FILM REVIEW: PAHIRAM NG ISANG UMAGA


The Plot: Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga revolves around Juliet (Vilma Santos), who finds herself struggling against an ever-escalating series of problems. A determined single parent, she manages to raise a child while remaining successful in her career as an advertising executive. Everything in her life seems to go well until she is diagnosed with a terminal disease. For her son’s sake, and without revealing her condition, she is forced to resolve her most important life relations: rekindling first her connections with her parents, and then with the very man who fathered her son. In the twilight of her life, she meets and falls in love with a beleaguered artist, Ariel (Eric Quizon), who is constantly depressed and perpetually contemplating suicide. She slowly loses her health but unknowingly reawakens Ariel desire to live, and they both engage in a meaningful affair – one that makes each day they live through together more meaningful than the last. – Regal Films

The Reviews: Weepies are a common movie fare in the Philippines, along with extremely violent action thrillers and trite youth comedies. It is, therefore, a cause for cheer when a filmmaker tries to elevate the very common genre of the melodrama into a rich and intellectually rewarding film experience, such as director Ishmael Bernal has done with his Pahiram ng Isang Umaga. Director Ishmael Bernal has seen in the material an opportunity to put substance to what has often been denigrated as the unthinking man’s entertainment, and to a considerable degree, his attempt has been a success. Pahiram is both effective as a tearjerker and meaningful as a depiction of people in crisis. Using a traditional element of the genre, the theme of death, Bernal and writer Jose Javier Reyes probe into the life of a woman who has been told that the end is near. Juliet (Vilma Santos, one of the two reigning Philippine female superstars for the past two decades now) is told that she has eight or maybe seven months to live. As a progressive advertising creative director who has been promoted (rather late) as vice president of her company, she has the means to attend to the less mundane demands of life, examine what may have been an unexamined life, and make the most of the limited time left. In all these, Bernal explores the emotional and psychological condition of the person who lives on borrowed time. Naturally visible here are the many symbols not only of death but also of life to serve as some kind of counterpoint or irony. Sometimes, they blend with each other, and at other times, they contradict.

From the peasants’ ritualistic rice planting to the backyard harvesting of sun-dried patola cultivated as life-giving seedlings, the evidence of life renewing itself could hardly be ignored. Then there are the more obvious symbols of fire, daybreak and persistent rains (the latter of which are used to reinforce the gloomier mood at the second half of the movie, and also suggest the rains’ refreshing and replenishing results). But the most eloquent symbol here of life is the process of artistic creation, personified – again paradoxically – by the expressionist painter Ariel who befriends and then is smitten by Juliet. There are ironies here. The painter creates life through his art, but at the same time, psychologically tormented, he wants to end his own life. Such a restless, free soul, grappling with the complexities of life, he has a whole life ahead of him, his artistic world limited only by his imagination, and yet he wants to quit. In contrast, Juliet who is dying, wants to live. Here is a woman who saves a man’s life (the artist’s) but cannot save her own. The idea of art as life or art vs. life is examined at length. Asked by the boy why he has to put on canvas the seascape, the artist makes the clarification that he is not copying the scenery. Ostensibly, he is recreating it on a different plane, art being something else, with a life of its own. This is suggested by the portrait the artist is making of Juliet. The model may soon die, as she will, but the portrait will live on. Life may indeed be short, an idea which used to be stated directly in previous Bernal movies, but art endures. It is the one thing in this world which is eternal. The briefness of life is suggested with the graphic sight of wet sand dripping down from the hand.

Bernal and Reyes go farther by including a scene in which the artist explains the origins of art. By the fireside at the beach, and watching the flame cast a glow on them, he notes that prehistoric men “discovered” art when they made outlines of shadows on the caves. Those artworks, though crude and primitive, still exist. Implicitly, Juliet’s death, no matter how saddening, is not going to be the end. Philosophical musings like these are not standard soap opera fare, and may alienate a lot of ordinary moviegoers (even the more cerebral ones who cannot accept the conventions of the soap opera genre). Woven unobtrusively into the plot, however, they add texture and enrich the drama. Juliet in a way will continue to live – in that portrait, in her young son who will survive her and hopefully continue her legacy whatever it may be, and in her good deeds. 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. This is a striking part of the movie, Juliet watching intently as morticians work on her father’s remains, as everyone weeps when the coffin is lowered to its final resting place, and during the ritualistic “pasiyam,” the nine-day novena for the dead. It’s as though Juliet can see herself in her father’s lifeless body while mourners mill around it. The attempts to raise the level of the melodrama and present insights on life and death provide the movie its greatest strength – and wide appeal. How strangely ironic that a movie dealing with death could have so much life- – Mario A. Hernando, “A Look at Death and the Affirmation of Life,” Malaya, 5 March 1989

“…In Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga, Ishmael Bernal’s very competent handling of the material, coupled with Santos’ intelligent portrayal of Juliet, a terminally ill cancer victim, saved the film from becoming a glorified soap opera…” – Jojo Devera, Sari-Saring Sineng Pinoy 03 Nov 2009

