‘Shame on you, Imelda!’
NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - February 16, 2020 - 12:00am

Those were the exact words of Imelda Marcos in the gripping, almost two-hour documentary The Kingmaker by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Lauren Greenfield.

“Shame on you, Imelda,” the wife of the late strongman told herself — aloud, on record, in full consciousness, aware of what she was denying her husband because she wanted him for herself — when she wanted to get in the way of Ferdinand Marcos’ desire to become president of the Philippines. 

Those exact words summarize, too, the sentiments of many who saw the simultaneous screenings of The Kingmaker at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and UP Diliman recently. (The Kingmaker is coming back on screen at the CCP on Feb. 19.)

The film is part biographical in nature that culls from history — or on Imelda’s take on history. It talks about Imelda’s past, her being orphaned by her mother at the age of eight, her introduction to beauty and a beauty tilt, the progression into power of the Marcoses, their apparent transgressions or their surreptitious attempts to hide their wealth.

But due to Imelda’s Freudian slip, when her ego precedes her line of thinking, she self-incriminates on cam: “I have deposits in 170 banks and I cannot even touch it (sic).” There was sinister laughter at the CCP Little Theater when she said that. The kind of laughter that does not end in a joyful resolution. It’s the kind that creates painful realization: they are starkly back in power. The minute Imelda and her family came back to the Philippines in 1991, five years after their exile, they are back — in form, in presence, in power. They are in the air. And that’s the present and the future that the film tackles — Imelda’s kingmaker stint. Her attempt to put her only son Bongbong in power, albeit unsuccessfully, because he was defeated by Leni Robredo in the vice presidential race; and her family’s role in supporting Rodrigo Duterte in his bid for the presidency. There, the kingmaker in Imelda was successful. The film unabashedly shows that it was a successful act duly compensated for by patronage politics when the present tenant of Malacañang allowed the burial of Marcos, through the Supreme Court, at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and more.

The Kingmaker, where Greenfield gives much power to Imelda’s self-absorption and to her grandiose attempts to rewrite part of history by her bravura in no-blink storytelling, is satirical. The filmmaker shows the altruistic side of Imelda, her camera follows Mrs. Marcos to a children’s ward in a hospital, giving each kid a crisp P1,000-bill, “pambili ng candy,” she tells the kids.

The film illustrates also how historical revisionism has become successful in the hearts and minds of young schoolchildren, who believe that martial law was good for the populace. To counterbalance this cleansing stance, Greenfield interviewed martial law victims — Etta Rosales, Pete Lacaba and May Rodriguez — who articulated the horrors they experienced. With their testimonies, there was sepulchral silence at the theater, the deafening grief was followed by muted tears. In essence, because of the terrors in their testimonials shown in the crisp editing of the film, The Kingmaker is a “horror” film. (My 19-year-old niece Gabby held on to her seat, afraid yet awakened, as Rodriguez’s graphic account of the mental, physical and sexual atrocities she experienced during martial law was the only sound heard at the Little Theater.) In the silence, anger leapt from my chest. This is one beautiful film that made me angry. It’s a giant Post-it note in my system: never again.

The film rolls out several footage of zebras and wounded giraffes at the zoo built by Imelda in Calauit Island that cut through clips culled from the archive. The intent to create a zoo was good, so the Filipino people would also experience the Bushveld animals of Africa, as per Imelda. The film continues to tell the story of the hundreds of inhabitants of Calauit Island who were displaced in favor of the four-legged creatures. You thought to yourself, “What kind of creature could do this?” But as far as Imelda’s perception is concerned, the Calauit zoo was made for the benefit of the Filipino people. The tormented voices and the creases crisscrossing the faces of Calauit’s elderly folk who were interviewed for the film tell the other side.

You better hear it from Imelda herself where she said somewhere in the film: “Perception is real, and the truth is not.”

The Kingmaker is disturbing and disheartening. It’s not for the faint-hearted or for those whose hearts have feigned the real score about the past, the present and the future of this country.

No. The Kingmaker is for them, too. For them to be “woke,” that is. The film knocks at the nuts and bolts of the Filipino psyche — forgiving, forgetful, forsaking.

The Kingmaker is real. The danger, too, is.

(E-mail the author at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Instagram @bumtenorio and Twitter @bum_tenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)

IMELDA MARCOS THE KINGMAKER
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