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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 3, 2016

Kusina Movie Review: Judy Ann Santos Delivers An Amazing, Great Performance

JUDY ANN SANTOS delivers a touching and first rate performance in the Cinemalaya entry, “Kusina”, based on the script of Cenon Palomares that won the grand prize at the Palanca Awards in 2006. Cenon himself now co-directs the film with David Corpuz. It’s their first full length feature film.

“Kusina” starts with a full shot of an old white house while Judy Ann Santos is shown walking towards it with a basket of vegetables. She enters its gate and, inside, a pregnant woman (Angeli Bayani) is about to deliver a baby. She gives birth to a baby girl and we soon realize that the baby, Juanita, is the one who’ll become Judy Ann when she grows up.

The mother dies and Juanita grows up distant from her dad who blames her for her mom’s untimely demise. Soon, we’re told that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II has erupted. So many other things happen. Marcos declares martial law and Juanita’s eldest daughter becomes an activist joining the rebels in the mountains, and yet, we all remain still inside Juanita’s kitchen.

Better be warned that the film is not for viewers who go only for escapist entertainment. The structure of the film is like that of a theatrical play and the whole movie is very stylized from beginning to end. All the action happens inside the titular “kusina”, an improvised set with some makeshift props built on a soundstage, so it’s apparent that it will require the viewers to be active observers sensitive to the film’s use of daring dramatic license and minimalist theatrical devices to shape the narrative. Mind you, one of the unconventional artistic liberties the film takes is that Juday’s Juanita ages here until she’s in her 60’s, but she is not shown growing old at all.

With the help of apt lighting, sound design and music, the viewers will be able to see the development of the main character and the conflicts she goes through, some of which do not have any concrete resolution to make them more palatable for viewers who crave for happier endings. Some writers who were with us in the press preview were very vocal in being alienated by the material, the sparse set, and by the seemingly abrupt changes in the story’s time frames. They just didn’t get it, so what more in the case of ordinary moviegoers who prefer mainstream romcoms that will not require them to think?

Juday brings a palpable emotional edge to her interpretation of Juanita. The breakdown scene where she’s shown writhing and caterwauling on the floor, if done poorly, can ruin the whole movie. It’s the perfect opposite of Jaclyn Jose’s Cannes award winning non-acting kind of performance in “Ma Rosa”, but Juday does it so well that we find it very moving. The ending is also a knockout. When she finally comes out smiling to serve her favorite adobo dish to everyone in the hauntingly beautiful final act, she looks so luminous and radiant you just want to hug her. It’s clear that for Juanita, she has no regrets about the life she chose and the path she took. It’s not exactly romanticized, but she represents the universality of motherhood and the precious service that moms render to their families. Juanita reminds us of Emily in Wilder’s immortal play.

The male leads, Luis Alandy and Joem Bascon, are both first rate. Sadly, not everyone in the cast is as good them or Juday. We keep on thinking of other actresses who’d be more effective in some of the key roles. The ones we saw sometimes look like they don’t really understand their role and some seem like they’re not used to acting before the camera and their newby directors were not able to help them become more effective on screen.

“Kusina” will have a total of 25 screenings in various venues like the CCP, Greenbelt Makati, Trinoma, UP Town Center, Solenad Nuvali, Glorietta, Fairview Terraces and Ayala Cebu. Check the Cinemalaya website for the exact screening hours.