(My apologies for the late post. Grad rehearsal yesterday.)

It is our family’s tradition to watch an MMFF movie every year. As Mano Po, the movie series preferred by our family (read: not me) was not in the roster last year, I rather hoped I could successfully suggest RPG: Metanoia, which even then was getting good reviews as a first in the Philippine film industry. However, we (read: not I) eventually decided to see Rosario, at the time also getting positive vibes thanks to Dolphy’s good acting.

So Rosario it was.

I should have enjoyed this film. Even now I am hankering for decent “Era” films and stories, and Rosario is as close to “Era” as one gets. While it is not of a historical line like Tirad Pass, Rizal and Baler (the last I liked even though I did not see it in full), the production and design teams went over and beyond my expectations to match (if not to faithfully replicate) the costume, the language, the mood, and the atmosphere of the early American period. The Spanish twang was still strong in that part of Philippine history, as evidenced in the term “Nueva York,” the Spanish punctuation marks in Vicente’s letter, Vicente’s Revolutionary sentiments, and the hacienda era in Negros–wide fields, beautiful houses, amigos and paisanos gathering in sumptuous dinners. I suspect that the people behind this film are, at the least, fascinated with that different day, that different age, and I believe that if more of these people step up, then there is hope still in molding our country’s sensibilities.

And yet for all its glamor–for a glamorous visual treat Rosario is, and no one can deny it–I find myself disappointed with its plot and theme: the film could have better played with the liberated woman standing out in a society only beginning to come out of its shell. We, the viewers, do not feel that Rosario’s mistakes are brought about by her conflict with a retrogressive society. Instead, she comes across as a woman who just could not resist getting it on with all sorts of men: we do not see the Jennylyn Mercado of chi-chi sensibilities and smoking habits cavorting with Yul Servo and Dennis Trillo, but just a woman without any self-restraint. She did not float her way through her partners because she honestly believed that, as a liberated woman, she could, but because her id just drove her to it. Nor did the theme of redemption, emphasized by Dolphy’s narration (incidentally, his name in the film was “Jesus”), truly come out. It had not been well-reinforced. Even the scene where Mercado bangs on the door of Servo’s car, trying to plead with her daughter, did not evoke a particularly strong sense of guilt and regret, for it had come too late in the film.

The story’s frame (Dolphy talking about his mother to his estranged nephew, Manuel V. Pangilinan) comes across as rather stale. True, Dolphy does need to tell his mother’s story in spite of her character, for ancestors should always be remembered. But that Rosario did not prove to be a truly redeemed character weakens the glow in Dolphy’s design. Moreover, I did not understand the need to hide MVP’s face. The only conflict in the latter’s character was whether to accept Dolphy’s claims as true or not; there was nothing in MVP himself that warrants the obscuring of his face. If they could not have gotten the actual person, then why not make someone else look like him?

In the end, Rosario holds value only because of its beautiful rendering of an era. Despite the Lopez-esque argument that a story that is purely ornamental is lifeless, I believe that beauty must hold for something, and that art for art’s sake is also valid. And so Rosario must join the ranks of “first” movies like In My Life, RPG: Metanoia, and Baler–movies that attempt to revitalize the Philippine film industry by pushing the conventions further, by depicting an honest (if not faithful) era atmosphere, by dignifying a third-sex relationship, by daring an animation movie, by portraying the other side of the coin.

And yet, as one applauds these pioneers, he must also ask himself: why is it that these films only remain “firsts,” and that no follow-ups proceed them? If we admire In My Life and Baler, then why don’t we continue pushing the limits? Why don’t we make more honest era stories? Why don’t we make more good lesbian and gay love stories? Why does our film industry not press forward and improve on the faults of these pioneer movies? Rosario and RPG: Metanoia, alas, may as well be stored in that same moldy and webbed cupboard of “firsts,” of revolutionary movies that, unfortunately, bear no more fruit. Can we let this go on?

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