Considered the number one director of Vilma Santos, National Artist, Ishmael Bernal contributed significantly to her success. Their collaborations as actor and director spanned three decades. Eight films in total, almost a dozen best actress for Santos and a several best director for Bernal not including nominations both locally and internationally. He was quoted saying: “In Ikaw ay Akin, Vilma was already conscious of her own particular style of acting…which can be described as minimal, less is more. The fewer and simpler gestures, the greater effect…(Working in Pahiram Ng Isang Umage, Bernal said)…she had become an artist, no longer a movie star and just following the director’s instructions..” Their films are still relevant, timeless and to this day, being celebrated by many.
The early seventies brought a new phase in Vilma Santos’ career. Now 18 and after a successful stints as a child actress, she faced the musical trend dominated by singing teen sensations like Perla Adea, Esperanza Fabon, Eddie Perigrina, Edgar Mortiz, Tirso Cruz III and rival, Nora Aunor. She was successful enough that she made nine films (including the film adaptation of the television musical variety show, The Sensations) in 1971, the year Ishmael Bernal started his film career as director. Fresh from film school and at a young age of 33 (he received a Film Directing diploma in Film Institute of India in 1970) directed two full length feature films, “Daluyong!” and “Pagdating sa Dulo.” Daluyong starred Rossana Ortiz, Alona Alegre and Ronaldo Valdez while Pagdating featured the late Miss Rita Gomez and Vic Vargas. Pagdating earned Bernal his first award for best screenplay and a nomination for best director from FAMAS, the local equivalent of OSCAR during that time. Both films, Pagdating sa Dulo and Daluyong were critically acclaimed and commercial success.
The following year, Santos made fourteen films, mostly forgettable musicals. It was also a year where her benefactor started to positioned her as more of a film actress than a singing film star. The results was successful experiments that showcased her comedic ability (Ang Kundoktora), screaming action stunts (Takbo Vilma Dali) and dramatic capability (Dama De Noche). Her followers was delighted when she earned her first acting recognition the next year receiving the FAMAS best actress via Dama De Noche. Most of her films in 1972 were directed by Emmanuel Borlaza however, she was able to do one film with Ishmael Bernal, “Inspiration” with the late Jay Ilagan, one of her regular film partner. According to Bernal, the film wasn’t as successful as what he expected, as the film flopped. Aside from Inspiration, Bernal did two other films, El Vibora (starring Vic Vargas and Boots Anson Roa) and Till Death Do Us Part (starring the young Hilda Koronel and Victor Laurel).
1973 turned out to be a banner year for Vilma Santos as she emerged on top with box office hits one film after another. Nine films altogether that featured her in different genres (comedy – “Tsismosang Tindera;” fantasy – “Maria Cinderella,” “Dyesebel at ang Mahiwagang Kabibe” and ”Ophelia at Paris;” action/fantasy – “Wonder Vi,” “Lipad, Darna, Lipad,” and “Darna and the Giants;” horror – “Anak ng Aswang” and teenybopper – “Carinosa” and “Now and Forever”). While Vilma was productive Bernal, like the past two years did only two films, one was the comedy fantasy starring television host and comedian Ariel Ureta in a spin off of Superman, “Zoom, Zoom, Superman!” and his film wih Vi, “Now and Forever” with Edgar Mortiz.
Vilma’s box office dominance continued the next year with twelve films mostly comedy, horror and action/fantasies. It also gave her the chance to work with veteran actors such as Charito Solis in “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz,” Joseph Estrada in “The King and I,” Fernando Poe Jr. in “Batya’t Palu-palo” and international action star, Meng Fei in “Twin Fists of Justice.” Bernal and Santos will not do any films for a few years as he started directing Vilma’s rival, Nora Aunor in her television drama series Ang makulay na daigdig ni Nora. Aside from his TV work, he did “Pito ang asawa ko” and the film reuniting him with Ariel Ureta, “Si Popeye, atbp” after the success of Zoom Zoom Superman.
