Is Barber’s Tales Eugene’s swan song?

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - A person’s biological make-up determines his social role(s). That is why men are expected to be hunters and women, food gatherers. This is what a sociology class tells one and perhaps the premise, where director Jun Lana situates his lead character Marilou, played by Eugene Domingo, in the film titled Barber’s Tales (Mga Kuwentong Barbero). It challenges this notion through its women empowerment leaning, which has elicited “oohs and aahs” from audiences abroad.

“From a personal perspective, I was surprised by the warm reception of the foreign audiences,” Jun recalls the experience of showing his latest movie in such film festivals as Italy’s Far East, Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, Tokyo International and Madrid International. Barber’s Tales is also Australia-bound in September for Adelaide’s Ozasia Film Festival. “The theme of the movie is very specific (close) to our hearts. It is set in the Martial Law era. (Thus,) I was worried how the (international) audience would receive it. It is not as universal as, for example, Bwakaw which I did a year ago. With (the latter), I knew it would be appreciated by any culture and any audience. (Barber’s Tales) is more specific to our own culture and our own history. When (one) screening was over, (members of the audience) would line up (stand in line) to have a photo op with Uge (Eugene) or embrace her. There was this person who gave me a cake.”

Given the challenges of filming Barber’s Tales (working with a small budget and without the on-location amenities that big studios can provide) and the recognitions it has reaped, Jun says, “It’s all worth it,” and adds that what connects the audience to the film is Eugene’s performance.

“’Yun ’yung consistent (reaction from the audience) sa lahat,” he says. “If there’s something about the movie that people get noticed, it will be Eugene’s performance like how she is able to carry the story and the movie. It’s about women empowerment, (involving) the unique circle of women who help one another to uplift themselves up. It is also political which appeals to a certain audience that prefers such type of theme and subject.”

Barber’s Tales follows the story of a widow, who needs to support herself and her kids, shares Jun. To do so, she will take over her husband’s barbershop business. Becoming the first female barber is definitely a talk of the small and presumably conservative town, where everybody knows everybody. “The acceptance of the community is what the moviegoers will follow and look forward to,” says Jun. “But along the way, there are other stories such as those of (Marilou’s) friends.” However, the perspective of Marilou remains dominant in navigating the narrative with the timeline of 1974 and 1975, when Muhammad Ali arrived in the Philippines for the Thrilla in Manila. And the place, approximating a Bicol or Quezon town, is hearing this. Eugene’s character is not exempted from it while she attends to her chores.      

“I didn’t expect it,” says Eugene of winning the Best Actress plum at Tokyo filmfest in 2013 via the lady-barber role. “When your movie is being screened abroad, you don’t expect to win an award. Ayaw mo lang maging kahiya-hiya kasi dala mo ang pangalan ng Pilipinas.”

The actress also suggests the pressure of having her movie shown in local theaters than abroad. “I told direk Jun, ‘Why am I more terrified in my own country than anywhere in the world?’ (It is) maybe because (people say that) she is a comedienne and (ask) what is the theme of the movie. I’m terrified to the bones. Please give us a chance kahit lima lang ang nasa sinehan at lalabas na kumpleto, masaya na ako. I can exit and (feel) complete.” 

Eugene’s journey to play Marilou started when film producer Ferdie Lapuz sent her a private message on Facebook, asking the latter to take a look at the script written by Jun, a Palanca winner. But her hectic schedule had prevented Eugene to read it. A year after, the Marilou role presented itself again to Eugene and this time around, she was free to consider it.

“When I read it, napatayo ako at napapalakpak sa script (I stood up and applauded the script),” she recalls. “I think we have a good script which is not (just about) the barber Marilou but also about each one of us. As French nationals who watched the movie said, ‘It is an important film. How will your fellow men receive this?’ We answered, ‘We don’t know.’” On Aug. 13, Pinoys have the chance to catch Barber’s Tales in theaters and its premiere night is on Aug. 11 at TriNoma Cinema 1.

Aside from Marilou, the moviegoers will get acquainted to the interwoven and interconnected lives of Tessie (Shamaine Buencamino), Susan (Gladys Reyes) and the town mayor and his wife (Noni Buencamino and Iza Calzado, respectively), plus that of Tessie’s nephew (Nicco Manalo). They will see Nora Aunor and Eddie Garcia in cameo and memorable roles. The kissing scene between Eugene and Iza is also a must-watch.

“Nagkaroon lang ng koneksyon ang dalawang babae na galing sa dalawang magkaibang mundo (They just have connected),” says Eugene. “So, they have found comfort in each other. I cannot tell more than that because it is one of the breathtaking scenes in the movie.”

Eugene also tells that she is taking a sabbatical leave from film acting. Barber’s Tales could be her swan song. But she still has a Star Cinema contract to fulfill.

“It gave me the feeling of fulfillment and contentment,” she says of the film based on Jun’s 1997 screenplay. “And it is not bad to feel contented. I’m deeply, deeply satisfied with this film as an actor. Thank you so much (referring to direk Jun). Nag-Kimmy Dora na po ako. Nag-Babae sa Septic Tank na ako at itong Barber’s Tales. (I think) I can go away for a while. I cannot say that I’ve got burned out. How can you burn out by doing the job you like? It is just that the feeling of contentment is so strong. Let me enjoy other things aside from making movies. I will always support (Philippine films).” Eugene’s following will never miss her as they can watch her in Celebrity Bluff, which according to her is both entertaining and informative.  

“I’m basically a fan of creative works, na hindi lang puro comedy works,” she says. “So, I’m coming from (and grounding on) my theater background. Perhaps, I’m not a superstar material or a blockbuster (one). I just want to give you what you deserve.”

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