January 3, 2017
This current Metro Manila Filmfest is different from those of the recent past because the selection committee decided to give priority to actual film quality rather than commercial viability. Because of this, the eight films chosen to participate in this year's filmfest had casts of lesser box office clout and story lines with more challenge and depth.
Of the eight, one film clearly stood out because it was a documentary that had absolutely no stars to speak of. Frankly, as I had ranked my preferences in a previous blog article, it was the last film on my priority list to watch. However, during the first week of showing, the positive word of mouth was very strong. Come Awards Night, "Sunday Beauty Queen" walked home with the Best Picture Award. Therefore, it simply had to be the first film for me to catch once I got back into town.
Unusually for a Best Picture winner, there were only less than 10 of us in the cinema I was in. This was despite the long lines queuing outside at the box office. A documentary is really a hard sell commercially, despite awards already won. Just having a regular run in mall cinemas like this is already unprecedented.
"Sunday Beauty Queen" by director Baby Ruth Villarama (whose mom used to work as a domestic helper as well) is about a group of Filipina domestic helpers working in Hong Kong who spent their Sunday rest days participating in beauty pageants among themselves, with the aim of raising funds meant for assisting their fellow helpers in need. The documentary lets us peek into the lives of five ladies who are active participants in these pageants.
Trans-man house manager Leo Selomenia has his own flat and has been organizing weekend pageants for eight years. Rudelie Acosta was terminated when she missed her curfew and only had 14 days to get a new employer. Cherrie Mae Bretana spent her whole day taking care of her ward Hayden in place of his absent parents. Hazel Perdido had to content herself watching her son's graduation online, while she watched over her employer's dog. Mylyn Jacobo took care of a sick elderly man for his children.
The presentation of the subject matter was done very well to give us a deeper glimpse into the lives of these women who sacrificed being away from their families for several years in order to earn more than double of what they earned at home. To make matters more entertaining, the grim lonely realities were set in perfect contrast with the colorful beauty pageants they hold on Sundays as a respite from their jobs. The treatment of the topic was generally light and positive, nothing too sordid.
The stark reality shown in this film, while eye-opening, can be too honest. It was sad to note the poor quality of English spoken by college graduates. One of them was even an AB English major. It was also very unflattering to see the pile of litter that had to be swept up by HK street sweepers following those picnic-like weekend gatherings in the plaza.
To be completely honest, aside from the novel pageant aspect and a couple of powerful soundbites, I found the stories told to be rather predictable and familiar. We have seen these tales told in various TV magazine shows before. After reading several reviews saying how tear-jerking this film was, I was expecting a crescendo of emotion towards the end, but I did not experience such. This film was not a complete letdown by any means, but maybe I was just expecting too much. 6/10.