When it comes to memorable performances only one actress top my list. Five decades, from being a child phenom to an a-1 caliber actress, Vilma Santos is no doubt the Meryl Streep of the Philippines. And maybe more. Maybe because Ms, Streep, didn’t start her illustrious career as child star.
Vilma Santos endured so many transformations that even Madonna will be pale in comparison. Of course, Vilma is not a singer but Madonna can't even followed-up her half-decent excursion as Evita. Just a little trivia, Vilma tried successfully to be a singer with her golden album "sixteen" in the 70s but practically decided dancing was her forte hence the successful venture into television musical variety show “Vilma!” in the 80s to 90s. Vilma with her bountiful filmography is second to none. She did a wide variety of roles that even her closest rival can't match. Listing her most memorable performances is a chore. It will take a true follower to figure out which one should be included in the list. And of course everyone have their favorites particularly Vilmanians who I am dedicating this article.
The fact is Vilma's closest rival, Nora Aunor who repeatedly ventured into a string of comeback vehicles since the mid 90s failed miserably to capture her lost sparkle. And the fact that her brand of acting have never came to its fruitful evolution since the 70s. Meaning - she became stagnant. As an actress in order to have longevity, one should adapt to changes. Sadly, Nora never learned this concept.
Clearly, if you will list Nora's best, it will all be films in the 70s and early 80s. Movies like Tatlong Taong Walang and Bona. While Vilma's list will be from the past five decades. A proof that like Ms. Streep she evolved into much more versatile and serious actress than anyone else in Philippine cinema.
While Vilma is active in public service, film and TV producers are waiting for her availability; and corporate institutions are still lining up for her endorsements. All of these, of course made her still the highest paid actress/product endorser of the land. Should we change her title to the LONGEST REIGNING QUEEN OF PHILIPPINE CINEMA? You be the judge...
Trudis Liit (1963) - The year...an actress was born! Vilma acted like she's been doing this craft for a long time eclipsing the dramatic tandem of Luis Gonzales and Lolita Rodrigues. Her most memorable scenes were with villainous Bella Flores which secured her winning the FAMAS best child actress of 1963!
Dama De Noche (1972) - Vilma did 14 films this year and only six were musicals which means her career backers are starting to shift her into a more serious brand of acting. It was also evident that the musical genre was in that stage of phasing out. And Vilma embraced this by accepting a variety of projects from comedy (Ang Kundoctora), a light drama (Bernal's Inspiration), action (Takbo Vilma Dali), horror (Hatinggabi Na Vilma) and drama (Tatlong Mukha Ni Rosa Vilma and Dama De Noche). Vilma's portrayal of a twin sister in which one was insane in Dama De Noche signaled her willingness to take new daring projects seriously. This Emmanuel Borlaza melodrama showcased her ripe talents which earned her first best actress award. It maybe not be a full victory for some since she tied her best actress award with Boots Anson Roa but for many it was an honor to share this award to a veteran like Ms. Roa. Ms. Roa later on will confess her admiration for Vilma. She also went on to an extreme degree of explaining Vilma's brand of acting, her different types of crying. Going back to Dama De Noche, the last scene where Vilma was showed crying and laughing like a true lunatic at the same time came to my mind. This alone, deserved the FAMAS statue all the more.
Lipad Darna Lipad (1973) - The most successful Darna film of all time. Vilma became the standard measurement of success for future Darna. The film was directed by three directors, all successfully gave us three different take on good versus evil, all with three scariest villain portrayed by three multi awardees veterans, Gloria Romero (babaeng impakta), Lisa Lorena (babaeng Lawin) and Celia Rodrigues (babaeng ahas).
Vilma despite her being the shortest darna in history compensate her height with her bubbly almost animated movements which made this film true to its form, like an action hero marvel comics! All the fight scenes minus the high tech computer generated sequences are done the old fashion way, via camera tricks. Even the flying scenes were not bad at all like, I said, considering the medium, they have to use back then.
Ordinary moviegoers will not even think of including this film as one of Ate Vi's most memorable film/performance but for me, this is one of a good example how versatile Vilma is, even at the start of her illustrious career.
