Vilma Santos’ MMFF recognitions

Aside from Gawad Urian, Star Awards, Film Academy Awards and FAMAS, the annual local festival, called MMFF or Metro Manila Film Festival has become a part of Vilma Santos’ film career. From the 70s to the new millennium, Vilma Santos was able to entered memorable films that earned her awards, record-breaking ticket revenues, career breakthrough performances and even some memorable heartache. Spanning four decades, the MMFF earned Vilma 7 acting nominations with four wins.

The Martial Law established the amalgamation of the surrounding cities in Manila. Prior to 1975, three local film festivals showcase Filipino films, Quezon City and Manila each has their own festivities and another one in Southern part of the country, Bacolod City. The local festivals started the acting competition between rival, Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor. In 1970 Manila Film Festival, Nora’s Nora in Wonderland and Young Heart compete with Vilma’s sole entry, Love Letters. Two years afterwards, the acting race will heat up in Quezon City Film Festival when the two collided with Nora’s And God Smiled at Me and Vilma’s Dama De Noche. After the Martial Law, cities were amalgamated with Manila. And the Quezon City Film Festival and the Manila Film Festival ends creating the December festival in 1975. Occasionally, Manila will have their own festival every summer in connection to city’s “Araw Ng Manila” celebration. Tthe last time Vilma entered a film at MFF was in 1993 via Dahil Mahal Kita: The Dolzura Cortez Story where she won the best actress. Meanwhile, Nora Aunor’s last venture to MFF was in 2004’s Naglalayag where like Vilma, she won the best actress too.

The Metropolitan Manila Film Festival, now simply called, MMFF, (the “politan” was dropped eventually) or Metro Manila Film Festival exhibits only local films in all its theatres from Christmas Eve to the first week of the following New Year. The festival has its street parade at the eve of Christmas Day and each films contesting for best float. The festival has its awards night at the third or fourth nights.

Not surprisingly, both Nora and Vilma have competed in the first MMFF. Nora’s entry was her self-produced film directed by Luciano B. Carlos, Batu-Bato sa Langit and Vilma’s entry was the melodrama, Karugtong ang Kahapon. The big winner was the pre-presidential, Joseph Estrada. Directed by Augosto Bunaventura, Estrada’s Diligin Mo ng Hamog ang Uhaw na Lupa won the major awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Best Actress went to Charito Solis for Araw-Araw, Gabi-Gabi.

The second year, the festival was noticeably the precursor to the awards race. It was a showcase of who’s who in the local film industry. Lino Brocka, Eddie Romero, Lupita Concio were among the big name directors competing. Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon dominated the awards night winning the best director and Christopher de Leon the best actor. Hilda Koronel was proclaimed the best actress for her impressive performance in Insiang. Concio’s Minsa’y Isang Gamo-gamo, Brocka’s Insiang and Romero’s Ganito will be the top films competing for the first Gawad Urian.

The third MMFF, brought controversy to Vilma Santos. Now starting to accept offbeat roles and learning to adopt versatility to her arsenal, she bravely entered the festival with Celso Ad Castillo’s Burlesk Queen. The gamble paid off as the film became the top grosser and won eight awards out of ten. Burlesk won best picture and best in direction, lead actor, actress, screenplay, supporting actress/actor and cinematography.

Burlesk defeated Lino Brocka’s Inay, Mario O’Hara and Romy Suzara’s Mga Bilanggong Birhen, Mike de Leon’s Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising, Eddie Romero’s Banta ng Kahapon, Ishmael Bernal’s Walang Katapusang Tag-araw, Joey Gosiengfiao’s Babae, Ngayon at Kailanman, Gil Portes’ Sa Piling ng mga Sugapa. A very impressive list, no wonder some critics loudly complained about the awards results. And according to Armida Sigueon Reyna, in her newspaper column, Brocka walked out the awards night in protest and even cursed the juror on the way out ot the auditorium. It was also reported that the organizer asked the winners to return their medals (they hand out medals that year) but no such things happened, Vilma still has her medal in her fully loaded cabinet of hardwares.

The success of Burlesk Queen commercially and critically brought down some senses to some Nora Aunor followers. Clearly, Vilma Santos’ willingness to accept mature and offbeat roles became a threat to Nora Aunor’s standing as the number one actress. Vilma Santos’ entry was Lino Brocka’s true to life film about rape victim, Rubia Servios. Critics and media have predicted Vilma was dead lock for the best actress. Come awards night, the juries’ award Nora’s film about a maid abused by her employer, Atsay won the major awards including best picture and best director for Eddie Garcia. The top acting award was changed to best performer that Nora Aunor won. A vindication from last year’s result? Wait, there wasn’t even an Aunor film last year. For some consolation, Rubia won two technical awards, one for editing and screenplay for Mario O’Harra. The film also became the top grosser of the festival even with the lost to Aunor. According to Isagani Cruz on his TV Times article in 1979: “…Nora does an excellent acting job; but so does Vilma Santos, and Rubia is a much more demanding and difficult role….Overall, Atsay may be much more impressive than Rubia Servios. In terms of challenging our moral and legal convictions, however, Rubia Servios is much more significant.”

1979 brought the tandem of Charito Solis & Vilma Santos versus Lolita Rodrigues and Nora Aunor. The clear winner was the latter team. Although Solis and Santos film did much better at the box office. Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo, a much better film, directed by Lino Brocka won the major awards, best picture, director and acting awards for Raul Aragon and Nora Aunor. For film aficionado, the scene where Solis slapped Santos in Modelong Tanso was memorable. Many reprised that scene, Vilma did it in Anak (with Claudine) and recently Sharon Cuneta with Heart Evangelist in the recent Mano Po.

