Inang Yaya (Pablo Biglangawa & Veronica Velasco, 2006)
English Title: Mother Nanny
Snow globes, cute young faces, bubbles, kids' voices struggling to match a sugary melodic song: the initial scenes of Inang Yaya (Mother Nanny) warned me that this is not a film for the cynical and realist in me. I usually cringe at the sight and sound of kids trying to look cute, but miraculously I was quite tolerant of the first few minutes. Even more miraculous is that I was very tolerant throughout the film. I have never utilized such tolerance for cinematic tearjerkers that use kids and their plights since Maryo J. delos Reyes' Magnifico (2003), but there I was: sitting, munching and swallowing every bit of emotionally manipulative scene with a fanciful glee and memory-dusting gaze.
Inang Yaya starts with Norma vacationing in her province for a few days. We are introduced to her daughter, a very curious and energetic Ruby (Tala Santos) and her mother (Marita Zobel). The mother complains of the very short vacation that is afforded her, and begins to warn her of the possibility that she might not always be there to take care of Ruby while she's in Manila taking care of another person's daughter. The vacation ends with a heartbreaking farewell between the family members. Norma returns to her employers' home. There, she also takes care of the young couple's daughter Louise (Erika Oreta) with a careful combination of sincere affection and professional duty. An emergency forces Norma to bring Ruby to her employers' household. The couple is nice enough to accept their nanny's daughter and even enrolls her in the private school where Louise is enrolled.
I've never been a fan of Maricel Soriano. While I acknowledge her skill, she has ticks and quips I dislike. Consider me a convert after seeing her change within a year from upper-class haunted romantic in Bobi Bonifacio's Numbalikdiwa (2006) to Inang Yaya's kind hearted nanny of humble roots. She is one of the few Filipino actresses who can convincingly play characters of different social dimensions, from films of different genres, with scenes that change from one mood to its opposite end.
However, Soriano doesn't single-handedly carry the film. The two young actresses (Santos and Oreta) manage to be adorable without being generic. The scene where Santos slowly nears Oreta who is playing with her dolls have that innate quality that carries that scene from being seriously overplayed to breezily charming. Also, the film is technically impressive: the musical score (by Nonong Buencamino), the glossy cinematography (by Gary Gardoce), and the relaxed editing (by Randy Gabriel), all contribute to the film's consistent quality.
The cynic and realist in me kept on asking questions: Why is the couple so nice to Norma? Oh, that's utterly impossible unless Norma has tremendous luck to land in such wonderful household when the rest of the Philippines' one million maids are tortured or treated with inhumanity by their employers. But then, those questions and observations are just me begging for something dramatic to happen or at least a tinge of real conflict to arise. Inang Yaya's light plot involves a string of well-placed situations that either push for tears or delight you with a well-earned chuckle. The lack of a real conflict is a sign of weakness for the filmmakers who are either too respectful of their topic (I thought the film is basically a tribute film, and thus, any conflict might make a ripple that could destroy the point of tribute) or just afraid to commit an imperfection that might arise from a cinematic dilemma. The situations, the environment, the characters are all too unrealistically perfect that the point of making a film about them seems questionable.
But the film has been made, and I'm sure the film was based from the very best of the collective Filipino's experience with their yayas or stay-in nannies, which are probably endemic to Filipino culture since these nannies literally become part of the family and have become an indelible part of the childhoods of those privileged enough to have them. I can have no grudge with the film's good-naturedness and I can only commend the filmmakers' acknowledgment of these unsung heroes' sacrifice of being dual mothers (more often than not, feeding a bigger portion of their maternal pie to children of other people) to their natural children and their children out of employment. The plot may be merely a string of heart pounding situations and scenarios that dwell on slight conflicts and the film may not have a dramatic turning point or a climax of epic proportions, but the emotional wallop that is derived from those vignettes of joyous ordinary life is just undeniable.