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Abandonada (The Abandoned)

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  • noelv@i-next.net
    Undercover mother Noel Vera Abandonada (The Abandoned) Director: Joel Lamangan You can tell that Joel Lamangan s Abandonada (The Abandoned) is going to be an
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 1969
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      Undercover mother

      Noel Vera

      Abandonada (The Abandoned)

      Director: Joel Lamangan

      You can tell that Joel Lamangan's "Abandonada" (The Abandoned) is
      going to be an effective piece of melodrama from the premise alone: a
      Filipina nurse (Maricel Soriano) comes back home from Canada after
      spending some years in prison. She learns that her husband (Edu Manzano)
      has taken their son and left her for a younger, wealthier woman (Angelu de
      Leon). In one of the film's most audacious conceits, she joins the
      husband's new household as a maid, hoping to recover her son.

      It's not as farfetched as it sounds; in Philippine society, the
      husband rarely involves himself in the daily details of household
      management--the higher up the social ladder, the less likely the
      involvement. Maids who do the laundry or gardening are often hired and
      managed by the wife; the husband might look up one day to see a total
      stranger bring his clean shirts upstairs to his room, and think nothing of
      it (and when said stranger is pretty--well, that's a different melodrama
      altogether).

      It's a situation brought about by class differences, and gives all
      kinds of interesting perspectives to the film. The housewife becoming
      housemaid, that's pushing a woman's expected role in society a notch
      downward (from wife down to maid), at the same time equating both roles
      (the wife nothing more than a glorified maid). The mother becoming a
      stranger to her child, that's a woman's dearest nightmare, her most
      masochistic fantasy--the child right in front of her but socially out of
      her reach, so that she spends most of the film eating her heart out,
      pining for her son.

      The husband, of course, holds all his wife's cards--he is rich and
      influential, acts as her employer, and has custody of their son.
      Lamangan, whose previous films ("The Flor Contemplacion Story," "Bayad
      Puri,") concerned themselves with the oppression of women and of the lower
      classes, was probably attracted to just those aspects of the script. He
      must have also realized that the script is better constructed than most
      (I'd say practically all) his previous scripts, having been written by one
      of the better writers in the business, Racquel Villavicencio.

      Villavicencio began her scriptwriting career in the early '80s on
      an enviably high note, working with Mike de Leon and Clodualdo del Mundo
      on three of de Leon's best pictures--"Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" (Will Your Heart
      Beat Faster?), "Batch '81," and (his masterpiece) "Kisapmata" (Blink of an
      Eye). She wrote the script to Laurice Guillen's finest film, possibly the
      finest ever made by a Filipina filmmaker, the erotic thriller "Init sa
      Magdamag" (Midnight Passion). Even as recently as her script for a
      romance drama (featuring Aga Muhlach and Aiko Melendez, whose name escapes
      me at the moment), she shows a feeling for character detail and narrative
      clarity that's rare in the local film industry (or in Hollywood, for that
      matter).

      It's this instinct for detail and clarity that helps the film keep
      its focus on Soriano's mother, the emotional core of the film. Soriano is
      the Filipino mother as undercover agent, infiltrating the enemy's home
      territory, recruiting allies among her fellow housemaids, trying to stage
      a rescue of her child against impossible odds. What makes this unlikely
      premise believable is the fact that Villavicencio--with Soriano
      interpreting her script and Lamangan directing Soriano's performance--
      keeps the emotions believable. She imagines for us just what the mother
      must be feeling at each point of the story, then writes it down (a simple
      enough act, you say...though it's astonishing how many so-called
      scriptwriters, local and foreign, forget to do this simple thing). And as
      long as the emotions remain real, then the situation--no matter how
      coincidental or farfetched--feels real as well.

      It's far from being a perfect film--Angelu de Leon in the crucial
      role of the husband's second wife is perfectly miscast (she hardly looks
      upper-class enough to be a socialite, just as in Lamangan's previous
      film, "Bulaklak ng Maynila," (Flower of Manila) she hardly looked sexy
      enough to be a nightclub dancer). Ynez Veneracion, so good in Maryo J. De
      Los Reyes' "Paraiso ni Efren" and John Red's digital feature "Still
      Lives," is largely wasted. A poorly staged and wretchedly edited chase
      scene occurs halfway through the film; it should have been cut out
      entirely, except that Villavicencio chooses this moment to introduce an
      ingenious plot twist that almost (though not quite) justifies the whole
      sorry mess.

      Lamangan directs with little of the hysteria that mars his other
      films, though occasionally you do catch him forcing Soriano to go through
      one round too many of weeping and yelling, with tightly held close-ups to
      catch every tic and teardrop on her face. It's as if he sometimes feels
      he can't trust the material to be strong enough--he has to pump it up with
      dramatic and visual excess. He can't seem to completely convince himself
      that he'd do better holding back the camera, putting a little distance
      between himself and the material. It's his greatest strength and greatest
      fault, I think, this lack of distance. It gives his films passion and
      energy, but takes away something that they need just as badly--judgement,
      for one, perhaps a sense of emotional balance.

      (Comments? Email me at noelv@...)

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