Monday, June 08, 2015

New Filipino Cinema ’15: Mariquina

Imelda Nunez is the nicest sweatshop owner ever. Her Marikina garment factory is small enough for her to know all the employees, but industrious enough to have international customers and supply chain issues. In some ways, she learned from her father, Romeo Guevarra, who was a master shoemaker, but not such a hot businessman. His unexpected suicide will come at a precarious time for her factory, but it will lead to considerable soul searching in Milo Sogueco’s Mariquina (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2015 edition of New Filipino Cinema at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Yes, Imelda is the daughter of a shoemaker and the namesake of the former First Lady, Imelda Marcos (who is still a political force to be reckoned with). This irony will become a running gag in the film, with a lookalike even professing her respect for Guevarra’s shoes. However, when she looks back on her early childhood, Nunez realizes neither she, nor her mother fully appreciated how much soul Guevarra put into his soles.

Frankly, for Nunez, this is a terrible time for reflection. She has a quality control inspection coming up and a machine on the fritz. Yet, as she searches for a traditional Marikina shoemaker to make Guevarra’s final wingtips, she cannot help revisiting her formative years. They were dramatic, especially when her mother left home, ultimately settling in Hawaii. Through her omniscient flashbacks, we can see how the young Nunez misinterpreted incidents to blame her devastated father and Tess, his business partner turned live-in lover, rather than the mother who simply grew tired of Guevarra and a life of shoes.

The list of potential shoe clichés is as long as your arm (walk a mile in someone’s shoes, etc.), but Sogueco never gets fatally caught up in any of them. Granted, Nunez is on a shoe quest, but it is presented in rather practical terms. After all, they need shoes for his funeral, since for some reason those that he was wearing that fateful night have gone missing. While going through the process, Domeng, Guevarra’s last real protégé, helps her get some perspective on her father.

Mylene Dizon is pretty much perfect as Nunez. She can be both tough and vulnerable. We see in no uncertain terms how tightly she has controlled her life, up until it is time to release the floodgates. She also develops some appealing platonic chemistry with Dennis Padilla as the older, more accepting Domeng. As Guevarra, Ricky Davao leaves no heartstring unpulled, but it is indeed difficult to withstand the power of his sad-eyed pathos. However, it is Bing Pimentel who will deliver the real emotional body blow as the achingly dignified Tess.

Granted, there is no shortage of melodrama in Mariquina, but Sogueco earns the unabashedly sentimental climax, fair and square. The down-to-earth ensemble led by Dizon looks at home in the Marikina workshops and showrooms, while being attractive enough to have private lives worth getting worked up over. There are dozens of points where it all could have gone off the rails, but the discipline of Sogueco and Dizon keeps it all on the straight and narrow. Recommended for those who appreciate tearful family dramas and popular Filipino cinema, Mariquina screens this Friday (6/12) and Sunday (6/21), as part of New Filipino Cinema 2015 at the YBCA.