September 20, 2013
This is practically the only film in the ongoing CineFilipino Film Festival that has any advanced publicity. This is also the only entry with a bonafide superstar headlining it, no less than Ms. Nora Aunor herself. Its first screening at the Gateway Mall was sold out, a testament to the drawing power for Ms. Nora. I will not be surprised if this will be the top box office hit of this one-week festival. The CineFilipino Film Fest only runs at Gateway, Lucky Chinatown, Resorts World and Shangri-la Mall cinemas.
"Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti" is a simple film about simple folk who live in a remote hilly area of Nueva Vizcaya. Mabuti is a folk healer known for her cheerfulness, friendliness and kindness. She lives with her Mother and two adult children, Ompong and Lucia. Ompong has one daughter, indulgently named Kate Winslet. Lucia is very unlucky in her relationships, having three daughters (Lenlen, Angge and Mimay) with three different men.
Mabuti needed to mortgage their land when Ompong was going abroad to work. When they receive a letter for her to pay interest on their loan, she makes a difficult trip into the city to settle. On her way back to their home, a stranger on the bus entrusts a bag to her and runs off. Will the contents of the bag change the life of good Mabuti?
This is again another triumph for Ms. Nora Aunor in subsuming herself into another character of the masses. Though they are similarly poor provincial women, Nora's last role in "Thy Womb" is very distinct from this role as Mabuti. I enjoyed that she was constantly smiling in this film. We never really see Ms. Aunor often in a happy role. Her eyes are really very eloquent in conveying her inner thoughts, as we know from all her classics in the past. All those seemingly simple scenes set in the the military base, the public transportation, the realty office and the stone steps gain special poignancy because they had Nora Aunor in them.
Indie actors Arnold Reyes and Mara Lopez play Ompong and Lucia respectively, while Sue Prado plays a mysterious lady on the bus. The rest of the other actors seem to be native Ilocano-speaking actors which lend additional realism to the scenes. Josephina Estabillo, the actress who plays Mabuti's mother Apu Guyang, is very natural actress. She has a heartwarming bond with Ms. Nora and the kids who play her great-grandchildren. There are also the side characters of the barangay captain and his aide Boying who provide welcome comic relief.
The dialogue of the film is entirely in Ilocano, with English subtitles. Maybe they should also add subtitles in Filipino for the benefit of audiences who may not know how to read English. Nora speaks it with the fluidity of a native Ilocano speaker (she is a Bicolana) like the other Ilocano supporting actors. She really knows how to push and challenge herself with her every role.
Director Mes de Guzman (who just won Best Director at the Cinemalaya 2012 for "Diablo") has succeeded to create a charming fairy tale with modern-day characters and situations. There is a whimsical element about the interplay of harsh realities of live with fate and destiny that will make the audience smile. As for the moral lesson of the film, the film leaves the ending open for us to determine that life message for ourselves. 7/10.