Maurice Claudio Luis Ruiz de Luzuriaga Gallaga, 76 My love affair with Peque’s films

Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star
Maurice Claudio Luis Ruiz de Luzuriaga Gallaga, 76 My love affair with Peque�s films
Peque Gallaga with good friend Don Escudero in the forest of Atimonan, Quezon on the set of Virgin Forest.

MANILA, Philippines — When direk Peque Gallaga breathed his last on May 7 in a Bacolod hospital, I felt a big part of my love for cinema ended with him as well.

I let out a big howl of “Oh no!” that must have startled my grandson. Then he saw me crying like a baby in front of the computer.

(The last time he caught me crying unabashedly was when I heard of Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s death in 2012.)

My love affair with Peque’s films started when I saw his film Oro, Plata, Mata in 1982. For a week, I couldn’t sleep. It was the year I became an avid Peque Gallaga fan.    

In 2013, I saw one of his last masterpieces (Sonata) in which he co-directed with Lore Reyes.

From 1982 (Oro, Plata, Mata) to 2013 (Sonata), I had 38 years of viewing Gallaga films.

I didn’t seek out Peque after watching his landmark films. But in the month Oro, Plata, Mata was making waves, there was one pseudo critic from a tabloid who didn’t like the Gallaga film for some reasons.

For one week of heated exchange, I defended Oro, Plata, Mata from this critic as though I owned the film. As cineaste, I treat good films as my own when I like it. Woe to those who didn’t because they’d hear no end from me.

That’s me with direk Peque. Some 38 years of watching landmarks films.

And so I got a surprise invitation from Peque to have lunch with him in his New Manila home in the early ‘80s. He wanted to know me personally, curious as he was why I was doing demolition jobs for those who didn’t like Oro, Plata, Mata.

And so we had that first lunch and I was in touch with all his later works from Virgin Forest (1985) to Unfaithful Wife (1986) and some episodes of Shake, Rattle & Roll and Gangland, among others.

In the advance screening of Scorpio Nights (1985), he asked me if I liked it. I said yes, very much so. And then he told me quite frankly, “Now Pablo, I can see your erotic side.”

As serendipity would have it, I became good friends with lead actors of his films from Joel Torre, Ronnie Lazaro, Lorli Villanueva, Pen Medina and Cherie Gil, among others.

I also got to visit the ancestral house in Negros where he shot Oro, Plata, Mata and Sonata.

When I saw Sonata in 2013, I easily declared it as my Film of the Year and Cherie as my Actress of the Year. It was a film where art and life merged and you got a magical hearing of Dvorak’s Song to the Moon poignantly sung by Cherie and voiced by soprano Camille Lopez Molina.

The film easily caught up with me because at that stage of my life, I was in love with opera and falling in love with great opera singers.

Cherie once intimated to me: “I enjoyed the creative process with Peque (Gallaga) from beginning to end. But the big challenge was the preparation. I have to thoroughly absorb that opera singer’s life and make it a crucial part of the film. I have to learn to speak several languages and learn Ilonggo as well with the right punto. On top of that, I have to learn how to play Mozart on the piano and sing Dvorak’s Song to the Moon in Czech and produce a semblance of an operatic voice which had seen better days.”

With Peque, Cherie felt no limits in expressing their ideas in their approach to the film. “He trusts me so much that he gave me all the freedom to express myself and my character. Because of this responsibility, I can’t shortchange myself or him in the work process. Certainly, he is the most organized, clearest and most generous director I have ever worked with.”

Last year, I made several attempts to get in touch. I was saying goodbye to my music-making days in Iloilo and I wanted Peque and his wife Madie as my guests of honor. I told Madie I commissioned a special piece, Ohoy Alibangbang arranged for the cello. Character actress Vangie Labalan once told me she used to hear Peque sing that Ilonggo folksong on the set of his movies.

Madie told me Peque had a hard time moving around and it was impossible to take a fast craft to Iloilo from Bacolod.

I desperately wanted him to see my Nelly Garden concerts because the venue was something like the ancestral house in Oro, Plata Mata and Sonata.

Suddenly in the middle of the pandemic, Peque has gone to the stars.

For this provinciano from the Bicol islands, Peque was my bridge to good taste in music and cinema and more.

Peque’s life is really made of many passions and interests.

Clearly, 76 years of his life — as director, actor, production designer, writer, visual artist, mentor, teacher — also revolved around the world of Elton John and David Bowie, Sondheim and Puccini; astronomy and astrology and with generous doses of the influences of Kubrick, Peckinpah, Kurosawa, Fellini and Paul Schrader, among others.

Peque is survived by his wife, Madie and children Bing, Michelle, Datu, Jubal and Wanggo.

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