Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Boxing Matches 1/2

An eye for an eye. Is that biblical? For Vilmanians and Noranians seeing mano de mano is like a historical task. Point by point everyone will fight. Awards to awards, acting to acting, talent to talent. If Nora has three consecutive FAP, Vilma has three consecutive URIAN. If Nora sings, Vilma dance…and so on… for Vilma and Nora’s fans the comparison never ends with statistics. It’s the experiences. Like being part of a boxing matches.

For many Nora Aunor fans, Ate Guy is a picture of a conservative, traditional, restrained- trained artist (just like Lolita Rodriguez). For them, Nora is the ultimate performer. For many Vilma Santos fans, Ate Vi is picture of a liberal, feminist, method-trained artist (just like Charito Solis). For them, Vilma is the ultimate performer. Can we find some solution to figure out who is the ultimate winner that is if this is a boxing match? How many rounds before we can proclaim a winner? What are the boxing rules that we should follow? And what is the reward? Perhaps the title, the best actress of all time? For Vilmanians, the clear winner is Vilma Santos. No doubt. Vilma remained to be an important player in the entertainment industry. Projects lined-up, waiting for her availability. She also stacked up so many honors from getting a doctorate degree to a prestigious Gawad Plaridel to the latest title of “woman of style and substance.” She is indeed the clear winner. For Noranians, being abroad have its disadvantages. Nora continued her controversial stay in the United States with the issues regarding the discovery of her past marriage records in Las Vegas. This was in addition to her completion of the drug rehabilitation program imposed to her in exchange of the dropping of drug possession charge against her. Noranians admitted that her career is currently in downside despite the two digital films she has completed in the past year. So career wise, Vilma Santos remained on top of her game while clearly Nora Aunor’s fame diminished as she retired in foreign country. We have clear winner then but what is the point of this article? Well, let us bring the past and reminisces the once competitive bout of the two hottest actress Philippine cinema ever produced, Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor.

We listed Vilma’s ten best films and matched it with Nora’s. We then came up with analogy of who did well in terms of credible performances. We also tried to switch the roles and see if both actress remained credible. The outcome was incredible.

Atsay VS Anak - Mario Bautista pointed out in his movie review of “Atsay” (Philippine Daily Express, 1978) that Nora Aunor’s performance: “…bears the distinct marks of style and self, welding character and personality. As Nelia, the atsay, she delivers a muted performance that successfully treads the thin, delicate line separating genuine sentiment and mawkishness.” In 1978, you will not imagine Vilma Santos plays an “Atsay” which could also be said to Nora Aunor, her fans will not imagine Nora played a burlesk dancer or spoiled socialite. After 22 years, fans of Nora Aunor were surprised to find out Vilma Santos played the typical role that’s been identified to Nora. That is the role of an “atsay” or maid or in modern day term, domestic helper of “DH” in short. And surprise, surprise, Mario Bautista, the same critic who praised Nora’s performance in Atsay was equally convinced of the Vilma’s performance in Anak. And he wrote: “…(Anak) belongs to Vilma, who goes through an entire spectrum of varied emotions as Josie, mula sa katuwaan at excitement niya sa pagbabalik sa Pilipinas (natural na natural ‘yung pagiging aligaga niya habang namamahagi ng pasalubong sa mga anak niya), ang disappointment niya nang matanto niyang hindi na niya kilala ang mga batang binalikan niya, hanggang sa finally ay sumambulat siya sa tagpong pinagsasampal na rin niya si Claudine at pinalalayas. It’s a bravura sequence and the performance is magnificent.” Atsay was shown in the 1978 Metro Manila Film Festival. The film was a mild hit despite Nora Aunor being proclaimed as the best performer defeating Vilma’s Rubia Servios. Nora didn’t win any awards for Atsay after the controversial wins over Vilma. Anak on the other hand was 2000′s box office record holder. The film also earned Vilma best actress awards from PMPC’s Star Awards and Pasado awards.

Switcheroo - If we switched roles, Vilma Santos would look awkward if she played the role of Nelia in Atsay in 1978. That is not because she was incapable of doing so but because of her youthful look. But what about Nora playing Josie Agbisit in 2000′s Anak? We are sure that Nora will also excel as Josie but would the film be a box office hit? I doubt it.

Reality Check - Vilma convincingly did a typical Nora Aunor roles in Anak. She proves that she is indeed the most versatile actress we have right now. And that there’s no role that she can’t do justice. Nora can excel acting wise if she did Anak but we are convinced she can’t replicate the box office results that Vilma can do. This is in consideration of the dismal box office results Nora’s past four films prior to year 2000.

