Posts Tagged ‘Imelda Marcos’

Review: The Red Shoes (2010), directed by Raul Jorolan

17 March 2010 1 comment

The Red Shoes. Dir. Raul Jorolan. Perf. Marvin Agustin, Nikki Gil, Liza Lorena, Tessie Tomas, Tirso Cruz III, Tetchie Agbayani, Iwa Moto. Unitel, 2010.


A self-styled demigoddess who descended from her mountain of fantasy to preach her Platonic gospel of truth, beauty, and goodness, as well as distribute her divine largesse, former First Lady Imelda Trinidad Romualdez Marcos is muse, madwoman, and monster—a veritable Medusa whose very gaze, her age notwithstanding, may still have the power to stop the heart.

Although she appears to waver past the point of plausibility, especially when she purports to explain the secrets of the universe in arcane arrangements of circles, hearts, and non-sequiturs, Imelda is unavoidably real. How is one to make sense of her? After all, to be “Imeldific”—to be all that she is—is to be outsize, outlandish, and outrageous—to seem nearly unreal, because far, far beyond the pale of merely human imagining. How does one begin to approach, much less apprehend, Imelda—she who amassed thousands of shoes and precious gems, held countless night-long singing and dancing parties, went on manic million-dollar shopping sprees, had pilots circumnavigating the world for white sand and French cheese, claimed that the name “Romualdez” indicated lineage traceable to the rulers of ancient Rome, banished informal settlements behind whitewashed walls, erected a village of toilets on a lonely hill, transformed a farming village into a grandiose colonial town, miniaturized an entire archipelago into a theme park by the airport, and ordained a cultural queendom by the bay where once there was nothing but a wilderness of water? How does one start to understand a woman who, sometime last year, cried piteously that she was terribly poor, that she had been utterly ravaged, and then, a few months later, glided majestically into a concert in her honor during the 40th—the ruby—anniversary of the Cultural Center of the Philippines dripping with rubies?

This is the dilemma that The Red Shoes cannot help but grapple with, albeit in a significantly attenuated form: only the ghostly presence of the glittering Madame is present: as the titular pair stolen after the flight of the Marcoses from Malacañan. And yet the film, despite its admittedly laudable attempt, quails and fails before the specter of Imelda.

The beginning of the story is calculated to enchant: in 1986, when the presidential palace was invaded by protesters during the People Power Revolution, ten-year-old Lucas stumbled upon the massive shoe collection that Imelda left behind and took the red shoes. This early, however, the movie already stumbles, courtesy of a heavy-handed voice-over from Lucas: To his mother, he gave the right shoe (“Para sa katarungan“), while to Bettina, his first love, he gave the left one (“Para sa pag-ibig“). After that, The Red Shoes never manages to recover.

When the film flashes forward to 2009, it is revealed that Lucas (Marvin Agustin) and Bettina (Nikki Gil) are no longer together, while Lucas’s mother is still in deep mourning for her husband—a construction worker who had been among those lost during the Manila Film Center collapse—and continues to indulge an expensive obsession with talking to his spirit by consulting espiritistas. The events that have taken place in between 1986 and 2009 then clumsily and confusingly weave in and out of each other, interspersed with cutesy captions, an intrusive score, and very literal cinematography.

In such an environment, the relationship between Lucas and Bettina, while occasionally touching, never becomes completely believable. The highly artificial dialogue, for instance, drains the drama from a climactic confrontation and turns it into farce. The endlessly repeated motifs of feet and footwear do not help, particularly when Lucas’s father,  Domingo (Tirso Cruz III), appears in one 1980s scene wearing what seems to be a pair of Crocs flip-flops.

Worst of all, events of national significance are used in an instrumentalist manner—as little more than an inert backdrop to give unearned weight to a mostly conventional romance. In the end, neither the provenance of the footwear nor the historical auspices summoned matter at all.

Perhaps appropriately enough for a story that invokes Imelda, it is a campy medium, Madame Vange (Tessie Tomas), that gives the film its best moments.

That said, The Red Shoes is a wonderful portent of what can be done in Philippine cinema. If nothing else, the movie should be credited, and henceforth emulated, for attempting to mine the rich veins of the past—that complex edifice upon which the present is built—in order to create new material. As the former First Lady once said, “People want someone they can love, someone to set an example.”

Complacencies of the cookie

26 August 2009 13 comments

Yesterday, the Supreme Court (SC), in response to a petition filed last week by various artists—National and otherwise—academicians, and other individuals, issued a status quo order to stop the conferment of the title of National Artist on all those who had named last July 29.

Thus does another scandal land in the laps of our justices, as highly contentious issues are wont to do in this country. While such matters are certainly within the sphere over which the SC presides, if only because the SC takes on the responsibility for them, that things invariably need to be brought before the SC for resolution speaks of an increasingly sad, because apparently chronic, social condition: the inability and/or the unwillingness to engage in civil, thoughtful, meaningful dialogue, and, in so doing, arrive at a compromise that is acceptable to everyone—or to no one, which could be nearly as good—and (potentially) waste less public money and hot air.

