August 14, 2014
"Barber's Tales" ("Mga Kuwentong Barbero") has been shown in film festivals abroad since late last year. Lead actress Eugene Domingo had won the Best Actress at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival last October 2014. It has earned a Grade A from the Cinema Evaluation Board. After all that impressive advanced press, it finally gets its local commercial run this week.
The year is 1975. Marilou (Eugene Domingo) is the lonely wife of the village barber Jose Aguallo (Daniel Fernando), who treats her like a doormat. When her husband unexpectedly passes away one night, Marilou decides to continue the family trade. Customers though tend not to trust a female barber. However, when the parish priest Fr. Arturo (Eddie Garcia) and the town mayor Alfredo Bartolome (Nonie Buencamino) become her avowed customers, her new career gets going.
Marilou has two close friends. There is Susan (Gladys Reyes), whose husband keeps on wanting to have a boy, even if they already have five daughters. There is the spinster Tessie (Shamaine Centenera), who has a nephew Edmond (Nicco Manalo) on vacation from his studies in Manila. Marilou will get to meet her husband's favorite prostitute Rose (Sue Prado). Later, she will also get close with the mayor's beautiful but lonely wife, Cecilia (Iza Calzado).
It's Martial Law time. The NPA are very active in the provinces, and the military are constantly on their tail. These rebels play a major role as the story of Marilou unfolds. This setting gives the film a platform to showcase the events and highlight popular opinions about Marital Law during that time, on both sides. To accurately recreate the period, this film had a meticulous production designer and costume designer. A sepia-toned color palette further put the audience into the atmosphere of that time in recent history.
Eugene Domingo tones down her usual hyperactive acting tics several notches in order to achieve the very serious Marilou we see on the big screen. She hardly even smiles in this one nor does she crack a single joke. Her character undergoes major awakenings in her life that makes her grow immensely within the film. Domingo shows us these developments so subtly, yet so effectively. She was really very good, a riveting presence in the entire film.
The supporting cast does really well. Nicco Manalo is really turning out to be THE indie actor to watch. After his award-winning turn in "The Janitor", he gives us another affecting performance here. His short haircut in this film actually made him look like his father Jose Manalo for the first time since I have seen him act. Nonie Buencamino, as always, stands out as the charming town mayor, who has unspeakable activities on the side. Gladys Reyes is steady as rock in her portrayal of the ever-loyal and ever-pregnant Susan. At the end, the film still surprised us with an unexpected special guest of superstar proportions.
Writer and director Jun Lana, fresh from his success with "Bwakaw" last year, comes up with yet another excellent character study. What he does for gay senior citizens in the first film, he does for women in this film. On top of that, he adds on a layer of interesting historical and social commentary which for me, makes this film even better and substantive than "Bwakaw". The storytelling was impeccable. He was able to build up a tension so thick, it can be hard to breathe in certain parts. I read that this is Lana's second in a trilogy of films about provincial life. I cannot wait to see the third installment. 9/10.