×

Tokyo Film Review: ‘The Portrait’

This musical adaptation of a beloved Filipino play is class act.

Director:
Loy Arcenas
With:
Joanna Ampil, Rachel Alejandro, Paulo Avelino, Nonie Buencamino, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo

2 hours 4 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6099554/

A stirring musical drama set on the eve of World War II in Manila and centered on the cash-strapped spinster daughters of a famous old painter, “The Portrait” proves a handsomely produced big-screen adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s revered play “A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino,” featuring classy melodrama and terrific tunes performed by a dream cast including West End star Joanna Ampil. A universally accessible tale about art, money, family conflict, national identity and female emancipation, “The Portrait” should be embraced by mature audiences but may not pack enough modern razzle-dazzle filmmaking technique to entice a critical mass of younger viewers. Domestic release details are pending. Festival programmers should check it out.

Written in English and first performed in 1955, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino” has been a fixture on local stages ever since. This Tagalog translation directed by Loy Arcenas (“Nino”) springs from the 1997 musical interpretation starring Celeste Legaspi, who also appears here in a supporting role and serves as a producer.

As with most good musicals, “The Portrait” hooks viewers with an opening number that poetically establishes its physical and emotional terrain. In this case it’s a beautiful recording of Legaspi singing “Intramuros,” a hymn for the historic center of Manila that was built during Spanish colonial times and mostly destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. As lyrics describe the locality’s importance in Filipino cultural and intellectual life, the film’s images switch from scratchy black-and-white archival footage to muted colors inside the Intramuros house of unmarried, middle-aged sisters Paula (Rachel Alejandro) and Candida Marasigan (Ampil).

Popular on Variety

Compact passages of spoken dialogue and an invigorating mix of musical styles ranging from operetta to jaunty jazz-flavored tunes and soulful ballads relay the tale of how Paula and Candida have fallen on hard times. Their adored father, Don Lorenzo, a celebrated painter and party host, has not produced or sold anything in years. When young journalist Bitoy (Sandino Martin) calls on Paula and Candida, he’s told Don Lorenzo is confined to his room while recovering from a bad fall. Local gossip suggests he may have passed away.

Faced with crippling bills, the sisters have taken in a lodger, Tony Javier (Paulo Avelino), a dissolute piano player who hangs around with floozies Susan (Cris Villonco) and Violet (Aicelle Santos). To make matters worse, Paula and Candida’s selfish older brother, Manolo (Nonie Buencamino), and their haughty sister, Pepang (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo), have abandoned all emotional and financial responsibility for the family.

Rolando Tinio’s lyrics and Ryan Cayabyab’s music create a highly effective atmosphere of doom, gloom and family turmoil before offering a ray of light. It turns out Don Lorenzo has in fact produced one, possibly final, painting. Titled “Portrait of the Filipino” — and never seen by viewers — it depicts mythological hero Aeneas carrying his father Anchises from the ruins of Troy.

Themes of art, beauty, loyalty and greed are vividly examined as friends and relatives gather to view the masterpiece and give their views on what should be done with it. For socialites Dona Loleng (Legaspi) and Elsa Montes (Zsa Zsa Padilla), it’s just another painting. Manolo and Pepang have already banked the price it might fetch. Tony Javier has found a buyer and cynically begins seducing Paula to seal the sale. On the other side of the equation is politician Don Perico (Robert Averalo), a former poet who abandoned his art for personal gain. His conscience has been profoundly affected by the portrait.

But no one speaks and sings more eloquently than Paula and Candida. Ampil and Alejandro’s voices and performances soar as the sisters resist the temptation of a quick fix in the belief that their father’s work represents something far more valuable than money.

Apart from a few draggy moments in which Paula and Candida’s parlous financial position is unnecessarily restated, this impeccably performed and crisply photographed tuner zips along nicely toward its highly emotional and tremendously satisfying finale. Clearly made with the utmost love and care, “The Portrait” is beautifully decorated and top-notch in every technical detail.

Tokyo Film Review: ‘The Portrait’

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Asian Future), Oct. 29, 2017. Running time: 124 MIN. (Original title: “Ang larawan”)

Production: (The Philippines) A Cinescreen release of a Culturtrain Musicat Productions production. (International sales: Culturtrain, Quezon City.) Producers: Alemberg Ang, Celeste Legaspi, Girlie Rodis. Executive producers: Legaspi, Rodis. Director: Loy Arcenas. Screenplay: Rolando Tinio, based on the play “A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino” by Nick Joaquin, and the musical adaptation “Larawan” by Tinio (book and lyrics) and Ryan Cayabyab (music). Camera (color/B&W, widescreen): Boy Yniguez. Editor: Lawrence Fajardo. Music: Cayabyab. Lyrics: Tinio.

With: Joanna Ampil, Rachel Alejandro, Paulo Avelino, Nonie Buencamino, Menchu Lauchengco-YuloSandino Martin, Cris Villonco, Aicelle Santos, Robert Arevalo, Celeste Legaspi, Cara Manglapus, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Rayver Cruz, Bernardo Bernardo, Dulce, Noel Trinidad. (Tagalog dialogue)

More Film

  • Way-Down

    TF1 Studio Sells Most of the World on Freddie Highmore Starrer ‘Way Down’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BERLIN — Sold by TF1 Studio, Freddie Highmore heist thriller “Way Down” has now pre-sold most of the world’s key distribution territories. At Berlin, TF1 Studio licensed Latin America with Joao Worcman’s Rio de Janeiro-based Synapse Distribution, which will release the theatrical feature, directed by Jame Balgueró (“[REC]”) in collaboration with Ledafilms. Israel (Current Flow), Thailand [...]

  • Pablo Guisa, Pablo Cruz, Enrique López

    Morbido, El Estudio Team on Massive Trans-Atlantic Genre Initiative (EXCLUSIVE)

    Trans-Atlantic Spanish-language production powerhouse El Estudio and Mexico’s Morbido Group have joined forces in the largest genre, horror and fantasy production initiative in the Spanish-speaking world. Feature films, series, remakes and reboots of classic IP and even unscripted programming are all part of the plan going forward for El Estudio and Morbido. Already, the companies [...]

  • Saudi Runaway

    Director Susanne Regina Maures on ‘Saudi Runaway’

    BERLIN —  Robert Montgomery’s “Lady in the Lake” posed the question of whether it’s possible to make a complete film from one POV and yet  create a true emotional connection with an audience if it doesn’t have a face to connect with. “Saudi Runaway” delivers a haunting POV experience via the hands of a woman, [...]

  • Abbas Kiarostami

    India’s Alliance Wraps Berlin Market With Abbas Kiarostami Package Deal (EXCLUSIVE)

    India’s Alliance Media & Entertainment is in the process of acquiring a library of works by late Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami for distribution in the Indian subcontinent from France’s MK2 Films. The deal covers 33 features, documentaries and shorts from Kiarostami’s oeuvre, including “Taste of Cherry,” “The Wind Will Carry Us” and “Where Is My [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content