Burlesk Queen VS Minsa’y Isang Gamo-Gamo - Both Vilma and Nora did a career milestone films in 1976 and 1977. Nora Aunor as Cora De La Cruz in Minsa’y Isang Gamo Gamo delivered her famous legendary line: “My brother is Not a Pig!” Nicanor G. Tiongson, one of Aunor’s original drumbeaters wrote in The Philippines Daily Express in 1976 wrote: “Once again, Nora Aunor proves herself to be one of the finest actresses today, with an acting style that is both “raw” and “fine” characterized by a disarming sincerity and force, that can break into an unbelievable number of nuances, shades and colors of emotion. Outstanding is her court scene where her face registers a gamut of emotions — from anger to confusion to depression and despair — in the pace of ten seconds. Like a mature actress, she does not attack dramatic scenes with histrionics or hysteria. Over her brother’s coffin, she curses the Americans who came to pay her family off by screaming “My brother is not a pig” over and over again with mounting intensity.” Despite the praise for Nora’s wonderful performance by many critics, she didn’t win any award for this role. The following year, it was Vilma Santos turned. As Chato, Vilma Santos gave us one of the most compelling performance of her long stellar career in Burlesk Queen. Ricardo Lee, the writer, interviewed the director Celso Ad Castillo in an article for the Manila Magazine in 1977. Castillo pointed out that all Vilma’s highlights scenes were take one. Her scenes in the hospital with Leopoldo were shot continuously and that Vilma was so good that even Leopoldo can’t controlled his tears. And Leopoldo was supposed to be dead in this scene. Vilma convincingly won the judges’ vote as she won the film festival’s best actress award as Burlesk was entered in the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival. The film won 10 out of 13 awards that created huge complaints from the other films entered. Burlesk never replicate it’s achievements from the festival jurors as the film was ignored by the other award giving bodies. The sole consolation by Burlesk’s supporter was the box office results of the film. It became the top grosser of the festival. If Nora produced one of her most memorable lines in 1976 via Minsa’y Isang Gamo-gamo, Vilma on the other hand, created one of the most graphic scenes in the history of Philippine cinema, that’s the ending scene of her Burlesk Queen where she danced away until she bleeds (intended to be an abortion attempt) to her unfortunate demised.

Switcheroo - If we switched roles, will Nora and Vilma give us the milestone performances we witnessed? Will Vilma Santos played more intensely as a nurse in a rural area near the military bases in Pampangga than Nora in Minsan Isang Gamo-gamo? She will indeed be more like Kapangpangan because of her fair complexion. A well-known Kapangpangan physical traits. Given the fact that prior to Burlesk Queen the most serious roles she has done was Castillo’s Tag-ulan Sa Tag-araw and Bernal’s Nag-aapoy na Damdamin, Vilma would definitely do well as Cora De Cruz. The question now is would Nora be physically ready to play the demand of the role of Chato in Burlesk Queen? Acting wise, she would be as intense as Vilma but the role would probably not fit her physically. If the role were given to Nora would she be willing to do the strip tease dances. Would she be willing to show some skin. Despite the fact that the role is not as vulgar as what might the title implied, Burlesk Queen would be too daring for Nora’s image and she would have no guts to play such role.

Reality Check - Vilma will convincingly play the Kapangpangan Cora De La Cruz. By 1976, Vilma was riped to play an important role and if she did Minsa’y Isang Gamo-gamo, she will equally be convincing as Nora. Nora on the other hand, will be akward to play Chato in Burlesk Queen. The physicality of the role would also play an important factor which will result of her being out of place that is if she plays the role of Chato in Burlesk Queen.

Rubia Servios VS Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo - 1979 produced an incredible collaboration films. Drama queens of yesteryears teamed up with the reigning queens. Vilma Santos did Modelong Tanso with Charito Solis and Nora Aunor did Ina Ka ng Anak mo with Lolita Rodriguez. We all know what the outcome of the films was. Vilma and Chato were satisfied with the box office results of their tandem while Nora and Lolita were happy with their critical results. Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo directed by Lino Brocka was indeed the better project than Modelong Tanso. Nora once again gave us her famous three syllables line: “hayuuuuppp… Hayuuuupppp… Hayuuuupppp!” Isagani Cruz summed up her performance in his TV Times review: “…Filipino movies are nothing if they do not have confrontations and Ina Ka ng Anak Mo has one confrontation after another. The best one occurs when Aunor sees Rodriguez and the baby for the first time. Aunor silently moves from shock to hurt to rage to hysterics. The scene is spoiled only at the end, when she bursts out that she will see the pair in court; in the heat of such passion, no Filipina will think of impersonal legal proceedings. More characteristic would have been a search for a weapon or for an exit door…Brocka specializes in acting vehicles. Aunor clearly deserves the Best Actress Award. In fact, she deserves it more than Rodriguez, if only because she is younger and has less experience. Before Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo, only Charito Solis could stand up to Rodriguez; now Aunor is on par with both veteran actresses.” A year before Nora bursted out with her now famous three syllable lines: “hayup, hayuup, hayuuup” Vilma cried out the same line with more anguish in her most demanding role as a rape victim in 1978′s Rubia Servios. Co-incidentally, both Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo and Rubia Servios were directed by Lino Brocka. The failure of Rubia to win Vilma an acting recognition at the hands of the most successful acting director, Brocka was perhaps the most disappointing anecdote in Vilma career and perhaps Brocka’s too. Ricky Lo’s article titled “Vilma’s Violation” summed-up Vilma’s fans’ perception of her performance: “…The anguish in Vilma’s face and the lust in Philip’s eyes blended so well the effect was dramatic rather than sensual….The real climax of the film, however, is the killing of Philip by Vilma with a paddle aboard a motorboat at sea. Lino Brocka, who directs Vilma for the first time, succeeded in muffling her sobs even in the most hysterical moments…” The climax scene he mentioned here was the scene where she uttered the lines: “hayup… hayuup… hayuuup!”

