La Paloma: Ang Kalapating Ligaw (Joey Gosiengfiao, 1974) December 3, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi.
Bite me! says Celia
Written by Wilfrido Nolledo
Directed by Joey Gosiengfiao
Cast: Celia Rodriguez, Mona Lisa, Vina Cansino, Orestes Ojeda
La Paloma: Ang Kalapating Ligaw is one of those films I wish I could write more about because it’s completely one of a kind. It is rarely seen and discussed that it could pass as fiction written by fans of Celia Rodriguez. But since I may not be able to see it again, and therefore ruminate on its details, I will just have to rely on memory, which unfortunately intersperses the film with shrieks of my own and my seatmate, with conversations of the audience at the back, and with the uneasy pauses in the middle when the sound is inaudible or incomprehensible. I am more than happy to thank the Society of Filipino Archivists for this screening and for giving me such pleasure, because now I have come to appreciate what “to do a Celia Rodriguez” means (which, of course, now is gravely overshadowed by “to do an Ampatuan”).
It’s a dream role actually, something that only a Celia Rodriguez can pull off, starring in a film that only a Joey Gosiengfiao can make. The premise is that Paloma visits the wake of his lover in a far-off province and finds herself in a tug-of-war with her lover’s wife and mother with regard to the properties he left. (Sounds like the usual soap opera but this is the 70s and this has Celia Rodriguez and Vina Cansino and Mona Lisa in it, where each of the three has their moments of blistering glory.) Paloma is not the one to be ashamed of her position as the other woman; while waiting for the right time to reveal the last will and testament, she lives in the house of the widow, having monstrous verbal fights with her left and right. Paloma asserts her right as a paramour on account of her lover’s last wishes.
To complete the circus, there has to be a man in the picture; so here comes Orestes Ojeda, the musician slash gardener who comes to the house for the widow’s guitar lessons, but is turned down instead to take care of the garden and to make sure that at least one flower blooms out of them. He surely has his eye on Paloma. Later on, the will of the deceased is revealed, then the three women go to court for a hearing after disputing its content, secrets are made known, and we come to that incredible end when the widow and the mother fall from the terrace. Sounds fun, isn’t it?
Honestly, that’s nothing compared to seeing the film for real. The dialogues, especially in the beginning when Paloma and the widow confront each other, are priceless. One moment, in her fury, the widow shouts, “Magkano ka baaa??!!” And Paloma answers, with one hand on her waist and the other on the banister, “DALAWANG PISO!” like it’s the loudest spank ever heard. Paloma never, never, condescends. Her voice only gets higher. Their endless exhange of rage culminates with Paloma quipping “BRUUHHAAA!” at the top of her lungs, which had me throwing a fit in happiness. It’s the greatest display of onscreen bickering ever. Ever.
There’s also that goddamn funny line that goes “Isa, dalawa tatlo, Talbog ang puri mo” whose context I cannot remember anymore. But who would dare forget that scene when Paloma goes out of the house, and upon seeing that people are looking at her—she’s an actress in Manila by the way—she stops and pulls her skirt high, revealing her smooth legs for everyone to see. Her maid slash sidekick follows suit, again, to our priceless amusement. (Maybe because it is Angge, who is so lovely in her small role that I wish Paloma promoted her from her job and made her look glamorous like her. That wouldn’t be so bad.)
Celia Rodriguez is not only the fire—she is the furnace, the fiery furnace. What could be attributed to her candor is actually a brew of everything terrific that characterizes her: her biting eyes, her beautiful skin, her regal way of carrying her dress—the way her accessories, her veil, and her shoes compliment it—and her classy demeanor, that is enough to hold one’s tongue in front of her. She blends perfectly in the gorgeous household, walking through it, sitting like a queen, owning the space. Sometimes she looks like an exquisite piece of furniture, standing by, waiting for the wind to waft the dust on the breeze.
While the humor is undeniable, there is also no denying that La Paloma is shot beautifully; so impressive I really have to mention it. Normally, I pass discussion on technicalities because, well, I know less about it—and I am a bit incompetent in judging whether a shot is good or bad; it’s all a matter of instinct to me—but here, it is just elegant frame after frame. Elegant is even an understatement; the elegance leaps out of the screen to turn the audience feeling as elegant as it is! The clothes are stunning; and the women who wear them stun us even more. I see it like the rich people making a film about their rich problems and ending up with a rich picture and a rich feeling about themselves. Right, the minds of the rich! There, what I’m proud of, instinctive remarks. I can’t go on deeper than that.
But wait. With that mansion of wonderful interiors—full of chandeliers, handsome furniture, ornate staircases, classy decorations, and luxurious beds—I can’t help but be reminded of Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. The film happens mostly inside a chateau so there are these breathtaking shots and camera movements that hypnotize till the end. Everything is choreographed like a commercial on roll, a fashion advertisement that goes on and on, with these people donning glamorous clothes and talking like they were in a dream. La Paloma is not achieving that mood, of course, (even if it tried, it would still be hilarious with Celia Rodriguez around) but I’m thinking Gosiengfiao may have European influences in mind while working with Wilfrido Nolledo on the script. See, there’s Resnais, Antonioni, and Fellini, to name a few, who are avant-gardists in their own right, innovating techniques on space and time in film, years before La Paloma was made. (I may have too much imagination running, but that’s not far-fetched.) Gosiengfiao, unlike them, prefers camp and does it very well. Without any exaggeration, he deserves to be in their league. Only the fate of a Third World filmmaker, in terms of global appreciation, doesn’t go easily like that.
I don’t wish to spoil the fun and expound on Gosiengfiao’s criticism on the middleclass—that needs a second or third viewing to discuss—but clearly, he is hitting on something. What makes La Paloma brilliant is that Gosiengfiao makes it seem otherwise, as we are engrossed in the entertainment provided by the characters, and makes it appear like self-conscious theater, which it really is; although looking at it the other way around reveals that he is stressing the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, their singlemindedness, and their unwavering might to get what they want at all costs. In hindsight, that would be an interesting discussion, but the surface of La Paloma is fulfilling enough for me—intelligent, witty, unapologetic—that I wouldn’t want to bore myself this time.
Anyhow, in my dreams and in my lifetime, I long to see a restored print of La Paloma. If that happens, see it too and tell me if I lied.