×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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).

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

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Yorgos Lanthimos

    Film News Roundup: 'The Favourite' Director Yorgos Lanthimos Boards Crime Drama

    In today’s film news roundup, Yorgos Lanthimos has set up a crime drama, “Here Lies Daniel Tate” is being adapted, and Donna Langley becomes a member of the USC film school board. DIRECTOR HIRED More Reviews Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’ TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier' “The Favourite” producer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    Hollywood Agents Blast Writers Guild Over New Proposals

    The war between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents has escalated as the two sides battle over the rules on how writers are represented. The latest volley emerged Friday from Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, who accused WGA leaders of misleading its members and asserted that the guild [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    Cesar Awards: Xavier Legrand’s ‘Custody’ Wins Best Film

    Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody,” a tense portrait of a family torn by domestic violence, won best film, actress (for Lea Drucker), and original screenplay at the 44th Cesar Awards, which took place at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The awards are France’s highest film honors. “Custody,” which marks Legrand’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content