Tag-Ulan Sa Tag-Araw (1975) - All I can remember about this film was Ate Vi's last scene in a car with her parents controlling her and Christopher De Leon chasing them in the street while rain falls down. A very melodramatic to some and yet very effective. Ate Vi's portrayal of a girl who happens to be in love with her first cousin was commendable. She should have won an acting award for this. But of course, critics are all intoxicated by her popular nemesis back then. Falling in love with your first cousin was taboo back then and maybe still taboo in Philippine society today, Tag-ulan was the first film of Christopher De Leon and Vilma Santos. And it clearly show the chemistry between the two actors.
It was the most dramatic and down to earth film by director Celso Ad Castillo. Here there is no over the top production design like the one in Pedro Penduko or the overtly sexual innuendo of Pinakamagandang Hayup sa Balat ng Lupa or even a sexual vulgarity of Virgin People. It was a love story based on a real life situation which made the film more realistic.
Of course being a Castillo project, one can't escape some creative adventure... like the trend back then, Ate Vi did a the "wet look". Meaning she done a scene where her blouse got wet and you know what that means. To some, it was vulgar, to many, It's like she's testing the water. Will her fans accept her in a more mature daring roles? No more sweet image?
Apparently, we will get more of this "testing" in her strings of films like Nakakahiya 1 & 2 (where she did a two-piece bikini) and Nagaapoy Na Damdamin among others. Her next move will shock the local cinema not even her closest rival can replicate. A transformation of great maneuvering. And this time, another Castillo project...
Burlesk Queen (1977) - The test was over. Vilma Santos, the mature A-1 caliber actress has arrived. And she did it with a big bang.
Burlesk Queen became not only the top box office grosser of the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival, it also became the most awarded. It got 10 awards out of 13. Like typical sour losers, complaints flew and a big scandal came where the press reportedly said the awards were being returned to the festival organizers.
No such thing happened in fact Ate Vi still possessed the medallion and award she received as the festival's best actress.
For movie critics, Vilma's portrayal of not so innocent Chato was so revealing even her opponent's regular drumbeater came to Ate Vi's defense saying her acting was surprisingly good enough to win the award.
Truth is, even the feminists applaud her matured performance and Times magazine couldn’t agree more, they featured Ate Vi in a short article, the very first for a Filipina actress.
For a shocked Vilmanians, this movie became a revelation that indeed Ate Vi is embracing her independence. She no longer the sweet virginal teen star of the late 60s to early 70s. She is now an actress willing to conquer any roles. And Vilmanians embraced this transformation with pride. Vilmanians are now ready for Ate Vi's resurgence on top. We are all ready to support her no matter what the other camp will say.
As for her acting in the film, she proved once again that she has the goods. Critics noticed her multi-dimensional portrayal of a woman in pain. Her reluctant choice to survive poverty. Her father's condemnation of her career choice. Her lover's abandonment. All of these emotions captured into a superlative acting coup, surprising even her rival and her fans.
Pagputi Ng Uwak, PagItim Ng Tagak (1978) - Following up the success of Burlesk Queen, Celso Ad Castillo ventured into another love story with the backdrop of hukbalahap. It was a common knowledge now that this film costs Vilma and her film company a lot of money. This was due to Celso Ad Castillo's lack of control over his film budget. His moody and lack of restrain took this film longer to finish. Later on, VS film company did not recuperate its huge capital, as the film was only a mild hit. Despite this, the film was applauded by critics and won Vilma numerous award as producer.
As Julie Monserrat, a music-loving provincial lass raised by her two prudish, wealthy spinsters aunt (Adul De Leon and Angie Ferro), Vilma convincingly portrayed a woman who was very much in love with Dido Ventura (Bembol Rocco), the poor son of embittered woman (Mona Lisa). Like its earlier love story, Tag-ulan sa Tag-araw, the couple have its struggle to remain together.
Aside from the beautiful scenery, Castillo did a wonderful job of combining poetical music to its scenes. And who can forget that kiss? It was said that Celso asked both Vilma and Bembol to put some condensed milk in their mouth prior to do the kissing scene. This was to signify their lust and love to each other as both have to control their desire as what most common in the Filipino society back in that period of time.
Rubia Servios (1978) - For many Vilmanians, Rubia Servios wasn't given any recognition its truly deserved. Particularly the performance of Vilma Santos. It was a difficult role. A rape victim who managed to fight back at the end and killed her tormentor. Lino Brocka's first film with Vilma. And he did it with careful manipulation of grief and emotion. A not so good director will falls into melodramatic scenes but Lino manages to showcase Vilma's vulnerability with restraints with his carefully selected scenes.
