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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.

Sep 29, 2010


THE MUSICAL is not a favorite film genre of local audiences. In the 70s, the musicals they know were the films of Ate Guy who has 10 to 12 song numbers spliced together and it's already one movie. The best original musical we remember is Mike de Leon's "Kakabakaba Ka Ba" (1980.) Now comes Chito Rono's "Emir".

There have been many films that pay tribute to OFW's, from Nora Aunor's "Flor Contemplacion" and Vilma Santos' "Anak" to Sharon Cuneta's "Caregiver". How will they make this one different? By making it a musical.

"Emir" is not "Moulin Rouge" or "Evita" but it's good solid entertainment with well thought of and rousing production numbers. It's definitely the best of its kind in local cinema. The high energy opening number is staged on the sand dunes of Vigan, in the tobacco field of Ilocos, culminating in a dancing in the street finale that pays tribute to all kinds of OFW's from domestic helpers to medical practitioners. The story follows Amelia (Frencheska Farr), an Ilocana who works as a yaya for the son of the sheik in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Most of the film happens inside the palace where she works and interacts with the other Pinay helpers employed by the sheik.

There are many show stoppers, like the "Sandosenang Pasko" in the kitchen, Frencheska and Kalila Aguilos' heartbroken paean to the moon, Jhong Hilario's Gary Granada solo about his secret love for Amelia, and the farewell song of Dulce which is a duet with Frencheska. The songs that have the makings of a classic are Frencheska's "Bakit Ako Naririto" (which can easily be the new anthem of OFW's the way "Dito Ba" in "Miss X" hit it big in the 80s) and the love song which is a duet with Sid Lucero, a half Arab-half Ilocano guy she falls in love with.

Chito Rono's work is an unqualified success. The challenge to a director of this film genre is to spend his budget wisely and pace his film well. The film is obviously expensive and this is immediately apparent in the scenes alone that were shot on location in Morocco, particularly after the war scene when Frencheska and her ward are chased by brigands in the desert. Even those who are not fond of musical will not be bored by this quickly paced film.

The ending shot in front of the historic Paoay Church is very touching. We just hope and pray that local viewers will pay it the attention it surely deserves. A local film like this only comes once in a blue moon. It has drama, romance, humor, action. Most local producers are not as fearless (or foolish?) as the Film Development Council so, by all means, don't miss it. We bet you, it will stand the test of time.

Chito is well served by the impressive cast of excellent singing actors he has assembled. This early, we'd say Dulce is a shoo-in for the best supporting actress award. She was born to play the role of the strict but kind-hearted mayordoma. Giving her superb support are Kalila Aguilos, Julia Clarete and Melanie Dujungco who never go overboard. Frencheska's singing is flawless but there are scenes where her emoting could have been stronger. Well, after all, this is just her very first movie so whatever lacks she have maybe forgivable. Still, imagine what a more seasoned singer-actress could have done with this role.