Switcheroo - If we switched roles, will Vilma be convincing as the daughter of Lolita Rodriguez in Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo? Remember Vilma played Lolita’s daughter in several dramatic films in the 60s. And Vilma admitted that Lolita was one of her early influence when it comes to acting. It is fare enough to say that if Vilma can hold herself when comes to acting with the intensity of a Charito Solis she would be able to stand her ground too with the likes of Lolita Rodriguez. She has done so in her films in the 60s and she will pass with flying colors if she did Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo instead of Nora. On the other hand, would Nora Aunor be as convincing as Vilma in Rubia Servios? Again, the roles demands physicality. Will Nora Aunor eat her guts out and performed like Vilma? As Rubia she will require to be raped by Philip Salvador twice. Would Nora be as prepared as Vilma to play an object of affection of an obsessed rapist? I doubt if she will be able to convince us with the demand of such role.

Reality Check - Vilma will hold her ground if she will be given a chance to do Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo against the dramatic legend, Lolita Rodriguez. Considering the fact that both have worked together in several dramatic films in the 60s. Meanwhile Nora Aunor will be out of place if she plays the role of a rape victim in Rubia Servios.

Boxing Results: Vilma 3, Nora 0

Sister Stella L VS Himala - Why Himala versus Sister Stella L (instead of Himala versus Relasyon)? Well, I believe they’re match in terms of the seriousness of the projects. Both were directed by a serious director who in 1982 and 1984 were both at their peaks of their careers. Both also earned their leading actress only one award each. Both didn’t fare well at the box office. But lastly, both films did well in the international scenes. Sister Stella L was invited to Cannes but due technical shortcomings it wasn’t shown in there but at the equally prestigious Venice Film Festival. Himala on the other hand graced the international scene via our very own Manila International Film Festival under the Marcos administration. The dismal box office result of Sister Stella L were compensated by its critical achievements. In Urian alone, it earned 10 awards including a best actress nod to Vilma Santos, completing her three-year consecutive wins. Meanwhile after the success of Himala in the local festival that earned Nora a best actress award, Himala was relegated to runner up as another ECP film, “Oro, Plata, Mata” amassed its rightful honors as the best film of 1982. For many critics, Himala was maybe one of the most underrated film and they gave the film its rightful recognition by recognizing it as one of the best in 80s.

One of the Manunuri critics, Alfred A. Yuson, in his Philippine Daily Express article in 1983 summed-up Nora’s performance as follows: “Nora Aunor is perfect as Elsa; she leaves nothing to be desired in her interiorization and delivery…The brilliant Aunor gets all the solid backing she can ever get, this time from an array of supporters drawn mostly from the Bulwagang Gantimpala stable…” Next is Vilma, Alice G. Guillermo in her article titled “More than just entertainment” for Who Magazine dated 30 May 1984 chronicled Vilma’s performance as: “..For a heart-warming film, the entire cast deserves congratulations, particularly Vilma Santos who reveals another aspect of her multi-faceted talent. From her usual soft and sweet romantic roles, she can be transformed into a strong and militant woman without losing any of her charm and beauty…” In 1982, Nora Aunor was conditioned to make some dents in the award giving seasons and yet she went empty handed every time the awards nights were held. The gigantic role as Elsa was slingshot by a tiny film ironically performed by her rival. Another ironic note was that the film that defeated Himala, Relasyon was also directed by the same director, Bernal. It was worth the wait for Vilma, her disappointments from previous years of neglect from the award giving bodies were now all gone. She earned her first best actress grand slam. Nora’s “goliath” kind of performance as Elsa reached its match by the “davidian” typed of performance of Vilma in Relasyon. And this adds intensity to the defeats, the wounds. Noranian will never admit the enourmosity of these defeats. This is for the fact that Himala was considered one of the biggest film of 1982 again next to Oro Plata Mata. And that Relasyon is not even at the same league at least in the eyes of Noranians. As fair as we can be, we accepted the fact that Relasyon wasn’t matched with the scope of Himala. And so I decided to match Himala with Sister Stella L. In 1984, Vilma Santos has arrived in the big-time, A-1 league of fine acting. This was despite her earlier history of dramatic excellence, as a child actress and a teenage supporting actress. Her experiences in getting empty handed come awards nights have evaporated. She became the darling of the awards nights starting from her first grand slam wins. This will confirmed by her three consecutive wins from the critics den, the Gawad Urian. Sister Stella L gave her so much consolation from its dismal box office returns that tainted her illustrious records as the most bankable actress of the 80s. In 1984 URIAN, her most stiff competitions came from the performances of her closest rival, again Nora in two films, Merika and Bulaklak Ng City Jail. And from many awards aficionado, it was a matter of split votes that’s why Nora didn’t win. Nora will win the very first PMPC Star Awards for Merika but in the local critic’s eyes, Vilma’s deep transformation from a blatant observer to a pro-active activist nun was the best of all-best in 1984.

