Faith conquers lust and grief in “Magdalena, the Unholy Saint,” a superior meller that’s a strong entry by veteran Filipina director-actress Laurice Guillen. Film garnered positive notices and favorable B.O. on local release in November, and its strong Manila flavor will make it an exotic attraction for some foreign auds. Pic’s spiritual issues are universal, making this likely to land some festival slots, with possible distribution in Catholic territories.
Malen (Angelica Panganiban) half-heartedly hawks religious charms outside Manila’s Quiapo Catholic cathedral. The job keeps her close to her more devout, widowed mother, Chayong (Hilda Koronel), who also works at the church. Chayong is an intercessor, one of many women who receive payment for prayers, thanks to their believed proximity to God. Just as Chayong met her own mother’s expectations, Chayong expects her daughter to take up the family business.
While Malen is uncertain about God, she’s aware her curvaceous figure attracts more attention than her religious wares. Also working the church courtyard is hunky gigolo Mike (Jericho Rosales), who hustles female tourists for financial reward.
When Mike casts his headlights Malen’s way, she quickly falls under his spell. Chayong disapproves of her daughter’s assumed promiscuity, and Malen defiantly moves out of their home.
Taking refuge at Mike’s apartment is not quite the bliss Malen imagined, especially when the stud spends time away.
When her mother dies of a heart attack, Malen blames herself and becomes the intercessor she never wanted to be. But her career move is a positive one and has ramifications for all characters involved.
A prominent subplot involving Father Tony (Johnny Delgado), a priest suspected of corruption who lodges with Chayong, adds depth to the melodrama. (Delgado co-scripted under his name, Juan Feleo.)
Performances are solid, and former child actress Panganiban is impressive as a young woman who finds herself with a vocation she never asked for. Scenes where Malen is confronted by what she considers people’s ill-placed faith show the young actress operating on all cylinders.
Guillen’s helming is slick and confident, and the HD-sourced photography and other technical credits are of good quality. Original title literally means “saint who is not really a saint.”