By 1980, Nora Aunor kept on pushing for festival supremacy and like last year, she entered two films. This time, with Lino Brocka’s Bona and Laurice Guillen’s Kung Ako’y Iiwan Mo. Vilma’s lone entry was Danny Zialcita’s Langis at Tubig. Nora came up short, as both of her film missed the major awards. The big winner was Christopher De Leon and Bembol Roco’s film Taga Sa Panahon. Taga won the top awards while Marilou Diaz Abaya’s film Brutal won directing and best actress for Amy Austria. Langis At Tubig won best actor Dindo Fernando.

After winning in 1977 and a big loss in 1978, Vilma’s enthusiasm in winning at the MMFF subsided significantly. Her film entries were now focused on entertainment value aimed at getting commercial success instead of awards. 1980 and 1981 was a big example. Danny Zialcita’s Langis At Tubig did very well at the box office in ’80 and her entry the following year was a glossy production, Karma. Karma was a big hit and earned nominations but one film dominated all the 1981’s MMFF, Kisap Mata, directed by Mike De Leon won eight out of ten awards except for best actress, that award went to Vilma Santos. Vilma didn’t attend the ceremony, her co-star, Chanda Romero, accepted the award.

Nora’s absence in 1981 add motivation to her camp, she entered the festival with the epic film, directed by Ishmael Bernal, Himala, now considered by many as one of the best Filipino film of all time. Himala won seven major awards including best picture, director, screenplay and actress. Vilma’s entry Haplos was a distant third, with a win for lead actor, Christopher De Leon. The following year, Himala harvested nominations from four award-giving bodies particularly the best actress nominations for Nora but failed to win any, all the trophies went to Vilma, earning her first grand slam best actress. The next six years, no film by Vilma Santos in the festival. The big winners during these years are: 1983 – Karnal, 1984 – Bulaklak ng City Jail, 1985 – Paradise Inn, 1986 – Halimaw sa Banga, 1987 – Olongapo, 1988 – Patrolman.

The 1989 MMFF brought back the team of Vilma Santos and Christopher De Leon. Viva film’s Immortal directed by Eddie Garcia won major awards including best picture, director and the acting for Christopher and Vilma. Not to be undone, Nora Aunor entered the race the following year via Elwood Perez’ Andrea Paano ba ang Maging Isang Ina. The film won best picture, director and actress for Nora. Best actor went to Dolphy for Espadang Patpat. Then 1991 was a repeat for Nora as her film, again directed by Perez, Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M. won major awards.

The next twelve years seems to be non-existent for Vilma followers as there were no entries from Vilma Santos in these years. There were no films that stands out compare to the high caliber films entered during the peak of the Vilma-Nora rivalry. There are six films that were praised by the critics though, Chito Rono‘s films Nasaan ang Puso (1997) and Bagong Buwan (2001), Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal (1998) and Muro-ami (1999) and Laurice Guillen’s Tanging Yaman (2000). In the acting category, only Elizabeth Oropesa win in 1999 for Bulaklak ng Maynila and Gloria Romero’s win in 2000 for Tanging Yaman stands out.

By 2002, it was déjà vu all over again, Vilma Santos convinced by many as a sure bet for the best actress lost again for her festival entry, Dekada 70. The award was given to Ara Mina for her supposed to be supporting role in the very first Mano Po. Dekada will dominate the awards race the following year, Vilma will win several best actress awards. Vilma’s co-star, Piolo Pascual will win all the best supporting actor making him a grand slam winner. The next year, Crying Ladies, starring Sharon Cuneta, Hilda Koronel and Angel Aquino won the best picture, best actor for Eric Quizon, best supporting actress for Hilda while Maricel Soriano snatched the best actress for Filipinas. The next year, Vilma came back again with Regal’s third installment to the Mano Po series. Titled, Mano Po 3: My Love and directed by Joel Lamangan, the film won best picture and the lead acting for Vilma and Christopher De Leon. Cesar Montano’s self-produced and directed film, Panaghoy sa Suba won best actor.

No Vilma Santos or Nora Aunor films the next five years. Vilma visibly concentrated with her political career and Nora retired in the United States. The film festival continued its annual fan fare with some memorable films. Zsazsa Padilla and Cherry Pie Picache continued the Mano Po series with a comedy, Ako Legal Wife, Mano Po 4 won the female acting awards in 2005. Judy Ann Santos comedy film, directed Joey Reyes, Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo top the 2006 festival. Maricel Soriano received another best actress the following year for Bahay Kubo, The Pinoy Mano Po. Anne Curtis arrived in the big league as she wins best actress for Baler in 2008 and then this year, Bong Revilla won best actor for Ang Panday and Sharon Cuneta best actor for Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love, both first time winner.

Vilma Santos’ MMFF Best Actress from 1975 to 2008

For some, Vilma Santos MMFF recognitions in terms of awards wasn’t as significant compare to lets say, her number of URIAN or FAMAS awards but all the shortcomings were forgotten when you think about the successful recorded revenue of her festival entries.  From Burlesk Queen, Rubia Servios, Karma, Langis at Tubig and to her last one, Mano Po 3, all did very well.  At the end of the day, producers would still prefer a little profit than trophies. – RV


Filmography: Dekada 70 (2002)

“Buong buhay ko yan na lang lagi ang sinasabi nila sa akin…wala kang magagawa eto ang gusto ng asawa mo…wala kang magagawa eto ang kapalaran mo…wala kang magagawa dahil dapat…putris naman, dapat hindi ganuon…tapos sasabihin ng daddy n’yo hindi lang ang anak ko ang pinatay hindi lang ang anak ko ang dinukot…lalo akong nanggigigil, lalo akong nagagalit dahil kung nanay ka talaga, hindi ka lang dapat nanganganak kundi naipaglaban mo rin ang anak mo dapat kaya mong pumatay para sa anak mo…gusto ko lang malaman bakit nila pinatay ang anak ko…hindi masamang tao ang anak ko, kahit sa oras na ito humarap ako sa diyos kahit sa dimonyo hindi masamang tao ang anak ko…hindi masamang tao ang anak ko!” – Amanda Bartolome

“You could stop being proud of me! Nagsawa na ako sa ganuon, gusto ko naman ngayon ako mismo just for a change, maging proud sa sarili ko!” – Amanda Bartolome

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Basic Information: Directed: Chito S. Roño; Story: Lualhati Bautista; Screenplay: Lualhati Bautista; Cast: Vilma Santos, Christopher De Leon, Piolo Pascual, Marvin Agustin, Kris Aquino, Ana Capri, Dimples Romana, Jhong Hilario, Carlos Agassi, Danilo Barrios, Carlo Muñoz, Tirso Cruz III, Orestes Ojeda, John Wayne Sace, Marianne de la Riva, Manjo del Mundo, Cacai Bautista; Executive producer: Charo Santos-Concio; Original Music: Nonong Buencamino; Cinematography: Neil Daza; Film Editing: Jess Navarro; Production Design: Manny Morfe; Sound: Albert Michael Idioma, Alex Tomboc; Theme Songs: “Hanggang” sung by Wency Cornejo; Released date: 25 December 2002

Plot Description: Dekada 70 is a story of a family caught in the midst of a tumultuous time in Philippine history – the martial law years. Amanda (Vilma Santos) and Julian (Christopher Deleon) is a picture of a middle class couple with conservative ideologies, who must deal with raising their children, five boys – Jules (Piolo Pascual), Isagani (Carlos Agassi), Emmanuel (Marvin Agustin), Jason (Danilo Barrios) and Bingo (John Sace) in an era marked by passion, fear, unrest and social chaos. As siblings struggle to accept the differences of their ideologies, as a father faces the painful dissent of his children, a mother’s love will prove to be the most resonant in the unfolding of this family’s tale, will awaken to the needs of her own self, as she embarks on a journey of discovery to realize who she is as a wife, amother, a woman and a Filipino. – Star Cinema

“…Amanda and Julian are a middle-class couple who live in Manila in the 1970’s. Their oldest son is influenced by communism at his university. The second son gets a girl pregnant and marries her. But at the same time he joins the US army. The third son wants to be a journalist. The fourth son is fooling around with a girl. The film portrays the Philippines in the 1980’s, when President Marcos declared martial law, through the viewpoint of a middle-class family…” – Fukuoka (READ MORE)

“…Drama. Portrait of a middle-class Filipino family as they change over a period of repression…” – British Film Institute (READ MORE)

Film Achievement: 2003 Cinemanila International Film Festival Best Actress – Vilma Santos; 2003 Cinemanila International Film Festival Netpac Special Mention Award – Chito S. Roño; 2002 FAP Best Actress – Vilma Santos; 2002 URIAN Best Actress – Vilma Santos; 2002 STAR Best Actress – Vilma Santos; 2002 YCC Best Performer (tie) – Vilma Santos, Piolo Pascual; 2002 Gawad Tanglaw Best Actress – Vilma Santos; 2002 One’s RAVE Awards Best Performance – Vilma Santos; 2002 FAMAS Best Supporting Actor – Piolo Pascual; 2002 FAP Best Supporting Actor – Piolo Pascual; 2002 URIAN Best Picture – Star Cinema; 2002 URIAN Best Screenplay – Lualhati Bautista; 2002 URIAN Best Supporting Actor – Piolo Pascual; 2002 YCC Best Film – Star Cinema; Philippines’ Official Entry at the 76th Academy Awards (OSCAR) Best Foreign Language Film; Philippines’ Official Entry: 2003 Toronto International Film Festival; 2003 Hawai International Film Festival; 15tth Ankara International Film Festival; 5th Makati CineManila International Film Festival; Montreal International Film Festival; 22nd San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival; 6th San Diego Asian Film Festiva; Tous les Cinema du Monde (Cinemas of the World) 2005 Cannes Film Festival

Other Film Achievements: 2002 FAP Best Actor nomination – Christopher De Leon; 2002 FAP Best Director nomination – Chito S. Roño; 2002 FAP Best Picture nomination – Star Cinema; 2002 FAP Best Production Design nomination – Manny Morfe; 2002 FAP Best Screenplay nomination – Lualhati Bautista; 2002 FAP Best Story nomination – Lualhati Bautista; 2002 URIAN Best Actor nomination – Christopher De Leon; URIAN Best Director nomination – Chito S. Roño; 2002 URIAN Best Production Design nomination – Manny Morfe; 2002 URIAN Best Sound nomination – Albert Michael Idioma, Alex Tomboc; 2002; Official Selection: Moviemov: Italian Cinema Now 2012; Official Selection: 11th FilmAsia (2015) Czech Republic

Film Festival Box Office Result – “…The combined efforts of Star for All Seasons Vilma Santos and drama king Christopher de Leon failed to life “Dekada ’70” from its initial No. 5 standing on the box office list. The Chito Rono period drama, did not move from the fifth place since the start of the festival, despite heavy promo blitx provided by producer Star Cinema and its sister company ABS-CBN. “Dekada ’70” earned only a total of P37,945,673.25…” – Marinel R. Cruz, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan 15, 2003 (READ MORE)

