Ai-Ai de las Alas made her name as a comedian with a boisterous and brazen performance style, with her big wide toothy smile, loud raucous laughter and wild gesticulations. We also see her in some TV soap operas doing some drama as well, but she tends to act also with a florid style with bawling and copious tears. In "Ronda", one of the ten entries in the New Breed category of the current Cinemalaya film festival, we see a totally different Ai-Ai de las Alas. In this her first indie film, she proves that she can also act in a completely subdued style, with no hysterics at all.
SPO3 Paloma Arroyo (de las Alas) is a serious, no-nonsense policewoman. Her husband is currently working in Dubai so she is raising her son Leo (Julian Trono) on her own. Leo has not been home for two nights already and this is gnawing on Arroyo during her duty that night. In this film, we follow her as she goes on her regular police beat with her partner Tamayo (Carlos Morales). Because of her guilt regarding some personal indiscretions, she has her own suspicion on why her son is not answering her calls and she tries to set things right. However, the real reason was way beyond her expectations and its repercussions will shake their lives forever.
As you can see, "Ronda" is just a simple story of a mother and son, stretched out to two hours with various scenes of police work and side characters, filmed in true indie fashion by new director Nick Olanka. Aside from scenes depicting Arroyo making arrests and booking random criminals, we also have to sit through seemingly pointless scenes of their police car just driving around the dinghy streets of Manila. While we stare at the police car or Ai-Ai's face during these prolonged interludes (which last what felt like ten minutes at a time), we also hear a lot of political radio commentary, mostly about the namesake of our lead character, ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In addition, other peripheral characters were given their share of the running time. We will repeatedly hear about Tamayo's womanizing, juggling three wives at a time. We see Hepe, their corrupt and abusive chief, played with sleaze by Menggie Cobarrubias. We meet Ima, a retired teacher now down to selling cigarettes and snacks, played by Perla Bautista. A barely recognizable Bernardo Bernardo plays Mindy, a gay pimp. Indie favorite Angeli Bayani is also in there as an aggressive news reporter on the police beat. Kiko Matos (who was introduced in last year's "Babagwa") has a few minutes as a drunk bully who harasses Officer Arroyo. But the most surprising guest appearance of all is that of Cesar Montano, as Leo's guidance counselor with "extracurricular activities".
The main selling point of "Ronda" is Ai-Ai de las Alas' rare performance in a no-frills, unglamorous and unfunny role. Otherwise, this film could well have been two hours of just impatiently waiting for the answer of what Leo was up to for the past two nights. To be fair, these last fifteen minutes were the best shot scenes were the best in the whole film, and was well-worth the long wait. 5/10.