Filipino Fatherhood from the Afterlife
A Plea to Rediscover Jeffrey Jeturian's Sana Pag-ibig Na
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz
It is not that Jeffrey Jeturian’s strangely titled family drama Sana Pag-ibig Na (Enter Love) remains sadly unheralded more than a decade after its release. Even with its suggestive poster, which should entice viewers to a promise of abundant sex between then-fresh faced Gerald Madrid and immaculately beautiful Angel Aquino, the film did not do well in the box office, sharing the same fate as fellow “good harvests” like Lav Diaz’s Serafin Geronimo, Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion (Serafin Geronimo, Criminal of Barrio Concepcion, 1998) and Mario O’Hara’s Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on the Tin Roof, 1998) which opened and closed on the same day. The critics’ praises, which came too late, were also too faintly exclaimed. The film eventually became more famous as Jeturian’s debut film, an under-seen precursor to his more acclaimed films Tuhog (Larger Than Life, 2001), Bridal Shower (2004) and Kubrador (The Bet Collector, 2006), than anything. The fact that its title is more suited for a Star Cinema movie did not help either. As it turns out, Sana Pag-ibig Na’s current reputation seems to be limited to being a mere footnote in Jeturian’s career.
It shouldn’t be, though. Seeing it now, after seeing the more recent dramas like Jade Castro’s Endo (2007) or Milo Sogueco’s Sanglaan (The Pawnshop, 2009) that occupied the same subdued storytelling temperament, made me realize that the film is ripe for rediscovery and reassessment. The screenplay, written by Armando Lao long before the ballooning expenses of Minsan Pa (One Moment More, 2004) forced him to invent real-time, is both poignant and witty. Jeturian’s direction, unperturbed by expectations of grandeur or dearth, is refreshingly earnest. The performances, from Madrid’s teenager who is coming to terms with his late father’s infidelity to Aquino’s pregnant mistress who sees her late lover’s son as her only support, are all lovely, significantly subtle in a way that seems unlikely in Filipino cinema.
Mike (Madrid), the youngest son of a respected professor (Chinggoy Alonzo) and a housewife (Nida Blanca) whose ambition is to be an entrepreneur, proudly points out his state of being a virgin in his late teens during the film’s introduction. When his father dies of stroke, he searches for his mistress (Aquino), discovers that she is pregnant with his half-brother, and proceeds to take care of her. His mother belatedly finds out of her late husband’s illicit affair, crushing her and her long-lived belief that her husband was an upright man, and later on discovers that her son has known of the affair all along, and worse, has befriended and supported the mistress.
Sana Pag-ibig Na is also that rare Filipino film that maturely maps the role of fathers in the family. For the sake of heightened drama, fathers have either been depicted in a bad light or in close-to-nonexistent or underwritten roles to enunciate the traditional role of mothers as light of our homes. Let us admit it, we are a nation of mama’s boys and girls. We have seen enough films championing the sacrifices of mothers, yet there are very few films that give the father more than perfunctory roles in their narratives. This is strange considering that much of our cinema clings on machismo, a concept that our culture — confusingly — prizes highly. Even more rare than films with meaty cinematic father figures are films that dissect the mechanics and psychology of the father’s role within the culture.
Sana Pag-ibig Na, despite the attention that is given to Blanca’s long-suffering mother, is predominantly about the relationship between Mike and his father, how the latter still reared the former to manhood even after his death. Lao’s script and Jeturian’s understated direction place the father, even after his death, at the center of all events. His voice reverberates through the carefully written words of his final love letter to his mistress. There is this one beautiful freeze frame of the mistress’s face, preceded by the father’s enamored description of that mistress. During that scene, the father’s adoration and Mike’s blossoming concern for the mistress are cinematically united.
Thus, in a clever twist, the same love letter serves as the guide to Mike, the guide that he never got when his father was still alive, as he pushes away from immaturity into adulthood. Even more importantly, his father, through acts secretly intended or via fate, was right there, right where all Filipino fathers who insist on being the first to show their sons the delights of unraveling a woman for pleasure or love or both, when he lost his virginity and skipped the line to certain manhood. Thus, his farewell remarks — that he is no longer a virgin and he is keeping it a secret as to whom he lost his virginity with — is more than just an upbeat and humorous conclusion to the tightly-knit drama. It holds a certain truth, a deeply entrenched social and cultural value that speaks more than all of the shouting sprees, the slapping matches, and the weeping wars that our cinema has been infatuated with for so long.
(First published in The A/V Club, Philippine Star, 14 May 2010)