Malvarosa (Gregorio Fernandez, 1958)
Gregorio Fernandez's Malvarosa is the acknowledged inspiration behind Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005), the story of a gay boy who does the household work for his family of petty crooks. It’s originally a comic book by Clodualdo del Mundo Sr. (father of Doy del Mundo, screenwriter of much of Mike de Leon’s films such as Itim (The Rites of May, 1976) and Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1982), and Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975)). Adapted into a screenplay by Consuelo Osorio, and realized into a beautifully weaved film by Fernandez, who has this uncanny ability of turning pulp goodness into visually fascinating templates of humanity.
Fernandez frames his scenes with intelligence --- you admire how scenes are blocked in a way that is practical, aesthetically pleasing, and also elicits themes (the brothers’ dominance over their servant sister (as shown in the first few scenes where we see her doing the laundry of her brothers; each brother is then introduced visually as imposing figures towering over her meager frame)).
Rosa (Charito Solis) is the youngest, and the only female in a brood of six. As typical of a Filipino family, she has been delegated the task of keeping the house in order, while her parents gamble and drink, and her siblings gallivant or become preoccupied with their own selfish interests. Her fate (and this is pretty much emphasized by the film’s introduction, brisk and concise: the mother (Rebecca del Rio) asks her fortune from a soothsayer who tells her that she will be widowed, but will have five sons and a single daughter) is to be intertwined in her familial duties (especially when her mother becomes insane upon the death of her father). Her only consolation is Avelino (Eddie Rodriguez), her only brother who seems to have an ambition, and her boyfriend Candido (Leroy Salvador), who is indefatigable in persuading her to marry and start a new life.
Most interesting is how Fernandez was able to breathe life into the family’s community, which is an additional character in itself, a lingering burden upon the many burdens Rosa has to carry. The setting aggravates the predicaments --- Alberto (Carlos Padilla, Jr.), Rosa’s older brother who uncharacteristically works under the parish priest, has to weed out the reputation of his family in the community in order to satisfy his romantic longings; Rosa is also a victim of this societal indignation (in that scene where Vedasto (Rey Ruiz), the lazy yet enterprising brother, declares to the neighborhood how Rosa supposedly submitted herself to impurity, Rosa succumbs to the shame and embarrassment), as well as the victim of everything from fate, to callous siblings, to the Filipino patriarchy.
That glimmer of hope for Rosa rests in a land (gorgeous piece of unoccupied real estate, lovingly photographed with all its picturesque trees and farms; it’s a postcard image of a perfect future), that is far from the rumor mongering, the perpetuated squalor, and the misplaced righteousness of the slums. It seems though that Rosa is as tied to their house in the slums as to her family; which makes the film’s ending where the house is burned, an apt transition to the perfect little ending (where the remaining characters are huddled together in hopes of a brighter future). Now that the roots have disappeared and traces of the past have vanished, a chance for a new life is gained. I completely buy it --- it’s a fairy tale ending that is deserved and ripe with reasons.