By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Hintayan ng Langit
Directed by Dan Villegas
THE Hollywood film genre of the too-soon departed and basically decent soul, on a temporary reprieve to take care of unfinished business back on earth is a favorite since many of us pass on with an uncertain peace. Closely allied to this, is the deux ex mundi (not machina) variant where God or guardian angels (even Santa Claus) take on ordinary human form and mingle with mere mortals for the express purpose of helping out a deserving but clueless individual with a celestial fix that guarantees a miraculously happy ending.
Its latest local iteration is Hintayan ng Langit, an adaptation by the unofficial millennial poet laureate Juan Miguel Severo of his award-winning 45-minute one-act, single scene play with just two characters, the former lovers: Lisang and Manolo. On-stage, they were played by the real-life couple Edna Vida and Nonoy Froilan.
In the movie version, Lisang is a potty-mouthed, prickly, snarky, snarly Gina Pareno whose many mild misbehaviors have caused her to remain stranded in the Hintayan, which is a pale, pleasant purgatory. Lisang’s punishment of detention in a dinky hotel room, with community service, just require her to serve refreshments at support group meetings to help the newly deceased adjust to being dead. Eddie Garcia as a lumbering Manolo reprises his familiar “manay” schtick.
The film’s eccentric setting is a welcome expansion from the original, somewhat claustrophobic play. The holding area for heaven is a cavernous, run-down post office-like building with crudely lettered signs, worn out door jambs, cluttered cabinets, much like any Philippine government office. There is an air of being trapped in the not-so-distant past, which is still within living memory. It is the pre-digital era in which Lisang and Manolo came of age, when memories were kept in cardboard file boxes, and information had to be verified from typewritten lists tacked up on wooden bulletin boards. Whimsically, the records of significant events in their lives are on VHS tapes, to be viewed on a convex screen TV with a flickering picture tube.
It is a welcome conceit that the waiting area for heaven is wonderfully, cheesily secular. The staff could be any budget airline’s workforce, with their ridiculous gold buttons, mock military braid and epaulets. The Taga-Suri (Joel Saracho as the evaluator) is as objective and professional as any Human Resources specialist. His clients gossip about his sexual orientation and about each other, during Happy Hour. The Bantay (Kat Galang as the housekeeping staff/room custodian) has the perky efficiency of an AB Tourism and Hotel Administration OJT, definitely pang-export as an OFW in the living world.
Pareno’s pacing is staccato while Garcia is adagio molto. Although they are former lovers who’ve supposedly kept the fires burning for decades, their continuous back and forth grows tiresome after the third repetition. Only in their early 70s and both apparently robust, there is a surprising lack of sexual frisson now that they share a room with but a flimsy lattice-work screen in between. Just as it was in the stage play, their respective, reliable spouses are only known to the audience as invisible, inaudible phone callers. Perhaps this is why the reason for Lisang’s overstaying and the choices they make at the film’s end, have little emotional resonance. We don’t get a genuine sense of what they are giving up by ditching their devoted (but dull?) spouses who are never seen nor heard anyway. There was no passion, just a plot device.
A pity, as their sort of forbidden or “courtly love” (versus domestic affection, friendship, fraternity, parent-child bonds etc.) was considered by the Romance minstrels of medieval times, as the most beautiful form of love, because it was doomed. Think Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Lancelot, today’s suicide pact lovers. But what we have here, instead is a normally nasty old woman and a once-womanizing now doddering old man, coming back together after all these years. Perhaps they do deserve each other, just as their faithful spouses who had gone on to heaven ahead, deserve to be where they are. As David Byrne of the Talking Heads sang: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”
MTRCB Rating: PG
By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento