“That Ang Larawan is currently trending made me cry. Like real tears at 5 am. Gaiz, don’t just tweet about it. Watch it! It will speak to you on so many different levels. The music is by @ryancayabyab. And hallo! Material by National Artist #NickJoaquin, and #RolandoTinio.” -My tweet at past 5 am today, December 29, 2017
I am no movie critic but every now and then, a film moves me and compels my fingers to type out words. Hard as it may be to express why a film is worthy of your time, let’s try. Shall we?
Ang Larawan is a film based on a musical play based on a play. The play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” is by National Artist Nick Joaquin, best known (and loathed by many students) for May Day Eve, a required reading for high school and college students. “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” has been tagged as the most important Filipino play.
The material was translated to Filipino, Ang Larawan, by Bienvenido Lumbera, also a National Artist.
Rolando Tinio wrote the libretto for the musical play “Larawan.” Music was composed by Ryan Cayabyab. The first run of the musical play starred Celeste Legaspi, Zsa Zsa Padilla, and Ricky Davao.
Boring set of facts, you say? I share these to make you realize the amount of artistry and talent that has been immortalized in 2 hours worth of drama, laughter, and music.
The film Ang Larawan showcases and represents the best of the Philippines’ literature, theatre, music, and film. And, ironically, one of the things it talks about is how artists are much too often made to choose to suffer for their passion or abandon their passion for loftier economic and social gains.
There is so much I can talk about regarding the film’s story, themes, and all the issues it tackles. Most important of which that people should know of… is articulated by the film’s millenial actor, Paulo Avelino. On why he wanted to be part of the film, “we have been making mistakes then that are still happening now.”
The Metro Manila Film Festival and all the hoopla that accompanies it every year: the debates between economic viability and artisty, on whether the festival should value artistic films versus more commercial ones, the elevation of art and preservation of culture vs commercial viability… all-too familiar questions that we all have heard of but have not really resolved or tried to resolve. Ang Larawan takes these issues and tackles them head on. Artistics pieces might not always be profitable but it will continue to outlive us all.
What makes “Ang Larawan” remarkable is how good all the actors are. Yes, even Paulo Avelino excels as the douchebag Tony Javier. I watched the rehearsal video and it seems like his voice wasn’t even autotuned. Hah! Avelino trained for months and worked with his co-actors to be able to deliver a credible Tony Javier. That’s dedication. Looking forward to Goyo.
Candida and Paula
This film, however, belongs to its women, Joanna Ampil as Candida and Rachel Alejandro as Paula.
Joanna Ampil won Best Actress in the MMFF. A lot of those who didn’t even watch the film question her win. But dammit, she deserves not just one trophy for this film. Her powerful voice may be her best asset but when she acts, it’s as if her whole body is being possessed by Candida. Ampil’s eyes, her furrowed brows, her lips, her hands… everything about her speaks even when she’s not singing or speaking. Her performances during the blackout song “Walang Ilaw” and in her confession “Ako’ng Nagkamali,” were so moving. It was as if I could feel her sadness jump from the screen, infecting me with melancholy. Every word she uttered had so much conviction that you cannot help but take her side.
And yes, Rachel Alejandro as the quiet and conflicted Paula also deserves an award. We all know Alejandro is a superb singer but in this film, she shows us she’s also an excellent actress. When she declared “Malaya na ako.” I was like “Yas, gurl!”
Even better than Joanna Ampil and Rachel Alejandro are Ampil and Alejandro together. They played off each other well. “Kay Sarap ng Buhay Nu’ng Araw” is my favorite duet of the two.
“Kagandahan, katotohanan ang panlaban ko sa mundo. Wala akong takot. Walang panlulumo. Bumaha man o bumagyo.”
The lyrics were so simple yet so meaningful and they delivered each line of that song so sincerely.
Both powerful performers, you never got the feeling that they were trying to upstage each other. They worked together beautifully. Mabuhay Candida! Mabuhay Paula!