1975 was another productive year for Vilma Santos as she did nine films mostly title roles like Vilma Viente Nueve, Darna Vs the Planet Women, and Ibong Lukaret. It was the “prep” stage for the years to come as she was given more mature roles like the local festival entry, “Karugtong ang Kahapon” and Celso Ad Castillo’s “Tag-ulan sa Tag-araw.” Tagulan was the first film of Vilma and Christopher De Leon. While Vilma was testing the water for more serious mature projects, Ishmael Bernal decided to return to his original forte, drama, after years of doing light comedies and television work. He came up with “Mister Mo, Lover boy Ko” and “Lumapit, Lumayo Ang Umaga.” Both films featured sexy star, Elizabeth Oropeza.
By mid decades, Vilma Santos’ career was gradully moving into dramas catering the adult audience and films with social-adult issues. She did the sequel “Hindi Nakakahiya” and “Nagaapoy na Damdamin” about the affair of a young woman with an older man and “Mga Rosas Sa Putikan” about the lives of prostitutes. Aside from these films, she also did four light comedies and two notable ones: “Mga Reynang Walang Trono” a comedy with movie queen Amalia Fuentez and “Bato Sa Buhangin,” the box office hit that reunited her with the late Fernando Poe Jr. Bernal on the other hand, cemented his reputation as one of the most serious director with critically appreciated hit films, “Ligaw Na Bulaklak” staring the young sexy star, Alma Moreno and the drama film that featured two dramatic stars, Daria Ramirez and Elizabeth Oropeza in “Nunal Sa Tubig.” He also directed a light comedy, “Tisoy,” Christopher De Leon in title role.
A turning point in Vilma Santos career came in 1977. She was no longer the teen idol that Bernal directed in 1972. She’s now 24 and ready for more serious film projects. Her film load has dramatically decrease from nine/ten films a year to mere five. But the films she did were noticeably heavy in terms of relevance and roles. Aside from the light action, “Susan Kelly Edad 20” her other films were all heavy dramas. One reunited her with Christopher De Leon in “Masarap, Masakit ang Umibig” directed by Elwood Perez. Another one was the box office hit and critically acclaimed, “Burlesk Queen” directed by Celso Ad Castillo. The other two films paired her with off screen sweetheart, Romeo Vasquez in “Pulot-gata, Pwede Kaya?” and “Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon.” The last film, was directed by Bernal. “Dalawang Pugad” earned Bernal the 1977 best director from Gawad Urian, the Filipino critics’ award giving body. Aside from Dalawang Pugad Bernal also directed “Walang Katapusang Tag-araw” that featured veteran drama queen, Charito Solis.
While the previous year was less productive in terms of quantity, Vilma Santos came back with a big bang the following year with twelve films. Most of these films were adult dramas. Three notable films were the critically acclaimed “Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak” directed by Celso Ad Castillo and produced by Vilma herself. The local film festival entry, “Rubia Servios” directed by the late Lino Brocka. And lastly, “Ikaw ay Akin” directed by Bernal. “Ikaw ay Akin” reunited Vilma with rival, Nora Aunor. The film also featured Christopher De Leon, who won the local critics’ best actor and best actress nominations for Aunor and Santos as well as best director nomination for Bernal. Aside from Ikaw, Bernal also did two other films, both starring Alma Moreno, “Lagi na lamang ba akong babae?” and “Isang gabi sa iyo Isang gabi sa akin” with Elizabeth Oropeza.
The end of the decade gave Vilma eight more films. Mostly light dramas/comedies. Some showcased her dancing talents like “Swing it Baby,” “Rock, Baby, Rock” and “Buhay Artista Ngayon.” In terms of notable projects, only four stands out. “Pinay, American Style” filmed in the USA and “Magkaribal” both directed by Elwood Perez. “Halik sa Kamay, Halik sa Paa” directed by the late Eddie Rodriguez. And the smash hit and local festival entry “Modelong Tanso.” Modelong Tanso paired Vilma with drama queen, Charito Solis. Bernal did not direct any Santos film this year instead he did the Nora Aunor film, “Bakit may pag-ibig pa?,” “Menor de edad” and “Salawahan” both films starring Rio Locsin, “Aliw” starring Amy Austria and Lorna Tolentino and “Boy Kodyak” starring Bembol Rocco.
