Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ang Larawan (Loy Arcenas, Metro Manila Film Festival 2017 Best Picture)

Ang Larawan is a thing of beauty. Lavished with care by a group of passionate artists, the film exudes an aura of grace and poise. There's nothing artsy-fartsy with this film. All elements are of the right amount. The cinematography emits a force field-type of mist that seemingly protects the Marasigan siblings from a fast-changing world.

Candida and Paula Marasigan, both middle-aged spinsters, are experiencing a crisis. Bills are piling up because they have not received their monthly allowances from elder siblings. A boarder, Tony Javier, suggests a solution to their monetary problem.

Tony convinces the sisters to part with the recent masterwork of their father, Don Lorenzo Marasigan. He has an American buyer ready to purchase the painting for a handsome price of $10,000 or roughly PHP 20,000. That is huge money back then in the 1930s. Rebuffed by Candida, Tony works out a scheme to get his hands on the painting.

Ang Larawan will be compared not only to the different adaptations of Nick Joaquin's play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino but also to Arcenas' standout debut film Niño. The latter is a Citizen Kane-like story of the decline of a once-mighty and illustrious oligarch family, the Lopez-Aranzas.

The Marasigans, like the Lopez-Aranzas, used to hold weekly parties attended by aristocrats, artists, and statesmen. However, the throngs of guests slowly dwindle as years go by.

Now, when visitors drop by at the Marasigan house, their purpose is to see the lone existing masterpiece of Juan Luna's contemporary. The other remaining paintings of Don Marasigan are exhibited in museums outside the Philippines. A visiting Senator asks Paula to convince her elder sister Candida to donate the painting to the government. In return, a trust fund will be created for the two sisters. Once again, Candida rejects the offer of their family friend.

A memorable funny segment for me is when Paula asks Candida if she is crying. The reply by Candida is perfect comedic timing.

Arcenas combines the different ways adaptations depict the painting. In theater plays, the portrait is hung on an imaginary 'fourth wall.' In the film by Lamberto Avellana, the details of the painting are clearly shown. The Avellana painting shows a young man carrying an old man on his back. The burning city of Troy is shown behind them. The piercing, sad eyes of the two persons have the power to unsettle the viewer.

In Ang Larawan, the painting is barely seen but the painting layout is similar to the one shown in the Avellana film version. I expect the eyes of the two persons to have similar unnerving effect of racking up guilt.

What I like about this Arcenas adaptation is its focus on conscience pricking. Paula and Candida associate themselves with the young man in the painting. They were the reason behind the accident involving their father. They are now responsible for their bed-ridden father. He is their cross to bear.

Manolo and Pepang, elder siblings of Paula and Candida, plan to sell their house. The house reminds them of their wanton spending and disregard for the welfare of the spinsters and their father.

The film also pricks the conscience of moviegoers. The film asks: Do we still remember and follow the good traditions of old? Do we still sing and dance? Or, have we imprisoned and dampened our passion for poetry, singing, dancing, and the visual arts?

Ang Larawan, along with Disney's Coco, are glorious reminders of the importance of family and getting in touch with the past. Both films depict perfectly Nick Joaquin's vocation of remembering and singing.