We listed Vilma’s ten best films and matched it with Nora’s. We then came up with analogy of who did well in terms of credible performances. We also tried to switch the roles and see if both actress remained credible. The outcome was incredible. Boxing Matches Continues with….
Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga versus Bona – The intention of Nora Aunor to prove that she is a fine actress continued as she produced projects that can showcase her talent under her own NV productions. And in 1980, “Bona” was conceptualized by director Lino Brocka, producer Aunor and writer Cenen Ramos. It was entered at the 1980 Metro Manila Film Festival together with another Aunor starrer, the soap operatic, Kung Ako’y Iiwan Mo surprisingly directed by Laurice Guillen. Nora’s performance in Bona assured her supporters a win as festival best actress but she left empty handed as the trophy goes to, not to her rival Vilma Santos but to Amy Austria in Marilou Diaz Abaya’s dramatic film, Brutal. The defeat didn’t discouraged her supporters particularly Brocka who brought the film to the 1981 Cannes and received numerous positive reviews.
Nestor U. Torre on his Philippines Daily Express review titled “Obsession” in 1981 described “Bona” as: “…a story of obsession, the tragedy of the fan turned fanatic. It delves into what causes an otherwise sensible girl to throw discretion and self-respect to the wind to serve her beloved.” An accurate description. Torre added: “…Clearly, Brocka, Aunor and writer Cenen Ramos know the phenomenon whereof they speak. The intimate knowledge makes for a film that rings true both for the expert in abnormal psychology and for the ga-ga movie fan reliving his dream and high nightmare in the audience… In the end, the nasty man announces that he’s leaving the country with his latest and wealthiest inamorata. Bona, who has taken all the shit he’s casually thrown her way, can take no more. She kills the bastard. In the process, she has hopefully killed her insane obsession for him. Or maybe she has also killed herself…What a story!…” Strangely enough, Torre wasn’t convinced with Aunor’s performance. He pointed out: “…the best performance in “bona” is turned in, not by Nora Aunor in the title role, but by Phillip Salvador as the bit player who is her idol, her nemesis, and her obsession. Nora is all over the place and gives the role everything she’s got…Trouble is, she is too intelligent for her part. Obsession is born of emotional weakness, a psychological vacuum that the idol is idealized into filling. As Aunor portrays her on screen, Bona is too sensible and savvy a woman to make this act of self-delusion plausible. She is also a mite too old for the role. Granted, there are “diehard-fans in their fifties and sixties, but the character of Bona, as written. Is clearly intended for a young girl (She is supposed to be still a student, for one thing). The character’s innocence would account for much of her naiveté, and Nora does manage the Naïve but, but it feels a little forced. On the other hand, the fact that he, too is no longer a spring chicken helps Salvador in his portrayal of the trying-hard bit player who is destined to be a has-been even before he has been anything at all. His age makes the character even more pathetic. Salvador has a perfect feel for the bit player’s braggadocio in public, his private fears, his dimwitted dreams and his casual cruelty. Stardom is his own obsession, and his failure to achieve it consumes him as much as her failure to possess him consumes Bona in the end. I’m surprised that Salvador didn’t win the Best Actor award at the Metro Film fest last month (so what else is new?)…” So According to Torre, Aunor was too old for the role and didn’t look innocent for the role the required naivety and innocence.
Isagani R. Cruz, another critic, who in 1981 wrote this article for TV Times have a contradicted views: “…The final sequence, where Aunor finally assaults Salvador, is excellent, although it is, of course, in the same vein as Insiang. The typical Filipino film thrives on the theme of revenge. Bona is no exception. When Aunor finally dumps the boiling water on her non-feeling master, the viewer cannot help but be moved. The sequence is effective, perhaps because the rest of the film is not…” Cruz, unlike Torre found Aunor’s acting untouchable…meaning no one can portray Bona as convincing as Nora Aunor! Here’s Mr. Cruz’ opinion: “…Aunor’s acting…saves the film. Despite the incoherent screenplay, the erratic direction, and the irrelevant production design, the film is gripping because Aunor is excellent. Aunor is indeed a signal phenomenon in Philippine film. She broke the color barrier (she is not a mestiza). She broke the marriage barrier (she is not single, nor she is she even happily married). She broke the superstar barrier (before her, superstars were supposed to be beautiful, but not good, actresses). She has now broken the untouchable barrier: in Bona, she is subjected to the most degrading physical abuses. Unlike Hilda Koronel who remained a Madonna even during the rape scene in Angela Markado. Aunor really becomes the penniless, dumb, neurotic alalay Bona is supposed to be. Who can imagine Fernando Poe, Jr. beaten to a pulp by nameless villains? Who can imagine Lloyd Samartino made up to look like a vampire? In Bona, Aunor really looks like an alalay, rather than a superstar. That is why she is, in fact, a superstar.” Wow…nice statements.
Nice because the URIAN can’t get over the same mentality/arguments (the skin color arguments etc) and despite the much more superior acting of Gina Alajar or Amy Austria in Brutal gave Aunor the nod. Actually, Aunor and Alajar tied the honor for the Urian best actress in 1980. Nine years after the Bona was shown, Bernal, Lino Brocka’s closest rival created a much better film. Like Bona, death was evident in this Bernal creation.
Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga was about Juliet, a successful advertising executive who has seven to nine months to live. Cancer stricken Juliet have to take care her responsibilities as a single mother and found herself reconciling with the people who wronged her prior to her diagnosis as cancer victim. The film wasn’t about cancer but about life and death. A very morbid, dreaded topic that very seldom being touch by local filmmakers without being melo-dramatic. Not until Bernal created Pahiram.
Mario A. Hernando, one of URIAN critics summarized splendidly the overall tone of the film, in his Malaya article on March of 1989: “…In the last scene, the imagery and symbolisms of life and death abound. Juliet dies at the break of dawn, the start of a new day (and life), but not without first making her last sentimental paean to life. Supported by the artist, her eyesight having failed completely and with the waves caressing their feet, the weak and dying cancer victim remarks how beautiful life is. True enough, this dying scene set on a beach, with the woman in white, dainty night gown, is one of the most exquisite, breathtaking moments in Philippine movies. But before giving us this grand, highly emotional death scene, the director has gradually introduced various motifs of death, from the artist’s pet black bird which at one point he cruelly squeezes in his hand, to the funeral rituals for Juliet’s father…”
Like the URIAN, the PMPC finally can’t ignore Vilma anymore. They finally rewarded Vilma her first Star Awards for her restrained triumph as Juliet. Mario Bautista, one of its members noted: “…Talaga namang dramatic tour de force for Vilma ang role niya as the dying Juliet. Maihahanay ito sa kanyang best performances in “Relasyon? “Sister Stella L? “Broken Marriage? “Ikaw ay Akin” at “Burlesk Queen? But unlike her spirited performances there, toned down na toned down ang emoting na ginawa niya rito. Iniba ni Ishmael Bernal (who really brings out the best in her)ang estilo ng acting niya. Pati ang crying scenes ay napakatahimik ng dating. ‘Yung tipong basta tumutulo na lang ang luha ni Vilma without much facial and body contortions na gaya ng dati…Dalawang beses kaming cry rito. Una’y nang nagbibilin siya kay Vicky Suba (na napakagaling din kahit walang ginawa kundi mag-react lamang kay Vi.) at sinabi niyang “Ayoko ng mahabang burol.?Isa pa’y nang finally ay magkabati na sila ng estranged sister niyang si Dexter Doria (isa pang napakahusay) na wala nang dialogue at nagyayakapan na lang sila.”
Bautista even went to the extent of writing his belief in his People’s Journal article titled “Mas Mahusay si Vilma kaysa Kay Nora.” He wrote: “…Sa second viewing ng movie namin lalong napansin ang subtle nuances ng performance ni Vi, up to her death scene which confirms our supposition that the movie is not really so much about death than a celebration of life, what with all the panoramic shots showing the beauty of nature and the world around us, na enough reason for anyone to want to survive.” When the PMPC members resolved its long time struggle to give Vilma its deserving recognition, the critics group Manunuri, decided not to ignore Nora Aunor’s mechanical performance in Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit, an Elwood Perez opus. They gave the best actress to both Vilma and Nora.
Switcheroo – If Nora Aunor plays Juliet, the successful advertising executive, she will need to re-invent her image. Sophistication can be done via right wardrobe, make-up and conformability in delivering English or Taglish lines. A tasks that she failed to do before in her long film history. Her last try was in her last full length film, Naglalayag, she was very akward and unconvincing as a successful rich judge. Now, what about Vilma portraying a fanatic “alalay” in Bona? It will be a challenge. But Brocka can do wonders plus the role required for someone who can possessed innocence and naivety as Nestor Torre pointed out. Vilma would excel in these regards.
Reality Checks – As Juliet, Nora would need to work harder to be effective. She failed miserably under Mario DeLosReyes’ direction in Naglalayag. Would she produced the same results under Bernal? Maybe not but in 1989, she remained typecasted into api-apihan roles. The opposite can be said with Vilma if she played Bona. The chemistry between Vilma and Philip Salvador was established already by their successful team-up in another Brocka film, Rubia Servios. In addition Vilma’s much younger look in 1980 will fit the requirements of innocence and naivety that Nora lacks. She will be perfect to play Bona.
Boxing Results – Vilma wins again. Vilma 6, Nora 2 – To be continued…
IMDB: Nora Aunor
IMDB: Vilma Santos
Official Web-site: Vilma Santos Recto
Official Web-site: Nora Aunor ICON
Facebook: Vilma Santos Recto
Facebook: Nora Aunor
Nora & Vilma No Longer a Rivalry (a special magazine)
Boxing Matches 1/7
Vilmanians and Noranians Surveyed
About “Larawan” and Nick Joaquin
Nora at Vilma sa Gitna ng Basura
Very Long Rivalry (Repost)
Sino ba talaga ang mas mahusay umarte, si Vilma o si Nora?
May be the Philippines’ best film actress of all time 1/3
Vilma-Nora Then, Nora-Vilma Now (Repost)