By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Directed by Giancarlo Abrahan
THIS WARMLY photographed low-key drama unfolds in fits and starts but doesn’t quite deliver on its promises.
The central character is the 70ish Sanchez matriarch Alejandra (Dexter Doria), a former mayor of their small provincial town. The start of the film finds her at loose ends. She’s had it with her elderly husband Uro, a retired judge (Noel Trinidad) and an incorrigible philanderer. Their middle daughter Marcela (Eula Valdes) who is following in Alejandra’s political footsteps, shuts her well-meaning mother out of her campaign. A daily morning dose of Alhambra Light Brandy gets Manang Alejandra through the day. She may be self-medicating a dull, low grade, post-menopausal depression. In pathological and cinematic terms, there’s not much going on.
Dexter Doria’s poker face and dead-pan delivery don’t convey the poignant plight of a once vital woman, now shunted aside. Alejandra swallows her pride to seek refuge in Marcela’s house and escape the humiliation of dealing with Lolo Uro’s flagrant womanizing. The unsympathetic Marcela turns her mother away.
Alejandra then boards a bus to her affluent eldest daughter Mercedes’ (Shamaine Buencamino) Quezon City home. Mercedes abruptly leaves her mother under the care of her kasambahay (maid) because she is obliged to accompany her father to the funeral of a mistress stashed away in Surigao. Alejandra is understanding of Mercedes’ attendance at the mistress’ funeral because there are two illegitimate daughters from that relationship. Somehow Lolo Uro’s having begotten these bastards who will also be claiming part of his estate, makes that infidelity all right.
In the absence of the controlling Mercedes, Alejandra eludes the kasambahay to personally deliver her birthday present to her grandson Raymond (Miguel Valdes). The kasambahay alerts the youngest daughter, Miranda, that her mother has gone missing. Coincidentally, Raymond has chosen this time to unplug from all his devices and doesn’t notify any of his relatives that his grandmother is with him. The kasambahay — who helped put together Raymond’s gift — also fails to inform anyone that Alejandra had the present with her when she disappeared. So where might she have gone off with that?
The youngest daughter Miranda (Cielo Aquino) doesn’t actually search for Alejandra. With her partner Leni (Ina Feleo), they theatrically vape at the police station, then passively stand around in the parking garage of the mall where Alejandra was last seen. Apparently they’re waiting for her to return, although it’s unclear why she would use the parking entrance when she wasn’t even driving. Anyway, it is as good a place as any for Miranda to have a dramatic turn by suffering a heart attack — not because of smoking, but over-anxiety about her missing mother. In the ICU, there’s more heavy-handed drama with Miranda piteously calling for her mother and Alejandra fervently reciting the rosary by her bedside.
Marcela drops her mayoralty campaign, and brings her whole caboodle to keep vigil at the hospital. Midway, it is casually mentioned that the only brother Marco’s absence is due to his having indirectly caused the death of his nephew, Marcela’s only son, in a motorcycle accident.
Alejandra and Marcela, who have the most fraught relationship in the film, also have the most in common: political ambitions and the loss of their sons. However, this potential mother lode of human emotion is never mined. One can only wonder what the very competent and gifted Eula Valdes might have done with such promising material. That is a road not taken. The film follows the path of least resistance with such obvious, familiarly clichéd problems as marital infidelity. The death of a child, the deliberate self-exile of a son, are too heavy perhaps, or too much of a downer. After all, the filmmaker is very young and youth deserves to choose sweetness and light.
And so when the things threaten to bog down, there are lighten-up intervals, such as: Alejandra taking bites out of the cucumber that Mercedes has her put on her eye bags; the kasambahay directing Alejandra in a mock fashion photo shoot; Alejandra gamely dancing at a club with her grandson’s boyfriend Gab (Paulo Paraiso). After she rants mildly while waiting outside the ICU, Alejandra wanders off again but just inside the hospital. There is a humorous bit with a stranger who presses food upon her. In this instance, Ms. Doria shows a spark of comic knowingness. Perhaps self-irony and not pathos would have been her stronger suit.
The entire family, including the recuperating Miranda, ends up at a beach resort to celebrate Raymond’s birthday and his engagement to Gab. During a heart-warming family sing-along, Lolo Uro breaks down blubbering. Alejandra softens and takes this for long overdue remorse on his part, after his decades of skirt chasing. It seems more likely that Lolo Uro was still mourning the recent death of his mistress or his lost dentures. But she forgives him anyway and they reconcile. Getting old is bad enough. Having to do it alone is worse. Often it is better to just settle.