The twists at the end where Vilma was once again being raped by the devilish Philip Salvador this time in front of Vilma's husband played effectively by Mat Ranillo III was brutal and painful to watch. Vilma's defeat at the hands of Philip was clearly expressed by her lack of facial emotion and then at the nick of time, when she was able to grasp a piece of wood, a paddle in that boat scene, her face was ignited by terror. She showed revenge in her face and moviegoer will root for her. Kill that bastard! Kill that bastard! One might say.
It was a hell of performance. One might assured her winning the best performer of the 1978 Metro Manila Film Festival. But we were all wrong. We were robbed. It was a painful night for many Vilmanians. I wasn't able to eat and sleep even the following days after the awards night. Vilma accepted her defeat and learned never to expect any more come future awards night. And so, all Vilmanians did that too. Life is too short to cry over a spilled milk.
Miss X (1980) - Filmed on location in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Miss X was a triumph for its director Gil Portes. It was like seeing a dark European film.
Vilma Santos was exposed in a glass window at the red light district of this part of the world. These scenes alone deserve its being included in my list. A very brave act indeed for an actor who was never been to a place where actual sexual trade between people are legal.
Gil Portes showed his masterful skills pre-Munting Tinig fame. Miss X was dark and moody at the same time which made the exposition of a life of a Filipina illegally recruited as prostitute in this country revealing and disheartening.
Ex-Wife (1981) - Perhaps Eddie Rodriguez' best film as director, Ex-Wife was actually a psychological drama about marriage and its players. A woman who became victim to a series of bad relationships.
Vilma showcased her acting maturity by portraying a bruised woman. Her scene in the end was reminiscent of Dama De Noche but this time, more restrained and controlled. She was seen, loosing her composure, crying and then laughing in a dinner table. She was a picture of defeat. Another wonderful performance too bad nobody took notice.
In 1981, Vilma did four movies, Hiwalay, Pakawalan Mo Ako, Karma and Ex-wife. Pakawalan earned Vilma a FAMAS best actress while Karma gave her another Metro Manila Film Festival best actress. Of the four movies, she did, I believe Ex-Wife should be the one deserving of any awards not Pakawalan (although she's really good in her court scene there) and not Karma.
Prior to this, local films always stereotyped the mistress roles as the villain. Never in the history of local cinema that a societal taboo, the life of a mistress can be portrayed in a down to earth, very sympathetic way, only now in Relasyon.
Vilma Santos did a splendid job as Marilou, an independent, insecure, career woman who happened to fell in love with a chauvinistic, egocentric, typical Filipino married man. It was apparent that Relasyon was a Vilma Santos vehicle and Christopher knows this and did a wonderful job supporting her leading lady.
Perhaps the most memorable part of Relasyon was the death scene of Christopher. The scene wasn't edited in parts but a continuous take from the shot where Christopher fell to the floor to Vilma's marathon cry. The outcome was exhilarating. What a splendid decision for Bernal to take that scene as normally called in Philippine Cinematic lingo as "tuhog." After this scene, Vilma's look was that of a woman at peace with the outcome of her life. Her tired face indicates pain and we felt it too.
Vilma's performance here was so realistic that even her rival's epic portrayal of Elsa in Himala was a no match. And we rejoice. She deserve all the awards. No one complained. No awards being confiscated. Vilma finally got her recognition she truly deserved.
Sinasamba Kita (1982) - Before Meryl Streep did a wonderful job as the bitches of all bitches in the movie the Devil Wears Prada, Vilma Santos did a similar type of role. Produced by the house of glossy films, Viva and directed by Eddie Garcia, Sinasamba Kita broke all the local box office records at that time. Proving that by 1982 not only Vilma was the darling of all award-giving bodies, she was also the box office queen!
Derived from a comic serial, Sinasamba Kita contained so many twist and turns that one might have a headache just figuring out what happens next. But to the credit of Garcia, he was able to make all the twists into a realistic, acceptable ones that midway to the film we are all rooting for Nora (Lorna Tolentino) and hating her bitch sister Divina (Vilma Santos).