Switcheroo - If we switched roles, Nora Aunor as Sister Stella L and Vilma Santos as Elsa…hmmm we all know that both are well equipped, acting wise and so it is not hard for us to say that both can do justice with each roles. We have seen Nora as a nun in one of her forgettable film in the 70s titled Fe, Esperanza, Caridad. The segment where she played the nun being tempted by the devil played by Ronaldo Valdez was directed by Gerry DeLeon. It was not the serious typed SSL project but a horror experiment. Nora looks comfortable as a nun in Fe, Esperanza, Caridad but would she visibly transformed her looks from innocence to militancy as Sister Stella? It is hard to answer. We are used to see Vilma as SSL. It will be 50-50. Then Vilma as Elsa. Elsa is a probinsiyana, a devoted Catholic who became a ritualistic faith healer. Would Vilma’s fresh face and urbanites physicality be a barrier for her to do the Elsa role? Remember this is 1982. The answer would be yes but this can be remedied by make-up and proper attire. Bernal have deglamorized Vilma before like in Broken Marriage, no make-up with plain clothes resulted in her effective portrayal of a woman who find herself difficulty balancing career with family life. The problem is, like Vilma in SSL, we all identified Elsa with Nora. It is hard for us to imagine Vilma in it. But like I’ve said, proper costumes and make-up and the excellent motivation from Bernal will not stop Vilma to do justice to the role of Elsa. And same can be said with Nora as Sister Stella L.

Reality Check - We identified Elsa in Himala to Nora Aunor and Sister Stella in Sister Stella L to Vilma Santos. It is hard for someone to see them switched roles but with the technical guidance of Bernal and DeLeon the film directors of the respective films, both Santos and Aunor would undoubtedly do justice to each roles. Vilma’s urbanites beauty and fresh face in 1982 would not prevent her to do justice to the Elsa role. Her acting technique was in full bloom in 1982. It would be amazing to see how she will attack the role. Nora’s ordinary beauty that the mass can identified will bring different take as SSL. It would be amazing too to see how she will tackle the transformation that Vilma gave us on screen.

Boxing Result: Nora as SSL, yes it can be achieved. Vilma as Elsa, absolutely. It’s a tie. Vilma 4, Nora 1

Flor Contemplacion Story VS Dahil Mahal kita: the Dolzura Cortez Story - Now let’s take on two true to life films. The social relevance of both Dolzura and Flor was as intense as the performances of the lead actress portraying the lives of these true to life women. Dolzura’s life as the first publicly known Aids victim in the Philippines was important because of its social message she wanted to conveyed to her fellow countrymen and the promotion of safer sex. Flor’s life on the other hand opened our eyes about the hardship many overseas worker faces in foreign lands. Both films earned Vilma and Nora critical acclaims. Vilma won her second grand slam best actresses and Nora her first grand slam best actresses with a bonus of her first International recognition from the Cairo International Film Festival. Emmanuel Levy in his Variety magazine article wrote in 1995: “Aunor invests her role with powerful emotions and utmost conviction, showing how a humble, self-sacrificing mother became a victim of corruption and abuse — and later, a national symbol adored by her countrymen…” The critics, URIAN, couldn’t agree more. They gave Aunor their best actress although she shared the best actress award with Helen Gamboa in ironically for the same story in Bagong Bayani OCW. Aunor will eventually wins solo in Film Academy of the Phils., Star Awards, Young Critics Circle and because she’s already a hall of famer at Famas, she was given a consolation honor via FAMAS Circle of Excellence. Levy also wrote: “The Flor Contemplacion Story” is an often stirring re-creation of the true-life story of a Filipino maid who was executed in Singapore in 1995 for allegedly killing a co-worker and a young boy. A strong performance by movie star Nora Aunor dominates the film, which is at once a touching family saga and a forceful look at social injustice. However, unrestrained melodramatics and excessive running time undermine overall impact of a story whose facts are still in dispute. Extreme poverty and an accompanying sense of hopelessness have driven many Filipinos out of their country, seeking employment abroad.

