Adela (Adolfo Alix, Jr., 2008)
The fourth edition of the Cinemalaya Film Festival opens with a film by Adolfo Alix, Jr. Ever since Alix debuted his first feature film Donsol in the 2006 edition of Cinemalaya, he has never stopped working, directing at least nine feature films during the span of three years. The screening of Alix's Adela coincides with the festival's tribute to Anita Linda, an actress who works just as hard as Alix, having appeared in more than a hundred movies since before the early 40's up to the present, including films directed by Gerardo de Leon (Sisa (1951) and Ang Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (Python at the Old Dome, 1952)), Lino Brocka (Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed But Found Wanting, 1974) and Jaguar (1979)), Ishmael Bernal (Ligaw ng Bulaklak (Wildflower, 1976) and Mario O'Hara (Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof, 1998) and Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, 2000)), among other renowned Filipino directors. There is no doubt as to Linda's artistry and generosity. She has gracefully aged with Philippine cinema, witnessing the film industry rise, fall, and rise again through the years, still eagerly inhabiting roles with an unwavering zest whenever called upon.
In Adela, Linda plays the titular character, a retired radio voice talent who is celebrating her eightieth birthday. The film accounts for that supposedly special day in the life of Adela. We first see her alighting from a tricycle, hurrying past a crowd of useless onlookers, to help a neighbor who is giving birth right in the middle of the commotion. The day goes on, with routine mixing with the clever turns of circumstance. Adela misplaces her wedding ring, gets swindled by the neighborhood fence, hears mass, visits her son in prison, chances upon a co-worker, and finally travels to the outermost area in her seaside dump site to conclude that special day. The film is introspective, forcing the viewers to experience the starkness of living alone in the world through the profound mundaneness of Adela's birthday.
There are at least three important scenes that astounded me, on the basis that these scenes are emotional crests in a film that is deprived of an explicit plot. The first one was when Adela was listening to the radio drama, she suddenly changes her voice to match the two characters in the radio drama, seamlessly shifting from the high pitched pleas of the daughter to the stern alto of the angry mom. It's a beautiful scene for the simple fact that it both showcases Linda's acting prowess and it emphasizes the feeling of reminiscence (of a former, unattainable past) that hounds the character of Adela that day.
The second one was after the party, when Adela walks into the house of the new mother she helped that morning. She chances upon the mother breastfeeding the baby. The camera then concentrates on Adela's face which changes from delight to sadness, where a heartfelt smile becomes soaked with tears. If the first important scene emphasized the passive emotion of reminiscence, this second scene attempts to break the character, pushing Adela to react to the heartbreaking fact that she has become alone, while the rest of the world has somebody to love and love them back.
The third scene happens near the end of the film. Adela sets up her picnic blanket, prepares the noodles she cooked, and against the backdrop of Manila Bay, contemplates on her situation: aged and even amidst the the crowdedness of her neighborhood, alone. Again, the camera centers on Adela's face. This time, there is no pretense of joy. She is just there, crying precisely because of the fact that everyone has physically (previous to her picnic, the entire neighborhood attends a political rally, leaving her behind) and symbolically left her alone. She walks past the bushes before the film ends, with an air of thought-provoking ambiguity.
Adela works solely because of Linda's terrific performance. Linda is an actress who can tell stories with a mere movement of her lips, or a momentary flicker of her eyes. The sparseness of the film's narrative is grounded on the fact that Adela is a film that relies on Linda to add untold depths to the knowledge that the titular character's passed-upon past: that she has a daughter working for a rich man in Makati who couldn't get a day-off to spend the day with her; that she has a son who is wasting away in jail for whatever petty crime; that she has another son working abroad who left a broken family in the Philippines. Linda, with a subtle trembling of her eyebrows, the sudden flowing of helplessly restrained tears, and coupled with the vast experience of portraying a wide array of characters ranging from a mother gone insane with the loss of her kids (in de Leon's Sisa) to a forgotten movie actress (in O'Hara's Ang Babae sa Bubungang Lata), has done enough to turn mundane into magical. Adela might very well be Alix's best film to date. Alix has Anita Linda to thank for that.