Vilma Santos did seven films in 1980. Mostly light dramas. Two notable films were “Miss X,” the film was shot in Amsterdam and “Langis At Tubig” the local festival entry directed by Danny Zialcita. She also did “Darna at Ding” her fourth and last film as the comic hero, Darna, Filipino version of Wonder Woman/Superman. Despite the lack of serious projects, Vilma did a film with Bernal, the comedy/musical, “Good Morning Sunshine.” In addition to Good Morning, Bernal did the critically acclaimed ensemble film starring Lorna Tolentino, Alma Moreno and Rio Locsin’s “City After Dark,” “Girlfriend” starring Cherie Gil and “Sugat sa Ugat” starring Hilda Koronel and Christopher De Leon.
Bermal and Santos didn’t do any film together the following year. Now 28 and married, Santos has reduced her film projects. She did four films, all showcased her acting talents. “Ex-Wife” directed by Eddie Rodriguez paired her with local critics’ favorite, Beth Bautista. “Pakawalan Mo Ako” a drama directed by Elwood Perez earned her one of her five FAMAS best actress. “Hiwalay” teamed with Eddie Rodriguez this time, as her leading man. Romy Suzara directed the film. Then the local festival entry, “Karma,” the Danny Zialcita film that earned her the festival best actress. While Vilma reduced her film output to four, as usual, Bernal did only two films. Both were not as critically received. “Bihagin: Bilibid Boys” starred the late Alfie Anido “Pabling” the comedy starring teen idol, William Martinez.
Like 1972 of the previous decade, 1982 turned out to be a repeat in terms of success for Vilma Santos. If critics took noticed in 1972, her performance in Dama De Noche, a decade after, the critics went gagah over her performance in ”Relasyon,” directed by Bernal. The film earned Vilma all the local best actress trophies from all award-giving bodies. Aside from this success, she will also be crowned as the box office queen of 1982 (the next year for her body of work this year) because of the financial success of her six films notably, “Sinasamba Kita” a film directed by Eddie Garcia and “Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan?’ directed by Danny Zialcita. Bernal on the other hand not only was credited for Vilma success for “Relasyon” he also received accolades for “Himala” a film by Nora Aunor, Vilma’s rival. Both “Himala” and “Relasyon” were considered two of Bernal’s signature films. In addition to this, he did two Marecel Soriano films, the comedy “Galawgaw” and the drama, “Hindi Kita Malimot” and finally another Cherrie Gil film, “Ito Ba Ang Ating Mga Anak.”
The following year, as Vilma Santos received honors/awards from her works from previous year, she continued her winning streak with four adult dramas: “Ayaw Kong Maging Kerida,” “Paano Ba ang Mangarap?,” “Minsan pa Natin Hagkan Ang Nakaraan,” and “Broken Marriage.” The last one was directed by Ishmael Bernal. The only film he did in 1983. Broken Marriage gave Vilma her second consecutive local critics’ best actress. It also earned Bernal her second best director from the critics and third overall.
The next year Bernal and Santos went separate ways with Vilma doing three films with three equally talented directors: Lino Brocka for “Adultery: Aida Macaraeg,” MiKe De Leon for “Sister Stella L.,” and Marilou Diaz Abaya for “Alyas Baby Tsina.” Meanwhile, Bernal did two films, an episode of the original horror trilogy, “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and the critically acclaimed comedy, “Working Girls.”
The next four years came with both Santos and Bernal in steady film works. In 1985 Santos did the hit “Muling Buksan ang Puso” and the disappointment, “Doctor, Doctor, We Are Sick” while Bernal did the Marecel Soriano melodrama “Hinugot sa langit” and the film starring the unknown Stella Suarez with veteran Rita Gomez “Gamitin mo ako.” Then in 1986 Vilma Santos did three commercial hit films: “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow,” “Palimos Ng Pag-ibig,” and “Asawa ko, Huwag Mong Agawin.” Bernal did his only film, “The Graduates” starring Regal babies – Snooky Serna, Gabby Concepcion, Maricel Soriano, William Martinez, and Dina Bonnevie.