“…A series of unfortunate events seemed to hound Nora’s career up to this point. October 1, 1989 was to be the last airing date of the 22-year-old musical-variety show Superstar on RPN 9. A month later, it was revived on IBC 13 with a new title, The Legend … Superstar, but this was short-lived lasting only up to early 1990. Naging mas masuwerte si Vilma Santos sa hinu-host na Vilma! on GMA 7, which started in 1981 as VIP (Vilma in Person) ng lumang BBC 2 (naibalik sa Lopez owners ang ABS-CBN after the EDSA Revolution). Nagbida si Vilma sa isa sa mga pinakaimportanteng pelikula ng Dekada ‘80: Regal Films’ Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (by Ishmael Bernal), na sinimulan in 1988 at ipinalabas in early 1989. In December 1989, Vilma headlined a period romance-drama (Viva Films’ Imortal, megged by Eddie Garcia) at nanalo sila ng kaparehang si Christopher de Leon ng acting plums sa MMFF. Sa awardings for that year, si Vilma ang nanalong Best Actress sa Star Awards (for Pahiram), her first form the Philippine Movie Press Club. ‘Kumpletung-kumpleto na ang career ko!” nasabi ni Vilma as she accepted her trophy. Later, it was Nora’s turn to get a Best Actress trophy for the first time from the Film Academy of the Philippines, for Elwood Perez’s three-year-in-the-making Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit. ‘Kumpletung-kumpleto na ang career ko!” sabi rin niya in her acceptance speech. Na-elevate si Vilma sa FAMAS Hall of Fame, for having bagged five Best Actress statuettes: Dama de Noche, Pakawalan Mo Ako, Relasyon, Tagos ng Dugo, and Elwood Perez’s Ibulong Mo Sa Diyos. Nora won her fourth Best Actress plum sa FAMAS, also for Bilangin. Walang itulak-kabigin sa dalawa, kaya marapat lang na mag-tie sila for Best Actress, as in the 1990 Gawad Urian, na ‘pantay na parangal ”ang ipinagkaloob ng Manunuri kina Nora (for Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit) at Vilma (for Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga)…” – William Reyes (READ MORE)

“…Vi goes to the kitchen to prepare breakfast at habang nagbabati siya ng itlog, doon pa lang ipinakitang una siyang nag-breakdown. And this is shown nang nakatalikod siya sa camera. No overly ornate kind of emoting na akting na akting ang dating. Pero damang-dama mo pa rin…she becomes the part (lalo na sa eksena nila ni Gabby Concepcion sa simbahan na binalikan nila kung paano sila nagkasira), and if you notice that she is good, well, salamat po…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..’yan ang opinion namin…” – Mario Bautista, People Journal 1989 (READ MORE)

“…The only thing I can say about this film is that of its performances – from Vilma Santos (as the woman who spends her last days on earth looking for love) and Eric Quizon (as the ill painter who falls in love with Santos). This film is best fitted for a made-for-TV slot, considering its premise (which may attract mothers). Passable…” – Oscar 99, IMDB web site, September 13, 1999, Manila,Philippines (READ MORE)

“…The last time Bernal and Santos collaborated was in 1989. Santos, still active with her musical variety television show, did three films, all were commercial success. “Imortal” directed by Eddie Garcia was a local festival entry that earned Santos another local festival best actress. “Rizal Alih, Zamboanga Massacre” was directed by Carlo J Caparas. And “Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga” directed by Bernal. The film earned Santos the local critics best actress and Bernal the best director. Vilma her very first Star best actress, considered the Golden Globe local equivalent at that time. Pahiram also received nominations for best actress for Vilma and best director for Ishmael both from FAP, now the local equivalent of OSCAR…Bernal gave Vilma Santos her first grandslam best actress awards and consecutive Gawad Urian best actress (1982 and 1983). Their first film together was Inspiration (1972) and last was Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (1989).” – RV (READ MORE)

“…Eric’s role in “Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga” is the manic-depressive love of Vilma Santos. He was contrapuntal to Vilma’s existence who wanted to prolong her life while he wanted to end his. But the Method Acting-oriented scribes at teh Philippine Movie Pres Club saw in Eric the mere physicality in his attack of the role. No anxiety in the eyes; all overt body movements to the point of the Nora Aunor anxiety-laden eyes. Eric rationalizes; “That was exactly how I was supposed to attack my role according to Direk Ishmael Bernal – overacting at physical level lang talaga. Wala nang pa-anxiety-anxiety pa. All the other major characters in “Pahiram…” were already making lupasay na with heavy emotions. From Vilma to Zsa Zsa Padilla to Vicky Suba to Gabby Concepcion – silang lahat emotionally loaded na. If I do the same, boring di ba? Ayaw ni Direk Bernal na pa-heavy emotion approach for my role. But you know my homework for that role was to watch several English sad movies on tapes and was told to cry with the characers if I wanted to or feel like crying. I felt so stupid talaga, but that exercise paid off I tell you.” If you have watched “Pahiram…,” the scene where Eric has to strangle a Myna bird was such a memorable highlight. Eric recalls; “I had to do an improvisation for that scene. Sabi ni Direk Bernal, don’t plan anything with the bird. Basta you just confront the bird at bahala ka na sa sarili mo. So what I did was to make mura and kind of strangle pero acting lang out of my supposed madness. You know what happened? The day after, nagpakamatay ‘yung bird. Nagtampo siguro ‘yun. Kasi raw ang Myna bird ay very sensitive, di ba? Sayang ‘yung bird, ano?…” – George Vail Kabristante, Manila Standard, Feb 20, 1990 (READ MORE)

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