The plight of women employed as domestic workers has been a major problem, with many reportedly suffering torture, rape and other abuse from their masters. A devoted mother of four, Flor Contemplacion (Aunor) went to Singapore to work as a maid, where her employers treated her fairly. However, in March 1995, she was arrested and hanged for allegedly murdering another maid, Delia Maga (Amy Austria), and the Singaporean boy Delia was taking care of. Framed as a mystery, the tale uses flashbacks that not only enrich the story, but successfully move the film beyond a case of social outrage into a heart-wrenching exploration of women’s inferiority in a patriarchal system. Indeed, Flor’s long absences from home drove her weak hubby Efren (Julio Diaz) into an open relationship with a mistress and forced her two older children into early marriages. In one of the film’s many touching scenes, Flor visits her family, but she can’t distinguish between her twins. According to the film, there’s no doubt that Flor was innocent and that her confession was obtained through physical torment. The picture offers political background that implicates the Philippine government with cruel negligence and incompetence in the case. For giving Vilma her second grand slam wins, Dolzura Cortez’ most relevant exposure was it’s universal appeal to promote safer sex. The film was featured in You and Aids web-site in their arts cape section. Although the web-site didn’t mentioned about the excellent performance Vilma gave us, it mentioned about the films synopsis with some accuracy: “This Philippine drama chronicles the colorful life of Dolzura Cortez, the first publicly recognized AIDS patient in the Philippines . The film begins with a brief examination of Cortez’s pre-AIDS life. Initially she lived in a small village with her cruel husband and three kids. The spunky woman leaves them and moves to the big city where she engages in several affairs. Her second marriage to a rich foreigner does not last long. To support her children, Dolly begins an all woman “contract worker” agency. This also serves to facilitate her love of night-life. Tragedy comes to Dolzura after she collapses on a dance floor one night and learns that she has full-blown AIDS. At a Manila hospital she meets ex-lover Paulo, an AIDS researcher who encourages to tell her story publicly. The courageous woman does and she becomes instrumental in spreading AIDS awareness to the islands…It was the first movie on AIDS in the Philippines that provided ‘a name and a face’ among the 50 recorded lives that were lost to AIDS in 1992. This movie was utilized as a focus of discussion by some health care personnel to express their thoughts, opinions and recommendations regarding the use of cinema as a powerful tool for AIDS information dissemination.”

Switcheroo - We have to be clear here. Both Vilma and Nora didn’t look like Flor and Dolzura in real life. Well, Dolzura and Vilma both have fair skin and petite but that’s all the similarities. Flor and Nora has no similarities in physical features. It was worth noting that Flor story doesn’t end with this film alone. Her story was similarly penned in Helen Gamboa’s Bagong Bayani and the forgettable film by Elizabeth Oropeza. All of these films didn’t put any physical resemblance to the real life Flor Contemplacion. So, I came to a conclusion that if we switched roles, physical resemblances would not be a big issue. As we all know Vilma played convincingly a role identified with Nora in Anak. Five years earlier, will Vilma be able to play Flor Contemplacion, a maid in a foreign land? No doubt. Her maturity was all in full displayed in Dolzura Cortez. In 1995 Nora Aunor’s career has been in decline. Prior to Flor, she did only four films all become failures in the box office. All she needed was a big comeback. And she did it via Flor Contemplacion. Will she able to do justice if she did Dolzura Cortez in 1993? Acting wise, it will be a gutsy move. The film will require her to play a woman who enjoys sex, a sex club owner. Will she be able to do justice to all sex scenes finally getting rid of her virginal image? A question we asked a number of times now.

Reality Check - Sex and Nora Aunor. It’s like water and oil. It doesn’t mix well. Dolzura’s life was full of sex related issues – prostitution, unsafe sex, relationships, poverty. Nora Aunor has the acting equipment to do justice for such role but her image and limitation to jump into an unknown territory always prevented her to do other types of roles. Vilma on the other hand embraced challenges. She will be tested if she’ll do the Flor role. And she will passed the test with flying colors!

Boxing Result: Vilma 5, Nora 1 – Nora as Dolzura will be a challenge, a no-no to her restricted image. Vilma on the other hand will jumped into the challenges of becoming Flor. Vilma wins.

