Puli director Portes on Aljur: An actor is born

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

Hadn’t Hermano Puli, the film directed by Gil M. Portes, backed out of the just-concluded Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), would the controversy (the worst to hit the annual event so far, its reverberations rocking the House of Representatives) over its replacement, Honor Thy Father, have been prevented?

The usually outspoken Gil is mum on the matter, opting to let the people involved (HTF director Erik Matti, and its stars John Lloyd Cruz and Laguna Rep. Dan Fernandez, among them) to sort out the mess.

“Well,” was all that Gil would say, “wala siguro. Somebody told me, ‘Kayo sana ang Best Picture.’ And I said, ‘Well, I do not know about that; we are not very powerful.’ Wala kaming panlaban sa powers-that-be. From Day One, they already knew the Best Picture, Best Actor and so on and so forth.”

Gil finished the principal photography in 15 days, not exceeding the budget by a single cent despite the all-star cast (led by Aljur Abrenica in the title role, also including his brothers Vin and newcomer Allen) and the scope of the story. Of course, it helped that Quezon happens to be Gil’s territory (he hails from Pagbilao town) where he also shot most of his films including Miguel/Michelle (1995, with Romnick Sarmenta in the titular role), Munting Tinig (with Alessandra de Rossi, released internationally by Columbia Pictures), Homecoming and Huwag Kang Kikibo, all filmed in Lucban town. Produced by T. Rex Entertainment Production, Hermano Puli was shot in Lucban, Tayabas, Pagbilao and Majayjay (Laguna).

“Quezon is my hometown,” said Gil, “it’s my Universal Studios. I like the climate. Malamig. Hindi ka naiinitan.”

It was while shooting Miguel/Michelle that Gil came upon the story of Hermano Puli. 

“An old man approached me with a three-page manuscript,” related Gil. “He told me, ‘Baka gusto ninyong gawin.’ That’s how my interest in Hermano Puli started. Hermano Puli is the first and only Filipino who fought the Spaniards in the name of religious freedom. Hermano Puli wanted to be a priest but the Spaniards prevented him. He led the Cofradia de San Jose.”

How does it differ from the critically-acclaimed, commercially-successful Heneral Luna (whose lead actor, John Arcilla is nominated in this year’s Asian Film Awards)?

“For one thing,” Gil said in defense, “there are no Americans in Hermano Puli. But like Heneral Luna, Hermano Puli is about Filipinos fighting against the oppressor.”

Will Hermano Puli elevate Aljur’s status as an actor (way above the Machete level)?

“Ay, he was fantastic! I like it that he was insecure, that’s why he delivered. When you are not that confident, magtatanong ka. Hihingi ka ng Take 2, Take 3. He kept on asking for suggestions. He did a thorough research. He visited the places where Hermano Puli was born and grew up.”

So devoted was Aljur to the movie that he actually went to Quezon five days ahead of the crew and the other members of the cast. Cast as Aljur’s girlfriend is Louise delos Reyes (the two were rumored to have a romance when they were doing the GMA soap Kambal-Sirena).

“It was an unrequited love,” noted Gil, referring to the movie, “because Hermano Puli believed that he should be celibate all his life.”

Did Aljur observe “celibacy” (“being chaste” is the correct term for it, as Kris Aquino once corrected me) at least during the shoot? You know, to better “embed” himself in the Hermano Puli character?

“That I don’t know,” said Gil, turning naughty. “I didn’t check Aljur in his hotel room but I knew that there were several pretty girls visiting him there, mga non-showbiz. And many more were visiting him on the set,” throwing in a morsel of tsismis, “and what is intriguing is that Enzo Pineda, Louise’s ex-boyfriend (of two years) is also in the cast…”

Gil left that part of the story at that…a cliffhanger.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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