Salawahan (Ishmael Bernal, 1979) May 15, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi.
“Hindi mo ‘ko kapatid, halikan mo ‘ko nang husto,” Sylvia tells Gerry.
With only a handful of people discussing the film, as if its existence is keyed by a select league of viewers, Salawahan could pass for a fictional film. But the fact that this is a work by Ishmael Bernal, a film he made at the turn of the decade, and which stars Miss Rita Gomez, Jay Ilagan, Rio Locsin, Mat Ranillo III, and Sandy Andolong (credited here as Andrea Andolong), plus the fact that I am writing this now with a flood of screenshots, Salawahan is such a relief to be true.
It is unsurprising that each and every one who saw the film is in love with it, considering that Salawahan is not a flawless work. But its flaws are also its strength. Bernal has these two pairs of charming actors who are fairly competent to enliven their roles in full character and unpredictability.
On one hand, we have these two young lads: Gerry (Jay Ilagan), the idealistic; and Manny (Mat Ranillo III), the frivolous. They are best of friends, have known each other since childhood, and a random squabble over each other’s lifestyle prompts them to bet on their egos and trade places, with regard to their relationship with women. On the other, we have their chéries: Rina (Rio Locsin), the conservative; and Sylvia (Sandy Andolong), the aggressive. Rina, who spends her free time learning ballet, is reluctant to submit herself to Manny’s advances, while Sylvia makes her move upon meeting Gerry, knowing she’ll not be refused.
Spicing things up is another character: the fifth wheel, so to speak. Marianne (Rita Gomez), a sex education writer (“a researcher on sexual practices” as she says), has her eye on Gerry, whom she meets by accident in an optical shop. She is a test on Gerry’s fidelity, a reversal of roles as regards Manny’s womanizing habits, which he now confronts with Sylvia and Marianne. Manny, after courting Rina with the least success, finds himself “in love”, unable to screw his wits back as he starts to wallow in discouragement. Marianne does not go in between these two couples; rather, she stands mature and talks away her experiences, intelligent and charming, in constant belief and conviction of her youth. As she says, “Biologically I’m 33, intellectually I’m 60, and I hope I look 18.” Now really, that’s what you call a lady.
The opening credits are already filled with assumptions of character. Rita Gomez with the playgirl magazine earns the respectful “Miss” in her name, not to mention her billing despite her supporting role; Jay Ilagan with an art direction mag and T-square reveals him as the artist-type; Mat Ranillo III with a Playboy mag and a woman on his side couldn’t be any clearer; Sandy Andolong with a fashion mag, a mannequin, and designs pasted on the wall presumes her freewheeling air; and Rio Locsin with a vinyl, a ballet dancer photo, and a birdcage alludes to her youth and conservatism. The credits call it “paper sculpture and design” (by Raul Garcia), and it’s both rare and wonderful to see such quirkiness in the opening credits alone.
The nuts and bolts of Jose Carreon’s script is how these characters respond to each other’s belief in love, and how far they would go just to prove that they are right. Their opposing thoughts make room for a lot of remarkable retorts, not to mention striking confrontations that only Bernal can always claim credit for doing best.
For instance, there is already an impression of struggle for dominance when Gerry and Sylvia meet for the first time in the printing house:
Sylvia taps Gerry’s back. He turns around holding a newly-printed sheet.
Gerry: (smiling) Yes?
Sylvia: Mr. Izon?
Gerry: (looks at her, scans her from head to toe, and smiles, maliciously) Yes?
Sylvia: (shakes his hand) Sylvia. Mas guwapo ka pa pala sa sinabi nila sa ‘kin.
Gerry: (still holding her hand) Kaya hindi ako nakikinig sa tsismis e.
Sylvia: Ah, yung kamay ko lang, please. (Gerry releases her hand) Ngayong nasa akin na ang kamay ko, pag-usapan natin ang laman ng utak ko.
Gerry: (teasing) Interesante ba?
Sylvia: Interesante. May trabaho ako para sa ‘yo.
Gerry: (smiling) Hindi pala interesante e.
Sylvia: Babayaran kita ng 5,000 pesos.
Gerry: Ahh, interesante pala. (puts his hand in his pocket)
Sylvia: Sa’n ka nagpapagupit? Ang ganda ng buhok mo a.
Gerry: Tinatapatan ko lang ng bentilador.
Sylvia: Meron akong shop at gusto kong magpagawa ng brochures. Layout artist ka, right?
