'Bayang Magiliw': A rare cinematic satire-A A +A
Saturday, March 2, 2013
SATIRE in Philippine cinema is largely uncharted territory. Few moviemakers want to venture into projects that parody all too familiar personalities in our society. There is a seeming squeamishness to hold them up to ridicule for their flaws and foibles, using wit as a weapon.
Hollywood has "The Great Dictator," Charlie Chaplin's classic. Italy has Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." Even Hong Kong has "Kung Fu Hustle," which pokes fun at its penchant for mass-producing martial arts movies.
Once in a long while, a film Filipino worthy of being called a satire stumbles by. In 2009 Soxy Topacio's "Ded Na Si Lolo" took a hilarious look at the idiosyncratic rituals and superstitions surrounding death in the family. "Ded Na Si Lolo" was anointed as the official Philippine entry in the foreign film category in the Oscars the following year.
This year, it is Director Gil Portes' turn to present his own quirky view of life in a small provincial town. "Bayang Magiliw" transports us to Magiliw, somewhere in Quezon. We are introduced to the town mayor, Fil Almazan, played by Wendell Ramos. Handsome and politically savvy, Mayor Almazan could be the archetypal town executive.
What makes him unique is his stand on reproductive health. The good mayor is not exactly a fan of family planning. He takes pride in the fact that outside of Metro Manila, Magiliw is the country's most populated town. He subscribes to the scripturally approved exhortation to the brethren to go forth and multiply. He even practices what he preaches, and has done his own multiplication with some of the town's most beautiful brethren. His wife, meanwhile, who is woefully barren, is left to suffer the humiliation in silence.
Condoms are forbidden in Magiliw, and Mayor Almazan is quick to sternly remind housewives of the benefits, material and spiritual, of producing a bigger brood.
When the gynecologist, Dr. Emil Magsino (Arnold Reyes), defies the mayor's edict and distributes contraceptives in his clinic, he is promptly hauled off to jail.
Mayor Almazan is in complete control in his realm until that day when a newborn is abandoned at the gate of the house of Catherine (Giselle Toengi), a successful corporate lawyer from Manila vacationing in Magiliw. Catherine is so taken with the child she decides to adopt it.
The bundle of joy turns out to be one more love child of the mayor, and he wants to take custody of his own flesh and blood. When Catherine won't let go of the baby, Mayor Almazan resorts to friendly persuasion. When that didn't work, he turns the screws on Catherine's parents, closing down their small farm and charging them with tax evasion.
Catherine decides to take on the mayor, but had to give up the baby after Almazan produces its biological mother.
Mayor Almazan eventually fell into disgrace big time, thanks to his unbridled lust for the wife of the principal of the town's high school. So damning was the scandal that he resigned and went into self-exile in the US.
Catherine and Doc Emil, who found love in each other's arms, form an alliance to back a mayoral candidate with a far better moral credential than Almazan's. A new day dawns in Magiliw.
The title of the movie, which is also the opening line of the Philippine national anthem, betrays the intent of the director and writer to take the foibles and hypocrisies of Philippine society, sprinkle them with humor and serve them up as the prevailing norm in a typical rural town.
It is meant to remind us that there are many Mayor Almazans in our midst, politicos who consider their constituencies as their personal fiefdoms. It also takes a jab at the conspiratorial liaisons between religious leaders and local officials, an old boys' club aimed at perpetrating influence and power.
A satire is most effective when it is lighthearted and amusing. "Bayang Magiliw" sometimes loses its compass and drifts dangerously close to being taken seriously. Thankfully, Gil Portes manages to steer the movie back in the right direction.
Still, I miss lines that are witty, if not outright funny. Maybe not the side-splitting laughs of "Ded Na Si Lolo," but a little more levity would have helped.