Another three films for Vilma Santos in 1987, all commercial success. “Tagos ng Dugo” directed by Maryo De Los Reyes was a smash hit and critically well received. Vilma received her fourth FAMAS best actress for this film. “Ibigay Mo Sa Akin Ang Bukas” the last film directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza before his retirement was a mild hit that paired Vilma with new drama actors, Richard Gomez and Gabby Concepcion. “Saan Nagtatago Ang Pag-ibig?” directed by Eddie Garcia was a big hit. Bernal on the other hand did two films the drama”Pinulot ka lang sa lupa” starring Lorna Tolentino and Marecel Soriano and the sequel comedy “Working Girls 2” The next year, both Bernal and Santos did one film each, both a box office hits, Elwood Perez’ drama, “Ibulong Mo Sa Diyos” was a big hit and at the same time earned Vilma her fifth FAMAS best actress that elevated her to their hall of fame recipient category. Bernal’s only film was “Nagbabagang luha,” another Lorna Tolentino starrer.
The last time Bernal and Santos collaborated was in 1989. Santos, still active with her musical variety television show, did three films, all were commercial success. “Imortal” directed by Eddie Garcia was a local festival entry that earned Santos another local festival best actress. “Rizal Alih, Zamboanga Massacre” was directed by Carlo J Caparas. And “Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga” directed by Bernal. The film earned Santos the local critics best actress and Bernal the best director. Vilma her very first Star best actress, considered the Golden Globe local equivalent at that time. Pahiram also received nominations for best actress for Vilma and best director for Ishmael both from FAP, now the local equivalent of OSCAR.
In 1991, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal closest rival and friend died of car accident. It was a sad event both locally and internationally as Brocka was not only popular locally but in the international festival circuit. It wasn’t clear if his decision was related to the lost of his rival Brocka but Bernal retired his directing chair for the next two years. He went into acting and was the lead role in stage plays like “Kamatayan Sa Isang Anyo Ng Rosas” (Death in the Form of a Rose) in 1991 and “Bacchae” in 1992. Vilma on the other hand, did “Hahamakin Lahat” in 1990 with Brocka, a year before his untimely death. She also did “Kapag Langit ang Humatol” directed by Laurice Guillen. She then reunited with Guillen in “Ipagpatawad Mo” the next year. By 1992, Bernal and Santos did one film each, unfortunately not together, “Sinungaling Mong Puso” reunited Vilma with her Tagos Ng Dugo director, Maryo De Los Reyes while Bernal directed “Mahal kita walang iba” starring Kris Aquino.
Bernal went back to his semi-retirement the next year (except for a short film as himself in “Truth and Dare”) while Vilma did two films, both commercial hits and critically acclaimed. Chito Rono’s “Ikaw Lang” and the local festival entry, “Dahil Mahal Kita The Dolzura Cortez Story” directed by Laurice Guillen. Dolzura Cortez will earned Santos numerous best actress awards. By 1994, Santos did three films: “Relaks ka Lang, Sagot Kita” with Bong Revilla; “Nag-iisang Bituin” with Aga Muhlach and Christopher De Leon; “Lipa: Arandia Massacre” a film that reunites her with director Carlo J. Caparas. Meanwhile, Bernal did “Wating” his last film. “Wating” starred Richard Gomez. The next year, Both artists, Santos and Bernal, went on hiatus.
In 1996 Vilma Santos did “Ikaw Ang Mahal Ko” with the late FPJ. The film did not do well, both critically and commercially. This year also was a bad year for the local entertainment industry as Ishmael Bernal died on June 2nd. It was reported that he was scheduled to direct a film about the life story of Lola Rosa Henson, the comfort woman during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. The project was also reportedly offered to Vilma Santos. From 1997 to 2009, Vilma Santos completed 6 full featured films, two were considered record breaking films and almost all gave her acting recognitions including two international best actress recognitions.
Writing Credits: 11 - Galawgaw (1982); Relasyon (1982); City After Dark (1980); Girlfriend (1980); Pleasure (1979); Ikaw ay akin (1978); Walang katapusang tag-araw (1977); Dalawang pugad, isang ibon (1977); Lumapit, lumayo ang umaga (1975); Pito ang asawa ko (1974); Reaching the Top (1971)
Directing Credits: 46 and Total Number of Films with Vilma Santos: 8 (Broken Marriage, Dalawang Pugad Isang Ibon, Good Morning Sunshine, Ikaw ay Akin, Inspiration, Now and Forever, Pahiram ng Isang Umaga, Relasyon) - RV