Film Reviews: “Films on and about Martial Law have one thing in common: They all include scenes of political violence, often brutal. Asian cultural studies scholar Laurence Marvin Castillo says these allow the viewers to “experience the drama and the brutality of the era by making them identify with those who experience the horrors of the dictatorship onscreen, arousing the individual or collective sense of horror, pity, disgust and rage.” Sitting through actor Piolo Pascual being electrocuted and sleeping naked on an ice box in the commercially successful and acclaimed film “Dekada ’70”, written by the prolific Lualhati Bautista, can make the viewers squirm. The audience were made to feel the desperation of mother Amanda Bartolome (Vilma Santos) and father Julian (Christopher De Leon) in looking for their missing sons. The ordeal leads to Amanda’s political awakening. “This is also why scenes of political torture, brutality and other forms of political violence are a staple in films about the Martial Law, if only to arouse indignation over the visible inhumanity perpetrated by the dictatorial forces,” Castillo says. Castillo is a PhD candidate at the Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne and a literary and cultural studies professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.” – Kristine Joy Patag, Philstar, 26 September 2020 (READ MORE)

“…On it’s 11th year of presenting Asian cinema to Czech audiences, 2015 FilmAsia, the Czech Republic’s premier Asian film festival, is putting Filipino cinema in focus for the first time. Initiated by Czech Embassy in Manila, in cooperation with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), this year’s FilmAsia premieres six Filipino feature films, old and new. Among the films brought to Prague are the recently rediscovered and restored classic Genghis Khan (1950) directed by Manuel Conde which opened the festival on Dec. 4, and the acclaimed political family drama Dekada ’70 (2002) based on the novel by Lualhati Bautista, a film which mirrors the similar experience of the Czechs, who were also fighting for their democracy in the 1970s and 1980s while under communist rule. “As only a single Philippine film, The King of Sulu and the Emperor of China by Eddie Romero, ever entered the Czech film distribution [system] as long as a quarter a century ago, and not more than a dozen, often independent, films have been screened at Czech film festivals in recent years, this very first Philippine selection will be a unique glimpse into otherwise unknown cinematography in my country,” said Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Jaroslav Olša, Jr. The core of the Philippine focus are three independent Filipino films namely Lihis (2013), Sonata (2013), and Badil (2013), all co-produced by the FDCP. And to give the Czech audiences a glimpse of Philippine superhero films, the iconic Philippine superheroine will get the opportunity to fly over Prague with the Czech premier of Darna, starring Vilma Santos. “As the only Asian film festival in the Czech Republic, FilmAsia offers Czechs a glimpse of the best of what Asian cinema can offer,” said Karla Stojáková, the festival´s director and producer who has a long history of cooperation with Asian filmmakers. “Therefore I was happy to share the idea of Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr. to present Filipino cinematography for the very first time in our country. Our festival is entering second decade this year and so it is symbolic and oportunity for our film enthusiasts to discover another Asian cinematography.” In previous years, FilmAsia has featured award-winning works by notable directors in the Asian region, among them Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk, Hou Hsia-hsien, Johnnie To, Wong Kar-wai, Tsai Ming-liang, and Takashi Miike…” – Interaksyon, 07 December 2015 (READ MORE)

Relevant Films for Millenials – “…For the millennial generation who want to learn more about the relevant films during the martial law period, I would highly recommend the book Re-viewing Filipino Cinema by Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature. I have not seen all the films during and about martial law. But, I remember those that I would highly recommend…Dekada 70 was produced in 2002 but is about the story of a Filipino family during martial law. The essential story is about Amanda (Vilma Santos) and Julian (Christopher de Leon) who are raising their five sons during the repressive dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The parents are apolitical but their sons turn to various forms of activism as a result of life under martial law. Eventually, the family becomes the victim of extremist violence and Amanda soon becomes a dissident. The film director was Chito S. Rono…There is no question that in today’s digital world, people – students, laborers, rich, poor – prefer film to reading books. Film has become the most powerful means of recreation; but, they can also be a means for education. Film may be the best medium to teach millennials and future generations about the true and unrevised version of Philippine history…” – Elfren S. Cruz, The Philippine Star, 24 September 2017 (READ MORE)

No. 26 of 50 Best Films of the 21st Century – “…Today, close to ten national film festivals showcase feature-length and short films every year, and around fifty festivals, not to mention the increasing number of filmmaking workshops, exclusively show short films in many campuses, local cinemas, and alternative venues around the country. While local film enthusiasts are being spoiled by the availability of choices offered by the increasing number of filmfests, distribution of independent films is still a nightmare. Unlike mainstream pictures that can be readily accessed as DVDs or pay-per-view content even many years after their dates of release, audiences wanting to catch indie films need to watch them during their release in select venues (which are mostly located in Metro Manila), otherwise, chances of seeing them being viewed again are not very high, especially if their themes are not geared for mainstream consumption. It’s a good thing that efforts are being made both by government and the private sector (FDCP’s regional cinematheques and its partnership with SM for CineLokal, the UP Film Institute, TBA’s Cinema ’76, Cinema One channel) to feature indie films released in earlier years at affordable rates. The various filmfests have different arrangements with filmmakers regarding ownership and distribution rights, and some are more proactive in marketing their entries than others. A few filmmakers (like Lav Diaz, Khavn dela Cruz, and other younger indie filmmakers producing their own films) directly make their films available for a modest fee to interested viewers. Also, online streaming platforms such Culture Unplugged, iflix, iTunes, Netflix, Vimeo, Hooq, and Viddsee (for short films) will surely play a bigger role in the near future. At present, only 11 of the top 50 films below can be viewed in iflix.

Forming a canon of modern classics is an obviously herculean task, so we’ve invited 33 critics, academics, archivists, and reviewers who have closely followed Philippine cinema’s output since the turn of the century to name their 10 favorite local films since 2001 (technically the first year of the 21st century). The voters relayed to us that it was a very challenging but fun undertaking. A total of 163 films received votes: of the top 50, 3 are documentaries, 14 are made by filmmakers who are based or primarily working outside Metro Manila (proof that regional cinema has made a lasting impact on the modern national cinematic landscape), and a whopping 46 are produced independently. Here are the top 50 films of the 21st century so far…No. 26 – Dekada ‘70, Chito Roño, 2002…“Hangga’t patuloy na inililibing sa puntod ng kasaysayan ang panahong (Batas Militar), patuloy na magmumulto ang mga Pilipinong itinimbuwang ng karahasan sa gitna ng pambansang pakikibaka laban sa diktadura. Ito ang halaga ng pelikulang Dekada ’70 na hindi kayang igpawan ng mga kaalinsabay nito-pagbalik-tanaw sa panahong nagluwal sa mga bayaning walang pangalan tungo sa paglaya ng bayan. Habang nagsasawalang kibo ang maraming Pilipino sa tunay na kabuluhan ng panahong ito, patuloy na gagamitin ng iba’t ibang pwersa ang kilusang naipundar ng luha at dugo ng mga Pilipinong nagmahal sa sariling bayan. Isang testimonya ang pelikula sa kamalayang hindi magagapi at patuloy na magsasatinig sa katotohanan.” – Ariel Valerio, Young Critics Circle…” – Pinoy Rebyu, Filipino Film Aggregator (READ MORE)

In critical acclaim and commercial grade, Lualhati Bautista’s “Dekada ‘70” is the most significant Filipino novel in the 1980’s. That’s just about saying it is also the most difficult to adapt to other versions, notably film. Chito Rono and Star Cinema have taken on that challenge and the result is what to many estimates is the best movie of the 2002 Metro Manila Film festival, not withstanding the vastly different estimation of the jurors.

“Dekada ‘70” is difficult to adapt partly because as a best-selling novel, it is like a film that has already been made in the minds of its many readers. But a bigger difficulty it poses to adapters is its social realism since it is basically a chronicle of the Marcos era. Its time-bound character makes it difficult to transcribe on screen in as much as a logistical gulf divides the original material from its realization in another medium. But perhaps the biggest difficulty is generational. Despite the fact the Marcos dictatorship aand its overthrow were historic turning points, they seem to have receded from the collective memory, particularly the memory of the young, as a result of the nation’s failure to come to grips with them, so that up to now, the Marcoses have made inroads at political rehabilitation and young Filipinos know more about the crimes and misdemeanors of the American presidency and the glamour of Hollywood than the depredations of Marcos.

The logistical gulf can be bridged by resources (and Star Cinema has plenty of them), but it requires a creative vision on the part of the filmmakers and creative faith on the part of the audience to make a socio-political novel spring to life. In coming up with the creative vision to complement a largely hypothetical creative faith on the part of Filipino moviegoers. Rono and his cast and production have achieved a rare feat. They have made a socio-political novel come alive with urgency and import. The movie is largely successful because it is defined by an economy of focus (the Bartolome family), of vantage point (the developing sensibility of Amanda, the mother character), and of milieu and setting (the Philippines in the ‘70s under martial law). The novel was written from a woman’s point of view, and it is the particular strength of the film that it underscores the patriarchy of much of Philippine society in terms both macro (the military dictatorship) and micro (Bartolome’s excruciatingly macho husband Julian, played convincingly by Christopher de Leon, and her all-male brood).

Rono and Bautista, who writes her own adaptation, have obviously worked very closely in fleshing out the novel on screen. The result is an effective and even subtle tableau of scenes to present the Bartolome family’s struggles from the late ‘60s to ‘70s that not only set the domestic drama, but also prefigure the wider social and historical saga unfolding before the nation. No scene is wasted, no useless pandering to the viewer’s sense of spectacle or penchant for soap opera is even attempted. The competent production design, the agile editing, the stark photography (which impresses even the Paris-based Filipino-Spanish painter Sanso who calls it comparative to the best in Europe) ensures a panoply of images that is immediate, recognizable, and keen. Like Regal Films, Star Cinema has been compelled to throw in its stable of stars so that the Bartolome siblings look distractingly too much like a boy band. But because they play well-thought-out characters, their damage is put to a minimum. In some cases, like Piolo Pascual as Jules, the young communist rebel, the effect is heart-wrenching.

Pascual plays, along with Vilma Santos as Amanda, one of the centers of gravity of the movie; the other center consists of Santos and Christopher de Leon. As arguably the first unabashedly feminist Filipino novel, “Dekada” shows a woman’s awakening to her nature and gender through the men of her life-her husband and her first born. Their age, generation and preoccupation divide both men, and Amanda serves as their bridge and transition. In the process, Amanda herself is transformed. She becomes herself. The most moving scenes of the movie are of Jules and Amanda meeting on the sly and forced to carry on mother-and-son endearments hurriedly because of the threat of arrest. But the most poignant scene is Julian and Amanda confronted with the terrible loneliness of their advanced years, left by their children, he turning away from her to hide his tears, and she asking him to face her and not to be ashamed. It helps that the scene is played by Santos and De Leon, truly one of Filipino cinema’s most effective screen couples. As Amanda, Vilma Santos shows again why Brocka, before he died, had likened her to water. “She can register anything,” he said. In “Dekada”, its the same Santos of vigor and transparency. The only difference is the depth, the resonance, and the greater confidence. Can she ever go wrong? – Lito B. Zulueta, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 30 December 2002

For the Philippines, the seventies was more than just a period of shaggy hair, bell-bottom jeans, platform shoes, and disco music. It represented the rise of the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, a U.S.-sponsored regime characterized by military repression and wholesale human rights violations. Conversely, it was also the fecund period for the sociopolitical awakening and involvement of many Filipinos; the humus for the renowned religious-political event, the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. Dekada 70 journeys with the central character Amanda Bartolome (Vilma Santos), the reticent wife of an alpha-male husband, and the worrying mother of a boisterous all-male brood. Thoroughly relegated to domesticity in a world slathered in testosterone, Amanda begins to undergo a transformation when her family becomes imbricated in the sociopolitical realities brought about by the Marcos dictatorship. The declaration of Martial Law, the lifting of the writ of habeas corpus, the curfews and police searches, all these could have easily floated past Amanda’s head had her sons not found themselves caught in the crossfire between the government and the pro-democracy movements. As one son after another faces the oppressive forces of the dictatorship, Amanda gradually realizes that the personal is political. While chanting slogans for sociopolitical change, she finds her own voice and comes to terms with the fullness of her own person.

It is notable that in the film, the divine presence is sublimated in the refusal to acquiesce to societal structures that perpetuate injustice. The characters’ eyes are opened to the dehumanizing impact of such oppressive structures and they join in the prophetic denunciation of what they have identified as “not-God.” This importantly resonates with the praxical imperative associated with theologies of liberation, which configure God as imbricated in the collective protest of the oppressed. Amanda then, in her “conversion to justice,” can be seen as synechdochic of the epiphanous becoming of Filipinos as a true people of the eucharist.

Based on an awarded novel of the same title, Dekada 70 essays Amanda’s personal and political journey is a patient navigation of each year of the seventies. To director Roňo’s credit, the film has a clear focus and steadily gets to its point through engaging but inobtrusive camerawork. The politically-charged scenes are strident enough to be visually disturbing, yet tempered enough to work on a more psychological level. There are touches of seventies style Filipino humor that foreign audiences might miss; they effectively establish that this is a real, average Filipino family trying to navigate through the eye of the political storm. The acting is generally impressive, most especially that of lead actress Santos, who gives a luminous, sensitive performance. Santos essays the transformation of Amanda so effectively that we do see clearly at the end of the film that there has been a fundamental change in her character.

If there is something to be faulted about the film, it is Roňo’s failure to keep melodramatic moments in check. The funeral sequence of one of Amanda�s sons, for instance, becomes an over-extended session of copious tears. The rich story material of Dekada 70 could do away with such “in your face” paroxysms, which only work to dull the film’s cutting edge political trajectory. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that Roňo had created a noteworthy, epic-scale Filipino film, and on a Third World budget at that. It also cannot be denied that Roňo had not forgotten the sentence of history on his home country. Neither will Filipino audiences. – Antonio D. Sison, Institure for Pastoral Initiatives, University of Nebraska, Vol. 8 No. 1 April 2004, web site

I admire the director of this movie for being able to make a dramatic film based on a ground-breaking novel. It really pays tribute to the Philippines’ Martial Law history. I really felt the seventies in this film. Too bad, this one didn’t qualify for an Oscar Award in 2002. But it doesn’t matter at all. This is really and excellent film. Vilma Santos once again acted like a superior actress who kbows no bounds. Christopher de Leon was okay. All their children did a good job acting. I also admire the make up designers of the movie who made everything fit to the seventies: the house, the furniture, the clothes, the hairstyle, the fashion and etc. I also liked the ending as well and the soundtrack song. It was really touching.People who like based-on-history films should really watch this one. – IMDB

What the other critics said about Vilma Santos’ performance in Dekada 70…

“Santos’ Amanda effortlessly and movingly chronicles the changed consciousness of the family and the country, with understatement her most reliable tool. Pic begins and ends with images of Santos at the forefront of a political demonstration, and nothing, from first image to last, for 128 minutes, is allowed to spontaneously or slyly deviate from the logic of her consciousness-raising.” – Ronnie Scheib, Variety Magazine

“…about Vilma’s performance in “Dekada ‘70”: Some jurors, viewers and reviewers have expressed dissappointment over it because they regard it as too passive, low-key, unemotional, too much taken up with observation, and reflection instead of action. Thus, it doesn’t deserve the best actress award. We disagree. We think that, precisely because Vilma’s portrayal was so restrained for the most part, it was more difficult to achieve. It’s far easier to rant and rave, to “feel” bigtime, to run the gamut of emotions from A to Z- but, if Vilma did that, she would have gone against her character’s nature, as written…during the first half of the film, Vilma’s character occasionally felt unhappy, taken for granted or unappreciated as a person, but she held her emotions in check to keep the peace in the family. It was only later, when the national trauma of martial law rule affected her sons in various tragic ways, that she found the voice and rediscovered the heart to assert herself as a person and to give her emotions full play. We submit that Vilma’s portrayal is excellent precisely because she vivified he character as the wife and mother was in the ‘70s. Her thematic and emotional high points towards the end of the film rivetting, but it was her quieter, more controlled moments that showcased Vilma’s true gift as an actress. During those moments, Vilma didn’t just observe what was going on, she was constantly conflicted only, she had been programmed not to speak out because it wasn’t her “place”. Thus, when she finally changes and expresses herself in the end, the contrast makes her transformation all the more stunning. In the movie’s first half, Vilma is such a good actress that, although she may not be the active element in her family (her husband is), she is quietly involved in each and every scene, and every new development is seen from her point of view. Even better, despite her relative lack of dialogue at this point, we can “read” her thoughts on her face as clearly as though she were speaking. And we see her slowly changing before our very eyes, gradually overcoming her reticence, discovering her true worth, and finally finding and expressing her true self. This is very difficult to do, as any true thespian will affirm. Which is why, unlike some people who dismiss Vilma’s portrayal as passive and weak, we think it ranks among her best, right up there with her performances in and fully deserving of the filmfest’s coveted best actress trophy.” – Nestor Torre, Philippine Daily Inquirer

“…Last seen in ANAK (SFIAAFF ‘01), Vilma Santos delivers an understated, profoundly moving performance as the matriarch whose awakening redefines the traditional mother and wife role she donned for years. This is the story of an incredible character that survived an unforgettable decade.” – Michael Magnaye, San Francisco Premiere, 22nd San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