Sylvia: Sa umpisa gusto kong magpagawa ng 10,000 copies. Ang dami-dami kasing turistang Hapon ngayon e. Sa kanila pumupunta yung brochures, principally. And then another 10,000 copies, probably after five months. (pauses) Talaga bang brown ang mata mo?
Gerry: (quips) Sa loob. Sa labas gray.
Sylvia: (stares at him intently before she gets something out of her purse) Eto’ng calling card ko. (camera cuts to reveal a long shot as the two walk closer) Puwede kang pumunta ng opisina para idiscuss ang details?
Gerry: Puwede. Mahilig ako sa details. . .
Sylvia: Ako rin. So I’ll see you?
Gerry: Pero. . . balak kong magbakasyon e.
Sylvia: Bakasyon? E ang igsi-igsi ng buhay.
Gerry: O e di ‘wag na magbakasyon!
Sylvia: So I’ll see you?
Gerry: I’ll see you.
(They stare at each other teasingly before Sylvia walks out of the frame. Gerry looks after her, smiling and holding her calling card, before expressing his delight by mocking a dance step. Next scene: Rina’s ballet class.)
Take note how their conversation wanders from business to personal effortlessly. It’s as if Sylvia strikes up a conversation with Gerry just to ask him where he gets his haircut or what is the color of his eyes. The pretense of business is reasonable, for sure, but what’s amusing is how game they are for each other’s quip of tease.
It is Sylvia, in another scene, who tells that there is no longer a definite line to differentiate the roles between a man and a woman. To her, unisex is the revolution of the century. And true enough Gerry is caught off guard when Sylvia turns to pursue him, his friends making fun of his “katorpehan”, these men who consider their penises as their greatest asset. But should it really make a difference when gender roles are reversed and when these assumptions no longer exist? Couldn’t women bank on their vaginas too? Bernal and Carreon, in their sharp remarks on sexuality, believe that maturity only comes when these questions are answered.
Ang anak ng Diyos!
On the other hand, let us look at Manny and Rina. They first meet in the pub, and later on he visits her in her house, talking about his “philosophy of the heart” which he claims to have read from the bible (fifth edition). He tells her that the heart is more powerful than the mind, and that listening to the heart is the only thing that matters in life. He adds that following the mind only brings trouble. Yes, this is from a guy who, in a previous scene, says to his best friend, “Kaming mga lalaking pogi ay anak ng Diyos at madaling-madali para sa mga poging katulad ko ang makakita ng trabaho.” And yes, true enough, ang anak ng diyos ay marunong din pala manligaw.
One of Gerry and Rina’s conversations goes like this:
At the department store the previous day, Gerry escorted Rina while shopping, and incidentally his ex, who claimed having his child on her, saw him. Gerry ran away while Rina and his ex fumed at the sight of each other.
Gerry: E kaya nga hindi ako nagsasabi ng totoo e.
Rina: Wala akong panahon sa mga taong hindi marunong magsabi ng totoo!
Gerry: Kahit na pogi?
Rina: Wala ka na bang ibang puhunan sa buhay kundi ang pagkaguwapo mo?
Gerry: Pag nagsabi ako ng totoo, mapapatrobol. So ba’t ko isasaksak ang katawan sa trobol kung makakalusot?
Rina: E hindi ka makakalusot all the time!
Rina: Ano’ng ibig sabihin ng “Oh??”?
Gerry: Wala, basta “Oh??”
Rina: Kung sa ibang babae mo, umuubra yang charms and sparkle mo, sa ‘kin hinde!
Gerry: O tingnan mo, ikaw ngayon ‘tong hindi nagsasabi ng totoo.
Rina: I beg your pardon?
Gerry: Talaga naman a. Admitin mo na. . . Na ang tuhod mo ay nangangatog ng “Tag-tag-tag-tag-tag” at ang puso mo’y tumitibok ng “Bug-bug-bug-bug-bug” tuwing nakikita mo ako.
Rina: Tuwing makikita kita, gusto kong bumalik ng kumbento.
Gerry: Pero hindi mo ‘ko maresist, kasi irresistible ako.
Rina: Alam mo ‘yang yabang mo walang pondo.
Gerry: Meron. Ito. (points at his cheek)
Rina: Kung magsalita ka akala mo ikaw lang ang guwapo. Maganda rin naman ako a. Kaya lang, ang kagandahan ko hindi ko ginagamit to take advantage of people. Ikaw oo.
Gerry: Anak ng diyos e!
