Written and photographed
By Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
Celia’s (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio) plan for a Tertulia was to revive Gaspar (Tony Mabesa). A Tertulia was a gathering of friends in the Spanish tradition with music, poetry and culture. Everyone was in their formal attire. Men walk in with their finest Barong. Women were coming in their terno. One guest remarked to Joy Virata, “Ang ganda mo.” (You look lovely) To which Joy replies curtly, “Poki Mo!” (You’re a pussy [vagina]!) Moments later Gaspar is wheeled in, lying on a hospital bed deep in a coma. Each of the guests greets him. Celia says, “Let us awaken him from his dream.” One by one they sing to him.
Niño directed by Loy Arceñas has won 4 Balanghay trophies at Cinemalaya 2011: Special Jury Prize, Best Supporting Actor-Art Acuña, Best Supporting Actress – Shamaine Buencamino. Arceñas a multi-awarded stage director is always quick to credit his cast and talented production for the success of the film long before the awards night. The scene described above is no exception. Joy Virata is a known stage performer and vocalist. Arceñas gave her general directions as far as invectives were concerned, “We told her that she should screw up and she did it. She’s a great actress. She was terrific. I really wanted to use people who understood stage, it meant a lot to me.”
While the storyline of Niño sounds like a typical Filipino melodrama, it is anything but. The humor is surprising and the drama is subtle. It would touch you in ways never expected. Brilliantly written, thoughtfully conceived and directed, an ensemble cast in every sense of the word. Gaspar is an ailing patriarch who has his sister Celia living with him in a large but dilapidated old house. When he suffers his second stroke sending him to a coma, all of the inhabitants of the home are threatened with his possible demise. Racquel (Racquel Villavicencio) Gaspar’s daughter comes back with plans of selling the old house, displacing Celia and her grown up children Merced (Shamaine Beuncamino) and Mombic (Art Acuña).
What makes Niño totally different is the biting wit of the dialogue written by no less than Rody Vera. The story goes in a way that is never expected. There are religious undertones, when Celia dresses up her grandchild Anthony (Jhizelei Deocareza) as the Sto. Niño. Celia hopes for a miracle cure. Each character goes through an evolution which also pushes the transformation of the whole family. Each of them also have their own secret relationship they want to hide, sexual or otherwise.
Creatively there was a strong emphasis on the ensemble. From the very beginning even at the writing stage it was a collaborative effort which involved the main actors. Loy said, “When we had a skeleton of a screenplay we invited Shamaine, Racquel, Art and Fides to see if they were interested in being part of the film. Once we got their commitment then Rody shaped the film with their input.” The music is also sometimes used ingeniously in place of written dialogue. In one scene Celia overhears Racquel talking about the pricing for the lot and is alarmed. Worried by the loss of the only home she knows, she responds by singing “Addio del passato” (So closes my sad story) from La Traviata. Without knowing the exact meaning of the lyrics which were in Italian, Racquel sensed the emotion that overflowed in the impassioned performance.
Shamaine Buencamino was chameleon-like. The night before Niño’s gala was the opening film for Cinemalaya, ‘Maskara’ which was directed by Laurice Guillen. In it Shamaine was a devoted wife, while in Niño she is a closet lesbian. She has the most intimate scenes with her younger lover who works as a nurse (Diana Malahay), giggling, smooching and fondling each other. Her character Mercy, on the other hand is cold and tough on her brother Mombic and mother Celia. Art Acuña is the charming but jobless brother Mombic. Acuña is currently in “Kitchen Musical” a TV musical produced in Singapore. Christian Bautista and Karylle are in the lead role of the TV show that will be aired in several networks in Asia.
Jhizelei Deocareza plays Anthony who later on becomes Niño. He is the child who brings light to the house. His character represents hope in a dying place. Racquel Villavicencio who plays the heartless daughter who wants to sell the house won Best Actress in the Director’s Showcase category for “Bisperas.” She said, “The house itself was a character too.” Production designer Laida Lim was able to create that atmosphere of decay successfully. Cinematographer Lee Maily and Jay Abello were able to capture those powerful moments in the confined spaces of the old home. Meily, Abello and musical scorer, Jerold Tarog are all esteemed film makers in their own right.
Loy Arceñas admits with modesty that “Niño” as his first film was a learning process having come from a long background in stage. He has however, successfully orchestrated the many talents of the cast and production to create one of the more memorable films in this year’s Cinemalaya.