According to the petitioners, grave abuse of discretion was committed when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in consultation with the Malacañang Committee on Honors, included Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa, Jose “Pitoy” Moreno, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, and Magno Jose Carlos J. Caparas in the roster, as well as excluded Ramon Santos, one of the four artists who had actually passed through the screening process of the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Incidentally, the Committee on Honors is not at all mysterious, despite several widely circulated reports and statements: Executive Order No. 236 clearly establishes it. Bayan Muna party-list representatives Teodoro A. Casiño and Raymond V. Palatino, authors of House Resolution No. 1309, are obviously misinformed, and that is a disservice to the sector for which they wish to take up the cudgels.

In Wigberto E. Tañada, et al. vs. Edgardo Angara, et al., among other cases, “grave abuse of discretion” is defined as follows:

By grave abuse of discretion is meant such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. It must be grave abuse of discretion as when the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and must be so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law. Failure on the part of the petitioner to show grave abuse of discretion will result in the dismissal of the petition.

In view of the foregoing, that the petition invokes the selection of Fernando Amorsolo to support arguments regarding the limits of discretion tends to register as hilarious, because the very existence of the Order of National Artists (ONA)—until 2003, the National Artist Award—was caused by the (in)famously whimsical Imelda Marcos: it was at her behest that Proclamation No. 1001 was issued.

The petition also states in part that the controversial exercise of presidential prerogative “irretrievably taints the Order of National Artists as being one that is subject to politics and will diminish the prestige of the rank and title for the National Artists who are alive and active”—assuming, perhaps, that the honor of the dead is unassailable.

How the petition will be dealt with remains to be seen, but the truth is that, had the artistic community been vigilant custodians of culture, been mindful of its responsibilities to the public whose funds support it, the petition would never have been needed in the first place. Given that the community has had a significant degree of control over the ONA since 1986, I am frankly surprised that it never took legal action until now. Are two decades not enough for the flaws of the system to be evident? What does it say about the community that it was willing to live with—maybe even take advantage of—these flaws? Instead of lobbying for amendments to be made, were the artists lobbying for and against each other in miscellaneous struggles for recognition and legitimization—in grabbing for cookies, as Butch Dalisay might put it?

Why did the artistic community, initial protestations notwithstanding, stand by and watch as Ernani J. Cuenco, Alejandro R. Roces, and Abdulmari Asia Imao were named National Artists via presidential prerogative? The case of Imao is particularly interesting: Why had no Muslim artists been included in the ONA until Macapagal-Arroyo used her discretion to do so?

Why did the artistic community not file any petitions when Fidel V. Ramos took it upon himself to create the  category of “Historical Literature” for the purpose of honoring Carlos Quirino? Wouldn’t the establishment of a completely new category and the insertion of an honoree count as “grave abuse of discretion” too?

What was the artistic community doing when Executive Order No. 435 was issued? Why does the community not seem to have heard about it? It is on the basis of this order that the NCCA and CCP were reduced to an advisory function, ostensibly in order to “harmonize the procedure for awarding the Order of National Artists with the purpose and intent of existing laws”.

Of the beasts that pursue a terrified Dante as he stumbles through the Dark Wood of Error, the most relentless and the most fearsome is the she-wolf, and her appetites—gustatory, carnal, and otherwise—are savage and utterly insatiable. The she-wolf is therefore generally seen as representing the sins of incontinence.

Were there a Dante to write Inferno today—he would be in his 40s—and were one to imagine—as I do, for my own amusement—a Dante steeped in popular culture, enamored with allusions, and possessed of an irreverent sense of humor, it is not entirely unlikely that he would install Cookie Monster in place of the she-wolf. Despite a fairly recent move toward a healthier diet, the blue-furred, googly-eyed, growly Muppet has achieved little else by way of self-control—he will still gobble up anything that seems remotely edible, such as Stephen Colbert’s Peabody Award. Although the monster formerly known as Sid is far and away more lovable than a slavering, bloodthirsty canine, malevolence is not, in any case, a prerequisite for incontinence.

What does serve to complement, if not buttress, incontinence is complacency. Cookie Monster exists in a state of blissful obliviousness, unaware of the ways in which he impinges upon the property and well-being of others, and unmindful of the effects of his actions on the network of social relations in which he is unavoidably, inextricably entwined. It does not even occur to him to worry about himself. But of course he would have no reason to be other than what he is: ravenous, messy, careless. The advantage of being Cookie Monster is that, at the end of the day, he is merely a fuzzy blue sack, and whatever agency that he might be said to have begins and ends with the script of any given episode.

The artists now upset over the ONA cannot lay claim to fictionality or disavow their agency, no matter how loudly they insist on living inside a Kantian bubble. Hitherto poor stewards of the arts, whether through passivity, arrogance, willful ignorance, or malice, they have brought this controversy upon themselves. What is truly unfortunate here is that, for all their wrangling over cookies, it is the public that suffers the toothaches and the stomachaches.