My favorite moment is Robert Arevalo as Don Perico delivering the film’s most thought-provoking lines:
“Hindi simple ang buhay, katulad ng sining. May pwersang humuhubog sa ating landasin. Hindi tayo’ng may hawak sa kinabukasan. Nagmimiron ka lamang sa’yong kapalaran.”
The sorrow and conflict in his eyes and in every line on his face… it was all-consuming and perhaps the part of the movie that really captured my heart and mind.
Needless to say, Nonie Buencamino and Menchu Yulo were perfect as Manolo and Pepang, respectively. They delivered “Ang Mga Muebles” so perfectly that you are reminded by the many annoying, petty, and mahadera/o titas and titos in your life.
Every cast member, even the cameos, all deserve praise. Dulce was a scene stealer. And yes, Celeste Legaspi and Zsa Zsa Padilla were delightful to watch. I literally shimmied when Zsa Zsa conga’ed.
Every actor delivered beautifully. That this is the most talented cast of any Filipino film… I can agree to that.
I didn’t mean for this blog to be so long. It started with just a tweet but I realized that 280 characters is not enough to express how much I appreciate and love this film. My words failed me when I made my reaction vlog.
I was ecstatic to find out that “Ang Larawan” won Best Picture of the Metro Manila Film Festival, among other awards. And yay to Joanna Ampil getting the Best Actress Award!
Why You Should Watch
Sad to know, however, that the film is struggling in the tills. It is so poignant that the film talks about the arts, beauty, and standing by one’s passions and convictions against the tides of life, economics and politics, all the while this excellent film by the country’s top artists is struggling to earn.
More than wanting the film to earn, I am fervently inviting everybody to watch it because it is a film that deserves to be watched. It is a piece of art that is beautiful and excellently executed. And yes, it speaks to everyone with a message that will not only affect artists, but every human soul.
Whether you agree that you are just a “miron” to your fate or not, whether you choose passion or money, whatever your philosophy is… this piece of art will move you. It will spark a conversation in you.
Or yes, even if you do not really want to think and just want to be entertained, this film is also for you. The story is easy to digest and so wonderfully written. The language might be off for a few but the English subtitles help a lot. The story has so many layers and you can consume it the way you are prepared to do so. As a friend said, it has something for everybody.
The production team did justice to the material, as well. The costumes, the makeup, the set design, everything is well-thought of.
And the music… oh the music. Ryan Cayabyab’s music makes everything even better.
The Legacy of Ang Larawan
Ang Larawan will outlive us all. Contra mundum. It does not exist to earn. (Yes, it is good for it to earn money.) But it exists because it is a piece of art crafted and produced passionately by people who truly live and die for the arts. It is an ode to the arts and to every artist.
Practically speaking, I think this should be required viewing for all Filipino students. For literature class, for art class, for music class, for history class… yes, generations of Filipinos will grow to love and loathe this film. Kapoy gawa ng reaction paper diba? Unintentionally, “Ang Larawan” will school every Filipino on the the importance of the arts and culture and the value of family.
Every artist, every Filipino, every human soul should watch this masterpiece at least once in their life. Or maybe several times. I watched it twice already. Each time I watched it, it sparked a different conversation in me and moved me differently. And I want to watch it again. Over and over again.
Once in a while, you come across something so beautiful that you cannot keep it to yourself. This is how I feel about Ang Larawan. And I am sure that this is how every person who watches it feel. You do not even have to be a film lover or an artist to relate to the film and appreciate it.
Ang Lawaran is a masterpiece that your soul needs to watch. It stirs conversations within us and among us. It is our story. The story of every being struggling to survive, live, and thrive in this ever changing world. It is set in pre-World War II Philippines and yet it is still a relevant today, asking questions we still do not have answers to.
For as long as there are people who seek and live with truth and beauty, Ang Larawan will live. Contra mundum.
“Mabuhay Candida! Mabuhay Paula! Lamunin man ng gubat ang inyong istorya, nandito kami ipinagdiriwang kayo sa aming pagkanta.”
Images from AngLarawan.com.