Vilma soars in the City of Angels

Baby K. Jimenez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - ‘Tis before 12 p.m. and Pinoys are starting to mill around North Brand Boulevard, mostly coming from the big public parking lot near the corner of Wilson & Maryland in Glendale, the largest City of Los Angeles. Specific destination is Alex Theater (a historic landmark, built in 1925 where once the 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor made a personal appearance to grace the opening of her film the National Velvet in 1945), now a favorite venue of ABS-CBN’s films where premiere showings usually are scheduled at 2 and 8 p.m. on weekends. On the other side of street, almost directly across you find the offices of immigration lawyer Michael Gurfinkel. This Saturday though, Sept. 26, there’s more than the usual activity. Yes, a quick sold-out tickets went very fast on its first few days of sale. Why not, it is the showing of the much-publicized and anticipated Vilma Santos comeback film in almost six years ably supported by her reel-and-real son Luis Manzano and kapamilya favorite John Lloyd Cruz. One is almost guessing what In My Life will be all about or how it will be presented. How does the Star for All Seasons merge into a gay love story?

I see some youthful Fil-Am staff (predominantly young girls, I swear no one is above 25!) that effectively handles the traffic. First you have to go to the registration area positioned at the entrance where you have to register yourself and claim your tickets. Free seating follows or if classified as VIPs under some special terms already familiar to majority, you are ushered in to assigned areas. “I don’t know what it is but this crowd for some reason is astonishingly diff’rent. Is it also the weather? It’s awfully hot! (really, 103 degrees on the fifth day of autumn!),” one tells us in a crisp American accent that seems to be the trademark of each guide — glib tongued, fast-paced and armed with a cell and hi-tech ears geared for a “now na” communication though you can hear them answer with a courteous po and opo when elders ask for assistance.

“We find the Vilmanians something else, they’re so passionate,” another girl volunteers. We see complete families with nanay and lola, even tatay tagging along and lolo being gently pushed on a wheelchair. I could almost hear the Sensations as I flashback to that era lorded by Kuya Ike (Lozada). True enough I see middle aged and above carrying some Vilma clippings that probably echo Vi’s first golden record “They say I’m only sweet sixteen, never been kissed never been loved...” The overwhelming emotion is like what TFC brings — Pinas at your fingertips. This time Vilma is the bearer of good news and you let the good times roll. Where were you when this song was No. 1?

At a nearby Pinoy eatery called Salu Salo Grill, business is brisk — everyone is rushing to have a quick meal to catch the first show. Some are even talking, “How do we call her now? Gov? or Ate Vi pa rin?”

At 1:35 p.m. here comes Star (Cinema)’s chief Malou Santos who confesses, “I will watch the movie again to see and observe the audience’s reaction.” Direk Olive Lamasan quietly enters and introduces her family, also Los Angeleños — a sister is a nurse.

At exactly 2 p.m. lights start to dim and the bubbly crowd remains alive. Claps herald the first scene of Vilma with mild squeaks of delight that later calms down into an attentive quietness that is clearly American behavior in a moviehouse. The audience is so responsive though, passionately reacting to Vilma’s comic scenes — the loudest being when Vi gets the African corn row hairstyle after getting lost in Harlem. Though both John Lloyd and Luis prove to be competent actors with such convincing effeminate roles eliciting waves of positive audience approval, it’s still Vilma who captivates the majority.

When Vilma gets into a scene with the two young actors, the focus mainly stays on Vilma in an openly pro-Vilmanian atmosphere that laughs at her funny antics (that somehow remind us of a Meryl Streep kind of performance) and cries as well with her peak dramatic scenes with John Lloyd and tender moments with her son Luis. I tend to agree that this is Vilma’s ultimate performance. Turning 57 this November, Vilma has escalated her thespic prowess to another level. Her comic timing is sublime and her tearjerking episodes are underplayed but effective. And don’t forget — another Vilma ingredient comes as an added spice — you see her dancing in a short scene with Luis — the steps so contagious you get carried away by her terpsichorean rapture as you tap lightly to the rhythm. “It’s not only because she’s the biggest star of the three. Vilma is not often seen in America, has had very rare public exposure, so the excitement is really about her. The young stars are always traveling and performing here — but not Vilma,” an insider opines.

