Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sunday Beauty Queen (Baby Ruth Villarama, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)

This exceptional movie was high on my list of must-watch films at the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 (MMFF). I first learned of its miraculous entry into the festival during a film forum in November 2016. I was happy to hear the good news from moderator Ed Cabagnot. I was impressed by filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama-Gutierrez’s previous documentary Little Azkals and looked forward to seeing her latest work.

Sunday Beauty Queen highlights the inner beauty of hardworking Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong. During Sundays, they converge in public places and indulge in their favorite activities and hobbies. The focus of the documentary is a group of domestic helpers joining and organizing beauty contests. Their imperfections, terrible grammar, and embarrassing experiences are laid out in the open. They may not have faces and bodies like those of our Miss Universe and Miss World winners but they are confidently beautiful with big, big hearts.

Filmmaker Gutierrez, whose mother is a former domestic helper, portrays such Overseas Filipino Workers as a boon not only to their families and country but also to the whole world. Fellow filmmaker Jack Soo, an employer of a domestic helper/beauty contestant, says that if the Philippine government decides to stop the influx of Filipina domestic helpers to Hong Kong, China, and other countries, the world will be in big trouble. Singapore barged into the list of Olympic gold winning countries courtesy of a young swimmer who proudly claimed to have been raised by a Filipina nanny. A Chinese ballet teacher says employing a Filipina maid is worth every dollar spent. The average monthly salary of a Filipina domestic helper is $550 dollars, which is equivalent to the salary of a junior executive in the Philippines.

The documentary will put a smile on your face just like the infectious smile of Filipino tourist Chuck Gutierrez, film editor, producer and husband of the filmmaker. No matter where they are, Filipinos will always show their sense of humor, peculiarities, and idiosyncrasies. There’s a Filipina cook in Hong Kong who takes pictures of her Pinoy food dishes neatly arrayed on a rectangular table. Her primary objective is to make her Facebook friends envious of her. Another Filipina gets the boot from her employer after breaking a curfew. She was so engrossed joining a beauty contest that she lost track of time. Or maybe she’d had enough of working for her employer. There are tales told of ruthless employers but there are also heartwarming stories about Chinese employers treating Filipina domestic helpers as part of family.

Sunday Beauty Queen is a more impressive documentary than Little Azkals. The latter took some time before it gets things rolling.
Sunday Beauty Queen plunges immediately to the lives of colorful characters. I liked it better than the three local documentaries shown at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2016.

The inclusion of Sunday Beauty Queen to the MMFF justifies the revamped selection process. I’ve seen three other entries and they are quite good. So far, there are no fillers among the entries. Bravo! Take a bow, members of the MMFF executive and selection committees.

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