New directors are much welcome in a desperately wanting film industry like ours, at a time when most of our films are suffering from a drought in creativity, integrity and intelligence And truth to tell, Meily’s debut film from the Palanca award-winning script which he also wrote is a minor cinematic gem on its own.

A very welcome breath of fresh air for the Philippine movie industry ushered in this Christmas season through rookie filmmaker Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies, which is probably the most original entry in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.

New directors are much welcome in a desperately wanting film industry like ours, at a time when most of our films are suffering from a drought in creativity, integrity and intelligence And truth to tell, Meily’s debut film from the Palanca award-winning script which he also wrote is a minor cinematic gem on its own.

The movie centers on Stella Mate, played by the most commercially viable actress for the last twenty years or so, Sharon Cuneta. Stella was previously convicted of estafa and had just come out of prison to start a new life. She seeks for her son which is now in the arms of the boy’s father (Ricky Davao), who has already taken in a new family and is planning to transfer to Cagayan de Oro together with his new wife and his son by Stella. Unable to find a stable job, she accepts the offer of the son of a Chinese man who had just passed away, played by Eric Quizon, as a professional mourner, payed to cry during the wake up until the actual burial.

As for the other Crying Ladies, Hilda Coronel portrays the role of a starlet during the 70’s who just can’t seem to wake up from her dream of becoming famous, which never quite materialized. Angel Aquino, in turn, plays a religious woman who is always torn between saying no and continually sleeping with a married man, played by Raymond Bagatsing.

The situations facing the characters in this movie are not really big. Instead, their problems are the problems of the common man, desperate to find, define, and redefine their purpose in life.

With this much of the plot laid down, it is easy to turn the film into a forgettable melodrama. But the miracle is, this film is actually an intelligent comedy about life, hope and the need to move on.

The scenes which lengthily show crying are actually scenes where the characters really do have to cry, because they are paid to do so. However, as the film tackles the lives of the three characters, the audience is made to laugh and feel amused with the three women, no matter how real their trials are. Stella is about to be separated from her son, which she has made the hub of her life. She tries everything to get a stable job which could earn her the right to keep her son for good. In the end, she still loses him to her son’s father. The other crying lady (Coronel) is still trying to earn credit for her bit role in a silly 70’s film, for it is the only way in which she could feel good and worthy. The last of the three (Aquino) was able to say no to the call of the flesh in the end. But for how long, is still pretty much up in the air.These real situations, finely illustrated in this comedy, underscores the scriptwriter/director’s message of the need to be hopeful, to unhook and move on with our lives. Yet, he tackles this in a non-simplistic way for in the film, none of the conflicts and problems of the characters are resolved fully. Instead, the film ends with a message of hope for the characters as they get another chance in life. Hence, it is enough to say that hope is enough to once again ride the motorcycle of life.

The technical elements of cinematography, production design, music, editing and sound are all outstanding. In truth, this is actually one of the best photographed films of the year.

Meily’s direction is competent as well. He knows how to stage his scenes very well and he gets his actors as well as the technical aspects of the film to work in almost perfect harmony. This is the advantage of being the scriptwriter and the director at the same time.

However, though the cast was generally okay and the actors obviously dished out their best in handling their respective roles, there surely were flaws that unfortunately make the film less believable.

Ricky Davao, who plays a security guard and the father of Stella’s son, doesn’t fit in his role. He looks too clean and even the language that he and his new wife employs does not fall to the socioeconomic class that they are actually portraying. Stella’s son looks like the son of a CEO who lives in Forbes Park and certainly not the son of a securitiy guard and a streetwise mom cum ex-convict. Moreover, Hilda Coronel, whose performance in this film is not bad at all, suffers from a rustic characterization which was taken from earlier films. To her credit, her performance in the film gave her role more meat than it actually has. Lastly, Cuneta, with her smooth-skin and mestiza features, could never make this author believe that she is actually portraying the role of a streetsmart woman who had just gone out of prison. Though she learned the typical moves, language and expressions of her character, her appearance could have been improved through make-up and costume.

On the other hand, Quizon is so effective as the bereaved Chinese son who still has a bitter heart over his dead father. Angel Aquino gave out the best performance among the three ladies, which is actually a feat because she had the least scenes and screentime among the three ladies. So did Bagatsing.

Granted the film’s merits and its undeniable flaws, this movie is actually a giant leap forward in introducing a kind of comedy in Philippine cinema that makes use of the brain, the senses and the heart – amid an industry long enamored with slapstick comedy and toilet humor. Truly, this film is a milestone in introducing comedy in Philippine movies that is polished, realistic and most of all, intelligent.

All in all, Crying Ladies is a completely enjoyable film that does not violate the viewer’s ability to think and take a closer peek into the meaning of living. It is an enduring message of hope that life, in its numerous trials and tribulations, is still worth living.

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