemalaya for her film “ICU Bed#7” with the great Eddie Garcia. This time she has another one of Philippine cinema’s great performers: Boots Anson Roa in the portion entitled “Kaibigan.” The lovely ‘Tita’ Boots is cast as Eos a woman recently widowed who finds solace in a very young computer expert named Rodrigo (Rome Mallari). There’s sweetness to Roa that goes beyond age which makes the romance between them believable.
Eos’ daughters constantly beg her to migrate to the U.S. where they now reside. Ironically, they are also the cause of the May December affair when they insist on her learning the computer so they could chat and email. Families and friends disapprove of the relationship and ridicule the couple in one form or another.
Rome Mallari has broken barriers as an actor. In this movie no hint of his deafness is apparent. Audiences are shocked to find out that he is hearing impaired in real life. He was originally discovered by Cinemalaya film maker Mike Sandejas and cast him in “Dinig Sana Kita.”
Director Ellen Ramos did a masterful job not just in her portion as film maker. More importantly she weaved 3 disparate stories into one as film editor. She did this in a variety of ways by transitioning where characters have similar motions. So the effect is almost subliminal. The narrative does not follow the conventional manner where each mini story is put from beginning to end. Cuts are interspersed and combined from one separate story to the next.
At first it’s a little bit confusing but the result is that viewers tend to think about the film more analytically. While the stories are sometimes tragic, the editing forces us to ask questions why we perceive women in the way that we do.
Sue Prado is Milagros a farmer who is forced to take in her sister Elena’s (Jam Perez) children in. Elena has left the country for a job in Japan. Sue Prado recently won a 2010 Gawad Urian Best Supporting Actress award for Raymond Red’s “Himpapawid.” This chapter demonstrates the sacrifices that women endure silently and willingly for love of their families. Society naturally imposes this difficult role on women who are nurturers and bread winners at the same time. The whole film strikes a chord because of its truthfulness and courage in giving Filipina’s and women in general an eloquent voice.