Ang Larawan introduces National Artists’ work to a new generation

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MUCH LIKE Candida and Paula who fought tooth and nail to hold on to their father’s masterpiece (and, in turn, hold on to their ideals), the titular Portrait of an Artist as Filipino, the team of Ang Larawan, the Filipino film adaptation of an English-language play, likewise fought for the film to be shown in cinemas nationwide this coming holiday season

Despite being rejected during the first round of selections (based on script submission) for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), its producer — Culturtrain Musicat Productions, Inc. — decided to re-submit the film, directed by Loy Arcenas, and it was subsequently named one of the eight official entries of the festival which will run from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7.

“The reason why we put Ang Larawan on film is to reach the young Filipinos, we want them to see the great works our National Artists did,” singer/actress Celeste Legaspi, one of the film’s producers, told the media in July when the film was not chosen as part of the first four film festival entries, adding “MMFF or no MMFF” the film will be shown in cinemas.

(Smaller and Smaller Circles by Raya Martin, an adaptation of the Palanca-winning novel by Felisa H. Batacan, was also passed over during the first round of selections and its backers decided to show the film themselves. The movie premiered on Dec. 6.)

Ang Larawan had its international premiere at the 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival in its Asian Future Film section.

The original play — A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino — was written by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin in 1950. It was made into a musical in 1997, with a translation and lyrics by National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando S. Tinio.

As Mr. Arcenas told BusinessWorld during a media screening of the film on Dec. 6 at the Promenade in Greenhills, that they tried to get it into the festival once again because “the MMFF is the best possible venue for this film… because in the MMFF you only have Filipino films,” referring to the fact that only the entries are shown nationwide during the lucrative film festival, with no competition from Hollywood blockbusters.

“Once we got into the MMFF, then we knew we will have our biggest possible audience and then it would encourage the audience to see it and embrace it,” Mr. Arcenas — a respected film and theater director and set designer — added.

The story of the two spinsters who hold onto the last painting — and only work completed in years — by their father Don Lorezon Marasigan (said to be a contemporary of Juan Luna and one of his rivals) is not only a story of a formerly wealthy family’s fall into poverty and their struggle to keep up appearances, but is also a story of the battle between ideals and practicality as many people (including a handsome boarder) ask the spinsters to sell the painting for a huge sum of money which could bail them out of poverty.

And it is also a story of pre-war Manila, a beautiful city bearing the influences of Spain and the US coupled with its own distinct identity, which became a costly casualty of the Second World War.

“When I finally saw it in Japan, I saw it as a love letter to the Filipinos. The reason I wanted to do this film is because I feel like we lost so much of [the era] and I wanted to recapture it on film as a record of that era,” said Mr. Arcenas.

Because Ms. Legaspi and fellow producer Girlie Rodis wanted the film to be a faithful adaptation of the original works, all of the dialog within the film are from the Tinio libretto.

“When I got into the project, one of the stipulations was we keep much of the Tinio libretto [as we could] and we did with the exception of the Intramuros introduction,” said Mr. Arcenas before adding, “Girlie and Celeste wanted the film to respect and show the new generation what Tinio could do.

“It was very hard [to adapt] but it was a lot of fun. It was a very beautiful collaboration and we worked together — it’s not just the work of one person,” he noted, explaining that it took them four years to progress from concept to screen as he was approached to direct the project in 2013.

Joanna Ampil stars as Candida and Rachel Alejandro plays Paula. They are joined by Paulo Avelino as Rony Javier, Nonie Buencamino as Manolo, and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Pepang, alongside an ensemble of some of the best musical and theater acts the country has to offer. Coupled with the music of Ryan Cayabyab (performed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra) and direction of Loy Arcenas and, of course, the prestige of the two National Artists whose creation is the basis of the film, Ang Larawan certainly deserves more than a second look once it rolls out this Christmas. — Zsarlene B. Chua