A Very Long Rivalry – 1984

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Pre-1984 – After winning all the best actress trophies in 1983 for the previous year, 1982 and the award giving season ends, 1983 seems to be another business as usual for Vilma Santos. She released three more films after the dissapointment of “Ayaw Kong Maging Kerida” in earlier part of 1983, then on June 9th, Viva Films released “Paano Ba ang Mangarap?” that turned out to be another box office hit. Few months afterwards Regal films released Bernal’s “Broken Marriage,” the follow-up film after the successful grand slam film, “Relasyon.” The film was a critical and commercial success. Then finally, four days after Vi’s birthday, Viva Films released Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s drama, “Minsan pa Natin Hagkan Ang Nakaraan,” another box office hit. This film plus the two films mentioned earlier solidified her bankable status. Not to be outshine, Nora’s “Himala” continued its relentless fight for recognition, winning the bronze prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival on November of 1983. Despite this, 1983 seems to be not her year, aside from losing in all the award derbies, she only released two films, “Bad Bananas sa Puting Tabing” and the forgettable, “Minsan May Isang Ina.”

Golden Year – “…In 1984, Nora and Vilma each had three “pang-award” movies. Nora starred in ‘Merika by Gil Portes, Condemned and Bulaklak ng City Jail by Mario O’Hara. The latter was entry in the MMFF, winning Best Picture and Direction at nanalo ring Best Actress si Guy. Si Vilma was in Brocka’s Adultery: Aida Macaraeg, Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L. and Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina. Noong 1985 unang nagbigay ng Star Awards ang Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC). Para sa taong 1984 ang mga parangal na ipapamahagi, at sina Nora at Vilma lang ang nominated for Best Actress: Guy for all her three starrers, Vilma for Aida Macaraeg and Sister Stella L. Mainitan umano ang nagging deliberation para sa kategoryang Best Actress, which earlier that year was bagged by Vilma (for Sister Stella L. sa Gawad Urian; her third straight win!) and by Nora (for Bulaklak ng City Jail sa CMMA). Sa 1st Star Awards for Movies, it was Nora Aunor who won for ‘Merika. The late movie scribe Frank Mallo, a self-confessed Noranian, fought hard for Aunor to clinch the Best Actress plum, especially for ‘Merika. He even wrote a letter (published in Constantino’s Highspeed column) disputing the Manunuri’s earlier choice of Vilma Santos as Urian Best Actress. Sa taong ito rin ng Gawad Urian nagtamo ng double nomination si Nora – for ‘Merika and Bulaklak ng City Jail. Sa pagtatapos ng award-giving season, si Nora uli ang Best Actress sa FAMAS (her third win) for Bulaklak ng City Jail. Dito niya unang naka-tie si Sharon Cuneta (for Borlaza’s Dapat Ka Bang Mahalin?). Pero hanggang ngayon, nakahihinayang na walang napanalunang award si Nora for Condemned, kung saan she was cited by Tempo entertainment editor Nestor Cuartero for that single scene in which she acted out a “cry of sorrow like no other” upon the death of actor Dan Alvaro who played her brother in that film which was rated “A” by the Film Ratings Board…” – William Reyes (READ MORE)

Nora Aunor’s Films (3): (‘Merika; Bulaklak sa City Jail; Condemned) – Nora did three solid award-worthy films, two from Mario O’Harra and one from Gil Portes.

Vilma Santos’ Films (4): (Adultery; Alyas Baby Tsina; Charot; Sister Stella L.) – Vilma did four films, a guest role to her television co-host film, Roderick Paulate’s “Charot” and three award-worthy films from A-1 directors, Lino Brocka for “Aida Macaraeg: Adultery,” Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Alyas Baby Tsina,” and Mike de Leon’s “Sister Stella L.”

Nora Aunor’s 1984 acting recognition (5) – Best Actress from Star Awards for “‘Merika;” Best Actress from Metro Manila Film Festival and CMMA for “Bulaklak ng City Jail;” and two nominations from URIAN for “‘Merika” and “Bulaklak sa City Jail.”

Vilma Santos’ 1984 acting recognition (6) – Best Actress from URIAN and nominations from FAMAS; FAP; CMMA; Star Awards all for “Sister Stella L.;”and another nomination from Star Awards for “Alyas Baby Tsina.”

