Lagarista (Mel Chionglo, 2000) October 10, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Lagarista, Noypi, Trip to Quiapo.
Written by Ricky Lee
Directed by Mel Chionglo
Cast: Piolo Pascual. Janna Victoria, Cherry Pie Picache, Koko Trinidad
There is no denying that Piolo Pascual, after more than ten years in show business, has earned the right to be called an icon. His name has become synonymous with matinée idol worship, a status once achieved by the likes of Richard Gomez, Aga Muhlach, and Robin Padilla, and whose impact, arguable it may seem to many, has been way beyond usual. “Papa P” bears both sides of the pop culture coin. It’s a nickname that even straight guys have become accustomed to and the elite have grown fond of. Aside from acting on television and in movies, he also sings, performs at concerts, hosts programs, and endorses countless products and services. It’s hard to question Piolo’s charm and versatility, yet why is it that his first major role on the big screen, a character whose passion for movies is eclipsed by his passion for romance, rarely gets the attention it deserves from fans and cinephiles alike?
For one, Lagarista is not a vehicle for stardom. Its intentions are modest and simple, far from the themes of star-driven blockbuster movies. Released in 2000, the film is directed by Mel Chionglo, produced by Crown Seven Ventures Inc., and written by Ricky Lee. Piolo stars opposite Janna Victoria, a lesser known actress whose shot at fame also depended on the movie. Fate has been less considerate to Janna; she never had a role this big after Lagarista. On the other hand, Piolo, whose face and physique had been turning mature at the time, appeared in a number of films playing leading man roles, before finally snagging a crucial part in Dekada ’70 (Chito Roño, 2002). After that, people no longer regarded him as an obscure object of desire. On the contrary, the desire was defined, affirmed, and known. Two years after receiving a Gawad Urian nomination for Lagarista, Piolo turned the tables and collected numerous best supporting actor trophies for his performance in Chito Roño’s movie. Dekada ’70 made him a star. Lagarista made people notice that he has the makings of one.
A more disheartening reason for Lagarista‘s failure to leave a mark on viewers is that it didn’t stay long in theaters. It’s one of those movies promoted in tabloid newspapers, written about in gossip columns, and mentioned briefly by Cristy Fermin or Lolit Solis in entertainment news. For what it’s worth, the CBCP might have cared to review it. But like most “lost” movies in the 80s and 90s, it wishes to be reconsidered, as this site aims to instill in its readers, as a work worth revisiting, if not for its aesthetics then for the bottle of time it was able to keep. Lagarista does not aspire for greatness, but in every nook and cranny, in its artlessness and sincerity, in its obliviousness to Piolo’s naiveté, it was able to achieve a feat so little but heartfelt, capturing a phase in Philippine cinema when filmmakers cared less about stars but the stories they earnestly wanted to tell.
At the center of the movie is Gregory (Piolo Pascual). He bikes his way through the streets of Manila and transports film reels from one theater to another. He lives with his grandfather (Koko Trinidad) whose dementia worries Gregory, but whose stories on local movies—being friends with Rogelio dela Rosa, Carmen Rosales, Leopoldo Salcedo, and other film stars—fill him with inspiration. Even his name is taken from a famous movie star: Gregory Peck. He is surrounded by characters whose situations reflect the environment he lives in, their stories mostly about love and separation; Jimmy (Pen Medina), his coworker who waits for his wife (Jennifer Sevilla) to come home; Osang (Cherry Pie Picache), a neighbor encumbered by the (im)possibilities of her lover’s return; Elmo (Bryan Homecillo), a kid left by his father to an abusive uncle (Noni Buencamino); and Bella (Daria Ramirez), a frequent visitor of the theater where Gregory works, giving “extra service” to its patrons.
In many ways, these people emphasize the affection Gregory feels for Anna (Janna Victoria), a girl who stays in a nearby dormitory and moonlights, as Gregory eventually finds out, as an entertainer in a nightclub. He falls for her and she lets him into her life, but her wayward nature, not to mention her tendency to think only for herself, is bittersweet for someone as hopelessly romantic as Gregory.
The film focuses on their love story, but it isn’t exactly the type of romance that promises anything new or interesting. What makes their relationship worthy to look at, however, are the details that complement it, no matter how manhandled they are in the film. For instance, a clip is shown from Hihintayin Kita sa Langit (Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, 1991) where Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta are kissing passionately, and then it cuts to Gregory and Anna inside a motel room, about to make love. The attempt at parallelism is obvious, a little laughable in fact, but the film gets away with it the moment the couple strips and shares the heat of the night. The charm of Lagarista rests on its ability to drop numerous references (the FPJ movies, the Rosanna Roces and Nora Aunor posters, the sentimentality of Priscilla Almeda’s cameo near the end) and make them appear without any hint of arrogance, candidly showing how the moviegoing experience is attached to their lives the same way social networking sites preoccupy most people today.
The most touching scene happens when Anna celebrates her birthday and Gregory wants to surprise her by screening a Sharon Cuneta movie she saw as a kid, the title of which she couldn’t remember. Armed with only bits of the movie’s plot in his mind, Gregory goes out of his way to find a reel of the film and steals it from another theater. A humble celebration takes place inside the cinema, attended by their few friends, and they watch the movie together. The next day, in what feels like a pie being thrown at their faces, Gregory and his cohort Jimmy are put in prison.
Never has the film hinted on Gregory’s affection for the job or the importance of it. The nostalgia, however, lingers on the details that Chionglo and Lee use to provide texture to the film. Much of the film’s memorable images are the hand-painted billboards for B-movies and soft-porn releases gracing the facade of ill-maintained theaters. Passing by them, vehicles along Recto and Avenida scramble in traffic, as Gregory hurries to deliver the reels on time. In an early scene, he finds out that Jimmy steals old film reels to earn money from making small wind instruments. Later on, the theater where they work closes down to give way to a residential building. The movie soaks in these details and fortunately its filmmakers know the right time to squeeze.
Upon reflection, the movie theater in Lagarista resembles the one in Serbis (Brillante Mendoza, 2008). It’s a place for people seeking cheap pleasure, mindless of the movie being shown, heedless of the memories that used to inhabit the seats and the aisles. But unlike Mendoza’s film, Lagarista does not trip on the necessity of realism and ends in some sort of silly fantasy. Watching the feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Gregory convinces Anna about living together. The strange thing about it is that neither of them sounds like characters from a movie. They seem to have finally crossed the screen and embraced another form of life, speaking a different language, writing their own story.
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