Sunday, August 5, 2018


Mamang (Celeste Legaspi) lives with her son Ferdie (Ketchup Eusebio) in an old house somewhere in Manila. He has been fired from his job as a teacher for undisclosed reasons, and she is ever supportive. Her son’s situation, however, might force them to relocate somewhere else, but her deteriorating condition might pose a challenge for them both. Her efforts to improve her physical and mental state eventually go south as she begins to receive visitors from her past, something her son dismisses as mere hallucinations of an aging mind. She makes him swear not to leave her all alone in the world, but sometimes promises are meant to be broken.

As mentioned in the gala introduction, Legaspi is timeless. She is just so endearing, or perhaps it also helps that the character is someone we can all relate to. Grandparents are always good subjects to which you can anchor a narrative. As individuals they have experienced more in this lifetime than we’ve ever had, and watching them gradually slip to senility is a constant reminder that our time on Earth is not unlimited. The danger about storylines regarding old people, though, is that they tend to be repetitive in nature. This is where Mamang differs.

One can argue that this film succeeds by letting you experience the onset of old age. Most films dealing with such theme usually feature characters that have already succumbed to either Alzheimer’s or Dementia. In Mamang, we see an old woman trying to fight exactly that. She is almost there, but not just yet. Maybe that’s what makes it poignant, because the highlight of the story is the struggle instead of the result.

The dramatic heavy lifting is not relegated to the supporting cast but rather shared. As such, the focus is on the relationship between mother and son, their rapport as the only remaining members of their family. Eusebio provides solid support, making his mother shine all the more for the audience. In any case, the dynamics is not one way, and that conscious exchange of banter between the pair makes it all the more interesting and endearing.

Another delightful aspect of the film are Mamang’s visitors. They can easily be dismissed as an old lady’s delusions, but here they are presented as living memories both good and bad. Instead of relying on flashbacks to flesh out the character, we see these visual manifestations of her memoirs instead, alive and talking to her. Only she can see them but who cares? This is her world, and figment of imagination or not, she gets to share it with us. It’s a good method of exposition as far as the character’s background is concerned because through it we get to know her better without listening to a boring monologue or something.

How cruel of you, Denise O’Hara, to have us laughing for more than an hour straight only to drop that kidney punch of a revelation in the end. Damn, that was a solid blow. It made me want to cry, and some people in the theater actually did. The twist is hinted rather subtly early on, but dismissed right away to be used as a plot device later. Mission accomplished. It added a lot of emotional depth to the story. Combined with several realizations and the emotional investment you have built on the characters, the intended effect is one of the reasons why we love film as a medium. Because when done right, it makes you feel things. Feelings, that’s the magic of cinema.

Along with Eddie Garcia’s Bwakaw, this has to be one of the festival’s most heartwarming and poignant tales involving the elderly. If you and your mom are best buddies, then perhaps watching together will make the material all the more touching. But then again, as a friendly warning, you might end up in tears. So bring a tissue.

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