Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Niño (2011, Loy Arcenas)

Veteran theatre personality Loy Arcenas surprised everybody with his dazzling film debut, Niño. While working on a theatre play years ago, he saw the young people's enthusiasm and fascination for Cinemalaya films during that year's festival. Arcenas endeavored to make his own and ultimately took the dare to join Cinemalaya. He learned so many things from his six months of making Niño and vows to use those lessons in making another film. Yes, sir. Please do make another film. Your Niño is a welcome respite from poverty porn films.

The must-see film tackles the foibles of the haughty rich clan of the Lopez-Aranzas. The Lopez-Aranza siblings are some sort of royals. The ‘Three Kings’ are the following: Gaspar (Tony Mabesa) is a former political kingpin who lost a lot of money and power when he sided with Emmanuel Pelaez in the 1964 Nacionalista Party convention. His sibling, Melchor, died a long time ago with no heirs. Celia is the female Balthazar. She used to be a queen of Philippine opera.

Their residence home, Villa Reyes los Magos, is a sprawling property that has lost its luster. It used to be the meeting place of mighty politicians and wealthy people. Even Prince Alfonso of Bourbon was once a former guest. But, with the ebbing of political tides the high-profile visitors ceased to come. The residents slowly adjust to less luxurious lifestyle. Celia (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio) earns a little by offering singing lessons. The family members also resort to accepting boarders in order to stretch the household budget.

Gaspar’s hospitalization and subsequent descent into a comatose state trigger the return of his United States-based daughter, Raquel (Raquel Villavicencio). Every one at the humongous mansion is kept on tenterhooks waiting for her next move. Celia, who has sold her share of the mansion, worries about being evicted from the illustrious residence. Merced (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) and her lover Katherine foresee the impending end to their affair. The cash-strapped Mombic (Arthur Acuña) is the only one pushing for the sale of the property. He charms Raquel into having dinner with his realtor friend.

Jhiz Deocareza and the Butterfly
Now, you may be wondering what is the role of the boy garbed in a Santo Niño outfit? His name is Antony and he is the son of Mombic. His grandmother Celia believes he is the key to making Gaspar well again. But, Antony is no superhero like Ben 10 nor is he as miraculous as the Santo Niño. Sensing the dying moments of Gaspar, Celia accepts her fate and runs to the balcony. She takes a last look at the gardens that decades ago teemed with roses, sampaguitas, rosals, mangoes, and chicos. She will soon flit away but her grandson Antony will forever remember her as a majestic butterfly with the fragrant smell of jasmine.

Arcenas utilized his clout to gather a wonderful cast. From the veteran performers to the child actor, every one gave their best. Centenera-Buencamino and Acuña won acting nods from the Cinemalaya 2011 film festival jury. Arcenas is truly an actors’ director. He was responsible for bringing Che Ramos her first award for the excellent play Tatlong Mariya. That play, along with the film, was a result of his collaboration with Rody Vera.

I’m not raising Kane here, but I consider scriptwriter Vera’s contribution to be equal, if not greater, to that of Arcenas’. His script and dialogues are truly vivid and memorable. He has the ability to make the audience feel and smell the characters. The little boy’s witty description of his aunt Merced as having the smell of a closet is pure genius. (Closet lesbian?  Got it?).The stripping away of secrets is well-paced and adds layer to characterizations. And, who can forget the hilarious ‘paabot nga ng patis’ line by Celia?

Niño have been compared to the play Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino and the film Oro Plata Mata. But, have you seen the similarities to Citizen Kane? Check out the following: jaw-dropping first-rate film debut; utilization of the best theatre people; and story plots about a grand politician’s loss of power and a grand family/mansion’s decay. There are atrocious opera singing scenes in both films.

Where’s the Rosebud in the local film? It vanished when the typhoon winds destroyed the floral gardens. The innocence and child-like naivety of Gaspar was shattered when Ferdinand Marcos stole the Nacionalista Party’s presidential slot in the 1964. Real life oligarch families such as the Lopezes then suffered at the hands of the Marcos regime. It should be noted that in Citizen Kane the presidential slot was also taken away from the hands of Charles Foster Kane.

Niño should be seen more than once for it contains layers and layers of symbolisms. Check out other reviews for references to stage plays.

Related link/s:
Chat with members of the cast (inquirer.net)

Niño wins top prize at Busan (inquirer.net)


  1. I didn't know what to expect when I watched this during the Cinemalaya festival, I checked it out because I read Philbert Dy's mini review of it at Click the City, while the movie started slow it really picked up and was compelling to watch, agree panalo yung "Paabot nga ng Patis" line!

    My only complaint sa script nito was Racquel's son because I felt he add nothing to the story (apart from the line being the reason to have the immortal Patis line uttered)

    I hope magka mainstream release din ito kahit limited lang, I think the story is accessible naman.

  2. Hi forg/jecoup! I don't like reading about plots of films beforehand. But, in my search for screening schedules, I got to read a brief synopsis of Niño. I was expecting the film to be a ho-hum family melodrama. But, fortunately for us, Loy Arcenas and Rody Vera came up with a winning, highly-engaging film.

    The sub-plot about Raquel's worldly son is okay with me. He is included in the story in order to highlight the innocence and goodness of cousin Antony, who Celia believes is capable of making a miracle. And, pushing the 'modern' quip of Merced further, the gay son is also part of the modernization that pushes aside the fabled past and close-knit relationships of the Lopez-Aranzas.