The adulation approaches crescendo when finally the main stars appear on stage after the film’s conclusion. The fans go wild as each performer comes out and as usual Vilma takes the cake. Vilma obviously is more effective now as a speaker, something probably she has acquired considering that she’s now a politician.

Now, the Conversation:

Wow, I can’t believe this, you are here, just like old times!” the reunion greetings are very warm and the hug even tighter as I congratulate Vilma backstage in the privacy of her room — which of course is only a few minutes as fans start trekking in to have pictures taken with her. “Don’t leave, let’s keep talking — I want to talk,” she says and we do just that, continuing the conversations as fans come in, pose, and as more families and friends join too as Vi gamely answers our queries in between. Oh yes, her three sisters are present — Emelyn, Maritess and Winnie — they have been local residents for a long time.

Is this her best film?

“No, no... it’s not. I cannot say that. But it’s the film that I enjoyed doing the best. I love Shirley Templo. I feel I am Shirley. It is so easy to fit into her shoes, I am a mother myself — not all mothers are perfect — but we try. The project is so good. Direk Olive makes it easier for me — I love this film. “

I remember that on my last visit in 2006, Vilma wasn’t sure if she would do another movie but we were already talking about her future political plans. She hosted lunch for me then at Le Souffle in Rockwell and we spent most of that time laughing about the early days of her stardom. I will always remember my first interview with Vilma, she was a mere kid playing with a paper balloon that she kicked as she chewed bubble gum in the post Trudis Liit days. “Or when we were on my round bed just laughing about some personal things na off the record,” she gamely adds for a vivid recall. “I am happy when I see friends from way back, I feel whole.”

Is she running for vice president?

“I really can’t. I won’t. I am not running for vice president,” she keeps repeating “No way.”


“I just don’t want to, I have a lot of things to finish as governor, there’s the hospital that has to see completion. If I run for VP, it’s like leaving my family — I have to be with my dear Batangueños and finish what I have started.”

Not even if someone can really convince her and help her finish the project on time for her candidacy? “It won’t happen, I am not prepared. I cannot run unprepared. “

Who can convince her?

 “Honestly, no one that I know. Ralph doesn’t want me to run. I have been offered early this year. It’s not the first time this talk started. I already hinted it would not work. Now I am definite it can’t. ”

How definite is definite?

 “As definite as now — I just know I won’t do it. Last night I was depressed hearing about the Ondoy tragedy. I was monitoring the situation — kawawa naman ang taong bayan.” 

Will she have to leave the movies for good if and when the time comes for her to run for a higher position?

 “I don’t know,” she answers with uncertainty. “I would love to do another film, that’s for sure, another one that’s as good — as long as I have enough time.”

What could be the next project?

At this juncture, both Malou and direk Olive join us.

“Let’s ask them,” Vilma says.

Malou and direk swap glances. Malou volunteers, “Yes we have another vehicle for Vilma.” Vilma looks in anticipation.

“Are you ready to get the call slip?” Olive looks at Vi, almost breaking into a guffaw.

“What?” Vilma’s eyes light up.

“You got it, your next call slip is — Malacañang!” almost in a duet, Olive and Malou triumphantly respond in a cheerful note.

A joke or...???

Vilma giggles in amazement, wants to say something but chooses to suppress it. Now, she’s requested to go up the stage again for the new set of viewers scheduled for the next screening at 8 p.m.

Still wearing a mischievous grin, she sits and quickly dabs her face with some powder to refresh.

“It’s time,” the theater person motions as Vilma follows. Hugs us goodbye and whispers, “Will let you know, I promise. We are leaving for San Francisco tonight, 10 o’clock for another screening tomorrow, then New Jersey, also Canada. I also have to do phone patch interviews with ABS.“

 Which brings us to imagine — will she be using Air Force One soon, Pinoy version?

Of course Vilma can fly. Darna is more powerful than the No. 1 plane.

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