Rosario-A Movie Review by Cristobal Labog

 For overseas Filipinos who will not be able to see this film which won the Second Best Picture Award and the Gatpuno Cultural Award in the Metro Manila Film Festival 2010, here is a movie review of Rosario, a story of the grandmother of one of the wealthiest businessmen in the Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines – The Roaring Twenties, which began in 1921 and ended with the market crash of 1929, heralded numerous advances in art, music, fashion and social mores. As women’s suffrage became widespread, young women started staking their claim on their physiques, sparking a new age of sexual liberation.

That meant slinkier, knee-length sheathes in place of Victorian corsets and long dresses. This in turn sparked a rage in dancing and dance clubs.

Music took flight from the formalities of the three B’s (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) into the age of jazz. Radio reached a level of sophistication equal to today’s television.

But nothing symbolized the epoch’s intoxication with freedom more than the spread of automobiles. They rapidly became affordable.

With co-ed giving women access to academe, the feminine mystique gained further momentum. Gender equality was all but complete. Men smoked, so why not women?

This made the cigarette enormously popular, what with Prohibition making alcohol illegal. Demand skyrocketed and America built tobacco plantations in far-flung territories.

These included the province of Isabela, where the epic story of the biopic “Rosario” takes place. But first things first…

Rosario (Jennilyn Mercado), the coy and coquettish “unica hija” of tobacco plantation owner Don Enrique (Phillip Salvador in a multi-layered role) and Doña Adela (the affable Eula Valdez), returns home after finishing pre-university schooling in America.

Rosario immediately makes her emancipation evident to childhood friend Carmen (conspiratorial Isabel Oli) by sharing a forbidden toke with her on the footrest of an art deco four-poster bed.

They both sport chin-length bob hairdos, topped by matching hats – typical Roaring Twenties accoutrements of the day. Doting father then takes 16-year-old Rosario on a tour of the plantation, a remarkably photographed sequence that should remind seasoned cineastes of similar terra firma in “Gone with the Wind” and the period Italian film “Novecento” by Bernardo Bertolucci.

The instant Rosario sets eyes on plantation manager Vicente (ever charismatic Yul Servo), the die is cast. Unconcerned with the prevailing, prudent conventions of male-female relationships, staunchly liberal girl seduces arch-conservative man.

Unforgiving Don Enrique catches them in flagrante delictu. He hammers Vicente to near-death, and dispatches the distressed damsel to the nunnery for shaming the family.

The lovers cannot be denied. They flee to urban Manila, get married and start a family. Fate blesses Vicente with a well-paying job, but the couple’s joy is short-lived.

The loving husband catches contagious tuberculosis, a death sentence on marital togetherness. More than Vicente, it is Rosario who suffers from the forced physical separation.

He advises her to forget these needs and focus on their children. But Rosario decides to seek employment, adding the burden of house work to Vicente’s affliction.

Enter young, virile Alberto (drop-dead gorgeous tempter Dennis Trillo), jarring Rosario from self-imposed self-denial. She first takes refuge in work and prayer, but youthful yearning breaks her resolve.

She enters into an adulterous relationship with Alberto. For a while, they find fulfillment inside his beat-up jalopy. But joy in each other’s company emboldens them to break the sanctity of home.

Vicente, who has finally recovered from his illness, catches them in the act. He hauls the adulterers to court where they’re found guilty and sentenced to exile.

Three years later, they return to Manila and start living in a boarding house where Rosario meets the third and final love of her life. This is the youthful Carding, played with culpable charm by Sid Lucero.

She fends off his innocent affection, for with the passage of time, at the ripe age of 39, she has finally tethered her passion. Or has she?

Alberto P. Martinez (the name Albert Martinez, the actor, has adopted as director) directs star-studded “Rosario.” What a debut! The way his film’s elements coalesce into a unified whole – from the first-rate acting of everybody in the cast to the telling competence of everybody in the crew – has exceeded expectations and makes us wonder what he he’ll do next.

Among the actors, I must cite Jennylyn Mercado’s Rosario. Her understated, masterful reading of the role has elevated this unique persona alongside Mia Farrow’s Daisy in that Roaring Twenties classic “The Great Gatsby.” She achieves this with the help no doubt of the talented trio of Yul Servo, Dennis Trillo and Sid Lucero and the compelling cameos of Empress Schuck and Dolphy, who narrates “Rosario” with charismatic conviction.

Ricky Davao reinvents himself with a hugely memorable ogre of a role as Miguel. You’ll surely wish him dead.

Among the crew members, let us salute production designers Joel Luna and Miki Hahn who also did the costumes. Did they use a time machine to bring us this level of authenticity? Of course, movies are the art of the 20th and 21st centuries, so take a bow with your treasured Alexa digital camera, cinematographer Carlo Mendoza and editor John Wong. Alberto Chang, I want a CD of your musical score. Elmer L. Gatchalian, what a nuanced screenplay! Executive Producer Bong Sta. Maria, you just found your calling. Mr. Manny Pangilinan, carry on.

“Rosario” is a Cinemabuhay International with Studio 5 presentation. It runs for approx. 100 minutes and is rated GP.

Cristobal Labog has worked as a copywriter, creative director and strategic planner for advertising agencies in Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Brussels and Amsterdam. He divides his time between Trabzon, Turkey, on the Black Sea and Mandaluyong in Metro Manila. E-mail crislabog@gmail.com for questions and comments.

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