Sana Maulit Muli (Olivia Lamasan, 1995)
English Title: Hopefully, Once More
Olivia Lamasan’s Sana Maulit Muli (Hopefully, Once More) is essentially about two lovers drifting apart by reason of the American Dream. When Agnes (Lea Salonga), an overly dependent to the point of being spineless woman, was petitioned to the San Francisco by her absentee mother, she expected that her long-time boyfriend Jimmy (Aga Muhlach) would always be there for her as she struggles to survive on her own. However, as it turns out, Jimmy, an advertising executive, utilizes the time without his girlfriend to improve his career. The demands of their long distance relationship pull them apart, until Jimmy, detouring from an ad conference in New York, visits Agnes in the hopes of winning her back.
The film examines the American dream, a post-colonial promise that has consumed Filipinos wishing for the better life that the Philippines cannot seem to provide, with jaded eyes. It initially establishes the immense possibilities of life in America, showing Agnes change from a girl cocooned by her boyfriend’s abnormal attentiveness to a successful career woman, who rose from the ranks from caregiver to real estate agent. Before dwelling on the opulence of American living and the comforts of the fast-paced and go-getting lifestyle it promotes, Lamasan begins to shatter the fantasy, allowing a glimpse at the other side of the coin where illegal immigrants are overworked and underpaid, where interracial marriages are hounded by cultural misunderstandings, where life is just simply harder to bear with the dollars earned becomes equivalent to the ounces of dignity lost at the hands of unscrupulous employers, most of which are Filipinos themselves.
The film then becomes more pertinent when Lamasan depicts oppression in America, a concept that seems ludicrous if pitted against everything the American dream stood for. In probably the film’s most famous scene, Jimmy, after being cursed and demeaned by his Filipino employer in front of his co-employees for breaking several dozens of eggs, explodes in anger, brandishing a cleaver against his employer before walking out of the restaurant. That display of anger, executed with hardly any subtle cue, was carefully built up by Lamasan who slowly but surely invests Jimmy, who exchanged his white collar career in Manila for the thankless odd jobs he has to put up with, with signs of weariness and repressed violent emotions leading to the climactic outburst. It is a short-lived retribution. The injustices will most undoubtedly continue on long after the shock of Jimmy’s outburst has passed. Such is the life of a second-class citizen.
However, Sana Maulit Muli insists on putting Jimmy and Agnes’ love story in the center of the narrative, wasting whatever attempts at relevance with the incredulity of forcing two characters in a relationship that is arguably more destructive than romantic. Of course, the film was designed for its audience to root for its lovers. Every time Jimmy goes home to Agnes, tired from work, tired from swallowing his pride just to win Agnes back, Jimmy’s sacrifice is not only emphasized, it is overplayed. On the other hand, Agnes, vastly improved from the timid wallflower of her years in Manila to the self-sufficient success story that she has become, is depicted with subtle unfairness, and left with the decision to either leave America, the country that has been so kind to her in more ways than financially, for the sake of her beloved who outside his insistence on his love for the motherland, is actually a weakling and chronically afraid of being in a relationship where the woman is far more successful than he is.
Thus, the ending, executed with the exact syrupy indulgences of nearly all Star Cinema romances with Agnes returning to Manila to meet Jimmy in the city’s crowded sidewalks, can only leave an awful aftertaste. While love is realistically about compromises, the film conveniently blurs the questionable compromise committed with the help of the swelling music, rehearsed smiles, and a kiss to heal all the pains and aches just to achieve the happily-ever-after ending.
Consequently, Sana Maulit Muli could have not achieved the consistency of Gil Portes’ ‘Merika (1984), where a Filipina New Yorker starts to feel the deadening humdrum of American life, or the unhindered and unabashed moralism of Elwood Perez’s Waikiki (1980), where a mother suddenly discovers her family falling apart in her husband and children’s pursuit of the American dream, or the psychological, philosophical and social depth of Lav Diaz’s Batang West Side (West Side Avenue, 2001), where a Filipino policeman’s investigation of a young Filipino immigrant’s murder awakens him to the several conflicts caused by the Filipino diaspora. Forgoing its gloss, the kneejerk delights of the well-packaged romance, and the used-as-a-mere-backdrop discourse on the Filipino experience in America, Sana Maulit Muli is a film so confused and confusing, deeming the American experience, all the benefits and issues surrounding it, and never mind the fact that Agnes came out of it an infinitely better person, subservient to the whims of a limiting irrational heart.