By Susan Claire Agbayani

RENOWNED Spanish actress Maribel Verdu flew into town to attend last week’s opening of Pelicula-Pelikula, Manila’s Spanish Film Festival.

One of the brightest stars of Spanish-language cinema Maribel Verdu — Instituto Cervantes facebook account
One of the brightest stars of Spanish-language cinema Maribel Verdu — Instituto Cervantes facebook account

One of the brightest stars of Spanish-language cinema, particularly for her brilliant performances in Belle Epoque, Pan’s Labyrinth, and that now-classic, cinematic ode to freedom, the erotically charged Y tu Mama tambien, Ms. Verdu delighted the festival’s audience with her “down to earth” charm, as one lady in this gathering put it, regarding this encounter as “one of life’s best moments.”

In the course of that evening’s interaction, Ms. Verdu was amazed to learn about the considerable local following of Y tu Mama tambien and how its devotees in Manila were able to secure a copy of that film, despite the predominance of Hollywood movies in Manila.

She was obviously delighted to see a favorite in her filmography, Blancanieves, in the festival’s lineup, no matter that it was already presented as the opening film in the same festival two years ago.

For her fans in Manila, this was indeed an opportunity to see Ms. Verdu in the flesh — bearing in mind, no doubt, her iconic, erotic, and ultimately heartbreaking performance in Y tu Mama, as a cancer-stricken woman, going on a bucket-list road trip with two testosterone-charged teenagers who transform into somber maturity by the end of that film.

Ms. Verdu regards that sex-symbol phase in her career in the past tense. “When you’re young, not [yet] successful and — more or less — pretty [like] Lolita, you have to live with that sex symbol label,” she said in a Q&A with her audience. “[But] little by little, you show people that you are not just a sex symbol but also a great actress, and you have a great dream.”

Ms. Verdu said she finds the “sex symbol” tag frivolous and that, at 45, she now finds herself “very old, except to my husband.”

The Verdu film that opened this year’s festival was Felices 140, where she plays Elia — a woman who invites all the people dear to her to her 40th birthday celebration to announce that she had won €140 million in a lottery. This disclosure begins to test relations in her own circle.

“I am totally different from Elia. If everything is against you, stop! Relax. Take another direction. I don’t like Elia begging [for sympathy] all the time.” She adds that Elia is the kind of person who “makes me nervous. I want love but I don’t agree with her.”

And yet in real life, if she does win such a lottery prize, Ms. Verdu said she would “Jump, jump, jump. Celebrar [celebrate], and get myself crazy, share with my people.”

What is her dream role? “I prefer to create myself dreams. You become better. All the characters I have done are my favorites,” Ms. Verdu said.

Somebody in the audience asked, “I’ve seen you in many roles through the years. What is your most important training as an actress?”

Ms. Verdu’s surprising answer: “I’ve never gone to escuela dramatico [acting school]. The important mentor is life itself. A lot of things happen to you — including bad things — and from these, you learn a lot. You can say it with your face, your eyes.”

A scene from Felices 140
A scene from Felices 140

In an already considerable film career, Ms. Verdu has had the privilege of working with A-list directors, including Francis Ford Coppola from Hollywood (Tetro, 2009). But this is a milieu she has otherwise declined to take part in, whenever opportunity knocked. Although she regards herself as ambitious, she said she doesn’t want to change her life because family and relationships are more important to her.

“I don’t mind that loss when I refused to go there [to Hollywood]. I respect my work; it’s the only thing. [I value] little films which can change your life. And for an hour and a half, you are able to transmit or relay people’s feelings [through your acting],” she said.

Of the roles she’s played, Ms. Verdu said, “In some way, all the characters have my person, my soul. I try to understand the situation, and what I learned from them, I am them. I can’t separate myself from them. I represent them, although when the director says ‘cut,’ the line is over. The only thing I try to give my roles is la verdad (truth).”

While in the Philippines, Ms. Verdu went to a faraway beach, posted photos of jeepneys, other scenes of Manila, even her calamansi juice order, on Instagram, and attended a luncheon organized by Spanish ambassador Luis Antonio Calvo Castaño where she had a chance to meet Heneral Luna producer-screenwriter Eddie Rocha and Swap producer Bianca Balbuena.

Swap was part of the Zabaltegi section of the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain — “the fourth biggest filmfest in Europe and one of the oldest and most prestigious,” said Ms. Balbuena, who also said of Ms. Verdu: “She’s a darling. She told me that she’d love to collaborate with me if the material is good. She wants to shoot a film here. She asked about the San Sebastian Filmfest, how old I am and how I started producing. I told her I’d develop a script that’s perfect for her.”

“She is a very charming and gracious woman,” Mr. Rocha said of the Spanish actress, who flew back to Spain this Tuesday but will likely return, going by the enthusiasm of her Instagram posts.

Pelicula-Pelikula runs until Oct. 18 at Cinema 1 of Greenbelt 3 in Makati City. A second leg follows at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in Intramuros, Manila from Oct. 19-25. The films in the festival will also be screened in theaters in Zamboanga, Baguio, Iloilo, and Davao.