Monday, January 16, 2012

Tanging Yaman (2000)

Tanging Yaman (Laurice Guillen, 2000)
English Title: A Change of Heart

After several years away from the Philippines and her already illustrious career as a filmmaker, Laurice Guillen returned with Tanging Yaman (A Change of Heart), a tearjerker that unabashedly showcases Catholic faith not only as an underlying theme but as a narrative conceit. The film was both a commercial and critical success. Perhaps more than a decade worth of films that delighted in sex and naked bodies has given the Filipino audience a thirst for something more spiritual.

Guillen’s crafts her most religious film not from the point of view of one who is holier than thou, but from the eyes of an ordinary person who has most likely dabbled in various sins. Her characters are less than perfect. Loleng (Gloria Romero), the family matriarch, is a devout Catholic and spends her days hearing mass and communing with her fellow faithful. Danny (Johnny Delgado), her eldest son who stays in the family home to take care of her, seems satisfied of his modest position in life. Art (Edu Manzano), the middle child and clearly the most successful and financially capable of the siblings, is quietly jealous of his older brother who has always been the favored child despite his lack of any real successes in life. Grace (Dina Bonnevie), the only daughter who migrated to the United States, is too concerned of her family’s finances that she has neglected the real needs of her family.

When an opportunity to sell the farm, the family’s remaining asset, arose, repressed anger and other emotions start to surface, threatening the already fractured family to crumble further. This pushes Loleng, in a desperate attempt to rescue her family, to sacrifice herself, leading the characters in Guillen’s well-orchestrated melodrama to reconcile and live the rest of their lives like true Catholics.

As with all films that are inspired with overly good intentions, Tanging Yaman is enveloped by an atmosphere that predictably directs the narrative towards its amiable conclusion. From the light effects that drown the face of Romero during her moment of self-sacrifice that has been done and redone in various films for comedic effect to the use of mass songs to provide a sense of overt religiosity in the plot, the film is too littered with significant details that nearly push the film from being merely a portrait of a family nearly torn to pieces by greed and envy into a proselytizing sermon that seeks for its audience a result that is more likely achievable in a sharing session than inside the darkened halls of a movie theater.

Thankfully, the film is balanced enough to be enjoyed even from the perspective of a viewer who has no intention of being pulled into religious didactics. It is exquisitely put together. Guillen, who has always laced her films with a certain sensuality that can only be fleshed out by a feminine mind, only subtly suggests that kind of sensuality here. In one scene, Hilda Koronel’s character talks of her dreams of travelling to the United States to her humble husband, dancing with her husband to the romantic song from the radio. The scene by itself seems very ordinary, but as framed by Guillen, and as acted by both Koronel and Delgado with enough levels of playfulness and domestic mischief, it results in something subtly sweet and tender.

Films with religious motivations are often criticized for being too disconnected with the realities of human imperfections to be of real effect. They cater mostly to those who are already religious, reconfirming for them the faith they have sworn to uphold. Fortunately, Guillen is too much a humanist to overestimate the Catholic faith. Tanging Yaman has for characters men and women who dream, sin, fight, lie, love, hate, forgive, cry, and laugh for all the correct reasons and aren’t judged negatively precisely because of these very human acts. Without the miracles and the preaching that the film relies so much on, the film is just simply a well-crafted, brilliantly-acted, and elegantly directed family drama.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)


Noel Vera said...

I wish I liked this more. Yes, it had some lovely setpieces, but I don't quite see the humanism effectively counteracting the religiosity...

Oggs Cruz said...

I agree. The film has really lovely setpieces. The religiosity is just a tad too pronounced here and that everything got resolved because of a miracle (Jericho Rosales seeing the light from underwater) is problematic. But I thought that the quieter moments (Jericho Rosales telling Marvin Agustin how he wants to kill his father, Johnny Delgado and Hilda Koronel dancing and exchanging dreams and insecurities, the party of Gloria Romero) outweigh the religious business. Of the post-missionary work Laurice films, I prefer Sa'yo Lamang to this, and prefer Maskara to Sa'yo Lamang. Not really fond of American Adobo and I need to revisit Santa Santita. I Love You Goodbye is good but ruined by ABS CBN interference.