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Entertainment

Its beauty lies not only in the sceneries

STARBYTES - Butch Francisco -

Casablanca, Strombolt, Manhattan, Oklahoma, Nashville and Chicago. All these places have been used as settings for films.

Locally, we already had Zamboanga even before the Japanese Occupation and on TV, the early ’90s miniseries Boracay, Cebu and Davao.

This millennium, Star Cinema went abroad and did Milan and, later, Dubai. But Lily Monteverde beat them to that when Regal Films did Waikiki in 1980.

Two years ago, screenwriter Adolf Alix Jr. did his first directorial job and called it Donsol. Principal photography, of course, was in Donsol in Sorsogon and the endangered whale sharks (butanding) were part of the story.

This time, Adolf goes up north and churns out Batanes, which opened in theaters last Wednesday.

The story of Batanes starts in Manila — with a hotel dietician/nutritionist named Pam (Iza Calzado) going through a rough time even before she could even report to work for the day. (Some ambassador was allergic to peanuts and she was being blamed for it.)

At the MRT station, she loses her cell phone to a snatcher, but it is also there where she meets her future husband, Rico (Joem Bascon). He turns out to be a native of Batanes — in Sabtang specifically — and that’s where they eventually get married.

Pam and Rico are happy in Batanes — until she loses him to the sea. Since his body remains missing, she hopes against hope that he is still alive somewhere and someday they will be reunited. For a while there, you suspect that it is going to be another Sunflower (adapted by Carlos Siguion-Reyna in 1993 in Saan Ka Man Naroroon), but set at sea. However, it doesn’t turn out that way. Instead, Pam gets involved with Kao (Ken Chu), a Chinese fisherman washed ashore in the coast of Sabtang. What happens between these two people from different cultures is worth finding out. Surely, there’s going to be romance. But after that — what?

Between Adolf’s first movie, Donsol, and Batanes, the former is far more complex and has more twists and turns (it has a breast cancer victim in the person of Angel Aquino and even delves into environmentalism). The story of Batanes is actually much simpler, but is more charming than Donsol. The great photography has a lot to do with it because with a landscape like Batanes, how else can you fail? (I only wish they showed more of the Ivatan culture.)

And you can add to that the fine performances of the cast members — Daria Ramirez, Bembol Roco, Bascon and Sid Lucero in particular. The other supporting actors — Mike Tan, Coco Martin, Glaiza de Castro and even Julio Diaz — unfortunately aren’t used much and aren’t given their moment to shine.

Ken Chu’s role isn’t much of a challenge either because he is convalescing half the time. But it’s a good enough performance that would delight fans of the F4 group and the series Meteor Garden.

Batanes actually belongs to Iza, who gives another one of her masterful performances. We’ve seen her as a battered wife (Sigaw), as a post-war damsel (Moments of Love), as a 1900s Filipino-Spanish senorita (Eternity), as a psychologically-imbalanced mother (Blackout), as a theater actress playing diva even off-stage (Ouija) and as a prostitute (Mona: Singaporean Escort) and each time, she attacks the role differently, correctly and most important of all, intelligently. She truly deserved her Best Supporting Actress win — for Sigaw, which as everyone knows, is now being made into a Hollywood film, with Iza still playing the same role.

Here in Batanes, she is a strong-willed woman broken to pieces by tragic circumstances. As the film unfolds further, we see her eaten up by hopelessness and despair. It looks like a simple role because there are no hysterics (she’s strong-willed, remember?), but it is a difficult part to portray since the actor should display the various nuances required for the character and Iza is able to provide all those — and once more, we see how magnificent a performer she truly is. Her performance contributes a lot to the success of Batanes as a film (it was graded B by the Cinema Evaluation Board). Iza is so remarkable here — not to mention so beautiful — not once is she upstaged by wondrous sceneries of the setting that is Batanes.

BATANES CITY DONSOL IZA MDASH PLACE
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