REVIEW: ANG LARAWAN (2017) May Not Be A Perfect Film, But It Is The Perfect Choice

ANG LARAWAN may not be a perfect film, but it is ultimately the perfect choice that we have in this festival. Now that other entries with brainless plots and poorer tastes are attracting bigger audiences in the MMFF box-office, it is but right to make a wiser statement by choosing the better one, and ANG LARAWAN is the ideal bet.
Orly Agawin

Any new production of Nick Joaquin’s A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO: AN ELEGY IN THREE SCENES may challenge any theater or filmmaker. When it was initially written in 1950, Joaquin banked on nostalgia as its clawing theme, stagnating its two main characters as they cling to a past that will never return. When the Barangay Theater Guild broadcasted and eventually staged A PORTRAIT in 1955, it came only as a comedy-drama, distancing its characters' deeply-rooted sentimentality.

And we can only blame ‘time’ for this. The audiences in ’55 were already at a time of change, as we are now. Gone were the days of the Katipunan and its wars. For its spectators, what Candida and Paula look back to, are vague images of a forgotten past – something we tragically cannot identify with anymore.

But Director Loy Arcenas thrives on returning this nostalgia in ANG LARAWAN (2017). It may not be a perfect film, yet Arcenas gives his best to recreate the world of the Marasigans and the uncontrollably changing universe that envelopes them. Yes, it lags at some point and has a couple of lackluster portrayals; this rendition manages to pull itself up with a lot of notable performances and vision that eventually rises to a compelling climax even Joaquin would have loved to see. Adapted from the 1997 Filipino-musical adaptation of Joaquin’s elegy, with libretto by National Artist for Literature Rolando Tinio, ANG LARAWAN returns to Filipino audiences with a score of remembering and advances further through the technology that we have today.

Circumstances couldn’t be worst for Candida and Paula Marasigan. A global war is at hand, and their father, Don Lorenzo el Magnifico, had an accident and crippled himself after falling from the balcony of their dilapidating Intramuros house. Before the accident, Lorenzo painted his final masterpiece, which he offered to the two sisters. With bills piling up and other siblings pressuring them to leave and sell the house, Candida and Paula strive to sustain their lives while seeing their father’s final work as their only ticket to a quick escape before the war comes knocking at their door.

Ryan Cayabyab’s original music and score for ANG LARAWAN received mixed reviews during its original staging in ’97. I cannot blame the critics. Though its concept was exciting and considerably has its highlights, its musicality failed to sustain the authenticity of its milieu. It lacked a defining score for the stage, which he missed taking from KATY! THE MUSICAL. At some point, you’d feel like watching a Metro Pop revue by many 1940s characters on stage, waiting for the next big crescendo.

And it was quite a mismatch to Tinio’s compelling translation. ANG LARAWAN’s libretto shines with a crisp rendition, teeming with rich vocabularies beyond the pre-war era. Tinio offered Filipino audiences a new form to Joaquin’s masterpiece while still profoundly touching the roots of the culture of its original milieu.

That is why it’s a relief to see that this version considered having some of Tinio’s libretto spoken instead of sung, bringing much more truthfulness to the scenes while minimizing the pop-ish tune that seems to be more of a rival than an ally.

Gino Gonzales’ production design fits quite well with Boy Yñiquez's photography. With mainly interior scenes, Yñiquez frames Arcenas’ blocks with careful focus, alienating the fast-changing world outside. Worthy to mention, too, is how he obliges Don Lorenzo’s alienation. Here, we see the patriarch invisibly looming through the depth of a bluish wall, considerably cut off from the bright hue of the house. As for the portrait, we only see its vivid shades of red and orange through bokeh or from a limiting side.

Consider the bird’s eye view shot of the Conga scene. Here, we see the ensemble moving around the center table to the tune of the Conga. If you look deeper, this ironically metaphors the social animals in a Death Dance, blindly carousing at present, with utmost denial of an impending war.

Joanna Ampil as Candida, shines as the bitter old maid – careful and paranoid. Ampil has this silent remorse with her present, brought about by an inner guilt she and Paula do not speak of. She may have lacked the proper rhythm and energy in the blackout scene but compensates beautifully in her payoff in the third act (Ako’ng Nagkamali). In this scene, Ampil breaks out with echoing remorse – the kind we seldom see in Philippine Cinema nowadays. Wait for it. That alone is already worth the ticket price.

And then we have Rachel Alejandro as Paula, who is quite a beauty, but somewhat off-beat and undisposed. Unfortunately, in this version, we do not see the expected balance of energy between these two characters, toning down the exceptional dynamics in most of her scenes with Ampil.

Paulo Avelino may have the perfect face for Tony Javier but lacks the depth and strength of character, denying the audience his real motivations. Though one can fully understand that Tony’s character does not require great singing (he’s mainly detached and distant from the), this doesn’t excuse Avelino for not going deeper into what we see on screen. It seems that Avelino is more focused on making himself look good on the screen than exploring the character’s motivating forces, which is unfortunate.

The ensemble, however, compensates for these wants. Robert Arevalo’s Don Perico is worth mentioning. Here, Arevalo depicts the guilt of a changed man, offering a familiar regret for a choice made some years ago. In his “Hindi Simple ang Buhay,” he slowly sputters logic and reason and hears the inner mourning of a past lost. I’d say Arevalo had given ANG LARAWAN the Don Perico it deserves – one that matches the ideal intent of when the character was initially conceived.

Nonie Buencamino and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo deserve an ovation as Manolo and Pepang – the two elderly siblings of the Malaysians. He sneers, and she sighs; he frowns, and she jeers. Both cunning and deceitful, Buencamino and Lauchengco-Yulo masterly represent these perfect foils in the story, brandishing what great antagonists should be.

Ah! And Celeste Legaspi is brilliant as Donya Loleng. She has mastered her character’s motivation, representing the stereotype of a social animal; eager to please, yet thrives on fake sincerity and shallow candor.

New viewers may ask why more than half of the film is inside the Marasigan house. Why, of course. The Marasigan abode symbolizes the battle of our identities versus the external forces surrounding us. ANG LARAWAN is set at a time of change, where Filipino ideals slowly blend with more Western values and cultures. These new influences are the “rats” that Candida catches and kills, slowly creeping and pestering the ideal roots of our individualities. Our two unyielding heroines thrive on standing firm, resisting these changes through their choices and belligerence.

Candida and Paula’s tale echoes Joaquin’s call to remember our roots and treasure our pasts. In this generation of depravity and cultural decadence, this film reminds us how beauty, truth, and reverence can still make a difference if only we remain faithful to who we are. Amid social media, historical revisionisms, and commercialism, like Candida and Paula, we can stand firm and fight conformity until the end.

ANG LARAWAN may not be a perfect film, but it is ultimately our ideal choice for this festival. Now that other entries with brainless plots and poorer tastes are attracting bigger audiences at the MMFF box office, it is right to make a wiser statement by choosing the better one, and ANG LARAWAN is the ideal bet.

Contra Mundum!


More contents

© 2023 Culture Nurtures. All Rights Reserved
All content, including posts, images, and pages on this website, is protected by copyright, unless stated otherwise. You may not reproduce any of this content on another website or blog without the author's explicit written permission. Violations will be subject to all applicable laws.

Collaborate With Us

[email protected]
+63 998 765 2390
Website by:
Our blog content is regularly updated, but we recommend that you verify the information directly with the relevant brand or organization. 

We cannot be held liable for any negative incidents resulting from your use of this site. For more information, please read our full.
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram