Parang luma

Ferdinand S. Topacio - The Philippine Star
Parang luma
Rhen Escaño in the film is resplendent in all of her scenes, mostly shot in available light, and has never been photographed so beautifully. Comebacking actor Jao Mapa plays a man torn between his forbidden love and his loyalty to a long-time partner on whom he is financially dependent
STAR / File

Yam Laranas’ Paraluman is a throwback to the art of “art” filmmaking circa 1980s as exemplified by the works of Celso Ad. Castillo, Danilo Cabreira, Mel Chionglo and their ilk: Simple stories of love and lust in a bucolic setting, with abundant sex scenes and a moral story thrown into the mix for good measure.

To be sure, all the tried-and-tested tropes of an erotic drama are there: A lovely nymphet slowly awakening to her sexuality; an older man who will teach her the ways around the corridors of flesh; and an older woman who is the protagonist’s rival for the leading man’s affections. Add an older brother for the nymphet, and even a village idiot, and the retro feels are complete.

Rhen Escaño is Mia, a 16-year-old city girl forced to move to the province after her father’s death. While staying with her gay older brother Joonie (Melvin Lee), she meets 45-year-old Peter (Jao Mapa), the live-in partner of Giselle (Gwen Garci), a public official of the town and one of its richest citizens. He dabbles in old-school film photography and sings part-time in his partner’s bar. Giselle welcomes the newcomer, and even uses Mia’s knowledge of computers to help in keeping track of Giselle’s businesses. In time, as is wont to happen in movies such as these, Mia and Peter fall in love and consummate their relationship in various places in the village: A river, his house, in the woods. Discovering their affair, Joonie warns Mia to keep away from Peter. “Bukod sa puede mo na siyang maging ama, may asawa pa siya,” he cautions. But Mia snaps back, “hindi sila kasal!” Nonetheless, Mia heeds her older brother’s advice and tries to avoid him.

But not for long, as their mutual desire drives them back into each other’s arms, under Giselle’s very nose at that. That is, until Giselle learns of Peter’s infidelity from the village idiot (Raul Morit), no less. All hell breaks loose, of course, as Giselle plays with gusto the part of a woman scorned. Faces, hearts and lives are broken as violence erupts and the law steps in.

Rhen here is resplendent in all of her scenes, mostly shot in available light, and has never been photographed so beautifully. She is a delight to watch even clad in the simplest of garments, including the iconic white diaphanous dress. Aside from that, she is an excellent actress, convincingly portraying someone in love with all the nuances and details that her character entails. Verily, Rhen is one of the finest young actresses around, consistently showing good acting chops as in her previous movies Adan and Untrue.

Which is just as well, as she is the movie’s saving grace. Jao, back from a four-year hiatus, appears rusty and his acting awkward and self-conscious. Grimacing his way through the dramatic scenes, he almost totally failed to assimilate his character’s main conflict of a man torn between his forbidden love for a lissome teenage lass and his loyalty to a long-time partner on whom he is financially dependent. Also, there is scant chemistry between him and Rhen, especially in the obligatory love scenes which are supposed to convey their desperate passion for each other. Gwen tries her best as the controlling woman compelled to play victim in the end, but she has never had much acting skill to begin with, and displays very little in this movie. Melvin Lee fares so much better, but he has too few scenes to bring his acting prowess to bear.

What ultimately makes the movie middling, however, is the story. Aside from being worn-out, it takes too long to tell. Even a twist near the ending fails to salvage the tired storyline. What could have been a watchable tale in a one-hour television anthology form, was plodding in a movie with an hour and a half of running time. The photography is admittedly topnotch, but as the movie slowly trudged along, even that got old eventually.

What we thus have is a serviceable love story with good photography; well-staged if tame sex scenes; an attractive, competent lead; and not much else to recommend it. A shame, actually, as Yam Laranas is truly capable of doing much better, as demonstrated in the superb Aurora (2018) and the gripping Death Of A Girlfriend shown earlier this year. In contrast, Paraluman is like a glimpse into a time warp, a long, leisurely, languorous look into how sensual dramas used to be made: Parang luma.

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