Narrow margins mark Urian voting
Mario A. Hernando (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2012 - 12:00am

Manila, Philippines -  Choosing the recipients of the 35th Gawad Urian, the local film award for excellence and creativity, was a tough one for the film critics group the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP).

For one, any of the Best Film nominees were worthy of the top award, and the group’s strongest favorites were Bisperas, Amok, Ka Oryang and Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa.

The other nominees were The Natural Phenomenon of Madness, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, Niño, Boundary, Busong and Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay.

In the end, the group has given Ang Sayaw the three major awards including Best Film, two acting and two technical awards. The film by Alvin Yapan (who accepted the trophies for Best Direction and Screenplay) combines the fine arts of literature (drama and poetry), music and dance to create an exciting cinematic work about a well-off young man who enrolls in a dance class to get closer to the pretty teacher and along the way attracts and befriends the teacher’s assistant.

Paulo Avelino who plays the young man, was named Best Actor at the Urian while Jean Garcia, the elderly dance teacher, got the Best Supporting Actress plum. Fans of the actor who plays the assistant, Rocco Nacino, have bewailed his omission from the nominees list, but deserving as he would have been of the nomination, Rocco failed to get the majority votes.

Nine Manunuri members deliberated on the awards (one, Lito Zulueta, was unable to attend the meeting). To enter the nominees list, an artist needed at least five votes. Sayaw got that number, followed by Bisperas and Ka Oryang.

As per Manunuri tradition, every film is analyzed and evaluated according to form and content. The criteria are read aloud before the discussions. For last year’s batch, while the critics appreciated the merits of each of the film nominees, the debate focused more on the top four Best Film nominees. What earned the critics’ approval is the creative richness of Sayaw, the “tragic tone of Yapan’s lovely elegy” (this, according to Manunuri Tito Valiente), and its subtlety.

As Valiente writes in his review of the film, “Subtlety is not an enduring aesthetics of Filipino mainstream cinema. The tendency —and this could be the function of a dominant narrative culture — is to expose and to explain… Yapan embraces the strength of subtlety; he feasts on the eternity of the ellipses. The visual banquet is in the actors and their characterizations.”

And how the three actors tackle their roles. As though to denigrate the popular appeal of emoting and hysterics and histrionics found in soap opera and offer a more tasteful alternative, Yapan has “choreographed” his actors’ movements and gestures to show the opposite acting style, one that places importance on understatement, thus the audience is witness to a cinematic pas de trois not only in the dance sequences but also in their interactions as evident in their terse dialogues, body language, looks and gazes.

Here is where Urian winners Jean and Paulo and the third party Rocco excel. In Paulo’s win, he outscored Alfred Vargas by one vote, the latter admirable for his low-key, highly-credible, dominant role as a man who returns to his hometown to seek closure in Teoriya.

But Paulo had other almost equally-good fellow Best Actor nominees: Manunuri favorites Tirso Cruz III (Bisperas), Ronnie Lazaro and Raymond Bagatsing (Boundary), TJ Trinidad (Joel Lamangan’s powerful Deadline), Martin Escudero (Zombadings), JM de Guzman and Kean Cipriano both for Ang Babae sa Septic Tank and newcomers Bong Cabrera (Sa Ilalim ng Tulay) and Jess Mendoza (The Natural Phenomenon of Madness).

For Best Supporting Actress, the Manunuri had easier time casting their votes on Jean who sadly could not leave her taping commitment out of town to attend the Gawad Urian (Alwyn Uytingco accepted the trophy on her behalf). Jean’s fellow nominees were all very good: Angeli Bayani (Ka Oryang), Julia Clarete (Bisperas), Shamaine Buencamino (Niño) and Solenn Heussaff (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow). Jean won unanimously.

On the other hand, as with Paulo, the evening’s Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress won by narrow margins. Art Acuña (Niño) had tough competition with former Urian multiple winner Mark Gil (Amok), though the rest of their rivals turned in nearly equally heavy performances: Bembol Rocco (Isda), Jojit Lorenzo (Anatomiya ng Korupsyon), Marvin Agustin (Patikul), John Regala and Ronnie Lazaro (Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story), Dido dela Paz and Garry Lim (Amok), last year’s winner Joem Bascon (Ka Oryang) and Jake Cuenca (In The Name of Love).

It must be said that the individual Manunuri members had their own personal preferences, but these were erased when the nominees lists were pared down to shorter lists.

Initially, one or two judges may push strongly for a particular actor but the process of elimination meant that even terrific performances by Raquel Villavicencio (Niño) and Alessandra de Rossi (Ka Oryang) had to give way to just two: The tour de force by Eugene Domingo who is both funny and pathetic in her incredible work as the Babae sa Septic Tank, and the quiet, naturalistic and moving turn by Maja as an athlete in the small drama Thelma.

The Manunuri opted for the low-key performance by Maja and gave her the Best Actress plum, edging out Eugene by one vote.

Other Gawad Urian winners were Sayaw’s Arvin Viola for cinematography and Christine Muyco and Jema Pamintuan for music; Maulen Fadul for production design of the black-and-white two-character drama The Natural Phenomenon of Madness; and Amok’s Lawrence Fajardo for editing and Albert Michael Idioma and Addiss Tabong for sound.

Best Short Film was Kim Camelo’s Sirip while Best Documentary was Jewel Maranan’s Tundong Magiliw.

Rody Lacap, a veteran of film and commercials, received the Natatanging Gawad Urian for lifetime achievement in cinematography. The Manunuri cited Rudy for his impressive body of work including some of the best Filipino films of all time, namely, Mike de Leon’s Itim, Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Kisapmata and Sister Stella L, Eddie Romero’s Aguila starring Fernando Poe Jr. and an all-star cast, Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata, Ishmael Bernal’s Hinugot sa Langit, Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis and Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal.

Rudy gave a brief but heart-warming thank-you speech and recalled fondly the artists he worked with and his experiences with them. Since the Manunuri was organized in 1976, he has won five Urian awards for cinematography. Two other cinematographers have received the honorary Urian award: Mike Accion in 1984 and Felipe Sacdalan in 1997.

The 35th Gawad Urian was presented by the Film Development Council of the Philippines under Briccio Santos, and the MPP. It was produced for the stage and television by Cinema One Originals under Ronald Arguelles. The evening’s hosts were Zoren Legaspi, Angel Aquino, Venus Raj and Manunuri Butch Francisco. Jed Madela, Frenchie Dy and Erik Santos sang musical numbers that earned praises from the audience and the Manunuri.

The 10 members of the Manunuri are chair Grace Javier Alfonso, Chancellor of the UP Open University and professor at UP Film Institute and College of Mass Communication; Rolando Tolentino, book author and newly reappointed Dean of UP CMC; Startalk host Butch Francisco, also author of recently launched Eat Bulaga book, a tribute to the show’s 30th anniversary; National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, also the 1993 Ramon Magsaysay awardee; Miguel Rapatan, director of Center for Educational Multimedia at De La Salle University.

Benilda Santos, Palanca Award-winning poet, professor, critic of Philippine literature and director of the Ateneo de Manila fine arts program, Dr. Nicanor Tiongson, professor emeritus of the UP Film Institute, and former MTRCB chair, UP CMC Dean and CCP artistic director; Tito Genova Valiente, film educator and public anthropologist at the Ateneo de Manila; journalist and educator Lito Zulueta of the Philippine Daily Inquirer; and this writer.

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