The woman who left comes back

Baby K. Jimenez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – It feels like I am in a split frame: The first one shows me on a Ro-Ro (roll-on/roll off) to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro on a May day when waters were calm under a sizzling temp of 95 degree Fahrenheit (ouch!); four months later, in the second frame, I am aboard a vaporetto (water bus) from Marco Polo airport to Lido beach amidst some mild choppy waves at 79 degrees headed to the grand Venice Filmfest, the seat of the world’s best in cinema. Two significant trips I made on the request of one very dear friend.?

“You were there when I made my very first film, would you like to come visit me on my comeback bid?” The voice on the other end was least demanding but persuasive. My BFF Charo Santos-Concio meant shoot of Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left) by the Lav Diaz, “So you can visit my hometown, too (Calapan)...” I was then vacationing in Manila and really got excited to see Charo acting again. It had resurrected a lot of memories.

It was May 1976 when she went on location in San Miguel, Bulacan to do Itim with director Mike de Leon, both their film debut performances. Their first venture had won for them Best Actress and Best Director, respectively, in the Asian Filmfest awards in Sydney, Australia. Charo was not even invited to the event1.

Forty years later, again in the month of May, in this current year of 2016, Charo was back in another provincial setting, this time in her hometown. Once more, her new film was chosen to participate in another filmfest, this time bigger in scope. How cool was that?

Opportunity knocking twice. Like lightning striking the same place. You and I know her comeback vehicle made history.?I remember they were doing post-prod whenI returned home (Canada). Charo and I were supposed to have lunch prior to my departure but our schedules clashed. Texting each other though is always an option, we never fail to get updates. We promised to see each other in New York for ASAP Live and when I asked for dates, she had one simple reply. “Come with me to VENICE!” I responded why not, my heart pounding, trying to sound casual. She added, “Hey, I am inviting you to come with me....” My pulse was racing. We were traveling to Gondola city! Flying out of JFK airport.





So, a lot has been said that Humayo is the comeback film of Charo. Honestly, I don’t even feel like CHARO stopped being an actress for 17 years — to me, it’s like she never left at all. She has always been in the entertainment scene: Producer, host, consultant, actress, CEO/president. You feel her magnanimous presence. Ubiquitous. Her gravitas and regal bearing never going unnoticed.

Okay, so there we were in Lido island in Venice. On the morn of Sept. 8 (the eve of the premiere of Humayo), actually our third day there, we walked on the busy street of Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta to explore. After about 20 minutes, she took a break reaching for a chocolate gelato as she sat down and looked at the neighboring Piazza San Marco. “Tonight is the press and industry preview (which includes some critics). I hope we get positive reviews,” she mused. (The entire cast and crew is not supposed to be present at this event, that’s an unwritten rule for any entry being screened for the main competition.The day before, there was a buzz at Ristorante La Tavernetta where we lunched, near the festival quarters scene. Director Lav, who’s considered a rock star in European film festivals scenes, was already started to get raves on his project and the desire to watch this was in the air.)

Then we both remembered she had to be back at Club 73 by the beach for some interview. It was getting really hot and she didn’t think we could walk back for another 30 minutes. She suggested a bus ride. We walked to a major ACTV autobus (that’s how they call it there) stop and there was a line. I asked if she’d rather take a cab, “No, it’s OK.” When the next bus came, it was full, I dropped six Euros in the farebox and we ended up standing near the driver. I advised her to hold on to the straps and she gave me the I-am-OK look. Each time the bus braked, she would sway to the left and sometimes to the right to her amusement.

(Charo is so simple — as Direk Lav puts it, “walang ere” and so humble. I have always seen that side of hers. In Mindoro during the shooting, she’s never a DIVA. During chow time, she sits with everyone and waits for her turn to get coffee and rice. She sweetly asks for patis or suka and would compliment the caterer. One lunchtime, she made lambing and requested for another piece of sweet banana.) “She does not impose — what a nice lady. We were all so scared at first thinking that we might not live up to her expectations. Yun pala, ang bait niya!” from assistant director Hazel Orencio.

