Magnifico (Maryo J. de los Reyes, 2003)
Written by Michiko Yamamoto, the film is about the titular young boy (then newcomer Jiro Manio) who attempts to give his ailing grandmother (Gloria Romero) a decent funeral. Along with his best friend, he naively goes around town, talking to various personalities or finding ways to earn money, to piece together his grandmother’s funeral, from the coffin that he constructs from the extra plywood he gathered from the local crafts factory to the actual lot wherein his grandmother would be buried.
Yamamoto crafts an entire town populated with quirky individuals with realistic intentions and motivations. Gerry, Magnifico’s father (Albert Martinez) who works as a carpenter working for the local crafts factory, seems to be content with his family and their modest lifestyle. Edna (Lorna Tolentino), Magnifico’s mother who is mostly left in the house to take care of both her sick mother-in-law and her daughter (Isabella de Leon) who is suffering from cerebral palsy, takes her lot in life with a lot less of her husband’s optimism. Magnifico’s elder brother, Miong (Danilo Barrios) has just returned home from Manila after losing his scholarship and is now trying to court the daughter (Girlie Sevilla) of the factory owner (Tonton Gutierrez) in an attempt to escape his family’s fate.
Around town are a bevy of similarly complicated lives. Domeng (Mark Gil), the town’s bus driver, still morose and mourning months after his mother’s demise, is oblivious to the charms of Cristy (Cherry Pie Picache), the town’s primary source of gossip and as a result, the rival of Tessie (Amy Austria). Ka Doring (Celia Rodriguez), the owner of the town’s lone funeral parlor, has turned into the town’s laughing stock because of her seemingly incurable hoarse speaking voice.
De Los Reyes’ directs with precision, making sure that each character adds up to the emotional heft of the story. Although brimming with acting talents, he never allows any of the supporting cast to overshadow Magnifico or his younger sister, whose heart-warming interactions turn out to be the centrepiece of this finely tuned drama. Lutgardo Labad’s beautifully composed score is probably one of the very few in recent Philippine cinema that is truly memorable and hummable. It is quiet and subdued at times and swells whenever necessary, allowing the film to sink deep into the hearts of its audience. Magnifico is a masterfully orchestrated tearjerker. Each of its individual elements are weaved perfectly to create an emotionally rousing experience that never feels slight or ill-conceived.
Magnifico is that rare children’s film that tackles mortality, the inevitability of death. It buffers the seriousness of its subject matter with levity and humor, allowing the children to create for the film an atmosphere of endearing innocence amidst the drollness of the affairs of the adults.
By portraying life as a colorful tapestry of relationships affected by small acts that are fuelled by good intentions, it emphasizes its value while underlining its fragility. It is hardly an empty product that exploits Filipino sensitivity for shocks and tears, like the many melodramas that populate the Metro Manila Film Festival that unfairly neglected it because of its lack of commercial appeal. It is genuinely moving, as it makes you familiar with its characters, allowing you to understand instead of merely witness their virtues, flaws, and humble ambitions. Undoubtedly, Magnifico is a film that will be remembered far longer than any of the films that made it to that miserably misinformed film festival that year.
(Cross-published in Lagarista.)