Saturday, December 16, 2006

Final irony

"Impressions," TV Times, 11-17 February 1979


For the first time in many a television season, I watched a local drama with unabated interest and solemn respect. Here, at last, is a story of the eternal and the immutable, played out with care, understanding, perception. Yes, affection. No stereotypes here, acting out hackneyed roles, following tired patterns. Here, people, living life as best they could, reacting like real human beings and, at the end, capturing the stark reality of the human condition.

I caught only the concluding part of Mga Kuwento ng Pag-ibig's three-part episode titled "Banyuhay." But although I did not see the preceding two parts, I was still enriched by the conclusion's unique perception of the human heart. That conclusion, standing alone, had love, humanity, rage, raw adult emotion, an ardent desire to illuminate adult relationships, and the compulsion to spew up the truth in accents of lyrical irony.

I will not dissect the interwoven human relationships in the story. I will not--though it is clear--write that the relationship between husband and wife was sufficiently doomed to be truly tragic. I will not say that they were both haunted to the very end--though really they were--by that "long-delayed but always-expected something that we live for." Indeed, however much I underscore both realities, they come across as totally immaterial. The story, propelled as implacably as the tides, moved purposefully by time, marches rhythmically to its only end.

Perhaps the story is also commendable precisely because it is a story of passion that moved inevitably from life to death. The wife is throttled by her illusions, the husband is felled by blind affection, the other woman is subjugated by her passions, the other man is swallowed by the quicksand of vindictiveness. And the concerned friend to all is powerless to liberate them from the impending tragedy.

The spirited work by a splendid cast is certainly worthy of mention. In their hands, their characters assume life, savagery, pulsing reality. Ronaldo Valdez, as the husband, gives depth to a personality that is free as well as chained, possessed by creature passions but bound by the constraints of conscience and society. He is prickly, mocking, cynical, his own most ambiguous creation.

The women delineate their roles just as deftly. Charo Santos, the wife, is in characteristic style, but she imbues this role with revealingly fresh glimpses into previously unseen strength and steel. She is the wife who will not be defeated nor distracted, who will fight, always shrewdly, even cruelly, for what she wants.

In Armida Siguion-Reyna, there is both garrulity and gallantry: A contemptuous observer of the human situation whose lips sneer while her heart prays, she must have gone through it all before at least once in her lifetime and, now that she can afford to be honest, sees in truth the only salvation for all.

For Laurice Guillen, scriptwriter Oscar Miranda reserves the best and truest lines. She is the mistress, but she is, above all, woman and person. When she fights her last battle for the love of her man, pleading, threatening, begging, she shows what every woman who had loved well if not wisely becomes, at least once in her life: a woman driven to the edge. We once must have voiced her words out loud to somebody, or quietly to ourselves, as we all attempted to find some meaning to the exercise, or failing that, some chilling end to it all.

And yet, the quality that struck me most in that concluding part of "Banyuhay" was really the care that went into its conceptualization and production. How many writers would put enough thought to the "triangle" formula, give it new twists and credible protagonists, utilize the flashback technique beautifully, invest the whole story with insight and irony? How many directors would handle such a splendid array of performers with truly amazing sensitivity (failing only, in the concluding part, in the case of Zandro Zamora)?

To me, the final irony is still the most telling. Wanting so desperately to be pronounced alive while he lay seemingly in coma, the husband hears the truth for the first time--the revelation that his daughter is not his, that his wife and her lover had plotted to kill him--making him shed his last tear and pray, even more desperately, to be pronounced dead.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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