* * *
In Salawahan there is no such thing as a breather. So we’ll not call it a breather. Instead, to carry on with the fun, let’s borrow another tête-à-tête.
Gerry’s girlfriends in full bitchy mode
Marianne: Hi. Good morning.
Sylvia: Same to you.
Marianne: Aren’t you going to wish me well?
Sylvia: I’m going to wish you what you’re going to wish me.
Marianne: Hmm-mmm. Foreign twang. Girlfriend ako ni Gerry.
Sylvia: Same to me.
Marianne: Anong gagawin natin ngayon?
Marianne: Hindi ba tayo magco-confrontation?
Sylvia: Wag na, nakakatamad e.
Marianne: Okay. I’ll see you.
Sylvia: See you.
(walks out of their own way)
I suppose Salawahan is the most quotable Filipino film ever made, neck and neck with Gosiengfiao’s Temptation Island (and that is coming from someone who is not too learned on his cinema of the 70s and 80s).
Truth be told, among the film’s barrage of witticisms, this scene wins everything.
* * *
Dialogues are on fire in Salawahan, and basically that’s what makes it tick. Intelligent and spot-on, they display no weak character. Everyone has an answer to each other’s accusations, and chats only end when they get tired or need a drink. The words are the ones doing the usual “sabunutan at sapakan”—without retreating and raising a flag. Even as the film ends, subservience is just a matter of talking one’s thoughts away. “Verbose” is an understatement; everyone’s too smart for their own good.
It’s easy to spot a film that wears its pretense of relevance so tight that it forgets to tell its story. Bernal, in a way, may be accused of such. The story of two couples in a dating game could be narrated well in a short film, but Bernal decides to masturbate further. He is, however, in control of his strokes, masturbating his material unmindful of orgasm, at times too gentle and at times too rough. Armed with this pretense, which no longer becomes a pretense when Bernal starts to provide texture through his love for the arts (references from Butterfield 8 and Robert Browning to Penthouse 7, Discorama, and Robert Redford) and leanings on European filmmaking (characters talking to the camera, the Rohmer-like philosophizing, the Tati-inspired gags), Bernal is quite repetitive, but interesting nevertheless. He is repetitive in his arguments, in his style, and in emphasizing his intentions. But this repetition, with the way the narrative becomes too carefree like its bourgeois characters, is mocked in the film’s climax when the five characters meet altogether. A camp he is, Bernal does a slapstick but comes out a little weak to deliver it. Still, in showmanship alone, he nails the film’s defining moment:
To Sylvia and Marianne’s horror, Rina holds a knife and walks toward them, to the tune of suspenseful music. But to their relief, she only goes to the table and slices the cake.
Rina: Happy birthday, sis. Komedya no?
Marianne: OK lang. Kanina pa kita inaawat e. Ayaw mo makinig.
Rina: I’m very impulsive. I’m only EIGHTEEN.
Sylvia: Ay nako, I understand. Halos pareho lang tayo. I’m only TWENTY.
(Rina and Sylvia look at Marianne, who is much older, for response.)
Marianne: Ako, I’m hungry.
In the end it’s really just an orgasm: a release of everything, no confetti, no big revelations, no corny and hard-hitting lessons.
On a final note, it’s rather unfair that when it comes to actors, Brocka always gets the authority to be called the actor’s director. Not to discredit Brocka of course but Bernal always exceeds Brocka in terms of directing comedies. And humor is only as hard as drama can get; and oftentimes even harder. Ilagan, Andolong, Ranillo, and Locsin may not be the best to portray their roles but their characters don’t need the best—they need believability more, and their youth exudes that, more than their acting chops. They grip on their dialogues so much that watching them is such a delight.
There’s this anecdote told by Vilma Santos when she won her grandslam for Relasyon that she walked into Bernal’s shoot a little unmotivated and still high after her big win. She couldn’t get her acting right. And then Bernal said to her, “O, bakit parang lutang ka diyan? Porke’t naka-grand slam ka, feeling mo, magaling ka na?” That’s one-big-“OH”. And to think that Ate Vi was already a big star that time, and getting bigger and bigger thanks to her roles, it does not only give an impression of “katarayan” on Bernal’s part, but more of brilliance. Salawahan is one of the many proofs.
* * *
The great Rene Requiestas has a bit-part in the film as Sylvia’s gay assistant who steals the show through his singing, telling his life story, and delivering Rosa Rosal’s famous lines in Anak Dalita. A knockout!
Battle of the Bulge!
Mark Gil and Cherie Gil turn the heat on.