Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sunday Beauty Queen

Being one of the few foreign destinations that can be reached from Manila by plane in under two hours, Hong Kong somehow serves as the baptism of fire for budding travelers from the Philippines daring to go international. But not every Filipino who flies there does so with the intention of sightseeing or shopping. There are almost 200,000 documented domestic helpers in HK, usually in a live-in arrangement with their employers. Most of them are expected to work day and night, six days a week. But on Sundays, they are free. If ever you’ve experienced the ex-British colony on a weekend and wondered what the influx of Filipinas in the streets is all about, then this film will answer that question for you. Here is their reality. As is. No filter.

Let’s be totally honest here, Sunday Beauty Queen will not enjoy the same popularity and support that the other festival entries this year will. The presence of documentaries at the MMFF has not been that strong. In fact, this is the only one that comes to mind in recent memory. Most of the families who flock to the cinemas during Christmas season do so in order to escape from reality. This film is that very reality they are running away from, so expecting them to approach the movie with open arms is highly unlikely.

This won’t be the first time for you to hear the OFW story, which has been immortalized time and again in the mainstream. However, the approach is very different. In this film, there won’t be a glamorous close-up shot of a suffering Vilma Santos engaged in verbal judo with an agit Claudine Barretto, debating on who the villain in their life story is. Is it the mother who opted to work in a foreign land to be able to financially support her children? Or is it the rebel daughter who lost her way due to lack of necessary parental guidance she needed growing up? But Star Cinema’s OFW movies are the romanticized version of the difficult life that our migrant workers have to live abroad. Sunday Beauty Queen begs to differ by serving it to you raw.

Leo works for a single mom and her daughter. She is one of the few allowed to live outside of their employers’ homes. On Sundays, she organizes events such as beauty pageants to raise money for charities and to provide a good distraction for her fellow Filipinas who want to have fun during their weekend rest day. Hazel plays the role of toddler Hayden’s nanny, a job she does every day from 7 AM to 8 PM except on Sundays. She practically spends more time with the kid than he does with his parents. Rudelyn is terminated by her employer in the middle of the night after she arrives late missing her curfew. Lacking funds to go back home to Manila, she hops on a ferry to Macau and tries her luck finding a job there.

The documentary is quite boring. On one hand, you are following actual people undertake their daily routine which might be far distinct from yours. There are no big names. Instead, we follow those three or four women who actually work there. The rather indie format does not leave much room for histrionics that make their mainstream counterparts tick. Tears are shed, but not sensationalized. It’s like playing the role of the listener to a friend who has decided to open up about her troubles.

There is no main storyline nor a big universal plot that unites the whole narrative, except for the beauty pageant mentioned in the title that all of them are preparing for. Because of this, there isn’t much to hold onto for the moviegoer who has been used to formulaic cinema. To them, this might as well have been a TV movie that you can show at 4 AM when everyone is already asleep, because no one just gives a damn.

Having said all that, Sunday Beauty Queen will more likely appeal to a niche audience. The almost empty theater is a good proof for that argument. People interested in its story will end up finding the film and supporting it, but let’s not hold our breath thinking that it will have mainstream appeal. This does not mean that the movie does not offer anything of value, though.

While the story itself is already familiar to many, the facts presented are educational to say the least. Figures are shown and interview clips with a variety of people, including an anthropologist from CUHK and the employers themselves, are inserted. Overall, it gives you a more holistic view of the matter from the perspective of all those involved in the trade. Baby Ruth Villarama adds a disclaimer at the end dedicating this to her biological mother, who was a domestic helper. Baby Ruth, you just made your mother proud, along with other OFWs all over the world who can and will relate to this documentary. After all, it is THEIR story too. Thank you for being brave enough to come up with such a unique MMFF offering.

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