Friday, June 14, 2019

Netflix: Review of HINTAYAN NG LANGIT: Worthwhile Waiting

June 14, 2019




Four years ago, one of my favorite one-act plays in Virgin Labfest XI was "Hintayan ng Langit" (MY REVIEW). This eloquent play was written by spoken word artist Juan Miguel Severo, about two old souls of ex-lovers who meet and reconnect in purgatory while waiting for their respective turns to go to heaven. The lead characters of Manolo and Lisang were played by real-life husband and wife Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida-Froilan, whose electric chemistry imbued the afterlife romance with so much heart and soul.

Last year, "Hintayan sa Langit" was adapted by Severo himself into a screenplay for a full-length indie film directed by romance-meister Dan Villegas. It was shown as one of the films in competition during the QCinema Film Festival which ran from October 21-30, 2018. It won the Audience Choice award, as well as Best Actor for Eddie Garcia (one of three Best Actors he won last year at the ripe age of 89 in addition to "ML" and "Rainbow's Sunset.") 

I rued the fact that I never got to see this film during the festival, and so I was very thankful that it was recently picked up to be shown on Netflix, debuting just two days ago on Independence Day 2019. However, Mr. Garcia's current critical medical condition following a work-related accident made watching this nostalgic film about death and afterlife a particularly spine-tingling experience. 

Like the one-act play, the film was also set in place called "The Middle," a waiting level for souls in transition between heaven and hell. Lisang has been in the Middle for two years because of her bad temper and quarrelsome ways. One day, a new soul Manolo was temporarily assigned to be Lisang's roommate, while waiting for a vacancy. It turned out that they were in fact ex-lovers who parted ways long ago with no closure. Will they be able to finally settle their differences before their final destinations? 

Severo's screenplay had to pad the one-act play script with interesting new details to expand it to feature length. There were additional props involved like the orange juice used to calm the distressed, keys to various rooms around the Middle like the dance hall or the library, as well VHS tapes containing events of one's past life on earth you can watch on your personal TV. The grand interior of the Manila Post Office was converted into an elegant and bustling way-station for souls.

There were a number of side characters added for more texture and exposition of various other situations souls experience while in the Middle based on what they were while alive and the manner how they died. Played by stage and indie actors, they could be staff of the Middle, like Kat Galang (as the Usher or "Tagabantay") and Joel Saracho (as the Checker or "Tagasuri"), or fellow waiting souls, like Dolly de Leon (as the politician) and Karl Medina (as a young father). During flashbacks, Jomari Angeles and Mary Joy Apostol played the young Manolo and Lisang.

But of course, the meat of the story is the connection between Manolo and Lisang. Eddie Garcia and Gina Pareno were both veterans who certainly made sure they delivered the goods in their individual performances of their cantankerous characters. Oddly though, during the course of their reunion in the Middle, I was waiting for palpable romantic tension to develop between them, but this felt a bit lacking. Towards the climax though, everything still came together quite well, especially when the killer revelation lines were delivered, still quite potent to elicit tears. 

As someone who had watched the play before, I would say that the execution of the story as a one-act play was still much better, especially with the undeniable chemistry between Mr. and Mrs. Froilan which totally enveloped the whole audience who were wiping tears uncontrollably during that same climax scene. This film version was still very good, but the expansion to full-length sort of diffused the focus on the central couple, so that the bond between Garcia and Pareno was only effectively felt towards the closing minutes, and not all throughout the film.  7/10. 


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