Human courage and Determination – “…We see a fairly representative sector of Filipinos living in America through the eyes of Milagros Cruz (Nora Aunor), a nurse working in a New York City hospital. It is her fifth year on the job and life for her has become a predictable routine of quick meals, subway rides, Caucasian patients and late night TV. To augment her income, she holds a second job at a nursing home. Although her two jobs keep her well-off, Mila harbors a secret wish to come home to the Philippines. And while her wish is not an impossible one, the decision involved is a difficult one to make. For Mila, her decision to come home or to stay is largely shaped by a circle of Filipino friends and acquaintances, all of whom have changed in outlook and attitude towards their native land and their adopted country. For the most part, knowledge of events back home has become speculative while knowledge of the new land has become increasingly material and resentful. An aging Filipino whom Mila befriends at the nursing home becomes her surrogate father. The old man is angry at the manner in which his generation was received by the Americans in the years before the war. Mila’s younger friends, on the other hand, are luckier in terms of present-day opportunities. While some have remained honest, others have become callous, even rotten, in adopting the American way of life. All have moments of pride in terms of achievement but no one cares to admit the degradation one goes through to earn that better life, Mila’s final decision comes with much pain but it’s one deed that’s a tribute to human courage and determination. What is clearly admirable about “‘Merika,” is its affecting portrait of loneliness, so thoughtfully realized by Nora Aunor’s touching performance, Gil Portes’s direction and Doy del Mundo and Gil Quito’s homely screenplay. The film does not emphasize a single, urgent cause for Mila’s wanting to go home precisely because such loneliness cannot be quantified. For the migrant Filipino, this kind of loneliness exists in mind and heart but it can never be completely expressed. It’s a feeling so deep seated, it couldn’t be relieved entirely, even by a long-distance call. The film utilizes many images to describe this sad feeling, from chilly scenes of winter to bare trees, disabled senior citizens, to the never-ending pictures on television. It all adds up to a very, very cold account of a life of sacrifice in a country of great expectations. …” – Emmanuel A. Reyes, Tempo, 1984 (READ MORE)

Major-league Filmmaking – “…So far the only pitfall he has stumbled into in “Bulaklak sa City Jail” appears to be the pursuit of a more grandiose design (the city as confirmation of the city-jail metaphor) at the expense of already established premises. For the excursion of Angela into big-city intrigues forces the film into a linear storytelling mode as the characterization of city-jail types is abandoned for plot twists; here the absurdities acceptable for enrichment of character begin to be called to account, and are transformed, in the context of conventionalized approaches, into glaring lapses of logic. Foremost among these is the total absence of support for any of the inmates. While this real-life improbability becomes necessary for the organization of the dramatic lines of force among the inmates, the artifice gets exposed once the Angela character is made to abandon the city-jail schema and the audience consequently realizes that the last jail victim she fought for before deciding to escape had connections powerful enough to influence court decisions—a consideration that makes their failure in releasing the victim-to-be-too obvious to be ascribed to sheer negligence….Although “Bulaklak sa City Jail” would ordinarily have been doomed by such compromises, the project does not appear to be as easily dismissible, saved as it is by a surface perfection never before seen in any Mario O’Hara, specifically in the combination of his willingness to handle big themes (which has always been his strong point) with the confidence of a veteran film craftsman. Particularly noteworthy is his ability to recreate dramatic texture through the interrelation of character progressions (in the city-jail portion) and the use of ironic juxtapositions. Although these are virtues that should be first credited to the screenwriter, it may do observers well to keep in mind that O’Hara has written some of his own films’ scripts and has done even better ones for other directors. A continuing consciousness on his part of dramatic essentials will help distinguish him from the Johnnys-come-lately of so-called serious filmmaking, who in their less sober moments strive for flash without regard for illuminative sources. With “Bulaklak sa City Jail,” Mario O’Hara has begun his bid for major-league filmmaking….” – Joel David, Tinig ng Plaridel, 1985 (READ MORE)

Tragic Heroine – “…The film is not only Filipino film but a fine one in practically every respect, starting with the gripping screenplay which comes to life under the adroit direction of Mario O’ Hara. It is a flawed jewel but a finely polished one nonetheless. It is a refreshing departure from the predictable and the prosaic elements that one encounters in many, if not most, Filipino films. For the most part, it veers away from the cloying melodramatic acting coaxed from our Filipino actors. As the tragic heroine, Nora Aunor turns in a sensitive and restrained portrayal of touching vulnerability — her deep love for her psychotic killer-brother played convincingly by Dan Alvaro, her helplessness in the face of adversity or her quiet rage as she daringly confronts the arch villainess played with surprising flair by Gloria Romero. The closeness between the brother and sister plays up an unusual sister-brother relationship which is central to the plot but which is a theme rarely fully developed in Filipino films. One wonders if there is more to the relationship than actually meets the eye. Though Dan Alvaro has appeared in numerous action films and died in most of them, he makes his mark in “Condemned” with his striking screen presence. A majority of the previewers considered both Nora and Dan as perfectly cast, with the supporting cast providing creditable performances…” – Film Ratings Board, 1984 (READ MORE)

