Battle of Superstars

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1978 MMFF – A tear fell when Nora Aunor was declared Best Actress for her role as a maide (a tailor-made role, as her detractors describe with glee) in Ian Films’ Atsay and it was a tear of joy. Atsay has been called Nora’s “last card” and that if it wouldn’t make it at the Metro Manila Filmfest, Nora would be down and out and she might as well say goodbye to the movies. But Nora Aunor has a certain magic that is hard to discern until now. Just when everybody is casting stones at her and predicting doom fo her career and turning against her because her movies hadn’t been making as well as expected, the Little Brown Girl from Iriga would bounce right back to the top, not without vengeance, and reclaim her throne. In last week’s Metro Manila Filmfest Awards at the Cultural Center, Nora fought a “decisive” battle for supremacy against her nearest rival, Vilma Santos, who was said to be the other contender for the Best Performer trophy for her role as Rubia Servios (although others claim that it was really Phillip Salvador who was Nora’s biggest competition for the plum statuette, Phillip’s performance in Rubia Servios being his best and his most credible so far). Vilma’s last year’s Best Actress for her role in the controversy-ridden film Burlesk Queen (also produced by this year’s producer of Best Film Atsay, Ian Films), took her defeat not without a wan smile of disappointment. In this spread, you can see the two faces of showbiz: that of the Victor and that of the Vanquished. The awards night was a veritable of superstars. 1978 was Vilma’s year. Will 1979 be Nora’s? – Expressweek, January 18, 1979, Photograph by Eddie Alfonso (READ MORE)

Atsay – “…This episodic nature of the film robs it of much of its power. Too slack in pacing and too mannered at times, the film runs a long two-and-a-half hours and can easily stand some re-editing. Such scenes showing what happened to Nora’s friends in Lilian Laing’s cabaret may be pruned without actually damaging the central story. This would also add greater impact to Nora’s reunion with Amy Austria, also a “provinciana” who is transformed into a brazen ago-go dancer with half-a-dozen sugar daddies…Edgardo Reyes’ script succeeds though in showing the various experiences typically encountered by household helps: unruly children who torture helpless servants, wives who treat their pets more humanely than their overworked slaves, husbands who take advantage of their loneliness and are known as atsay-killers. People who have been unkind and inconsiderate to their servants at one time or another may feel uneasy, if not totally guilty, as they watch the film. Garcia assembled a uniformly first-rate cast from Armida and Angie to the nameless housemaid who befriends Nora. Even Ronald Corveau is less irksome here than in his weekly TV show. Nora Aunor’s performance bears the distinct marks of style and self, welding character and personality. As Nelia, the atsay, she delivers a muted performance that successfully treads the thin, delicate line separating genuine sentiment and mawkishness…” – Mario E. Bautista, The Philippines Daily Express, 1978 (READ MORE)

Rubia Servios – “…Undoubtedly, the two best entries in the 1978 Metro Manila Film Festival are Atsay and Rubia Servios…Rubia Servios, on the other hand, does not dilute the message. Willy (Phillip Salvador), the son of a powerful and wealthy figure, is portrayed as totally evil, devoid of any redeeming quality. To screenwriter Mario O’Hara and director Lino Brocka, the province is the same as the city. Rubia Servios (Vilma Santos) is raped both in the city and in the country. Rubia kills Willy in the country. Violence unites all places. It is the “unity” of conception, scripting, design, and direction, in fact, that Rubia Servios is superior to Atsay. Lino Brocka does not waste shots in his attempt to create a Filipino classical tragedy. He subordinates everything to the building up of one emotion in the viewer, that of hatred of Willy. So despicable does Willy become at the end that, when he is murdered by Rubia, no viewer can say that Rubia is at fault. And yet, morally speaking, no one is allowed to take the law into his own hands. The law, in fact, put Willy in prison for the first rape. There is no reason to think that the law will not put Willy to death for the second rape. By conditioning the reader to condone Rubia’s revenge, Brocka succeeds in questioning one of our deeply rooted moral beliefs. The unity that characterizes Rubia Servios contrasts sharply with the tendency of Eddie Garcia in Atsay to exploit Vitug’s versatility even at the expense of tightness. There are shots in Atsay, for example, which could easily be cut without hurting the film’s integrity. Even the train sequence, one of the best sequences in Atsay, is far too long. Rubia Servios is Lino Brocka’s film; Atsay is Romeo Vitug’s. Nora does an excellent acting job; but so does Vilma Santos, and Rubia is a much more demanding and difficult role…” – Isagani Cruz, TV Times, 1979 (READ MORE)

The Queen of Film FestivalNora Aunor has become a regular staple at the film fest circuit, locally or abroad. Since her first local entry “Bato Bato Sa Langit” in 1975, (not including all her international recognition) she amassed eight acting local trophies, the most recent was for last year’s “Thy Womb,” directed by Cannes Film Fest best director, Brilliante Mendoza. Some hightlights would be, 1982’s Himala, now restored into its glory and was exhibited in Venice Film Festival; 1978’s “Atsay” where she clobbered her closest rival Vi in a Lino Brocka opus “Rubia Servios”; 1979’s battle of dramatic stars not only Nora competed against her co-star, veteran drama queen, Lolita Rodriguez in Lino Brocka’s “Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo” but also Aunor successfully defeat the tandem of Vi and Charito Solis (“Modelong Tanso”); and 1980’s “Bona,” another Lino Brocka drama that also featured Phillip Salvador, was screened at the 1981 Cannes International Filmfest. Aunor is now the winningest local actress in Metro Manila Film Fest history, since her first win in 1978, a feat that would be hard to break. The only blemish to this historical feat was the inconsistent box office results of most of her festival films. Meanwhile, Aunor’s rival Vilma Santos‘ record in terms of festival entries was quite remarkable as well. She received several acting awards from the international circuit where her films competed and screened. But perhaps her success can be more aptly measured by its commercial results (revenue) instead of awards. Some of the highlights: 1977’s Celso Ad Castillo’s “Burlesk Queen” mixed of art and commercial swept all the acting awards and top the revenue gross; 1981’s commercial success of Danny Zialcita’s “Karma,” a film about reincanation that also earned Vi her second best actress; and 2002’s Martial Law film, “Dekada ’70” where Vi lost to supposed to be in a supporting role, Ara Mina for the very first of the franchise “Mano Po” series. – RV