“…The reason “Sister Stella L” will probably end up better appreciated is that the movie was shown during the martial law era. The movie was relevant to the times and Vilma was portraying an activist nun, a role not usually associated with the Star for all Seasons… As the mother, Vilma does justice to her character, holding back her strong emotions until the end, when she finally confronts Christopher de Leon and wants to break up with him. Despite the many tragic events that befall her character, Vilma chooses to underplay her role except at key points towards the end of the movie. Boyet is his usual competent self as the chauvinistic husband of Vilma who is forced to change when his wife breaks out of her shell. Piolo Pascual also deserves mention for his realistic portrayal of the activist turned NPA rebel…” – Edmund L. Sicam, Philippine Daily Inquirer

“…Unlike Vilma Santos’ Sister Stella L. character, who becomes politicized practically overnight, her Amanda role in “Dekada ‘70” takes longer to mature politically (almost the whole decade). And she goes through a very painful process because she experiences the abuses of the marcos regime by seeing her own children suffer. With Vilma hurting inside and suffering almost in silence, we have here in “Dekada ‘70” some very moving dramatic scenes that are mostly devoid of hysterics but are still very effective nonetheless. Actually, we see yet another facet of Vilma Santos’ acting talent in this film. In the story, she goes through guilt (with the fate of one of her sons), pain, anguish and anxiety (particularly with the eldest, Piolo)-plus discontent as a plain housewife who wants to do something more with her life other than to keep house for her husband and kids. The great actress that she is, Vilma is able to manifest clearly the different layers of her character in a very quiet manner, which-you have to admit-is quite difficult to achieve. But Vilma-after all these decades -can do no wrong anymore in the field of acting. Although it’s not the greatest performance of her career (it’s still Sister Stella L), her portrayal of Amanda in “Dekada ‘70” is no doubt one of her finest. More importantly, her role (and her approach to it) is different from the hundreds of other roles she has done in the past…” – Butch Francisco, The Philippine Star

In Chito S. Roño’s superb “Dekada ’70,” a family in the Marcos-era Philippines has a domineering father and five sons, but it is the mother (Vilma Santos) who provides the mental stamina. She fights for her family in ways the father can’t even dream of. “To give birth to these children isn’t enough,” she says. “You have to defend them, protect them.” That’s the ’70s. In 30 years, that kind of woman will deal with difficult questions of divorce and motherhood, one in which women want freedom, yet must be willing to share blame when something goes wrong. The young woman who leaves her husband and thinks about aborting her pregnancy in South Korean filmmaker Gina Kim’s “Invisible Light” is an experimental example. Moon’s great performance in “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” almost makes you believe wrong is right, and, taken with her much-lauded portrayal of a girl with cerebral palsy in “Oasis,” reveals her as one of the world’s best actresses. Hollywood, take note. – G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle March 4, 2004 (READ MORE)

“…2002, Vilma failed to win as Best Actress sa 2002 MMFF para sa major film na Dekada ‘70, megged by Chito Rono and produced by Star Cinema. Hindi naman nabigo ang Vilmanians sa mga sumunod na awarding, in early 2003, dahil kay Vilma napunta ang Best Actress trophies na kaloob ng Star Awards, FAP at Gawad Urian. Pati ng minor award-giving body na binubuo ng mga academician, ang PASADO (Pampelikulang Samahan ng mga Dalubguro). At ang kanyang ikalawang Best Performance award mula sa YCC-Film Desk in its annual Circle Citations. Panlaban ng bansa ang The Seventies (Dekada ‘70) sa 4th Makati CineManila International Film Festival (organized by Direk Tikoy Aguiluz). The film won a special jury prize at Best Actress award for Vilma (her second claim to international fame)…” – William Reyes (READ MORE)

“…Actually, we see yet another facet of Vilma Santos’ acting talent in this film. In the story, she goes through guilt (with the fate of one of her sons), pain, anguish and anxiety (particularly with the eldest, Piolo plus discontent as a plain housewife who wants do something more with her life other than to keep house for her husband and kids. The great actress that she is. Vilma is able to manifest clearly the different layers of her character in a very quiet manner, which – you have to admit – is quite difficult to achieve. But Vilma after all these decades can do no wrong anymore in the field of acting. Although it’s not the greatest performance of her career (it’s still Sister Stella L. ), her portrayal of Amanda in Dekada ’70 is no doubt one of her finest. More importantly, her role (and her approach to it) is different from the hundreds of other roles she has done in the past. The role of Christopher de Leon as Amanda’s husband, Julian, unfortunately, is not as important as the female lead (I think it was even less significant in the book). But you have to salute de Leon for not allowing himself to be completely overshadowed by the central character played by Vilma and the other elements in the story. To his credit, he still gives a memorable performance in the film. Technically, Dekada ’70 is way above average like most other productions of Star Cinema. The cinematography for one is intelligent. It doesn’t try to look bright and cheerful. In fact, it wonderfully adjusts to the gloomy atmosphere of the period especially at the height of Martial Law when there was fear all over the country…” – The Philippine Star (READ MORE)

“…In this sense, the ultimate triumph of Dekada ’70 lies not so much in recounting the horrors of Martial Law but in taking into account how one can embrace social change and follow the path towards struggle. This is dramatized in the metaphorical odyssey taken by the film’s central figure, a wife and mother named Amanda Bartolome. At first, she would think that pleasing her husband and raising her five boys are all that matters in life. When monstrosities entailed by the turbulent times would prove otherwise, she would come to realize that to be a dutiful wife and loving mother means nothing amidst the social landscape without the wheels of justice, suffused with the spilt blood of oppression and severely debilitated by rampant poverty. The abiding wife and caring mother would then stop just tending to her home to reach out to the larger society that she would find in need too of her cradling. The symbolic trek Amanda would set out to embark on could nevertheless be hers alone. It must also be the inspiring odyssey involving countless others that audiences may do well to emulate for the valor and resolve they exemplify in taking up a cause. Dekada ’70 pays homage to them as well. The film is also recognized for Best Screenplay, Best Achievement in Sound which includes music and Best Performance by the mother-and-son team of Vilma Santos and Piolo Pascual…” – Nonoy L. Lauzon, NCCA, 23 June 2003 (READ MORE)

