Also with: Eula Valdez, Maila Gamila, Jackie Aquino, Mia Guitierrez.
This dramatized life story of the Philippines’ first publicly acknowledged AIDS patient takes a classic women’s-pic inspirational approach, giving star Vilma Santos ample opportunity to demonstrate spunk and teary histrionics. Obviously intended to educate home auds, pic is lively enough to interest specialized fests abroad.
Initial 40 minutes are a whirlwind tour of Dolzura Cortez’s pre-diagnosis adult life. Dolly abandons her small village and nasty husband, leaving with her three kids for the big city where she indulges in love affairs that end her second marriage to a wealthy foreigner. Irrepressible, Dolly starts a femme “contract worker” agency, living the nightclub high life to support her brood.
A sudden collapse on a discotheque floor presages diagnosis of full-blown AIDS. Moved to a Manila hospital ward, Dolly encounters old lover Paulo, now an AIDS researcher. He eventually convinces her to reveal herself via newspaper interviews, lending a “human face” to the hitherto anonymous specter of local AIDS paranoia. Before her 1992 death, Cortez apparently did much to educate Filipinos and alleviate their baseless fears of casual contagion.
Pic engenders sympathy in the right ways, taking pains to counter charges that AIDS is “God’s punishment.” The identity of Dolly’s “infector” is also pointedly left unknown, in line with anti-stigmatizing message. Portrayal of illness (especially Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions) is graphic.
Yet while film scoffs at virus-hysterical reactions by the public and the media, it oddly fails to spell out transmission-risking behaviors and safer-sex techniques, beyond passing mention of condoms.
Leading Philippine actress Santos cuts a Susan Hayward-worthy swath early on as the hearty, partying gal who loves being “chased by men,” and later in various stalwart/angry/agonized postures. “Nothing can put me down, not even this disease!” she cries. While death throes are melodramatically prolonged, this showy perf gives film its driving force.
Director Laurice Guillen’s supporting cast and tech values are above average; smart pace flags occasionally in the second half. As usual with Philippine features, dialogue mixes Tagalog with English phrases.