Societal and Religious Norms – “…Aida (Vilma Santos giving a very mature performance) is the sole breadwinner for her family, consisting of a bedridden father, a nagging mother, a good-for-nothing brother, his unemployed wife and baby. Unable to bear the hardships of living with her family, she takes the offer of her boyfriend Carding (Phillip Salvador) to simply live together, resisting his invitation to marry him despite the possible scandal that might arise out of their living arrangement. Carding gets caught peddling prohibited drugs and gets imprisoned, leaving Aida all alone to fend for herself. Years later, Carding gets released from prison and finds Aida, now a mistress of a wealthy executive (Mario Montenegro) and mother to a child that is not his. Aida is then sued for adultery by Carding, which if she is proven guilty would separate her from her son. There’s one sequence in the film which clearly shows Brocka’s mastery. Aida visits Carding in prison, telling him of her pregnancy. Carding again offers to marry her, fearing that their child would be a bastard child. Supposedly out of pity, Aida agrees. The marriage is solemnized then and there. The prison chaplain officiates the ceremony where Aida is draped in an ordinary dress while Carding wears the orange colored uniform. Around are the witnesses of their marriage, felons all donning the same orange outfit Carding is wearing. Of course, these are mere background details, emphasizing the sullenness of the event that is ordinarily jovial and lively. Brocka concentrates on Aida. He closes up on her face, worried about the uncertainty of her future: she is after all pregnant and now married to a convict with absolutely no source of income. It is Aida’s point of no return and Brocka understands it as such, thus he presents it with understated elegance; no dialogue, just Lutgardo Labad’s swelling music and Brocka’s emphatic close-up of Vilma Santos’ apprehensive face. The film attempts to criticize marriage, which is depicted not in its traditional sense (as the key to life’s bliss) but as a harrowing cage where women are left with no choices. It seems to advocate infidelity, especially when the requirements of life overtakes the facile concerns of societal and religious norms. Interestingly, Brocka does not antagonize any of his characters. Aida is a hardworking woman who we first see as the selfless sufferer who is charged with her family’s survival, a mere victim of fate and circumstance. Also, one cannot doubt Carding’s affection for Aida. His decisions in life may have been off, leading to his incarceration and Aida’s continuing suffering, but it cannot be denied that his love for his wife is indubitable. The blame does not go to any person but to the social institution of marriage, its sometimes shallow roots and the unbendable veneration the law and society gives to it to the detriment of the unique needs of individuals…” – Oggs Cruz (READ MORE)

Front-page Baby Tsina – “…Ang istoryang ito ay matagal nang ikinukuwento sa akin ni William. Wala pa akong asawa, pangarap na ni William na magawa ang pelikula. He had the story at hand. Siya talaga ang nag-negotiate para makuha ang istorya. Noong una nga raw, ayaw pumayag ni Baby Tsina at ng kanyang asawa dahil gusto na nilang kalimutan yun. Eh, si William alam ko yan kung magpilit, tsaka personal kasi niyang kilala si Baby Tsina, nakuha rin ang istorya,” salaysay ni Vilma…”Noong una kong mabasa ang script, ayoko sanang maniwala na nangyari talaga yun. Masyadong cinematic, eh. Para bang sa pelikula at sa komiks lang nangyayari. Until the day nga that I met the real Baby Tsina. Nang siya na ang makuwento sa akin ng naging buhay niya, lalo na after the crime at sa loob Correctional, saka ko lang nalaman na ang nakalagay sa script ay kulang pa pala. Mas matindi ang istorya niya, pero hindi na maaring isamang lahat sa pelikula. Baka namang masyadong humaba eh. Malakas ang istorya. I think the story alone will sell the movie. Lalo na kung iisiping isa itong celebrated case at nasundan ng mga tao noon sa mga diyaryo. Front page stories pa raw lagi iyang si Baby Tsina noon eh…” – Ariel Francisco, Jingle Extra Hot Magazine, October 12, 1984 (READ MORE)

