Thursday, December 28, 2006

No roses yet for a first episode

Frankly, this is a series I can no longer remember today. It couldn't have gone on for more than a season. I surmise that I must have stumbled on a very young Lorna Tolentino and a still-unformed Mark Gil. The two have certainly done a lot of growing up in the succeeding two decades and a half.

When I think of shows like what I believe this one aspired to be, I see in my mind's eye scenes from Ingmar Bergman films. Today's cineastes, on the other hand, may recall instead some of the black-and-white sequences in The Ring, or its even more eerie original, Ringu.

"Impressions," TV Times, 22-29 April 1979


At their best, gothic plays can be thought-provoking existential parables; at their worst, they are hours of close-ups on nervous mortals toyed with by confident immortals. Rosas, in its first episode telecast Sunday before Easter, straddled the wide line between the two. A frank review would probably mean it was neither existential parable nor close-up hour but--as a friend pronounced right after--a weak episode of a promising series.

Now, that premiere episode, "Ang Duwelo sa Dilim."

A child-woman stands, caught in a medium shot, seemingly withdrawn into herself. It's a good beginning--especially since the child-woman is Lorna Tolentino, playing uncertainty, distress, and desperation beautifully. She is an understandably desirable love object for a duel--a sympathetic Lolita emoting her vulnerability with understanding, if not with passion.

The camera catches her lovingly, caressingly, in sensual close-ups that register, almost painfully, her melancholy, her secret seduction and enslavement. That she was lacking in passion during her only love scene and her final debasement is not strictly her fault. Perhaps she is still too young for the role, too inexperienced to delineate effectively the fever of madness and loss. In this sense, her characterization, while beautiful, is flawed, unable as it is to grow from weakness to madness. Her performance in a role that demands the portrayal of desperation, frustration, and passion falls a degree short of excellent. Life and time should take care of that.

The same, however, cannot be said of Mark Gil. As the devoted husband, the only living Suarez heir who is forced by love and circumstance to return to the haunted country house full of imperceptible ghosts and perceptible memories, he appears sadly inadequate, unable to command feeling. He puts on a mask of pensiveness, but it is clear that he is too unfledged for anger or bewilderment. It is as if he still has to perceive the theme of his life--an unacceptable situation in a role written for a tragic and certainly much more heroic character.

Unlike Lorna Tolentino, who has the seeds of great drama in her and must only wait for them to mature, Mark Gil will need a few seasons of hard work. Blessed with the face, he must now find the soul. In a role clearly meant for the likes of Tommy Abuel, with all of Abuel's acting experience and stage training, Mark Gil is obviously out of his depth.

What is more essentially wrong with "Ang Duwelo sa Dilim" is that it fails to maintain the mystery to the final scene. Director Maryo de los Reyes wastes too much light on corners that should be kept in shadow, and some of his set decorator's supposedly turn-of-the-century furnishings look more like pieces from furniture sales at summer bazaars. Location taping and the interesting play of light and shadow could have helped immensely to infuse the episode with old Spanish and gothic characteristics, both of which are necessary if the production is to evince overtones of legend-in-the-making.

Also lacking is rhythmic pacing and adroit editing. An hour of suspense and mystery usually moves according to a rhythm of its own. In television, this rhythm is influenced by sequential demands which either leave the editing punchy and crisp, or slow and anticlimactic. "Ang Duwelo sa Dilim," in many instances, breaks out of this rhythm and thus fails to make capital of it.

Also distressing is the unfolding of the facts of the story--the heroine's former illness, the cause of the duel between Don Paco and Juan Velasquez, the identity of the Spanish charmer. In an obvious attempt to get all the fact-telling finished as soon as possible, the whole effort was concentrated during the first half of the show, leaving the heroine's seduction and the duel to fill up the second half. While this is a clean way of unraveling a storyline, it does not boost the element of suspense nor reinforce that vital oscillation between illusion and reality necessary in a story of this genre.

Most regrettable is the duel/death scene. In the hands of a master, the scene could have filled the screen with brilliant anguish, making time present (Mark Gil) and time past (Juan Velasquez) mix until neither is what it was. Instead, the death scene was rushed, deprived of its energy by the lack of riveting close-ups, too tightly put together to allow for the release of nervous tension.

Indeed, there was never much of that tension in the death scene, or in previous ones.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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