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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.

Oct 20, 2015

Felix Manalo Review: An Unabashed Unapologetic Propagandistic Chronicle On The Rise Of The INC

'FELIX MANALO' is billed as a biopic of the man who's called 'huling sugo' and founded the Iglesia ni Cristo, but in it's core, it is actually an unapologetic, unabashed propagandistic chronicle on the rise of the INC. This is particularly true especially towards the end, after the death of Manalo, when it recounts how their cult spread in other parts of the globe. The big-budget period drama never goes beyond being a total glorification of Manalo, who's portrayed as a saint with no shortcomings or vulnerabilities, as such giving him a two-dimensional persona.

Of course, we cannot fault Director Joel Lamangan in this as his hands are tied while filming the project. We're told he is guided by INC authorities all the way and he cannot detour from what they have in mind in the on-screen portrayal of their founder. Although Viva is billed as its producer, there is no doubt that it is really INC money that bankrolled the whole project, so they're very much entitled to call all the shots.
The history of the Christian Catholic religion starts with the belief that it is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ and that the Pope is the successor to Saint Peter. It spread to various parts of the globe and flourished for many centuries until Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar in Germany, protested the abuses of the church and key points in Catholic doctrine that gave rise to the Protestant Reformation and gave birth to a variety of sects and denominations. Since then, it branched out to many other forms like the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, the Jehovah's Wintesses, and locally, the Aglipayan Church and the Iglesia ni Cristo which is said to be the Tamang Daan. We now have other preachers who have formed their own following like Ang Dating Daan, El Shaddai, and the born again churches like Victory, CCF, etc. If you are searching for the one true faith, you can join all these churches and see for yourself which one suits you

This is exactly what the young Felix Manalo went through in the movie that starts with him being born and shows him dying in 1963. He is raised as a Catholic and prepares to be a priest but he starts to ask questions about his faith and went on to join several Protestant sects, all of which he finds wanting. His search for spiritual truth leads him to put up his own ministry, the Iglesia ni Cristo. In doing so, he creates his own doctrinal beliefs based on his own interpretation of pivotal passages in the Bible and on what he believes as his own divine inspiration. You may or may not agree with his beliefs but there is no denying there's something amazing and admirable in a Filipino who found his own calling and founded and propagated his own local church against all odds. If it's not of God, then it would have not prospered the way it did after 100 years.

In this sense, we can say that the movie succeeds in fulfilling all its intentions, as required and dictated by those who produced it for this purpose. But does it make for a great cinematic experience? Take note that the film is produced with care, from the rustic folk scenes at the turn of the century when life is much simpler to the Second World War scenes and those that take place in the 60s. They really spent on period production design, the costumes, the locations, even in the aging make up to show that Manalo (played by Dennis Trillo) and his wife Honorata (Bela Padilla) have aged through the years.

The production expense is also very evident in the cameo appearances of various name stars like Lorna Tolentino, Jaclyn Jose, Snooky Serna, Alice Dixson, Bembol Roco, Raymond Bagatsing, Tonton Gutierrez, Glydel Mercado, Gladys Reyes, etc. Most of them are not really utilized usefully, appearing only in a few scenes, never to be seen again. Some of them do not even get to deliver a single line of dialogue. Honestly, this can be quite distracting for a movie with a various serious purpose of sanctifying its titular character. But we heard each of the stars paraded in this movie is paid a hefty sum for his brief appearance and we're happy for all of them that they are well paid. So we're not surprised that Phillip Salvador, who's really a born again pastor now, agreed to appear in one scene as the advocate of another religion who questioned Manalo's doctrine but was quickly demolished by just one quote of Dennis Trillo from the Bible.

But good production values alone do not make a truly interesting and worthwhile film. "Felix Manalo" runs for nearly three hours and there are parts that really made us feel somnolent. You don't feel that way watching other biopics like "Gandhi" or "The Aviator" or "Schindler's List" where the subjects really come out as real people with faults of their own. The thing is that the viewers who can truly appreciate the film in its entirety are the INC members themselves, because after all is said and done, it's really nothing but a movie made in defense of the INC and is appropriately a mere recounting of all the important events in the life of its founder, especially the actual date when his founding of the INC was legally registered with the government which is given much importance in the film.

Through it all, though, the one consistent element who stands out is Dennis Trillo who holds the film together and is just magnificent as he truly embodies the title role, giving a solid performance that seems incapable of making a false move. For his superb work alone, the film is somehow worth watching.