Anyway, so there we were on the autobus. After 15 minutes, majority of the passengers began to head for the exit as the bus screeched to another halt. The seats behind Charo got vacant and so I told her to grab the seats right away and she readily did. She pulled me tight close to her and we shared the space. But the driver instantly called out looking at us, “No, Signorina,” and was showing us out, “Here, stop!” he said in broken English.

Charo and I laughed so hard — we realized we had arrived at our destination! Ha, ha, ha!  “We accomplished something new today, we learned to take the percorso dell’autobus (bus route) by ourselves and standing pa,” she gamely said.?Later, after dinner at Valentino (OMG, they have the best tiramisu and Charo enjoyed eating her favorite clams with pasta, the seafood bass also super delish) we returned to Hotel Excelsior (where all participating stars are billeted during festivals). We thought we saw Mel Gibson at the lobby but the crowd was crazy.

“Do you think Natalie Portman has left?” Charo asked — we saw her the day before when she graced the premiere of Jackie. Using the elevator to the third floor, we spotted some Italian stars but we could not remember their names. They nodded and smiled back to Charo in acknowledgment. Ah, Charo’s elegance always turned heads, whether she’s casual or not.

It was 10:30 p.m…. We got quiet for a while and remembered if the screening of Humayo was over. I think it was about 11:30-ish when both our phones started to sound off. Some reviews were in! We were getting positive messages from our group — Cinema One’s producer Ronald Arguelles, Krintz, Doc, Hazel, Lloydie, direk Lav and the rest of the pack. Charo and I hugged in jubilation! Charo started tearing up, “I did not expect this, I am happy enough that I am back into filming!... The Lord has been good. What a blessing!”

The award has been given, the Venice festival over, and will this mean that Charo is now seriously thinking about duplicating this feat?

Yes, right now, Charo clarifies that she is not obsessed with a calendared film schedule. “I admit I am getting some offers now but I don’t intend to plan anything in particular. I will go with the flow; I don’t want to plan my future as to how many movies I will make or produce. If there’s a good project and I like the script, yes, it could be 10, five or two. I will go with what my heart feels. Does not matter. I try to always give my best, whether my film is recognized or not at a festival or by an award-giving body. ”

Oh and remembering that glorious/victorious night and the premiere, too. After retreating to our hotel, when I was still in that glory-hang over zone, having witnessed the gala night when Charo and the entire cast/crew were given a long standing ovation and later reaping the highest award, I looked closely at Charo as she took off her mascara and getting ready for bed. There was no smile on her face and I got so worried.

“Naku, we have a problem,” her tone was instantly sad. “It’s gone, OMG! We can’t buy it here huh...” She was holding to an empty pack of chocolate kisses, she eats two to three pieces usually before sleeping — like it’s some kind of a napping dosage. You would think she’d still be talking movies, laurels, awards, etc.

I told her we would buy as we soon as we get to Canada for the TIFF. She was still pouting like a kid as she turned on her iPad, a sign that she’d be playing some tunes. But her lips started to curve into an approval and widened into half a smile at the sound of Joe Mari Chan as she sang with him “We’re all just merely passing through, doing what we can do in a lifetime...”

What else hasn’t she done though? Charo is always open to challenges. “I did parasailing last April with flying colors!” but said no to a zipline adventure in Niagara Falls a few days ago.

Meanwhile, she is ready for her close-up.?Charo making a comeback? But she never left, did she?

1 “...in the middle of the night, Charo did lose her poise when she was roused from sleep by a frantic phone call. Movie writer Baby K. Jimenez, PRO of LVN Pictures and Cinema Artists, was on the other end of the line, breathlessly announcing that she won. “Yes, you won, you won!” Baby K repeated to the unbelieving Charo - the Best actress award for her role of the possessed Teresa de Leon. And that’s when Charo let out a scream and woke the whole house up...” by Ricky Lo in Expressweek, dated November of 1978.

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