Philippine’s Entry to the Oscar – “…Santos’ performance is so vivid and insightful that we can see her changing in front of our very eyes…We were enthralled…we were moved. And we valued the film’s important contribution to the very urgent task of reminding everyone of the trauma in our collective lives that was the martial law period of the ’70s,” noted Nestor Torre of Inquirer News Service. Chito Rono’s Dekada ‘70 made its world premier at the Asian American International Film Festival in June of 2003. The film has also won numerous domestic awards…Judging by the number of awards, one could easily classify Dekada ‘70 a success, but unfortunately box office figures are considered classified in the Philippines so it impossible to tell exactly how well the movie did domestically. However, Nonoy Lauzon of the University of Philippines Film Institute and president of the Young Critics Circle, which named Dekada ‘70 Best Film of the Year (2002), stated “Sources who request anonymity place the domestic take of Dekada ‘70 at P53, 962,413 (in Philippine peso) or roughly 1.079 million in US dollars. For a Filipino film to be counted as a blockbuster, it must break the P100M mark.” So obviously, this was by no means a mega-hit, yet it was selected to represent the Philippines as the film submitted to the 2004 Oscars for possible nomination. A film is selected to be submitted for an Academy Award nomination by The Film Academy of the Philippines, which creates a committee for this purpose. “The committee reviews and picks the best film from among those shown within the period stipulated by AMPAS rules. A film sent to the Oscars has finished its commercial run in the country such that the distinction could not at all be said to make an impact on the film’s profitability,” according to Lauzon. While being submitted for possible nomination is surely gratifying to the makers of the film, only when it is actually nominated will Filipino films and their makers gain more credibility in the U.S. and in their own country, where Hollywood imports drown out the domestic films…” – Sara Stokoe, Additional research by Shirley Hsu, Asia Media UCLA (READ MORE)

Educational Value – “…As expected, the beginning has a brief prologue with the country’s political climate before jetting off to deal with the Seventies in a year-by-year basis, mostly revolving around a rotation of drama between a married couple’s five growing boys, and their growing involvement in the country’s politics. (Down with imperialism, down with feudalism, up with communism, etc.) The momentum moves along smoothly from 1970 ‘til 1975, with the title-marked year at each transition helping to feel a sense of accomplishment in Cliffs Notes-ian breakdown. But, as much of the familial drama heats up (this son joins a militant group, that son writes communist propaganda, another son gets a girl pregnant, et al), circa ‘76-‘79, the pacing is botched and things are slowed down a great deal without a separation of time. During that period, though not to much surprise, the perspective is tendentious to the repressed mother, whom all of her children find to be the voice of reason and understanding, as much as their father tries to play it cool. It remains soap-operatic without any stretch of the imagination (well into the epilogue in 1983), though despite many of its faults, there is a certain educational value consistent throughout and applied systematically via the various functions each of the children entail. Lualhati Bautista adapts her own best-selling novel, and feminist agenda aside, the story and the movie would crack without the mother character, and the solidifying presence of Vilma Santos, whose only unfortunate requirement is to give voice to all of the repressed Filipinas at once. Directed by Chito S. Roño; with Christopher De Leon, Piolo Pascual, Marvin Agustin, Carlos Agassi, Danilo Barrios, and John Wayne Sace…” – Greg Muskewitz, efilmcritic (READ MORE)

Brutal Effects – “…The mother in Dekada ’70 is played by the attractive Vilma Santos (Amanda). She ably portrays the loving mother and the trials and tribulations of a woman. Her husband, played by Christopher De Leon, is a very truthful rendition of a middle-class man from an Asian country in the 70s. The sons, two out of five are played by Piolo Pascual and Marvin Agustin, heed different callings. One becomes a radical leftist. Another one joins the U.S. Navy. Yet another becomes a writer. Everything is represented. Obviously the choices are going to lead to conflict and strife. It is how Amanda navigates the life she has chosen and how she deals with the men in her life that gives us a compelling story. There were times when the script didn’t feel entirely “tight,” but perfection is not what this film is aiming for–it is the message…This was a dark time for the Philippines. The film lets us feel that reality…Dekada ’70 was a contribution from the Philippines which realistically portrayed the Marcos dictatorship. What might have been perceived as a “benevolent” authoritarian government by some, was a nightmare to many of its people. Because of the fact that they followed the American line, I think we were led to believe that things were not so bad. In fact, the brutal effects of a government that turned to martial law are clearly shown in this movie–as it affects a family. A family of boys, one would assume that the audience would get a male-dominated version of reality. But, the story really revolves around the mother…” – Mukul Khurana, San Diego Asian, September 30, 2005 (READ MORE)

State Fascism – “…The film was successful in presenting state fascism so vividly. Violent dispersal of protest actions. Curfew imposition. Forced disappearances. Salvaging. But the horror that was martial rule was best reflected in the torture scenes, which were based on actual testimonies of the victims’ relatives. After Marcos was ousted by the 1986 people uprising, almost 6,000 persons were killed, 737 missing, 35,000 tortured and 70,000 arrested. Ruins of the Marcos bust flashed to my mind. It could only tell so much of the ire earned by the Marcoses. What struck me most was that I realized I was not only looking at the past but also at the present state of human rights in the country. A dear friend was shot while pleading for her life. Another colleague abducted and harassed. Another one raped. Perpetrators were men in uniform. The victims were plain civilians…” – Ronalyn Olea, Bulatlat (READ MORE)

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