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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.

Jan 23, 2011

'Ikaw ang pag-ibig' is worth watching

A FILM THAT pays homage to the Virgin of Penafrancia, the Patroness of Bicol, “Ikaw ang Pag-ibig”, is also a tribute to the piety of the Bicolanos and their devotion to her, something that will be lost to those who do not believe in the powers of intercession of the Virgin Mary.

The film focuses on a dysfunctional family, with Noni Buencamino as the OFW father who has a querida and Shamaine Centenera as the mother. They have two kids, the priest Fr. Johnny (Marvin Agustin) and the younger daughter, Vangie (Ina Feleo), a documentary filmmaker who’s doing a docu on Ina, the Virgin of Penafrancia, which, we’re afraid, is not fully well integrated into the film proper and comes across more as intermission numbers.

A big family crisis hits them when Fr. Johnny is diagnosed to have leukemia. Initially, since it’s produced by the Most Rev. Leonardo Legaspi of the Archdiocese of Caceres, we thought this will be a film where Ina will be shown directly performing a miracle that heals Fr. Johnny, like other religious films of the past. But it does nothing hardsell like that. Fr. Johnny undergoes chemotherapy, his loved ones sell their house and car for his medical expenses, and Vangie becomes a donor for bone marrow transplant. It’s not blatantly declared that Ina cured him.

Marvin does well in the scenes where he is shown suffering because of his ill health. There are some scenes that make you feel it’s one of those movies in the Hallmark Channel about characters undergoing through some terminal disease and surviving it. Also a standout is Shamaine Centenera who’s given several demanding scenes, like the telephone scene with Noni where she discovers that he has long returned from abroad but hasn’t shown up at their home, and the scene at the hospital chapel where she cries out directly to the Blessed Virgin for the ordeal her eldest son is going through.

The most important character in the film is Vangie, who is at the center as the film’s narrator and a very complex character. She’s living in with Joey, a doctor (Jomari Yllana) and they have a love son (Yogo Singh). Later on, she confesses to her own brother that she was raped by her teacher, got pregnant, then the teacher tried to abort her baby but she bled and it’s Joey, an obstetrician, who saves her life and later becomes her lover who loves her unconditionally. She says their mom quickly accepted what happened to her without any recriminations. But what about her dad? Didn’t they even make an attempt to sue the teacher for his dastard deeds? This was never mentioned in the film and why Fr. Johnny never even heard of what happened to his sister is also a mystery to us. Also, we never learn what happened to their dad’s querida. Did he leave her for good to reconcile with the mom?

The role of Vangie is difficult to do as she’s a very flawed character and were afraid Ina Feleo is not totally successfully in making her come alive as colorful flesh and blood on the big screen. She’s competent, but Vangie requires a certain kookiness and flair that Ina doesn’t have. As Vangie herself says, she has “topak” (a certain kind of quirkiness) and we’re afraid Ina doesn’t get to display that in the film. This is the kind of role that will be perfect for the likes of a Mylene Dizon. Just like Jennylyn’s portrayal of Rosario, Ina’s interpretation is very tame. If Jennylyn Mercado’s interpretation of “Rosario” is, to put it bluntly, “kulang sa libog”, Ina’s portrayal, in turn, is “kulang sa landi”.

Despite this, the film is most certainly still very worth seeing. The most affecting performance comes from Jomari Yllana as the very supportive partner who has long been offering to Vangie the sacrament of marriage but she’s the one who dilly-dallies. Jomari gives a totally relaxed performance and its sheer effortlessness hits you, particularly in that scene where he’s at a loss for words as he’s about to announce to the family that he has formally proposed to Vangie. That scene in the river where he’s teary eyed is also splendid.

Technical credits are way above average. We’re glad Abaya is back working and her new film is definitely a big improvement over her last mainstream work, the confused and unsatisfying “Noon at Ngayon” released 8 years ago.