La Paloma: Ang Kalapating Ligaw (Joey Gosiengfiao, 1974)
English Title: La Paloma: The Lost Dove
In La Paloma: Ang Kalapating Ligaw (La Paloma: The Lost Dove), Joey Gosiengfiao stages a three-way war for the estate left behind by Don Lorenzo, who died supposedly by suicide. Anida (Vina Cansino), the pious and righteous widow, Paloma (Celia Rodriguez), actress and paramour of the deceased, and Soledad (Mona Lisa), Lorenzo's mother. They all have their reasons: Anida, to get what she thinks she deserves as suffering wife to a philandering husband; Paloma, to concretize the amor in her love affair with Don Lorenzo; and Soledad, for mere survival since her stay in the estate was merely tolerated by Anida.
It's quite an elegant picture, still hilariously funny but succumbing to vaporous wit and indulgent humor. It offers a satirical stab at the hypocricy of high society (at those times, very much coinciding with fervent religiosity). The moment Paloma steps into the mansion, tensions rise. Anida finally finds a formidable competitor (probably tired of pushing Soledad around with her mean gazes and vicious remarks). The rest of the mourners are even more shocked that a scandalous paramour has the guts to invade on a familial ritual, and probably scared that a woman of ill-repute (Paloma is an actress in Manila, and was rumored to be involved in several illicit affairs) would pollute the religiosity and purity of their town. Soledad, on the other hand, finds her trump card and cements her bargaining position.
Gosiengfiao has always been compared to foreign camp-master such as Pedro Almodovar or John Waters, but this early Gosiengfiao proves that his canvass is far more richer. La Paloma has Gosiengfiao playing with Buñuelian surrealism --- when Paloma walks at night to find Lorenzo's garden crawling with cockroaches and toads (elaborate statues and fountains are desecrated by those creepy crawlers), you know that Gosiengfiao is working at another level. Even the interiors of the mansion, with its high ceilings and staircases, have a sense of depleted morality --- empty, cold, and on the verge of both physical and moral deterioration.
Joel (Orestes Ojeda), a traveling gardener and guitarist arrives one day and offers his services to the embattled household. Anida's test is rather simple: make one flower bloom in the doomed garden. Joel instead turns his attention on Paloma, exhausted in defending her love for Lorenzo, and on the verge of a conversion to piety orchestrated by Anida, which practically consumes the life out of the free-spirited Paloma. Paloma is in the middle of that tug-of-war between Anida's persistent exorcism of Paloma's past and Joel's manly and amorous serenades.
The heat of the war culminates in court (there is literal heat as there's a lot of perspiring, fanning, and jeering crowds) where Paloma defends her stake in Lorenzo's estate and heart, and Anida uses her state as grieving widow to a philandering husband as a plea to the sentiments of the righteous mob. The several testimonies are all defiantly delivered pieces of oratory; which makes the entire judicial exercise exciting. Themes are weeded out from the film's extrinsic kitsch and humor --- we become aware that there's more to Paloma's character than a clawing and greedy diva; that she hides an emotional void that only the men she loved can fill. Gosiengfiao climaxes the film with a well-executed twist, ending the film with appropriate murderous intentions from the battle's rotting participants.
I make it sound like La Paloma is serious art. I don't think it is. It is however distinctly Gosiengfiao (and the numerous exchanges of elitistly witty and funny pieces of dialouge between the widow and the paramour (or at times, the mother) would make any audience rolling with laughter; or Joel's seductive poses (complete with suspenders and a guitar on his back, and a badly-rendered song to boot --- all preceding the Latino gardeners of Desperate Housewives)) --- commercial fare but surpasses the limits of being an object of commodity by the director's cinematic flair.