We are also amazed by the glossiness of the film's locations (houses) and Vilma's sophisticated dresses. All this made the film more credible and realistic. By the time, Divina gave way to her sister's love for Christopher we also made amends and felt sympathy to the bitchy heiress. Making this film and Vilma's performance a proof of her versatility as an actress that her rival will never - ever achieved.
Broken Marriage (1983) - Bernal at his finest. This was our conclusion after seeing Broken Marriage in 1983. And this time the roles of Christopher De Leon and Vilma Santos were even. Meaning unlike Relasyon which was a one-woman show, Broken Marriage was a two persons story. From the point of view of a man, a husband and a woman, a wife. As the title said, it was a marriage destined for failure. The numerous arguments here about marriage life was carefully written with wit giving both Christopher and Vilma shining moments.
As we are talking about Vilma here, I will concentrate on her, she did portray a woman looking for some justice in this unequal world of men and women in Philippine society. She even willingly did a scene where she doesn’t have any make-up on and the result was a realistic glance of a real life Filipina whose struggles were being exploited very realistically by Bernal.
Vilma effectively did a wonderful job that the Manunuri, the local critics, gave her second consecutive Urian Best Actress.
Sister Stella L (1984) - Most established local directors lined up for their turn to direct her, in Sister Stella L, It was Mike Deleon’s turn. And it was one of the most celebrated film of all time. And this was despite its disappointing result at the box office, Lily Monteverde, the producer of Regal films consolation was the numerous awards SSL earned.
And Vilma's performance here did not disappoint both the critics and her avid fans. Her take on SSL's awakening was somewhat lacking in hysterics as what her critics always says, she's always has the hysterical brand of acting. Here, Vilma's acting was controlled and restrained even her speech scenes at the rallies were calculated. And these made her performance more effective transcending her character bit by bit from an innocent bystander to a militant activist.
SSL was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1984 but due to technical problems the films wasn’t showed in there but at the Venice Film Festival which was equally prestigious. At the Venice, SSL was the second Filipino film after Genghis Khan in 1951 to be officially invited for exhibition.
Vilma exposed herself into different characters. Each bate to a possible sexual mate ends into an erotic sex scenes and its graphic death scenes. Vilma did a good job of portraying an psychotic murderer. But perhaps the most visually effective scenes wasn’t that of the ending where she was finally caught by the authorities, it was the quiet scenes in the dirty bathroom while she's sitting in the toilet bowl and where she took her slipper and slap a cockroach that was crawling in the ground. The shots started from the ceiling and then zoomed down. Then her face was seen smiling at her latest killing -the cockroach. It was a symbol. That’s just like killing men.
Directed by Maryo DeLos Reyes, Tagos Ng Dugo may not be your typical Vilma movies. It was dark and very violent. It was another testament of how varied Vilma's filmography is. She won two major awards for this, another best actress from FAMAS which elevated her into FAMAS hall of famer and another best actress from CMMA.
Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (1989) - As the dying Juliet Vilma Santos gave us another tour de force performance. I know, I have said this line so many times in this article but what can I do? It was indeed another tour de force performance. As the premises of this film was already gloomy, about a cancer victim who died at the end of the film, some mediocre director will fall into a soap opera technique but not Bernal. It was the last Bernal-Santos collaboration before Bernal's sad demise. Bernal successfully controlled Vilma's tendency to overreact to dramatic scenes. On Vilma's part it wasn't that hard, this was 1989 she already matured into a fine a-1 caliber actress.
Most of Vilma's scene here were really toned down. It's like her tears where even choreograph falling down in her cheeks at the right moment. When she talked to the father of her child, asking him to take care of him, her voice trembles with regret and pain at the same time tears falls like in perfect connection to each words she delivered. Pahiram earned Vilma her first Star Award from PMPC. It took her nine years to finally earn their respect. Not surprisingly, PMPC consists of so many fans/reporter of her rival. Nowadays, Vilma has the most Star Awards (six compare to four for her rival). How times changes... for the better.
Ipagpatawad Mo (1991) - It was a different diversion from a company who was known for comics adaptation and glossy commercial movies. Finally, Viva films produced a serious film with a simple story. A story with a social message. Ipagpatawad mo penned by Olivia Lamasan and directed by Laurice Guillen was a story about a couple with an autistic child.
