Emir (Chito Roño, 2010) June 15, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Musical, Noypi.
Written by Jerry Gracio
Directed by Chito Roño
Cast: Frencheska Farr, Dulce, Kalila Aguilos, Julia Clarete
Librettists: Gary Granada, Rody Vera, Jerry Gracio
Emir is a charmless thud to begin with. While it may be cruel to disregard its efforts to showcase the grandeur of Filipino musical talent, it is also unfair to give the impression that all these talents are put to good use. The musical numbers are done with tasteful supervision; one after another they give a sense of consistency and resilience, that even if the viewer does not feel anything worthy to follow, they are predictably moving the plot forward at the very least. That is, if there is really much plot to speak of.
Every audience knows, unconsciously or not, that a genre is a genre because its particulars have been seen before, done before, and told before. It’s not a question of originality but style—style not exactly along the lines of authorship but more of creativity, of creating the illusion that the film is made with the least desire to please, and of holding its interest up for two hours instead of distressing the moviegoer and making him regret the painful experience of ennui. A musical can work with a flawed narrative—in the final analysis, every great musical is flawed—but the problem with Emir is that there is no interesting plot to keep it going. The OFW story is a stale subject; and what it promises to deliver fresh—as it says in the poster, “the biggest original Filipino musical ever made”—is also its bane.
Frankly the last thing we want to see is “the biggest original Filipino musical ever made” which is big only in terms of money spent and original only in terms of publicity. The film could have benefited from better writing—or credible writing, more specifically—but Roño is too busy with his theatrics that when these musical numbers pile on top of one another, a glitch in the narrative like the “disappearance” of Amelia’s family in the picture topples every good thing about it down. See, OFW stories exist because of one’s family at home, the drama that stems from that distance is its selling point, and taking that out for the sake of a grand scene inside a palace or an impressive panning of the camera in the desert is bullshit. Amelia could have been charming but from beginning to end she’s cardboard. The development of her character is so lifeless that in the end, it only seems rational to expect that she and Ahmed will be together, that he crosses boundaries just to be with her again, time, race, and distance notwithstanding. Isn’t that the stuff of musicals? Indulging in fantasies? But right, Emir is on the side of patriotism, and the answer to its subtitle “Ano ang pipiliin. . . Puso o Tungkulin” is already a giveaway.
But this is not to let the artists down. The songs composed by Gary Granada, Diwa de Leon, Ebe Dancel, and Vin Dancel are expressive and fraught with poetry, but it is their lack of recall that adds to Emir‘s dullness. They may be siblings but a stage musical and a musical film have different approaches to their medium, especially that the latter has more ways to deceive and to perfect each performance. It’s truly the songs that should shine, the songs that should provide the film’s strongest suit, but Emir only relies on the pull of nationalistic conscience as it keeps insisting on it number after number. This is not taking aim at the film being old-fashioned; it’s the way that its treatment of the old-fashioned fails to work because it offers nothing new and catchy. The attempts at humor fall short because of this.
Moreover, its passé treatment is understandable but the flow of the story and the listless transition between sequences are not. Characters and plot points are easily dropped to introduce new ones, which, to be fair with the old, are also far from interesting. At some point there is that nudge of thought that maybe Emir is trying not to be a mainstream musical but an artsy feeler to commemorate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s exit, to show how millions of pesos can be wasted before the very eyes of the taxpayers who in turn paid to see the film. A tribute to the OFWs my foot and my ass! (Really, it feels to good to say that, without filibustering and by way of a less polite dissent.)
It is not an excuse that this is Roño’s first try on musicals, especially with the amount of money involved which should have been given to Ondoy victims instead. Emir is hopefully his last. You want to honor our overseas workers, give them work here with better pay. You want to make a film about them, don’t go around being stupidly sentimental about it. Make characters who read books, who are inspired by them, and who imagine a life out of them. Make characters who thrill, who leap from one world to another, and who risk their happiness to discover something new. You want patriotism, try investing in education. You want tokenism, screw yourself. But that’s too much to ask, isn’t it, now that wasting is already deemed art?