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos VS Dekada 70 - Two political period films. Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos was about a love triangle set in the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and Dekada 70 was about a family in a society under the Marcos dictatorship. It was reported that Dekada 70 was first offered to Nora Aunor. Whatever happened to that plan remained just a tiny anecdote to the Dekada’s success. Vilma Santos played the lead role with richness that we could not imagine other actresses playing her role including Nora Aunor. This Chito Rono film garnered Vilma 9 awards for Vilma Santos as Amanda Bartolome. Also, the film was entered to Cannes Film Festival and at Cinemanila International Film Festival where Vilma won her second international best actress. Dekada 70 was also the Philippines entry to the foreign language category of the OSCAR. Not bad for a film not originally intended for Vilma. Ronnie Schieb of Variety Magazine described the film and Vilma’s performance: “…At the center of the film and the family is Amanda (Filipino cinematic diva Vilma Santos) who vicariously experiences living under a dictatorship through her husband and five sons’ different reactions before coming into her own as a person. Her husband, Julian (Christopher de Leon), seems a walking contradiction: he offers rationalizations for the government while supporting his eldest son’s revolutionary activities, but has a fit when his wife wants a job…As for the sons, firstborn son (Piolo Pascual) joins the guerillas in the mountains. The second son (Carlos Agassi), forced into a shotgun wedding, defiantly works for the American navy. The third son (Marvin Agustin) writes journalistic expose’ he can’t publish, while the fourth son (Danilo Barrios) is a mystery to his family until his brutal, motiveless murder (probably by police) reveals a lost girlfriend. The fifth son (John W. Sace) is still a boy…Santos’ Amanda effortlessly and movingly chronicles the changed consciousness of the family and the country, with understatement her most reliable tool. The film begins and ends with images of Santos at the forefront of a political demonstration, and nothing, from first image to last, for 128 minutes, is allowed to spontaneously or slyly deviate from the logic of her consciousness-raising.”

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos on the other hand was really conceptualized and produced for Nora Aunor…but wait…she was the producer! In 1976, Mario O’Harra, the director and writer was at his peak of his career. Critics were disappointed with his earlier works because they had high expectations but most were delighted that he redeemed himself by coming up with a superb production and acting in Tatlong Taon. The critics (URIAN) and even Famas rewarded O’Harra with the satisfaction of witnessing the acting recognition of Aunor, his producer. As producer, Nora Aunor’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos faced another gigantic film, Ganito Kami Nuon Paano Kayo Ngayon and lost the best picture in both Famas and URIAN. For many Noranians the failure of the film to win the best picture wasn’t as important as the win of Aunor in both URIAN and Famas. For them this was a grand slam. Never mind that in order to be considered a grand slam it should be four or five majors just like in tennis. The reasoning behind it was that there were only two major award giving bodies back then. But in 1976, no term was given to Nora’s wins. Not until Vilma’s swept of all the best actress awards in 1982 that the term “grand slam” was brought up in papers! She was even given a “Walis” award for this feat. Pio de Castro III on his article for The Times Journal in 1976 dissected Tatlong Taon with it’s unrealistic theatrical touches in so many scenes but was impressed with the film’s lead actress performance. And he wrote: “…The film recounts the story of Rosario (Nora Aunor), a schoolteacher in a small town in Laguna, whose heart is torn between her romantic love for Crispin (Rafael Roco Jr.), a guerilla who survived Bataan and the Death March, and her realistic love for Masugi (Christopher de Leon), a dashingly handsome Japanese officer born in Manila of a Filipino mother. It is a touching story of private people thrown into unimagined stress during turbulent times of Japanese Occupation. A time when man, woman and child doubted the existence of God because they saw with their own eyes man’s inhumanity to man. It was an era that marked the Filipino’s loss of innocence. It was an era that started rampant corruption, smuggling, arson, robbery, rape and murder. The Filipino way of life was never quite the same again. It was the end of “peace time.” …People who used to smile and wink when they talk of Nora Aunor as an actress should see this film, because the lady is determined to show everybody that she means business both as an actress and as a producer. In this film she is successful as both…”

Switcheroo - In 1976, like Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos produced her own film, titled Mga Rosas Sa Putikan, a less ambition film than Tatlong Taon. She doesn’t have to prove much about acting as Nora Aunor’s whole intention in producing Tatlong Taon. Like the usual suspects, would Vilma be as effective as Nora as probinsiyana in Tatlong Taon? In 1976, her usual roles are either a spoiled brat, socialite modern woman mostly a picture of youthful rebel. This might strikes against her in performing such a serious role like Tatlong Taon. It will take another year before critics takes her seriously as an fine A-1 actress via Burlesk Queen. This is different in the case of Vilma playing Elsa. Vilma as Elsa in 1982 will be easy because she already discovered her technical camaraderie with Bernal. Her not fitting as probinsiyana will be remedied by the talent of her director Bernal. In this case, would O’Harra be able to make Vilma as Rosario effective as he did with Nora? I doubt it. O”Harra was a die-hard Noranian. He will be ill-equipped to figure out a way for Vilma to do the Rosario role despite the fact that Vilma is equally capable for such role.

It is worth noting that Vilma portrayed a similar “probinsiyana” look two years after in Tatlong Taon were shown, and it her own produced film, in 1978′s Pagputi Ng Uwak Pag-itim Ng tagak. Fast forward to 2002, Star Cinema bought the rights to Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada 70 and gave the project to Vilma Santos. This was after the box office successes of Anak and Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa. The film ripped prestige to the film outfit and cemented its reputation as the number one film outfit of the land probably next to Regal films. Would the same results arise if Nora Aunor starred as Amanda Bartolome in Dekada 70? Given the fact that Nora is a capable actress and Star Cinema are know to its high quality production, the feasibility is high. BUT…fast forward to another two years, Naglalayag laid an egg in the box office. Amazingly disappointed was the producer who witnessed the closing of many theatres after its only third days of showing of the film. A clear proof that Nora Aunor has lost her clout as a box office drawer.

Reality Check - No doubt Nora Aunor fits the role of Rosario to a T. Vilma will be out of cast as the provinciana in a Japanese occupation in 1976 if the director remained to be Mario O’Harra. In the case of Nora Aunor playing Amanda Bartolome in Dekada, she is capable of playing the role of the mother in the Marcos society but clearly it will not be as commercially successful given her series of unsuccessful comebacks.

Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga VS Bona - The intention of Nora Aunor to prove that she is a fine actress continued as she produced projects that can showcase her talent under her own NV productions. And in 1980, “Bona” was conceptualized by director Lino Brocka, producer Aunor and writer Cenen Ramos. It was entered at the 1980 Metro Manila Film Festival together with another Aunor starrer, the soap operatic, Kung Ako’y Iiwan Mo surprisingly directed by Laurice Guillen. Nora’s performance in Bona assured her supporters a win as festival best actress but she left empty handed as the trophy goes to, not to her rival Vilma Santos but to Amy Austria in Marilou Diaz Abaya’s dramatic film, Brutal. The defeat didn’t discouraged her supporters particularly Brocka who brought the film to the 1981 Cannes and received numerous positive reviews. Nestor U. Torre on his Philippines Daily Express review titled “Obsession” in 1981 described “Bona” as: “…a story of obsession, the tragedy of the fan turned fanatic. It delves into what causes an otherwise sensible girl to throw discretion and self-respect to the wind to serve her beloved.” An accurate description. Torre added: “…Clearly, Brocka, Aunor and writer Cenen Ramos know the phenomenon whereof they speak. The intimate knowledge makes for a film that rings true both for the expert in abnormal psychology and for the ga-ga movie fan reliving his dream and high nightmare in the audience… In the end, the nasty man announces that he’s leaving the country with his latest and wealthiest inamorata. Bona, who has taken all the shit he’s casually thrown her way, can take no more. She kills the bastard. In the process, she has hopefully killed her insane obsession for him. Or maybe she has also killed herself…What a story!…” Strangely enough, Torre wasn’t convinced with Aunor’s performance. He pointed out: “…the best performance in “bona” is turned in, not by Nora Aunor in the title role, but by Phillip Salvador as the bit player who is her idol, her nemesis, and her obsession. Nora is all over the place and gives the role everything she’s got…Trouble is, she is too intelligent for her part. Obsession is born of emotional weakness, a psychological vacuum that the idol is idealized into filling. As Aunor portrays her on screen, Bona is too sensible and savvy a woman to make this act of self-delusion plausible. She is also a mite too old for the role. Granted, there are “diehard-fans in their fifties and sixties, but the character of Bona, as written. Is clearly intended for a young girl (She is supposed to be still a student, for one thing). The character’s innocence would account for much of her naiveté, and Nora does manage the Naïve but, but it feels a little forced. On the other hand, the fact that he, too is no longer a spring chicken helps Salvador in his portrayal of the trying-hard bit player who is destined to be a has-been even before he has been anything at all. His age makes the character even more pathetic. Salvador has a perfect feel for the bit player’s braggadocio in public, his private fears, his dimwitted dreams and his casual cruelty. Stardom is his own obsession, and his failure to achieve it consumes him as much as her failure to possess him consumes Bona in the end. I’m surprised that Salvador didn’t win the Best Actor award at the Metro Film fest last month (so what else is new?)…” So According to Torre, Aunor was too old for the role and didn’t look innocent for the role the required naivety and innocence.

Isagani R. Cruz, another critic, who in 1981 wrote this article for TV Times have a contradicted views: “…The final sequence, where Aunor finally assaults Salvador, is excellent, although it is, of course, in the same vein as Insiang. The typical Filipino film thrives on the theme of revenge. Bona is no exception. When Aunor finally dumps the boiling water on her non-feeling master, the viewer cannot help but be moved. The sequence is effective, perhaps because the rest of the film is not…” Cruz, unlike Torre found Aunor’s acting untouchable…meaning no one can portray Bona as convincing as Nora Aunor! Here’s Mr. Cruz’ opinion: “…Aunor’s acting…saves the film. Despite the incoherent screenplay, the erratic direction, and the irrelevant production design, the film is gripping because Aunor is excellent. Aunor is indeed a signal phenomenon in Philippine film. She broke the color barrier (she is not a mestiza). She broke the marriage barrier (she is not single, nor she is she even happily married). She broke the superstar barrier (before her, superstars were supposed to be beautiful, but not good, actresses). She has now broken the untouchable barrier: in Bona, she is subjected to the most degrading physical abuses. Unlike Hilda Koronel who remained a Madonna even during the rape scene in Angela Markado. Aunor really becomes the penniless, dumb, neurotic alalay Bona is supposed to be. Who can imagine Fernando Poe, Jr. beaten to a pulp by nameless villains? Who can imagine Lloyd Samartino made up to look like a vampire? In Bona, Aunor really looks like an alalay, rather than a superstar. That is why she is, in fact, a superstar.” Wow…nice statements. Nice because the URIAN can’t get over the same mentality/arguments (the skin color arguments etc) and despite the much more superior acting of Gina Alajar or Amy Austria in Brutal gave Aunor the nod. Actually, Aunor and Alajar tied the honor for the Urian best actress in 1980. Nine years after the Bona was shown, Bernal, Lino Brocka’s closest rival created a much better film. Like Bona, death was evident in this Bernal creation.

Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga was about Juliet, a successful advertising executive who has seven to nine months to live. Cancer stricken Juliet have to take care her responsibilities as a single mother and found herself reconciling with the people who wronged her prior to her diagnosis as cancer victim. The film wasn’t about cancer but about life and death. A very morbid, dreaded topic that very seldom being touch by local filmmakers without being melo-dramatic. Not until Bernal created Pahiram. Mario A. Hernando, one of URIAN critics summarized splendidly the overall tone of the film, in his Malaya article on March of 1989: “…In the last scene, the imagery and symbolisms of life and death abound. Juliet dies at the break of dawn, the start of a new day (and life), but not without first making her last sentimental paean to life. Supported by the artist, her eyesight having failed completely and with the waves caressing their feet, the weak and dying cancer victim remarks how beautiful life is. True enough, this dying scene set on a beach, with the woman in white, dainty night gown, is one of the most exquisite, breathtaking moments in Philippine movies. But before giving us this grand, highly emotional death scene, the director has gradually introduced various motifs of death, from the artist’s pet black bird which at one point he cruelly squeezes in his hand, to the funeral rituals for Juliet’s father…” Like the URIAN, the PMPC finally can’t ignore Vilma anymore. They finally rewarded Vilma her first Star Awards for her restrained triumph as Juliet. Mario Bautista, one of its members noted: “…Talaga namang dramatic tour de force for Vilma ang role niya as the dying Juliet. Maihahanay ito sa kanyang best performances in “Relasyon? “Sister Stella L? “Broken Marriage? “Ikaw ay Akin” at “Burlesk Queen? But unlike her spirited performances there, toned down na toned down ang emoting na ginawa niya rito. Iniba ni Ishmael Bernal (who really brings out the best in her)ang estilo ng acting niya. Pati ang crying scenes ay napakatahimik ng dating. ‘Yung tipong basta tumutulo na lang ang luha ni Vilma without much facial and body contortions na gaya ng dati…Dalawang beses kaming cry rito. Una’y nang nagbibilin siya kay Vicky Suba (na napakagaling din kahit walang ginawa kundi mag-react lamang kay Vi.) at sinabi niyang “Ayoko ng mahabang burol.?Isa pa’y nang finally ay magkabati na sila ng estranged sister niyang si Dexter Doria (isa pang napakahusay) na wala nang dialogue at nagyayakapan na lang sila.” Bautista even went to the extent of writing his belief in his People’s Journal article titled “Mas Mahusay si Vilma kaysa Kay Nora.” He wrote: “…Sa second viewing ng movie namin lalong napansin ang subtle nuances ng performance ni Vi, up to her death scene which confirms our supposition that the movie is not really so much about death than a celebration of life, what with all the panoramic shots showing the beauty of nature and the world around us, na enough reason for anyone to want to survive.” When the PMPC members resolved its long time struggle to give Vilma its deserving recognition, the critics group Manunuri, decided not to ignore Nora Aunor’s mechanical performance in Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit, an Elwood Perez opus. They gave the best actress to both Vilma and Nora.

Switcheroo - If Nora Aunor plays Juliet, the successful advertising executive, she will need to re-invent her image. Sophistication can be done via right wardrobe, make-up and conformability in delivering English or Taglish lines. A tasks that she failed to do before in her long film history. Her last try was in her last full length film, Naglalayag, she was very akward and unconvincing as a successful rich judge. Now, what about Vilma portraying a fanatic “alalay” in Bona? It will be a challenge. But Brocka can do wonders plus the role required for someone who can possessed innocence and naivety as Nestor Torre pointed out. Vilma would excel in these regards.

Reality Check: - As Juliet, Nora would need to work harder to be effective. She failed miserably under Mario DeLosReyes’ direction in Naglalayag. Would she produced the same results under Bernal? Maybe not but in 1989, she remained typecasted into api-apihan roles. The opposite can be said with Vilma if she played Bona. The chemistry between Vilma and Philip Salvador was established already by their successful team-up in another Brocka film, Rubia Servios. In addition Vilma’s much younger look in 1980 will fit the requirements of innocence and naivety that Nora lacks. She will be perfect to play Bona.

Boxing Result: - Vilma wins again. Vilma 6, Nora 2 To be continued…


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