Autistism is a neurological condition that affects children in their early developments. The story focuses on the couples struggles with opposites views in how to deal with this misfortunes. The shame attached to it affects the typical Filipino manhood and the unconditional love typical of a caring Filipina woman hood. Another triumph for Christopher DeLeon and Vilma Santos. Christopher shared the spotlight as the insecure husband with the ever-consistent acting of Vilma Santos.
Dahil Mahal Kita (1993) - Another film with social relevance was this powerful true to life story of a woman who was the first person to publicly admit her sickness of AIDS. Typically stereotyped as gay's disease, Dahil Mahal Kita tackled the ignorance of many Filipinos regarding this disease. Once again, Laurice Guillen gave us an realistic approach to story telling. She chronicled the life of Dolzura Cortez from her early life as a happy go lucky prostitute to the last stage of her life of giving a face to this deadly disease with a careful hand. Each stages gave us the reason to be compassionate.
Vilma Santos gave a powerful, angry performance. Her delivery of lines were crisped. Her emotion overflowed with question about Dulzora's mortality, about god's plan and about the people who will read or see Dulzora's life story. All of these were convincingly seen in Vilma's Dolzura.
Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa (1998) - re-titled as Lea's Story for international release, Bata bata paano ka ginawa was one of the most successful film of 1998. That was in terms of critics response and box office returns! Bata was based on the award winning 1983 semi autobiographical novel of Lualhati Bautista. Bautista updated the novel to have a more fresh take.
With a superb cast which includes the irresistible Serena Dalrymple as Maya (she reminded us of that child star in the film, the Goodbye Girl), the very innocent Carlo Aquino as Ojie and of course the men in Lea's life, Albert Martinez, Ariel Rivera and Raymond Bagatsing. Like many Vilma Santos starrer, Bata bata paano ka ginawa was of course belongs to Vilma. She has become the most effective actress in Philippine cinema. Her choice or roles made her the feminists' kind of woman and ordinary Filipinas' role model. Roles that yes, struggles... and vulnerable.. .but roles that shows resistance and fighting spirits.
Bata bata paano ka ginawa was showcased Vilma's maturity as an actress. A proof that she was indeed in command of her choices of roles. Two traits that has never seen in her closest rival. Bata earned Vilma her first international recognition from the prestigious Brussels International Independent Film Festival.
Anak (2000) - The most successful film at the start of the new millennium in terms of box office returns and critical acclaimed. Anak, directed by Rory Quintos was a story of a domestic helper in Hongkong, Josie Agbisit, played masterfully by Vilma Santos and her family headed by her eldest daughter, Carla, played by Claudine Barretto. The story focuses on the mother and daughter relationship.
Two decades ago, Vilma Santos played an ungrateful daughter to the multi awarded veteran, Charito Solis in a drama titled Modelong Tanso. The films was a big disappointment even with the exploitation of Charito slapping Vilma in the face as their promotional stills.
Now comes year 2000, Vilma nows plays the role of the mother and Claudine as the spoiled brat daughter. Yes, there was a scene where the mother slap her daughters face in Anak but Star Cinema who produced it were smarter. They didn't exploit these scene instead they promote the film as a story about typical Filipino family. The story was the selling point why Anak became one of the most successful film of Star Cinema and Vilma Santos.
Of course and again, despite the excellent performance of Claudine Barretto, Anak belongs to Vilma. And again, It was a tour de force from start to finish.
Dekada 70 (2002) - Chito Rono's take on the forgotten 70s and the effects of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippine society, Dekada 70 turned out to be a realistic adaptation of the lives of typical family back then. It features an excellent cast and performances particularly Vilma Santos and Piolo Pascual. Dekada was originally offered to Nora Aunor but for some reason it didn't materialize. Following the success of Bata, Bata Paano Ka Ginawa, another lualhati Bautista opus, Dekada was offered to Vilma and accepted the project without any hesitation and despite the fact that she wasn’t the first choice for the role of Amanda Bartolome.
As Amanda Bartolome, Vilma Santos delivered an understated, profoundly moving performance deserving of all the awards. Vilma was once again showed here without make-up. Her scene in a room where she's holding her son's clothing after the burial of her son was so moving we couldn’t help but cry our hearts out.
All in all, the film (again) belongs to Vilma. Her transformation here from a bystander mother and wife at start to the end where she became a militant activist was so unexpected that we were convinced that her sufferings made her who she was at the end. Dekada earned Vilma her second international recognition. There. What’s in your list? - RV