Movie Review
Written by Severino “Nonoy” Marcelo
Directed by Ishmael Bernal

By Carmen Aquino Sarmiento

THE NEWLY RESTORED Tisoy (1977) which premiered during the recent QCinema International Film Festival, was a happy choice by Sagip Pelikula, ABSCBN’s film restoration arm.

National Artist for Film Ishmael Bernal has always had a wicked sense of humor: in his first film Pagdating sa Dulo (1971), he had Rita Gomez scratch her armpits as she listens to Eddie Garcia (playing a director purportedly based on Lamberto Avellana) tell her how he will make her a star. This light-hearted comedy has the skimpiest of plots: Tisoy’s (Christopher de Leon) haphazard and lackadaisical search for his elusive American father.

The ridiculousness of it all is established with Moody Diaz as Aling Otik leading her fellow salakot-wearing and broom-wielding Metro-Manila Aides in a Busby Berkeley-like dance number atop the Intramuros walls. Her son Clipetty Clap (Jun Morales) is Tisoy’s best friend. Bernal is not above just letting Bert “Tawa” Marcelo (playing the probinsyano Tikyo) tell actual jokes, some so shamelessly corny that one cannot help but laugh at their sheer atrociousness. The director’s friends are in on the fun, as Tisoy’s wanderings with his barkada are the perfect opportunity for numerous playful cameos by characters from their films.

Early on is Bembol Roco as Julio Madiaga from Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), leaning against that iconic lamppost in Chinatown, as he waits for a glimpse of his beloved Ligaya. Here, Roco deadpans that the camera unit is taking forever to arrive. Hilda Koronel has her cameo later but as herself.

Later, Dranreb Belleza pops up as Bindoy from Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (1976) where De Leon had his introductory breakout role. His then-wife Nora Aunor produced Tisoy. She appears as the nurse Corazon from Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo (1976) by Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara.

Bernal’s confidence in his film contemporaries was such that he was sure the characters from some of their best work would be memorable even then. For the mid-’70s to ’80s were our own nouvelle vague, when Filipino artists had to find new ways to express their creativity under the Marcos Martial Law climate of fear and repression. Bernal did not take himself and his confreres too seriously though: Tisoy and his barkada read film history and theory books while waiting out a traffic jam.

Nonoy Marcelo based his comic strip drawing of Tisoy on the young, beardless Alfredo Roces, who gave him his first break with the FEU college paper, then later, introduced him to his cousin Chino Roces, publisher of the Manila Times, where Marcelo’s political cartoons, as well as Tisoy appeared. That paper was shut down during Marcos Martial Law, but Marcelo was already working in New York by then. In the title role, the young Boyet De Leon, with his abs perpetually on display, lights up the screen. Jay Ilagan is appropriately supporting and low key, as Boy Biglang-yaman, Tisoy’s friendly rival for the affections of the colegiala Maribubut (Charo Santos). Today’s more sexually uninhibited young people will find quaint Maribubut’s insistence on placing a fat throw pillow between her chest and Tisoy’s back, whenever she rides with him on his big Easy Rider-style trike. She first appears with other youths, all in Kabataang Barangay (KB) shirts.

Marcelo had a friendly working relationship with the KB’s first chairman Imee Marcos. She produced the documentary Da Real Makoy (1976) about her father Ferdinand E. Marcos, which Marcelo scripted and directed, “at a time when details of a much-mythified tale were difficult to verify,” as writer Sylvia L. Mayuga pointed out. Marcelo also made the animated Tadhana based on the histories commissioned by Marcos. The original film seems to have been lost.

Marcelo’s other memorable characters such as Gemmo (Soxy Topacio; the character was named after the first Filipino Miss International Gemma Cruz Araneta, because he was so much her opposite), and Pomposa (Lorli Villanueva) take sly digs at the Filipino art scene, including then First Lady Imelda Marcos’s role as the First Patroness of Philippine Art. Dexter Doria as Marjorie Pa-cute wears a bikini in most of her scenes, much like Goldie Hawn’s sock-it-to-me girl in the American TV comedy Laugh-In (1968-1973) which may have inspired Tisoy’s manic quality as well. There are also uncredited cameos by Johnny Delgado and Angie Ferro as faith healers.

Restoring Tisoy turned out to be a more daunting task than the local Sagip Pelikula laboratory could manage: “The film presented numerous defects such as dust/dirt, flicker, patches, stabilization, continuous line scratch, single frame scratches, gate hair, mis-light, vertical band, frame tear, continuous dust, fungus, frame jerk, reel changeover mark, bump, squeeze, mold, splice, stain and lead frames before its picture restoration process.”

Hence, the restoration process was completed in Thailand’s Kantana Post Production for another 3600 restoration hours, and with more than 250 artists and technicians working on it. Then the film was scanned in 4K using its 35mm print source, which is preserved in the ABS-CBN Film Archives.

42 years after, Tisoy still makes us laugh, but also weep, as the bluesy sequence by the band The Vanishing Tribe (they also did the music for Bernal’s Manila by Night: City After Dark, 1980) on Metro-Manila traffic makes us realize: if it was already that bad, way back then, is this our permanent, ever-worsening situation, now and forever? The flat fare for the air-conditioned Love Bus 40 years ago was P7.50, still less than the lowest jeepney fare now. The modernized jeepneys would be 50% smaller than the old Love Bus. It’s the law of diminishing returns or maybe it’s just that the more things change, the more they stay the same.