The Power to cause Insomnia – “…De Leon handles his intimate and delicate material powerfully, persuasively and penetratingly. He not only executes the technical aspects marvelously but also knows how to work with his actors, both individually and in the here all-important ensembles. The crowd scenes are a delight, with some sequences presented with the veristic quality of a documentary, and each scene is played for maximum impact, immaculately crafted and made with care and conscience, with dedication and devotion. If we now sound so much like an avid de Leon fan, it is because Stella L. is the kind of work that makes a reviewer long for new adjectives of praise. One knows very well that de Leon works for reasons other than money. This makes the strength, sensitivity and symetry of his direction deserve the highest praise and the sweet of music of thunderous applause for it is just better than perfect. Local cinema gives us very few occasions to rejoice and this is one of them. In the large and uniformly excellent supporting cast, Laurice Guillen stands out as Sister Stella B. She is one film director and actress who is really ablaze with talent. As the instrument to Stella L.’s involvement in a much more worthy cause, she imbuesher role with just the right mixture of intensity and charm. Equally memorable are Tony Santos as the beleaguered labor leader, Anita Linda as his courageous wife, and Liza Lorena as the sympathetic magazine editor who is willing to compromise. Gina Alajar is very effective in a very short role as the unwed mother. In the male lead role, Jay Ilagan proves once more that he is indeed one of our most competent young actors available. And now, Vilma Santos. Playing the title role, Vilma tries a part that is totally different from her past roles and proves that she has indeed become a highly skilled professional. Her role is somewhat reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s in Fred Zinnermann’s “The Nun’s Story”, where a young nun discovers in a hospital at the Congo that she is first a nurse and only second a religious. But Stella’s awakening is much more vital and revolutionary than that of Sister Luke in the Hepburn movie. Vilma’s transformation from an innocent bystander to that of an active participant who is audacious enough to be in the thick of battle is truly quite awesome to behold. We could almost see and feel the internal changes in her. In a sense, the role is somewhat tailor made for her because her beauty is appropriate to the part of Stella L., but she also succeeds in transcending her established personality, delivering her lines and gestures with vigorous conviction and playing it to perfection that one can safely predict that she will again be running in the best actress derby come next year. And so, to Vi, Mike and Mother Lily, our heartfelt gratitude for giving us a film that has the power to cause insomnia…” – Mario E. Bautista (READ MORE)

Post-1984 – As both Vilma and Nora reaped recognitions from a year full of award-worthy films that some considered, “Golden Year” for both, the next year would be a test of who can sustain their popularity. Vilma seems to be on a decline as she only release two films, the flop, “Doctor, Doctor, We Are Sick” and the smash hit, “Muling Buksan ang Puso.” Meanwhile, Nora Aunor’s career were on upswing. She released five films, mostly dramas, “Beloved” with Hilda Koronel; “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Till We Meet Again” with Tirso Cruz III; “Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang” in a special guest role; “Tinik Sa Dibdib” with Phillip Salvador and Dina Bonnevie. Then in 1986, both Vilma and Nora did four films each. Critics seems to noticed the decline of both actress as their films seem to be the same melodramas, despite this, both earned nominations. Nora’s acting in “I Love You Mama, I Love You Papa” got her a FAMAS nomination while Vilma’s hit film “Palimos ng Pag-ibig” earned her nominations from Star Awards and FAMAS. Then in 1987, a slight change of pace, Vilma is now concentrating more on television. She moved her show, VIP to GMA 7 and eventually changed its named to simply, “Vilma!” While maintaining her high rating on small screen, she managed to complete four films, she guested on Nora’s produced film “Takot ako, eh!” and featured in three dramas, “Ibigay Mo Sa Akin Ang Bukas,” “Saan Nagtatago Ang Pag-ibig?” and “Tagos ng Dugo.” The last two earned her some trophies, including her fourth FAMAS. Meanwhile, Nora released only three films, she also guested in “Takot Ako Eh,” and featured in “My Bugoy Goes to Congress” and the melodrama, “Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak.” Finally, a year before their final showdown in this decade, 1988, both Vilma and Nora’s focus were on their television shows and only managed to do three films, Nora did the forgettable,”Balut Penoy” and “Sana Mahalin Mo Ako” while Vilma’s only film was “Ibulong Mo Sa Diyos,” a surprised winner in FAMAS and that allowed her to be elevated to their Hall of Fame pedestal. The last year of the decade seems to be the same for both Vilma and Nora, they only produced four films, one for Nora “Bilangin Ang Bituin sa Langit” and three for Vilma, “Imortal,” a festival entry; “Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga,” her last film with Ishmael Bernal and a special guest role in “Rizal Alih, Zamboanga Massacre.” 1989 ends brighter for Vilma, her TV show maintained its high ratings and her filmfest entry, “Imortal” earned several acting trophies including a best actress for her. Come, 1990 Nora and Vilma found themselves fighting it again mano a mano in the acting derby, Nora for “Bilangin” and Vilma for “Pahiram.”

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