Pre-World War II. A handsome young man renting a room in a big house owned by two impoverished and lonely spinsters. Plus their depressed and recluse father, a once celebrated painter whose last masterpiece (the “larawan”) hangs in one corner of their rat-infested house in Intramuros, a symbol of hope and torment to the sisters. The painting can save them from poverty. But can they let go of it?
Based on Nick Joaquin’s 1950 three-act English play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” “Ang Larawan” gets a 2017 musical film adaptation. The spinsters, Candida and Paula, are played by the great West End performer Joanna Ampil and the award-winning Rachel Alejandro, respectively. The hot young boarder, a vaudeville piano player named Tony Javier, is aptly played by Paulo Avelino. And the rest of the characters are beloved veteran thespians and singers and movie stars. A star-studded cast exploding with talent and passion.
For those who have seen any of the earlier versions and adaptations of Joaquin’s play will delight in this brand-new musical directed by Loy Arcenas, based on the 1997 musical play. If you have not seen any adaptations of the story, but you love art and understand how it both heals and threaten your survival, “Ang Larawan” is a joy to watch, cutting and profoundly true—giving us an insight into the struggle of art versus money.
The creators and the cast are clearly passionate about the material; you feel the love and the inspiration in every frame. Arcenas captures the nuances, the multilayered emotions of the spinsters as well as their haughty siblings Manolo (Nonie Buencamino) and Pepang (Menchu Lauchenco), and the stream of visitors analyzing the painting and wondering about the sisters’ condition.
What makes this version remarkable is that Arcenas, compared to the 1964 film, barely reveals the painting—and hides the artist himself, Don Lorenzo Marasigan (Leo Rialp). Shrouded in mystery, invisible to our eyes, only providing us with discussions on the artist and his art, the man and his masterpiece have even become more powerful and intriguing to the audience.
Music from Ryan Cayabyab and libretto by the late Rolando Tinio, National Artist for Theater (who also directed the 1997 play), the music is catchy, the narrative crystal clear, and the words pierce the heart, especially the lamentations of Don Perico (Robert Arevalo) and Javier’s heartbreaking need to become a cultured pianist. Boy Yniguez’ cinematography, the costume design, and the cinematic color grading are splendid and emphasize the period and the story’s heart and soul
Although there are a few lines that don’t really need to be sung, these are minor, insignificant nitpickings. Overall, the performances are commendable and the performers are all eloquent and soulful. Ampil steals the show, Avelino is surprisingly entertaining, and Sandino Martin as Bitoy Camacho is very natural. The rest did not disappoint.
Overall, “Ang Larawan” is an important film to see this year. A celebration of the Filipino talent, intellect, passion, creativity, and genius. It gives justice to Joaquin’s elegy—a beautiful ode to poetry, romanticism and ideals, and to the undying love for art and culture.
4 out of 5 stars
Opens Dec. 25, 2017 in Philippine cinemas, as part of the 2017 MMFF